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Emerging worldwide markets and nonwovens technologies.

INDA recently published the Worldwide Outlook for the Nonwovens Industry, 2004-2009. The report tracks the nonwovens industry's growth from 1994 to 2004 and provides a forecast to 2009. The study reviews nonwovens production growth by technology in North America, Europe, Japan, Latin America, the Middle East, Asia-Pacific and the rest of the world. The nonwovens industry of China is highlighted due to its rapid expansion during the past decade and its potential of being the largest nonwovens-producing region by the end of this decade. The investment dollars required to meet the 2009 volume forecast is estimated. In final, the report provides the volume of staple fibers and spunlaid resins consumed currently worldwide with a consumption outlook for 2009. The following highlights some of the key findings of the report.

INDA, North America's nonwovens-related trade organization, is working with EDANA, its European counterpart, to publish a report on the worldwide nonwovens industry. The nonwovens industry is still a relatively young industry that got its start approximately 50 years ago. In spite of the industry's youth, it is now a leading global industry with a 2004 worldwide production of nonwoven roll goods estimated at 4.5 million tons, equivalent to 110 billion square meters (see Table 1). These nonwoven materials were valued at roughly $16 billion in U.S. dollar equivalents. The study found that during the past 10 years worldwide nonwovens grew at an average rate of 7.5% per year. INDA and EDANA forecast that the global nonwovens industry would most likely continue to expand at this pace for the next five years and reach 6.4 million tons with a value of at least $23 billion in 2009. Square meter volume is expected to grow slightly faster than tonnage during this five-year forecast reflecting the continuing shift toward lighter weights of coverstock materials. This study focuses on two aspects of the nonwovens industry: growth by region and identifying emerging markets (nations) and identifying the trends in nonwovens production by technology and emerging technologies.

Emerging Markets

The report reviews the major markets of North America (U.S. and Canada), Europe, Japan and has grouped the remaining nations into geographically logical regions, which include: Latin America (Mexico, Central and South America), Asia-Pacific, the Middle East and the rest of the world, which captures India, Pakistan, Africa, Russia and the former Soviet states.

North America, Europe and Japan accounted for about three quarters of the world's nonwoven output a decade ago. Even though the combined nonwovens output of these three regions expanded close to 7% per year during the past decade, by percentage their nonwovens output slipped to less than 65% of world output by 2004. This was due to the high growth of the nonwovens industries in several emerging economies, particularly the Asia-Pacific, which was led by China, as well as several countries in the Middle Eastern and Latin American regions.

Asia-Pacific. The Asia-Pacific market, excluding Japan, increased nonwovens output rapidly during the 1990s driven by the expanding nonwovens industries of Taiwan, Korea and Thailand. In more recent years, the Asia-Pacific region's expansion has been driven by the emerging industries in China, Malaysia and Indonesia. The nonwovens industry's growth in China in the past few years has been particularly strong.

China. China's nonwovens output in 1994 was 115,000 tons. By 2004, the country's nonwovens output will exceed 600,000 tons representing an average annual growth of 18% per year during the past 10 years--remarkable growth. China's share of the total world nonwovens production in 1994 was 5%, but this year the country will account for 14% of world nonwovens production.

Growth forecasts for this industry in China vary widely. Assuming that economic conditions remain stable and that the currency exchange rates continue at their current pegged level, we assess that the Chinese nonwovens industry could likely pass one million tons of output by the end of the current decade. China's volume will almost equal the nonwoven production of North America (U.S. and Canada) and be hot on the heels of Europe's output.

Driving this growth has been China's real economic expansion which has been averaging 9% per year in recent years, as the country's rapid industrialization and a growing affluent population demand more consumer goods. While considerable volumes of nonwovens are converted into products for export, there is a growing domestic demand for disposable diapers, sanitary napkins, wipes, disposable medical apparel, apparel and household products--all using nonwoven materials

Exports of nonwoven roll goods are low as most of the country's output remains in China for conversion into finished products, much of which are exported. In fact, Chinese nonwoven roll goods exports to North America in 2003 totaled only a few thousand tons, as it is more profitable to add value by converting the product within the country. The growth of China's nonwovens industry in part has been to the detriment of the nonwovens industries of its closest neighbors: Japan, Korea and Taiwan. Attracted by lower costs in China, companies in these three countries have invested in China and moved some of their domestic production there.

Middle East. Nonwovens production in the Middle East has expanded from a few thousand tons produced annually a decade ago to close to 200,000 tons in 2004. The major producing nations in the Middle East are Israel, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Recent nonwovens investments in Egypt, Iran and Kuwait should encourage further growth in these nations.

As Israel's population is less than seven million, its nonwovens industry relies on export markets to sell roll goods and finished products to maintain its business. Avgol, the largest nonwovens producer in Israel ships most of its spunbonded nonwovens to Europe and North America in roll good form. Several companies in Israel produce spunlaced materials. Most of this spunlaced material is converted into wipes, medical and related products that are exported to South America, Europe and North America.

The Saudi Arabian nonwovens industry is still at the embryonic development stage with total output estimated at close to 20,000 tons per year. Of note are two firms that produce most of these nonwovens: Saudi German Company (affiliated with Fiberweb's Corovin operation) and Saudi Arabian Advanced Fabrics (SAAF). Both companies have modern multibeam spunbonded/meltblown systems that supply coverstock to the growing regional absorbent hygiene industry.

Turkey's nonwovens industry is producing an estimated 65,000 tons of nonwovens in 2004 and has at least doubled its output during the past five years. This quick expansion is not surprising as Turkey's textile industry has a long history as one of its country's leading industries. There are six spunlaid producers in the country with a seventh in the planning stages. Mogul Textiles is one of the leading companies with two modern spunbonded polypropylene production lines as well as a recently installed spunbonded polyester line. The country is also a significant producer of carded needlepunched, spunlaced and thermal bonded materials. Turkey's economy expanded in the 6% range for most of the last decade and prospects point to continued expansion. Entry into the European Union has helped boost this country's economy and future prospects.

Latin America. Dining the past 10 years, nonwovens production capacity in the region doubled as state-of-the-art production systems were added to Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Venezuela to meet the rising demand for both disposable and durable nonwovens. At this point, the Latin American nonwovens industry is centered in these five nations, but expansion is occurring in surrounding countries.

Mexico is a leading nonwovens producer and will produce well more than 100,000 tons of the material in 2004 for both domestic consumption and exports to the U.S., Central and South American customers.

Total South American nonwovens production in 2004 will approach 220,000 tons. Brazil is the major producer in South America and accounts for more than half of South America's production. The country has numerous producers of spunbonded polypropylene, spunlaced, carded thermal bonded and needlepunched nonwovens and its spunbonded polypropylene industry is about as modern as you can find.

South America's needlepunched industry is centered in Brazil, which has about 60 producers. Latin American nonwovens growth is forecast to expand 6-7% in coming years.

There is considerable spunbonded and spunbonded/meltblown production in Mexico and South America as installed capacity exceeds 160,000 tons. PGI installed a spunbonded/ meltblown line in Colombia in 2000 to supply the absorbent hygiene industry. Many observers at the time questioned the merits of installing such a large production line in Colombia, wondering whether there would be enough regional demand to fill the production line's huge capacity. PGI has obviously been successful as they are now planning to put a second high capacity spunbonded/meltblown composite line in the same plant.

Soft Bond, an Argentinean producer, is also adding a third spunbonded unit while Companhia Providencia, the largest producer in South America by far, is adding its eighth spunbonded polypropylene line in 2005. Total capacity of this company will exceed 50,000 tons per year when the new line is fully operational. All this expansion further indicates the buoyancy of the nonwovens industry in Latin America.

Emerging Nonwovens Technologies

Airlaid pulp, spunlaced and bicomponent spunlaid systems have grown in importance as some carded technologies have declined.

At the beginning of the 1990s, the carded nonwovens processes dominated the industry accounting for almost two-thirds of total nonwovens output. Included within carded technologies are resin bonded, thermal bonded, spunlaced (hydroentangled) and needlepunched bonding technologies. By 1999, the combined carded processes had slipped to about half of worldwide nonwovens output and further slipped to 47% of the total by 2004 (see Figure 1).

This change came in spite of the rapid growth of spunlaced technology, which during the 10-year period between 1994 and 2004 exceeded a 12% increase per year. The loss of the carded nonwovens marketshare was primarily due to a rising use of spunbonded materials, replacing carded thermal bonded coverstock. Spunlaid technologies' marketshare is currently 41% of the world's total nonwovens output--up from about a third of global nonwoven capacity 10 years ago.

Airlaid Pulp. Airlaid pulp technology has shown remarkable growth during the 1990s. The technology's worldwide growth in tonnage averaged 12% per year during the past decade and is expected to continue at this pace for several years. This technology's growth will continue to be propelled by the expanding use of airlaid pulp materials in wipes and absorbent cores of feminine napkins and adult incontinence products.

The advantages of airlaid pulp is its relatively low cost in comparison to competitive nonwovens as well as attractive properties of softness, absorbency and bulk. Within the past three years, more than 140,000 tons of production capacity has been installed worldwide. North America doubled its production capacity. One recent installation in China has an annual capacity of 16,000 tons. Also, a second unit of about equivalent size is being installed and a third one is currently in the planning stage. These lines target wipes and absorbent core materials.

Spunlaced. The spunlaced technology's world output totaled more than 400,000 tons in 2004. This technology's growth during the past 10 years was in the double-digit range. Considerable capacity has been added in emerging world regions including China, Latin America, Eastern Europe and the Middle East. These production lines are all modern systems and installed to supply the burgeoning wipes, coated/laminated substrate for artificial leather and medical end use markets.

Israel has considerable production capacity in place and is actively exporting both roll goods and a wide assortment of converted wipe products to South America, Europe and North America. Venezuela and Mexico have had several spunlaced lines in place for many years.

The number of production units remained unchanged for many years. But, there has been a growth spurt with new capacity coming onstream within the past three years and more installations are being planned. These new line are targeting wipes, medical and the coated/laminated substrate markets.

Airlaced. This is a technology that appears to have a bright future. Airlace technology is really a marriage of airlaid pulp and a carded staple system with a spunlacing unit to bond the web. This technology produces materials that combine the merits of both technologies--softness, strength and lower cost than an all-synthetic fiber spunlaced material. This technology targets the wipes and the medical apparel markets. While airlaced global output capacity is still relatively low, more than a 100,000 tons of capacity has been installed globally since 2002.

Spunbonded Bicomponent. Spunbonded nonwovens made from bicomponent fibers have been around for many years. Japanese producers, such as Teijin, Unitika, Shinwa and Chisso, have been the leading producers of bicomponent spunbonded materials. Bicomponent is a slightly more complicated and costly process than single polymer spunlaid technology and these producers sell moderate volumes to specialty end markets, but this technology appears to be on the edge of emerging as an important technology.

In 2004, DuPont launched Suprel, a bicomponent fabric the company claims to be the "next generation of materials for medical apparel." The material combines strength and protection while increasing wearer comfort. Freudenberg's Evolon nonwoven is made from spunlaid bicomponent fibers that are spunlaced to split the segmented pie fibers and bond them together. This revolutionary technology produces a fleece-like material that has the strength, feel and look of suede-like textiles. Freudenberg's technology could capture the "holy grail" of the nonwovens industry--that is to replace conventional apparel textiles with a lower-cost nonwoven alternative.

The production of spunbonded materials from bicomponent fibers is rising at a steep curve, as seen in Figure 2. In 2004, the output of bicomponent spunbonded nonwovens totaled less than 45,000 tons worldwide. This volume is up from about 15,000 tons 10 years ago. Several major lines started production in the past two years and more are in the planning stage. Nonwovens output from this technology is expected to expand rapidly within the next few years, possibly doubling that of current levels.


Bicomponent nonwovens have several properties that are attractive and could lead to increased consumption. These are:

* Strength with Softness. Polyester nonwovens have strength, but the polymer's disadvantage is a harsh, crisp feel. One means to correct this is by a bicomponent fiber consisting of a polyester core and sheath with polyethylene. This composite yields a fabric with good aesthetics and strength.

* Softness. Producing a spunlaid web of segmented pie, bicomponent nylon/polyester fibers. The web's fibers are split apart and bonded by a hydroentangling unit. The resulting fabrics are strong but soft due to the micro denier fibers. This is an example of the Freudenberg technology.

* Self-Crimping Fibers. A side-by-side bicomponent fiber produced from dissimilar polymers can cause the fiber to self-crimp with cooling. Nonwoven webs made of crimped fibers are usually loftier with improved softness and web uniformity. Using a polypropylene blend, the aesthetics of these materials can potentially mimic that of carded thermal bonded materials.

* Recycling and Cost Reduction. Bicomponent technology could lead to the recycling of process waste by recycling the waste polymer in the fiber's core and sheathing it with a virgin resin.

The nonwovens industry is expanding into many nations around the globe. The production lines being installed into these countries are not all recycled equipment. To be a player in this increasingly global market, manufacturers must have low costs and be capable of making nonwovens with quality that meets world standards. This requires investments in nonwovens production equipment that is state of the art.
Figure 1

2004 Worldwide Production of
Nonwovens Technology

(4.5 million tons)

Carded: 47%
Spunlaid: 41%
Wetlaid: 4%
Airlaid: 8%

Source: INDA Estimates

Note: Table made from pie chart.

Table 1
Worldwide Outlook For Nonwovens Production

 1994 2004 2009 Growth Rate Growth Rate
 1994-2004 2004-2009
 (%/year) (%/year)

 (billions) 9.1 16.4 23.3 6.2 7.3
Square Meters
 (billions) 49 110 163 8.4 8.2
 (millions) 2.2 4.5 6.4 7.5 7.4

Source: INDA estimates

Ian Butler director of market research and statistics INDA, Association of the Nonwoven Fabrics Industry
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Author:Butler, Ian
Publication:Nonwovens Industry
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2004
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