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In the beginning ... raw materials: synthetic fibers, binders, additives and resins are the building blocks for nonwovens; a survey of suppliers highlights industry issues.

synthetic fibers, binders, additives and resins are the building blocks for nonwovens; a survey of suppliers highlights industry issues

For nonwoven materials, you are what you are made of Fibers and resins impart the basic characteristics for all nonwovens and additives and binders give fabrics value-added traits. The strength of the nonwovens industry itself - the ability to engineer nonwoven fabrics to satisfy specific requirements - comes from the combination of technology and raw materials.

From the many building blocks, webs of various types are spun, blown, carded or needled to satisfy particular needs. But no matter how good the process is, the final nonwoven product cannot improve the quality of the raw materials. Nonwoven goods are only as good as their raw material building blocks.

As such, the improved quality of raw materials has become the foundation for improved nonwovens production in recent years. "There exists a constant silent request on the broad issue of quality," said David Nass, marketing manager-binders, National Starch and Chemical, Bridgewater, NJ, a supplier of latex binders. "There is pressure to rise to a higher level of world class performance through continuous improvements, ISO certification and automation, with the aim being to provide uniformity and no variation."

Matthew Launikitis, end use marketing manager-polypropylene textile applications, Shell Chemical, Atlanta, GA, a supplier of polypropylene resin to polymer-to-fabric manufacturers, echoed this sentiment. "To be successful as a supplier in today's industry, you must offer a consistent product with minimal variability," he said.

With raw material quality such an important part of the nonwovens equation, there has certainly been interest in the ISO 9000 certification programs - all companies are monitoring the situation - but not every supplier to the industry is currently certified nor is every nonwoven customer demanding it. However, for European suppliers - and North American companies serving international customers - ISO registration is almost a given. As Richard Ruzzini, market manager-nonwovens, Rohm and Haas, Philadelphia, PA, explained, "To grow as a binder supplier, exports will have to increase. With exports, certification becomes a valuable and necessary asset." Rohm and Haas manufactures latex binders and "Ambersorb," a carbonaceous bead additive that adsorbs organic materials.

Nonwoven raw materials companies do have other programs and policies that have long been in place to answer to quality concerns. One such program used extensively throughout the industry involves a "Certificate of Analysis," a detailed breakdown of the exact formulations of a binder or additive that accompanies each shipment. Achieved through batch testing, the certificate attests to the consistency and lack of variability in the product. In addition, audits by roll goods manufacturers at their supplier's plants, adherence to Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP's) and installing and following Total Quality Management (TQM) programs provide the assurance of top quality product.

With its many new equipment designs in recent years, the nonwovens industry has had an additional need for top quality raw materials. This is especially evident to large chemical suppliers who serve several different industries. "With so much rapid equipment innovation in the nonwovens industry, there have been more stringent requirements for quality and consistency than in some of our other markets," said Rimma Kerzner, market manager-polypropylene, Amoco Chemical, Chicago, IL, a polypropylene fiber resin supplier that only entered the merchant market 3-4 years ago. After exclusively serving Amoco Fabrics and Fibers for many years, Amoco Chemical has since had remarkable success in the open market on the strength of its own quality commitment.

Finally, with the nonwovens industry becoming more heavily involved in automotives, high quality has become a necessity since automotive companies will accept nothing less.

Out of this concern for quality comes added pressure from roll goods manufacturers to offer reduced prices, all the while improving performance. To remain competitive, suppliers have had to enhance material properties and cut costs. "Customers are very price focused," said John Kolackovsky, business manager-polymers, Rohm Tech, Fitchburg, MA, a binder supplier.

This view on pricing is the same on the fiber side, where fabric manufacturers are looking to create lower priced end products and have passed this requirement back to their suppliers. "Fibers that allow higher speeds or lower fabric weights to produce lower cost end products are becoming the new way of life," said Thomas Smith, marketing manager-absorbents group, Hercules, Norcross, GA, a polyolefin fiber producer.

Supplying low cost, high performance raw materials is not, however, the easiest way to do business. "Prices have been flat for five years in the binder business, but our industry is one that requires heavy capital investment - particularly for environmental compliance - so some relief will be needed soon," said Joseph Molinari, marketing manager-nonwovens and textiles, Air Products and Chemicals, Allentown, PA, one of the leading latex emulsion binder and additive companies.

The Environment: To Greener

Practices and Pastures

Since the majority of raw materials for the nonwovens industry are some type of chemical - the exception being natural fibers - environmental concerns are a constant consideration. Suppliers are always looking for greener approaches to improve the environmental compatibility of their materials.

As roll goods manufacturers design products that need reduced environmental impact, they pass on these requirements to suppliers who then strive to develop greener products with equal performance. "As an antistatic agent, soil release agent and softener supplier, we foresee tighter regulatory control and heightened environmental awareness in the industry," predicted Barbara Anderson, senior research chemist, PPG, Monroeville, PA. "For the nonwovens industry, manufacturers are approaching the environment by coming to PPG and asking for safer, milder additives to improve the final nonwoven product," she said.

Environmental regulatory control already plays a significant role in the binder segment of the raw materials business, with formaldehyde levels in the workplace, final product and manufacturing emissions dictated by OSHA and the EPA Clean Air Act in North America. Stack or manufacturing emissions, regulated by part of the Clean Air Act, are the most stringent at present and predictions are that the requirements will become tougher soon. To date, low or formaldehyde-free binders have become effective marketing tools; all nonwoven binder suppliers have low or formaldehyde-free products commercially available or in customer trials and have defined this issue as a primary customer concern.

One area of the industry that all raw materials suppliers keep an eye on is evolving nonwovens technology. Latex binder suppliers are particularly watchful as spunbonding, fiber bonding and melt blowing have already made inroads into traditional chemical bonding areas. "Investigations into the ways and means to supply value-added benefits, economic advantages and improved performance are underway to challenge this competitive threat," said William Lewis, business director of specialty dispersions, BASF Dispersions, Charlotte, NC. BASF Dispersions manufactures acrylic and styrene butadiene polymer dispersion binders for nonwovens.

Arnie Blam, market manager-nonwovens, BFGoodrich, Brecksville, OH, another acrylic latex binder supplier, agreed. "Latex in nonwovens, and chemical bonding in general, is just one of a list of manufacturing options," he said. "The key will be to find opportunities and to put together the right fit in these areas."

The observation of developing technologies is not, however, limited to binder suppliers. "Recently, the nonwoven fibers business has been under a lot of pressure with the increased spunbonding capacity that has come on line," commented Mr. Smith of Hercules.

In general, something new can always be around the corner and suppliers are not resting on past laurels. As Mr. Molinari predicted, "The real competition for both the suppliers and roll goods manufacturers will be from the development of alternative systems."

Down From the Mount: What's

New At The Suppliers

Nonwoven raw material suppliers have continued with new product innovations, capacity upgrades and line extensions. Here's a brief look at what's new among raw material producers.

Rhone-Poulenc, Methuen, MA: This company, which supplies both polymerized latex binder and is, according to the company, the largest compounder of latex (i.e. it mixes additives into the binder prior to use), introduced styrene acrylate binders recently, showcasing the latest French latex technology that has been modified to provide superior strength and elongation, optical properties and water resistance. Two products are commercially available, at 20 Tg and -25 Tg on the softness scale.

Sequa Chemicals, Chester, SC: Two new technologies within the past 18 months have debuted at this niche supplier of stiff binders to the construction, filtration and highloft industries. A pre-crosslinked vinyl acetate binder that is stable at high temperatures for use in roll roofing and filtration applications is being marketed under several names including "Sequabond SPM." "Sequabond SV," a moldable binder of styrene and vinyl acetate for needlepunched automotive applications, is also new for the market.

Air Products and Chemicals, Allentown, PA: "Airflex 911," a binder that can disintegrate and "Airflex 108," an ultra-low formaldehyde binder with high wet strength, have both recently been introduced. Two debottlenecking programs to increase capacity are also underway, initiated to satisfy increased demand.

Rohm Tech, Fitchburg, MA: The line of "Rohamere FF" formaldehyde-free and low formaldehyde binders introduced in November, 1992 is now commercially available. A faster curing binder using European technology is also newly offered.

BASF Dispersions, Charlotte, NC: An experimental binder that addresses the compostability question is currently available for evaluation by customers worldwide.

National Starch and Chemical, Bridgewater, NJ: In the past 12 months, the company has completed an expansion of its EVA capacity, installing new equipment. "Resyn," a reduced formaldehyde binder, has also been introduced for the highloft market, as has Dur-O-Set" EVA for more traditional nonwovens.

Hercules, Wilmington, DE: Two new polyolefin fibers, T-190 and T-196, hydrophilic or hydrophobic fibers for diaper coverstock and leg cuff applications, have been introduced recently. A related technology breakthrough allows these two fiber types to be produced on a short or compact spin system.

Phillips Fibers, Greenville, SC: Although a pending purchase by Amoco Fabrics and Fibers (see Top Of The News, page 8) has unknown ramifications for the company, this polypropylene and specialty fiber supplier has recently unveiled two innovations. Both a finer denier "Ryton" high technology sulfar fiber for improved filtration in bag house applications and an updated "Alpha" line of modified polypropylene with enhanced resiliency for needlepunched automotive materials have debuted in the past year.

Himont, Wilmington, DE: Himont, the largest supplier of polypropylene resins to staple fiber, spunbonded and melt blown manufacturers, has recently introduced "Profax PF635," a 35 melt flow homopolymer polypropylene resin for spunbonding, designed with narrow molecular weight and improved consistency. "Valtec HH-442H," a high flow grade with improved consistency for melt blown fabrics has also been introduced. In addition, the company has plans to enter the polyethylene business with "Spiralene" technology.

As an additive supplier for the polymer-to-fabric producers, Himont has also increased the variety and volume of spherical peroxide concentrates that are part of the "Xantrix" additive and delivery system unveiled in November, 1992. There is also an expanded antistat family in place, with plans for anti-microbial, hydrophobic and hydrophilic additives in the works.

PPG, Pittsburgh, PA: Two new additives, "Larostat LTQ" (low toxicological quaternary compound), a green product, and "Larostat HTS" (high thermal stability), an internal compounding agent that eliminates the need for topical finishing, have been made commercially available by the company. PPG supplies both compounding additives for polymer-to-fabric processes and topical additives for chemical bonding.

Dow Corning, Midland, MI: An extended line of silicone additives for antifoam, coating, coupling, hydropbobic, lubricating, release, polymer melt additive, wetting and softener treatments are available from Dow.

What Will The Future Bring?

Continuing developments in the nonwovens industry will bring opportunities for cooperation and new market penetration; raw materials suppliers will certainly be part of these innovations and investigations. Most suppliers noted that the relationships with roll goods manufacturers have already strengthened, to the point where there are joint specialty developments to serve new market niches.

In the binder segment, further formaldehyde reductions with improved results will remain an issue for some time. With stricter legislation predicted, developments in this area are by no means complete.

Added value in the final product will also become a driving force. Value generation for the end user - such as in the form of thinner absorbent products - and for the nonwovens producer - in source reduction - will translate into high performance specifications for the raw materials supplier, possibly supplanting some of the existing price pressure.

Developments from other industries may also make an entrance into nonwoven markets. "There is 100 years of textile finishing experience that nonwovens manufacturers could use to a greater advantage," points out Kim Deacon, market manager, Sequa Chemicals, Chester, SC, a manufacturer of emulsion binders and finishing agents. "It is not always necessary to completely redesign a new material."

The next nonwovens path could seemingly come from anywhere. Randolph McClain, business segment manager, DuPont Fibers, Wilmington, DE, summed up, "The unique is on the horizon, both in terms of applications and raw materials development."

Across The Waters: The International Scene

With a globalizing nonwovens industry, suppliers have had to adjust. While individual customers still receive product tailored to their own processes and needs, suppliers operating on an international level have had to develop products that are good enough - and that can be supplied - for the entire world. In most respects, markets and customers around the globe are looking for the same properties and requirements, with only slight regional differences. Europe does tend to lead in environmental legislation, mandating the earliest introduction of greener products there, but as a whole, products must be good enough before they are brought to market anywhere. This should force raw materials suppliers to develop and market only the best products on a global basis.

The following is a brief overview of recent news at binder and fiber suppliers based in Europe.

Lenzing, Lenzing, Austria: Lenzing, a manufacturer of natural viscose fibers under the "Viscose" and "Modal" tradenames, recently introduced a totally chlorine-free viscose fiber to satisfy demand in sanitary and medical applications. In addition, Lenzing Viscose TC, a fiber with a modified cross section and improved water absorbency, debuted in April. Extremely fine denier viscose fibers are also new from the company. With a total fiber capacity of 268,000 tons, Lenzing has production facilities in Austria, Indonesia and the U.S. A developing fiber technology, "Lyocell," is being refined on a pilot line, with plans for full operation in 1996.

Danaklon, Varde, Denmark: Danaklon produces a variety of mono- and bicomponent polyolefin fiber types under the Danaklon HY, Soft, ES, AL and EA tradenames for thermal bonded nonwovens. The company serves the nonwovens industry exclusively, specifically targeting hygiene articles (diapers, feminine care products, adult incontinence products and medical disposables). "Danaklon HY-Colour," available in a number of colors, and "Danaklon HY-Dry," for hydrophobicity and good tenacity, are both polypropylene monomer fibers that were introduced earlier this year. A new production line was activated in April, making Danaklon, according to the company, the second largest supplier of polypropylene fiber to the industry. For the future, Danaklon forecasts a closer cooperation between fiber producers and nonwovens manufacturers.

Schaetti, Wallisellen, Switzerland: Schaetti manufactures thermofusible powders as well as the machinery to run them. A new low melt polyester with a high viscosity for the nonwovens industry has just been introduced, which, in combination with the company's binders, supplies a very soft hand and excellent strength for applications in the garment industry applications. China and the Far East are growing markets for the company.

Vinamul bv, Geleen, The Nethertands: As a supplier of aqueous dispersions of vinyl acetate-ethylene, acrylics and styrene acrylics to the nonwovens industry for chemical bonding, Vinamul is working towards producing flushable and compostable binders that stffl exhibit the performance of today's standard binders. A family of low formaldehyde and phenol-free dispersions has just been launched, expanding the company's range of environmentally upgraded dispersions.
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Title Annotation:includes related article on global nonwovens industry
Author:Sullivan, Scott D.
Publication:Nonwovens Industry
Article Type:Cover Story
Date:Oct 1, 1993
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