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Converters of nonwovens: a strong market in a shaky economy.

Converters Of Nonwovens A Strong Market In A Shaky Economy

Despite what will someday be recorded in the history books as the "recession of 1991," one business that continues to forge ahead and do well in the face of hard times is the nonwovens converting industry. A diversity of markets and products allows them to remain economically stable, with demand for their goods still strong because of the incredible variety of niches and applications their products target.

Most converters contacted recently by Nonwovens Industry were actually optimistic about the near future and, particularly, the future of nonwovens. While most reported that nonwovens made up less than 30% of their overall business - most estimated between 15-25%, although there are those who have surpassed the 50% of total business mark with nonwovens sales - these converters also said that nonwovens was the segment of the business on which they could count for continued growth.

As the converting business continues this expansion, the majority of the domestic converters are responding by adding capacity, updating machinery or moving to bigger, more automated locations. In addition, an abundance of new products - although many of them remain proprietary - are also planned for introduction throughout the rest of the year.

Product development partnerships and research and development agreements with customers abound and many converters are involved in forward and backward integration to create higher value-added products and offer a wider variety of services and materials.

Recession? What Recession?

As the fears of a long, drawn out war in the Persian Gulf become a thing of the past, many economists are projecting a slight economic upswing as a resurgence of consumer and business optimism hits the nation. But for some, even the depressed economy of recent months has not affected business. Converters of nonwovens, because of their diversity of technologies and products, are among those still experiencing good times among the bad.

"We don't really know the word 'recession," said James Hounsell, sales manager at converter Tufco Industries, Green Bay, WI. "Our sales have been excellent in all divisions." Tufco provides several converting services for a variety of markets; nonwovens make up about 20-25% of its business.

Custom converter Tycon, Old Hickory, TN, a company that converts almost exclusively nonwovens, including "Reemay," "Typar" and "Sontara" products, also reported that the recession is not affecting its business at all. "We're growing by leaps and bounds," said operations manager James Robert. Applications at Tycon run the gamut from fabric softener substrates to roofing and geotextiles, filtration media, landscape fabrics and technical textiles.

Other companies, though reporting strong sales, also note that economic trends vary from market to market. "Some products that are consumer oriented have been taking a little longer to get to the market," said Bronley Boyd, president of Boyd Converting, South Lee, MA, "Some customers are holding back due to retail conditions. Our core businesses remain very solid, however." Mr. Boyd also said that while some parts of the paper industry had been very slow, 75% of Boyd Converting's sales come from nonwovens.

Robert Bayer, president of American Threshold Industries, Asheville, NC, also said that the recession is not affecting his business in terms of sales. "Our year ended last Oct. 1 with sales up 29%," he said, "while this year's first quarter also showed a sales increase of 28%. In general, the business is moving along nicely."

Despite the sales increase, however, margins were down at American Threshold. "There have been several polypropylene price increases in the last six months that we can't pass along to our customers," said Mr. Bayer. "This is showing up in our profit margins."

Relocations And Modernizations

As a means of keeping up with continued demand for their products and services, many converters of nonwovens are either adding capacity and machinery, restructuring or moving entire divisions or plants to accommodate larger scale operations. In some cases they are doing two or all three of these moves.

A prime example has been IFC Nonwovens, Jackson, TN, where there has been a spate of acquisition and restructuring activity. Back in January the Industrial Wipes Div. of IFC was purchased by another U.S. wipes producer, Hosposable Products, Bound Brook, NJ. The company will continue to convert and market industrial wipes, while Hosposable Products will remain targeted at the medical market.

Meanwhile, in the baby wipes operation, the company continues to manufacture wet wipes for baby wipes, adult incontinence and patient wash cloth applications under the "Babykins" name. The division was supposed to have been sold to Canadian-based wipes producer Babykins last fall; the sale never went through as the Canadian company failed to secure the necessary financing.

Since then, some restructuring has occurred at the company, along with a new name. Jessilyn McKee, spokesperson for the division, told Nonwovens Industry that IFC Nonwovens no longer exists as a separate entity, but IFC Manufacturing, which had been the division that made the Babykins wipes is now a part of the new company known as Total Image Inc. Total Image also has another small embroidery division.

In other news at the company, Ms. McKee said, the whole division will be moving to a new facility in Bells, TN. "The move is expected to be completed within the next 120 days," said Ms. McKee.

A new gravure coater with widths up to 45 inches is new at Oliver Products, Grand Rapids, MI. The gravure coater will be able to do laminating and two-sided coating, according to product marketing manager-specialty products John Green, and should be up and running by mid-year. Mr. Green also reports that within the next few years the company expects to have manufacturing operations in Europe, where the market has been very strong for them recently. About 75% of Oliver's overall converting business is in nonwovens, and the vast majority of that is "Tyvek" converting for medical applications.

News at American Threshold, which designs and builds much of its own equipment, centers around the design of a new machine that, when completed, will manufacture an as-yet-unannounced new product for the medical area. "The new material is expected to be introduced within the next two months," said Mr. Bayer," and it is quite different from anything on the market right now."

American Threshold has also just started getting involved in foreign sales after placing several sales representatives in Europe last year. "We have noticed increased sales both domestically and in Europe," he said, "but this could be a result of our added push overseas." Mr. Bayer reported that the company is targeting primarily medical, dental and veterinary markets in Europe.

Recent news at Tufco includes the addition of a 132 inch wide winder at its South Carolina operation and plans to add 50,000 additional feet to its Green Bay plant this spring. In the near future, the company may also be adding equipment in both the Green Bay and South Carolina facilities.

Tycon recently started up a new 168 inch wide machine and is currently in the process of buying three 86 inch lines, which the company's Mr. Robert said are needed to meet growing demand. Tycon also sells landscape fabric under its own trade name," Silent Gardner," in Canada.

Custom Converters, a small Fairfield, NJ converter with about 30% of its business in nonwovens, is also moving its manufacturing facilities. The company is adding additional equipment and moving within the next two months down the road to a larger, 15,500 sq. ft. plant in Livingston, NJ. Custom Converters is primarily a film converter.

News at Hirol, Ft. Lauderdale, FL, has centered on the addition of a Class 10,000 clean room for working with a variety of materials for the medical industry. Hirol also recently purchased a new slitting machine for very fragile materials with the ability to slit in very narrow widths, which again primarily targets the medical industry, as well as the battery separator market. Customer service manager Amy Carlisle told Nonwovens Industry that Hirol's business is split about 50:50 between the medical and electronic markets and about 40% of its overall business is nonwovens.

Composites Target Of

Several New Products

In an industry where coating and laminating a variety of substrates and materials to other varieties of substrates and materials is the business of the day, it's no surprise that composites in all different shapes and sizes are appearing as new products in the market and being looked at as the trendsetters of tomorrow.

"We see composites as the fabric of the future," said Reginald Craig, fabricating and special products manager, at Petco, Newton, NC, a converter that does slitting, laminating and thermal bonding of nonwovens for filtration, automotive and furniture and bedding applications. Although Petco is currently mostly a commission converter, Mr. Craig said it also does significant R&D work for nonwovens companies and is working on its own composite product line. "We feel we are positioned well to move ahead," said Mr. Craig.

Fabrite Laminating, Wood-Ridge, NJ, has a complete range of bonding, laminating and converting capabilities and is currently working on an interesting reusable composite for the adult incontinence and baby diaper market.

According to president Harry Levy, the company has created a multi-ply construction with a layer of a woven or knit fabric - in this case brushed nylon, a nonwoven felt layer, a third layer of polyurethane film and a fourth woven or knit layer. The company incorporated its "Fabuthane" waterproof barrier membrane and created a quilted absorbent fabric from the first and second layers. The third and fourth layers are also laminated together with a urethane adhesive to form a leakage preventing portion of the pad; the second and third layers are then bonded to complete the construction. The resulting fabric is a highly absorbent, machine washable, reusable product for adult incontinence and baby diaper applications.

Another company continuing work is expected to be available within two months is a foam coated nonwoven that is completely waterproof for disposable medical garments and patient underpads.

Fabrite also does converting of film, textiles and foam. About 10-20% of the business is in nonwovens and Mr. Levy expects that percentage to increase. "I especially see the medical and incontinence markets as growth areas," he said.

Another company continuing work in the composites area is Tufco. "We are still pushing hard into composites," said Mr. Hounsell," and we've made several changes in our thermal bonded laminates. We are currently running five different trial laminates, primarily for the medical market," he added.

The Textile Div. of Western Textile, St. Louis, MO, which does about 15-18% of its business in nonwovens, is also hard at work manufacturing finished products that go into the apparel trade, as well as performing contract work from slitting, printing and die cutting. "We are also involved in R&D and product development work with our customers," said David Ober, newly appointed president of the Textile Div., "This keeps us in on the ground floor with emerging technologies."

On the drafting table at converter Staflex/Harotex, New York, NY, are a variety of saturate bonded products. The company has a vertical operation for commodity nonwovens, primarily in the apparel and industrial areas, but it also does a range of converting operations for other companies such as DuPont and Veratec. Originally a bleacher and finisher of cotton, Staflex now attributes 80-85% of its sales to nonwovens products.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Rodman Publications, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Markets For Nonwovens
Author:Noonan, Ellen
Publication:Nonwovens Industry
Date:Apr 1, 1991
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