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Keeping tabs on the markets for nonwovens.

Keeping Tabs On The Markets For Nonwovens

If you have been in the nonwovens industry for more than 10 years, you probably think you know most of the capabilities of raw materials and processes. Yet you will remember recently learning of a patent, a product or a description of some nonwoven that you had never even considered. This can happen in every nonwoven process and it is even more likely to happen when we consider the combining of processes.

The nonwovens industry today is moving and evolving at a dramatic pace. This increase in momentum is unnoticed by outsiders and not fully recognized by even the experts in this industry. Some 10 years ago I attempted to list all the products that contained a nonwoven of some type. I gave up the project after it consumed my supply of printer ribbons. At that point it became clear that the task of determining all the existing products that contained a nonwoven was a monstrous undertaking and that new products were coming out faster than I could find and count them.

A Window Treatment By Any Other Name

When we attempt to understand the markets where nonwovens are used, we typically begin with a chart, list or diagram. Broad categories such as consumer and industrial are subdivided into home furnishings, healthcare, personal care, filtration, geotextiles, home furnishings and the like. Under home furnishings we list a group that is more definitive but still not all inclusive. We may list window treatments under home furnishings, but attempting to list every variation of window treatments makes the task more difficult. This group would contain curtains, drapes, shades, blinds, awnings and decorations. Further definition lists each type of curtain by material, process, conversion, intended use or whatever. There are staff members in large corporations today that attempt to do just that.

Take the general category of incontinence as another example. It is not surprising that there are individuals who work full time on a segment of this category called "baby diapers." They try to keep up with all the additions, changes, new entrants and other nonwoven particulars in this highly competitive product area. Neither would it surprise you to know that there are publications devoted to this one segment, consultants that concentrate on it or lawyers that specialize in it. This is not to mention the many articles written, advertisements placed, patents listed and studies made on this subject every month. Yet most of the people involved here will tell us that they "estimate" because they can't keep up with all of it.

How about the felt used in marker pens or one of the foot care products, spundbonds in artificial flowers, doll clothes or costumes, or wet laids in artists' canvas and greeting cards, to name a few of the unnoticed. You say those markets are insignificant? Well, how about caskets, labels, mops, lamp shades or paint drop cloths? If you don't keep up with these and hundreds of other end uses then you are missing a significant part of what is happening in nonwovens.

One Person's Niche Is Another's Opportunity

A small market for most of us is one that uses an insignificant amount of nonwovens. Many of these smaller markets don't get your attention, but blood filters or some other medical specialty makes the headlines because they may save lives. However, they may use less nonwovens per year and have less growth potential than the unnoticed product. One of these small markets is specialized filter media for electronic instruments like computers or testing equipment in clean rooms. However, the nonwoven manufacturer working with suppliers and the end user may make a development here that allows a breakthrough for nonwovens in other larger high tech material markets.

Determining the size of a market and the quantity of nonwoven materials it consumes is a formidables task in some markets and impossible in others. Take fiberfill in the U.S. as an example. The size of this market is typically estimated from the "estimated" quantities of finished products that use or contain fiberfill, such as bedspreads, pillows, sleeping bags and the like. One of these approaches, or hopefully a combination of these, may be the best we can ask for today, but they don't reveal the whole story.

So where are the missing pieces, the voids in our information in keeping tabs on the fiberfill market? I have not seen a complete list of fiber producers in the U.S., not to mention imports. The majority of fiber producers are not aware of all the fiberfill producers and they do not have the ability to determine and report how much of their sales are used in a specific end use, particularly fiberfill. As an example, they sell to waste dealers that in turn may sell to the fiberfill producer. The waste dealer also sells fiber to this market that may have come from fabric scraps, yarns or sources that are not accurately accounted for in the record books.

In addition, there are many fibers and filling materials used in fiberfill markets that are not made by the fiber producers or sold by the waste dealers. These include cotton, rayon, acetate, wool, kapok, sisal and jute, not to mention milkweed, peat moss, feathers or others. There is also the import situation and the hidden uses. Many products are imported into the U.S. that we could recognize as containing fiberfill but are not accounted for as such. There are hidden end uses such as the fiberfill found in an imported automobile.

The market numbers we see most often are taken from statistics that are available, yet there is a significant amount of information and numbers that are not readily "available." Another problem in keeping tabs on nonwovens is that we do not include glass, ceramic and other materials as well as some processes that are indeed nonwovens.

Our industry is getting better and things are improving in our ability to get information and recognition. However, we have a long way to go and it will require a great deal more effort if we are to keep tabs on the magnitude, significance and opportunities in this industry.

Tom Holliday is a well known consultant to the nonwovens and textile industries whose column on a wide range of nonwovens-related topics appears every month in NONWOVENS INDUSTRY. Mr. Holliday operates his consultancy firm, Thomas M. Holliday & Associates out of his office at 25 Edgewood Road, Yardley, PA 19067; (215)493-2501.
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Title Annotation:difficulties in market research for the nonwoven fabrics industry
Author:Holliday, Tom
Publication:Nonwovens Industry
Date:Nov 1, 1991
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