Weinheim. March 8, 2013. Sun, streaming through the windows – but the view is somewhat blurred. Haven’t we all peered eagerly out of our windows only to be exasperated by the smeary streaks? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could clean our windows without the smear? But only professionals seem to have any success - says the amateur, throwing the cloth across the room in disgust. Maybe it’s reassuring to know that streaks and smudges have been the bane of everyone’s lives ever since the invention of the window. And it’s a problem that developers at the Freudenberg Group wanted to solve as long ago as 1948. As a result, the vileda glass cloth was born which, 65 years later, is still in use. However, materials and production processes have moved on since then. And a glimpse behind the scenes in Augsburg, where manufacturing takes place, sheds some light on the glass cloth of today.
Vileda has its headquarter in Weinheim, Baden-Württemberg. Weinheim is home to the most famous of the Freudenberg Group’s brands. However, Freudenberg Household Products develops and manufactures its products at numerous sites throughout the world. And dusters and cloths are manufactured in Augsburg. Standing in his office, gently holding the vileda glass cloth in his hand, Dr. Hendrik van Heyden, Head of Research and Development in Augsburg, says “It’s crazy to think that our colleagues thought of such a product 65 years ago. It was an ingenious idea that gave birth to one of the most successful products in the Company’s history.” The idea was so well thought-out that the materials hardly differ today. The cloth consists of an absorbent core, coated with a smooth and flexible layer. “Cleaning habits have changed very little compared to 65 years ago. And our glass cloth has remained a top seller,” explains van Heyden.
Numerous other products are piled high on van Heyden’s desk. “There are so many alternatives nowadays with the advent of microfiber,” explains the 34-year-old, who has a PhD in Chemistry. And just as 65 years before him, the developer keeps a close eye on the research of his Freudenberg colleagues in other Business Groups. At Freudenberg Nonwovens, for example, developers are working on microfibers under the Evolon brand. And such know-how helps in the manufacture of microfiber cloths. “The vileda cloths of tomorrow will be finer, absorb water more quickly and release less water. So very little water is left behind on the window pane,” says van Heyden. At the end of the day, there is clearly truth in the saying “old meets new.” According to the Chemist, the next step is to manufacture the traditional glass cloth with the microfiber characteristics of Evolon.
Sparkling windows – a tip from the professional
Aside from the technical specifications, the cloths are increasingly visually diverse. “There are now no limits as to the color,” says van Heyden. “Even an individual print is possible.” In addition, his team of developers is concerned with improving the production process. Walking round the shop-floor, the 34-year-old stops in front of a huge machine and describes the process. “The current manufacturing process is very complex. There are three production phases. First of all, the core is prepared – followed by the coating. Finally, the cloth is stretched. However, in future there should be only one production phase.”
A final question remains to be asked. Which cloth does the expert prefer himself? “I like both products, but I prefer the modern version,” says van Heyden and adds with a grin, “however, I manage to clean my windows without leaving smears behind, regardless which cloth I use.” But the cloth is only half the battle. The most important question is whether a glass cleaner or tap water should be used? “Neither, nor,” says the 34-year-old. “Distilled water, for example from a dryer, is best, as it doesn’t leave any lime scale on the window-pane.” Just try it out and maybe the view from the window won’t disappoint – courtesy of the professionals.
What led to production of the vileda glass cloth?
The Chemist, Dr. Carl Ludwig Nottebohm, joined the Freudenberg Group in 1936. In his briefcase - a patent for the production of synthetic leather. He used short cotton, wool or other natural fibers to manufacture a nonwoven that was soaked in and coated with an artificial rubber mixture. The result was synthetic leather suitable for the manufacture of bags and satchels. From the 1940s onwards, the Freudenberg Group worked on finding ways to use nonwovens in other products. The origin of the vileda glass cloth owes itself to the observation skills of two employees, who noticed cleaning ladies using nonwoven oddments to mop the shop-floor. The idea was soon seized upon. And in 1947, the first vileda glass cloth was developed by Dr. Carl Ludwig Nottebohm. Following the currency reform, Freudenberg established a sales and marketing channel. However, as the Group had no suitable premises in Weinheim for the manufacture of its new, innovative product, the Company founded a factory in Augsburg, together with the textile supplier Martini, in 1948. In the same year, production of the vileda cloths began – which has lasted until today. Incidentally, the name “vileda” is an adulteration of the vernacular “Wie Leder” (“Like leather”) – the cloth felt just like a chamois leather.