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Focus: Japan.

In 1994 production of nonwovens in Japan was 203,800 tons, showing a low level of increase no higher than 0.4% from the previous year. The demand for nonwovens was also low, due to the continued delayed recovery of business conditions. In addition, an increase in nonwoven imports in 1994 suppressed domestic production of nonwovens. Current depressed business conditions are not expected to liven up in 1995, but the production of nonwovens has increased slightly, finally reaching 206,000-208,000 tons. The increase can be attributed to the fact that imports have not increased in the last year.

Figure 1 shows the share of Japanese-made nonwovens in 1994, according to method of manufacture. Results vary according to the production method, with thermal bonded, spunlaced, melt blown and air laid pulp non-wovens increasing. Thermal bonds are in great demand in the field of coverstock, while spunlaced products are prospering due to the recent start ups of Toyobo and Omikenshi. Melt blowns, still at a low production level, have seen manufacturing operating rates increase gradually; also Kuraray has added advanced melt blown equipment. Finally, the number of producers of air laid pulp nonwovens has grown in the past year.

Domestic production of polypropylene spunbonded nonwovens, on the other hand, has decreased, primarily due to an abrupt increase in imports. Although the production of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) spunbonds did increase, growth in this segment did not compensate for the decrease in polypropylene spunbonds. Needle-punched nonwovens production also decreased; this was on account of a decrease in demand from major end use applications such as automotives, civil engineering and filter materials. Finally, production of resin bonded nonwovens decreased due largely to decreased demand in its main end use application, interlinings.

Consumption Of Fibers

For Nonwovens

Fibers for use in nonwovens can be classified roughly into staple and filament. Last year, 140,700 tons of staple fibers and 54,300 tons of filament were consumed to produce nonwovens; this represents an increase of 1% for staple fibers and a decrease of 0.7% for filaments. Figure 2 shows the share of fiber materials used in the production of nonwovens.

As materials for staple fibers, polyethylene terephthalate, olefin and rayon are used, but only olefin and rayon usage is increasing. Olefin is used primarily in thermal bonded nonwovens for coverstock applications and demand in this field is increasing. Demand for rayon is also increasing, due primarily to growth in thermal bonded and spunlaced wet wipes.

Polyethylene terephthalate is widely used in various nonwoven manufacturing processes, including resin bonded, thermal bonded, needle-punched, spunlaced and stitchbonded, which target a variety of applications. However, many of these applications have seen decreased demand, particularly in the field of automotives, architectural materials and interlinings, causing the consumption of polyester staple fibers to decrease.

Filament fibers are used in both spunbonded and melt blown nonwovens, with spunbonds constituting the larger volume of use. Filaments used in spunbonding are mostly polyethylene terephthalate and polypropylene, with nylon, cupra and HDPE (high density polyethylene) constituting a negligible amount. Polypropylene for spunbonded applications suffered in 1994 due to the increase of imports; however, as imports decreased in 1995, domestic production rose.

About 90% of melt blown nonwovens are made of polypropylene. Although there are also highly stretchable melt blowns made of polyurethane and various kinds of elastomers, the level of production remains low.

Nonwovens Consumption In Japan

In 1994, of the 203,800 tons of nonwovens produced, 23,900 tons were exported. Japan imported 18,300 tons, for total domestic consumption of 198,200 tons. Figure 3 shows Japanese nonwovens consumption by end use. As can be seen, demand for coverstock, wipes and medical materials increased, while demand for automotives, clothing, interior civil engineering and architectural materials remained low. As a whole, disposable goods fared better than durables.

The consumption of nonwovens in Japan has remained at a level of about 200,000 tons -- without showing potential to increase -- for some time. As mentioned above, a major reason is the delayed recovery of the business climate. In addition, low production levels have caused the price of nonwovens to go down.

On account of the business depression -- which began in 1991 -- the price of all commodities has been falling without exception. As a matter of course, manufacturers of nonwovens have been required to decrease production costs to comply with the severe situation. It is very difficult to resume former price levels under the still depressed circumstances. Further, the high evaluation of the yen not only lowers the international competitive power of Japanese nonwovens, but has also reduced the price of imports. Also, to counteract or comply with such severe conditions, Japanese manufacturers cannot help but make an effort to lower the cost of production. Therefore, Japanese manufacturers of nonwovens are put in such a severe situation that, if they succeed in keeping the sales quantity at the same level as in the-preceding year, the sales amount of money may decrease.

Under the circumstances that a rapid recovery in price cannot be expected, nonwovens manufacturers have been making efforts to achieve cost reductions by increasing production speeds, limiting product offerings (by eliminating product lines that are not selling) or reducing possible losses that arise during production. Corresponding to apparel manufacturers promoting production overseas, some nonwovens manufacturers are trying to transfer production of interlinings from domestic locations to overseas.

In terms of sales strategy, some manufacturers are changing their sales systems to more efficient ones that focus on particularly strong selling applications, while eliminating weaker product lines. This way good profitability can be obtained even if sales do not increase.

In summary, the depressed business conditions that started at the beginning of the 1990's have severely influenced the nonwovens business. However, if manufacturers succeed in their efforts to strengthen their business foundation, they will be set up to gain much profit after the recovery of demand for nonwovens. Further, the investment in facilities and research and development will continue, allowing the nonwovens business to continue to develop.
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Title Annotation:Speciial International Section; economic prospects for nonwoven fabrics industry
Author:Ohmura, Kin
Publication:Nonwovens Industry
Date:Dec 1, 1995
Words:999
Previous Article:Focus: Europe.
Next Article:Focus: the Americas.
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