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Highloft nonwovens: a product of the nonwovens environment.

Highloft Nonwovens: A Product Of the Nonwovens Environment We have all heard the phrase "we are a product of our environment." It is so basically true, especially in business and particularly today. Highloft nonwovens are produts of their environment.

This environment is two-fold. What I like to call it is the "ambient" or "surrounding environment" and the "operational environment."

The ambient environment surrounds the plant. It consists of the air or atmosphere that girdles any nonwovens plant, the water the plant uses (contaminates in some way, perhaps cleans it and returns it to the environment) and the solid waste that the operation generates. Similarly, the air used in dry and cure functions is altered in some manner prior to its return to the atmosphere.

Is there anyone in the highloft nonwovens business that hasn't been or isn't confronted continuously by the pressures from air and water pollution control agencies? The use of liquid emulsion binders contributes to both air and water contamination. Solvents are also seriously frowned upon by regulatory agencies. we should all, by now, have seen the lists of toxic chemicals published by most states.

What does all of this do but tend to drive companies away from liquid binders and compel them to look at fusion binding, shealth/core fibers, melt fibers, powder binders and, perhaps, at other forms of bonding not too well known at present? That is, they may develop a new technique. And when they study and experiment with these various systems they may find some encouraging results relative to costs or performance on an overall basis. In other words, they could be better off as a result of this environmental pressure.

Being Close To The Market

Geographically, the high air-to-solids ratio and resulting high freight costs make it paramount for highloft producers to be close to the market or to develop a method to reduce rates by compression or other techniques. Perhaps your product is unique to the point where freight is not a factor. The advantage of patent position, technical or other competence are factors to raise an operation above the commodity level where freight is not a primary factor.

There are such highloft products today and there will be tomorrow, but they don't just walk into the front office. Technology takes time and effort. But this gets into the operational environment; as you can imagine, the operational and ambient are interrelated.

The last on the list of ambient environmental factors is what can be termed Organizational Personality. Are you a large corporation or diametrically opposite, an entrepreneurial organization? The former may perhaps be staid and cumbersome with a firm, unbinding character, the latter normally having the flexibility to change quickly.

The main point is that each organization has a personality, a psyche, that determines its attidue and approach to business. It may be changeable, of course, and at times fixed, but it is of great influence as to how it approaches such things as profit, technology, new products, inter-industry relationships and the competitive market.

Now, The Operational Environment

Moving to the operational environment, there are a number of factors that influence the operation of the highloft nonwovens industry. They are not listed in order or importance, for such an order will change from time to time.

Let us look for a moment at the raw material area. When polyester came into the stuffing market it completely tooke over. In recent years, polyester, while retaining its position, has gone through a period of short supply, price increases, price stabilization and now it undoubtedly will be influenced by the Middle East situation. Similarly, the price of resin binders used by highloft producers will be affected by the world petrochemical situation. Herein, of course, lies a major concern of today's highloft industry--the mutations of cost and supply of the major raw materials, fibers and binders.

How do we cope with a raw material pinch? Primarily with a most important environment factor--technology. We cannot wait for development, we must instigate change. This can be best done with in-house technology. There is no question that the most technically competent operation has a lead on the competition.

An interesting point is that in a good number of highloft nonwoven/fiberfill operations, technology advances mainly result from work by raw material suppliers or, at the least, with significant assistance from these suppliers. This, of course, tends to equalize technology throughout the industry. Anything new normally spreads rather quickly throughout the industry.

Highloft/fiberfill manufacturers must decide the real nature of their business (more of the organizational personality bit). Is it supplying current or specific markets? What happens five years down the road? Customers may not be using highlofts of your type by then. Remember the constant/change factor.

Historically, the highloft nonwovens industry has been one of "evolution" rather than "revolution," at least since the advent of polyester fiberfill. That was a mega-revolution of progress and change. In a two year period it affected nearly every producer and customer. Since that time, the industry has evolved with little real change. Suppliers have instigated some advances--siliconized fibers, hollow fibers, sheath/core fibers and so forth. Very little, however, has come from roll goods producers. In the future we may see revolution from entirely different sources.

For instance, let's look at the Legislative Factor. A New York Times article a little while ago asked "Do disposable diapers ever go away?" Will there be legislation to change how disposable diapers are fabricated? Organic Gardening ran an article entitled "Persistent Peril...platic pollution is choking our environment." The force behind this alliterative statement has already caused 16 states to require degradable plastics in six pack ring binders or carriers. We are part of that "plastics industry." What effect will potential legislation have on us?

Another area of potential impact on our industry might come from competition or competitive processes. If the direct spinning of highloft fiberfill type products was of interest to the fiber producers, this would wipe us all out. However, it isn't, for several valid reasons. a potential step in that direction was tow spreading. Originated by Celanese, it remains a highly potential, viable process.

And what is going on in the foam industry today? a lot of serious investigation and perhaps legislation on the role of foam furniture pillows in large conflagrations such as hotel fires is being researched. Should the requirement for low flame response be legislated, foam prices will leap. The perfection of densified highloft nonwovens is a potential mega-boost for the highloft/fiberfill makers.

Do We Have To Have An Identity?

While we may have all of the other factors under control, they might still go for naught should we not have proper, adequate marketing in place. This goes back to organizational personality.

There is a marketing problem that all highloft nonwoven/fiberfill groups face. that problem is identity. What are highloft nonwovens? It has been pointed out that highloft/fiberfill is the largest sector of the nonwovens industry and that it is time its identity is indelibly defined. Let's not wait until we "mature." Do it now.

The economic environment is a most important factor in highloft business development, but we have little control over it. for the past several years business has been good for most highloft nonwoven/fiberfill operations. Today, the situation seems to be changing. Recession is a media byword and several highloft nonwovens markets, such as furniture, automotives and garments, are reacting to the recessionary pressure with downturns.

We have no control of the mutations of the economic environment in which we function. But it is true that the impact of negative economic conditions on a company can be buffered.

How? By having a financially strong company. and what makes this financially strong company? One of its characteristics is to make adequate profit during a favorable conomic climate. It is quite probable that those in the highloft nonwovens business will learn more about their economic strength in the relatively near future.
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Title Annotation:includes related article on defining "highloft"
Author:Baigas, J.F.
Publication:Nonwovens Industry
Date:Feb 1, 1991
Previous Article:Sharp differences in needlepunch markets as business adapts to economy.
Next Article:USDA task force meets to chart future of cotton.

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