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Hot melt heats up: Spray is the wave of the future, say most suppliers.

HOT MELT Heats Up spray is the wave of the future, say most suppliers, while foreign nonwovens markets show the greatest potential in the hot melt field; biodegradability is not a major concern at this point, although research is certainly continuing Spray by any other name--whether it be fiberization, spiraling or air dispersion--is still a spray and still the hot topic on the hot melt market today. The introduction of controlled fiberization spray by Nordson back in 1986 sparked a wave of new technology in the hot melt field; it now appears that all the major equipment manufacturers have some type of similar technology available.

Biodegradability remains on the lips of the industry as well, with hot melt adhesives no exception. Yet despite the fact that commercial hot melt adhesives are not biodegradable, hot melts, simply because they constitute such a small portion of most end products, are not the primary focus of environmental concerns. Research on biodegradable hot melts is progressing, but actual commercialization is still several years, and a lot of attitude changes, down the road.

Pricing concerns have leveled off in most cases, although the increases of the past few years may have long range effects on the products of tomorrow. Potential for hot melt applications in nonwovens is still high, especially in adult incontinence and overseas.

Spray: The Wave Of The Future?

While nonwovens remains a relatively young market where products quickly become obsolete, fiberization spray technology seems to have overcome the vagaries of technology changes. Controlled fiberization spray, the forerunner of all spray and air dispersion technology on the hot melt market, was introduced at IDEA '86 by Nordson, Norcross, GA. The spray technology reduces glue consumption by 20-40% and achieves better coverage, according to sales manager John Raterman. "Manufacturers can cool the glue before using it and use lighter polyethylene," he said. "One manufacturer was able to cut his polyethylene content by 1/4 mil, which resulted in huge savings." Nordson also manufactures a full line of metering heads, microprocessor controlled hot melt equipment and Lycra unwind stands.

Sprays are largely eliminating slot

coating applications, which have had problems with the hot glue ruining the esthetics of the final product. Unlike the fiberization process, slotting equipment actually comes into contact with the substrate, causing heat distortion on polyethylene and bleed-through on nonwoven fabrics.

"We were skeptical at first [about fiberization], but we're not anymore," said Mr. Raterman, offering one example. "One diaper manufacturer's brand was one of the heaviest users of adhesive. They switched to spray and now they're one of the lightest. In general, many have noticed a 20-25% savings and some have seen up to 40% glue reduction."

Apparently some remain a little less convinced as they question the actual glue savings proclaimed by the fiberization spray equipment manufacturers. "Sprays are not actually using less adhesive," said Denis Nolan, of IGI Nonwovens, Lyndhurst, NJ. "Although the spray is thinner and covers more area, just as much adhesive is used if it were measured against the other methods." IGI manufactures a hot melt wetness indicator, initially popular among adult incontinence pad manufacturers and now gaining acceptance among North American baby diaper producers.

Frank Hughes, sales manager at Meltex, Peachtree City, GA, agreed. "Sprays are harder to maintain than everyone thinks," he said. "And they don't really save as much adhesive as it was originally thought they would." Meltex manufactures a line of tanks, pumps and drum heaters as well as slot nozzles, spiral spray and multiple bead systems and a Lycra unwinder. Meltex also has a "Colorbond" system, which adds color as well as adhesive to Lycra. The color is added only where the adhesive is applied for better attachment.

Most, however, believe that spray technology is a tremendous improvement from earlier methods. "Spraying is the wave of the future," said John McKechnie, general manager, Dexter Ecomelt, Rocky Hill, CT. Dexter Ecomelt, a three-year old joint venture between Dexter and Ecomelt, a Swiss hot melt manufacturer, sells hot melt equipment strictly to the nonwoven disposables market. "In the past year to 18 months, there has been a flurry of reformulation because of spraying technology," Mr. McKechnie added.

Michael Quinn, sales manager for Century Adhesives, Columbus, OH, is also a proponent of spray. "Economics is a primary reason," he said. "Also, spray loses heat quickly as it is applied and there's no risk of burning through the backsheet." Century, which produces hot melt adhesives for the health care industry, recently introduced the CA905, a low temperature, low viscosity adhesive that can be bead extruded, slot extruded or sprayed.

The potential of new applications developing from spray is another advantage. Peter Lepovsky, of Lepovsky Associates, which handles U.S. sales, service and distribution for E. Dittberner, Erkrath, West Germany, projects great potential for spray technology. "Sprays are definitely hot right now, but there are still new uses to be found," he said. "There needs to be more adhesive development to utilize the full effects of spray technology." Dittberner targets the particular niche of nonwoven disposables (see accompanying box on foreign manufacturers).

The Market: U.S. And Overseas

Fiberization spray may be the popular technology in hot melt markets worldwide, but the markets themselves differ in several ways. While it is generally accepted that the U.S. market is more mature, the international business, particularly Europe, is not far behind, having learned from observing U.S. methods.

"Because the Europeans benefitted from what we learned and how American products evolved," said George Ritter, of Century Adhesives, "they are able to come up with first round products technologically competitive with ours." He added that there is a higher potential for growth overseas than in the more mature U.S. market.

The European market has also traditionally been more segmented, with more independent converters. However, right around the corner is the 1992 European Common Market, which will undoubtedly cause radical changes in the European and, indeed, the world market. "Consolidation has taken hold and conditions are evolving in Europe that make it more similar to the U.S.," said Mr. Raterman, of Nordson.

The product mix itself differs on the basis of geography as well. Much of this depends simply on what is available where. "A lot of international market focus depends on the availability of raw materials locally," said Michael Modak, business manager for H.B. Fuller, St. Paul, MN. "There are many polymers and chemicals available for hot melt manufacturing and different ones are more readily available in different areas. Countries are going to look at what's economical in their area and formulate products to end uses accordingly." H.B. Fuller recently introduced "Ful-tec," a diaper adhesive for both fine line and elastic attachments.

Perhaps in keeping with this logic, the U.S. and Europe use different base polymers. According to Mr. Quinn, of Century, "this is the major difference between the U.S. and foreign market." The U.S. uses primarily block copolymers, while Europe is still using amorphous polypropylene. Asian countries are more closely tied to the U.S.

Manufacturers worldwide are forecasting the potential of adult incontinence for hot melt expansion. "Adult incontinence products are on the rise," said Mr. McKechnie, of Dexter Ecomelt. "As baby boomers get older--maybe five to ten years down the road--adult products should exceed baby diapers."

The Biodegradable Debate

Biodegradability has been the apparition haunting the labs of the disposable diaper industry for the past year; hot melt adhesive manufacturers are just as conscious of this spirit's presence. They are, however, not the primary targets of environmentalists proclaiming the ravages of disposables filling landfills.

It all comes down to the lesser of two, or more, evils. Although hot melt adhesives are not biodegradable, they are also not a major component of a diaper. Those concerned about biodegradability are looking at the diaper coverstock and backsheet before they focus on the elastic or glue that holds it together. "Actually, if you look in a landfill," said H.B. Fuller's Mr. Modak, "the rest of the product must degrade before the hot melt is even exposed to the environment. It's such a small component of total mass that it's not a major issue at this time."

Still, just because hot melt biodegradability is not on the front burner does not mean that manufacturers are not concerned about the issue. "Although no problems have been encountered yet, the issue should not be taken lightly," said Dan Verzal, of National Starch & Chemical, Bridgewater, NJ. "We are presently working on products for diapers that are biodegradable, but it's a matter of getting the manufacturer to accept the new style."

Part of the problem also appears to be the cost of new technology. "Manufacturers would have to redesign to accommodate biodegradable products," said Mr. Verzal, "and this represents a major change in thinking." National Starch supplies hot melt adhesives for all areas of nonwovens worldwide.

Others agree with the problem of cost and acceptance. "Companies are researching the possibility of biodegradable hot melts, but this will definitely mean more costly systems," said Mr. Modak.

Mr. Lepovksy, of Lepovsky Associates, speculated about why. "If hot melts become biodegradable, adhesive characteristics will have to change in some way. The pumps used in hot melt machinery now require certain sheer and stability of the hot melts, as well as a certain lubricity. If these properties are altered, many equipment changes will have to be made."

In addition to working on biodegradable hot melts, Findley Adhesives, Wauwatosa, WI, is also researching ways of making the finished products more biodegradable. "We are approaching this from two angles," explained Michael Klonne, of Findley. "We are working on biodegradable hot melts, but we are also researching debonding properties or laminating different materials for different end use characteristics."

As with all discussions, the problem of defining biodegradability remains. "Everyone is asking us about biodegradability, but no one has told us exactly what it is," said Mr. Modak. Until there is an industry-wide definition, the problem cannot readily be solved.

Market Driven Vs. Customer Driven

Manufacturers report constant new product introductions to the hot melt markets. National Starch claims to be introducing products at the rate of about two a month. Mr. Klonne, of Findley, said that they are constantly in the development mode. And John Green, product marketing manager of Oliver Products, Grand Rapids, MI, reports almost daily new product introductions. Most companies agree that both the market itself and the individual customer determine what they manufacture.

The larger companies, such as Nordson, may be able to depend more on individual customers for ideas. "Nordson works closely with loyal customers and we are intimately involved in product conceptualization," said Mr. Raterman.

"At Acumeter, we work hand-in-hand with the producer of the product to develop it, we do R&D on our line and actually help with the design," said Peter Barnard, of Acumeter Laboratories, Marlborough, MA. The company manufactures the "Acu-fiber" fiberizing process as well as multiple bead and wide band extrusion applications.

Another view point is offered by Century Adhesives, which Mr. Quinn describes as market driven. "We do all of our own development work. We find out what the market is looking for and we design it," he said. About 15%--higher than the industry average--of Century's sales dollar goes to research and development.

Most companies, however, fall somewhere in the middle. Spraymation, Ft. Lauderdale, FL, has a standard product line as well as an array of custom offerings. "We are very well known for our equipment speeds and timing controls," said Harry Smiles, marketing/sales manager. Spraymation manufactures UFAD, "Ultra Fine Air Dispersed" system, as well as application guns that are unique because the solenoid valve is built into the gun. It recently introduced a series of low cost hot melt adhesive application units supplied with an integral control unit.

Oliver Products likewise attacks the marketing challenge from both ends. It designs standard products for a variety of customers, but "we excel when a customer comes to us with a problem," said Mr. Green. "We specialize in meeting a customer's specification. We can also convert the final product. We succeed where others have failed."

Oliver, originally a nonwovens equipment supplier, now manufactures hot melt adhesives for a variety of substrates. A vertically integrated company, it also does converting, including printing, slitting, die cutting and heat laminating. New on the market for Oliver is a paper toweling material bonded to an air laid material for application in scrubs or wipes. Oliver has also recently worked on spunbond polyesters for filtration as well as applying a hot melt on weak nonwovens for pouching applications.

"We design products on the basis of research as well as from work in the field," said Mr. Verzal, of National Starch. H.B. Fuller's Mr. Modak concurred. "We market from a problem solving standpoint as well as from research," he said. "Our recent introduction, Ful-tec, is a result of broad market research."

Meltex uses R&D to make a product fit market requirements, but it also goes out and works with individual customers on problems. "We pride ourselves on our capability to do a lot of special designs within the nonwovens industry," said Mr Hughes.
COPYRIGHT 1989 Rodman Publications, Inc.
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Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:includes a related article
Author:Noonan, Ellen
Publication:Nonwovens Industry
Date:Jun 1, 1989
Previous Article:Cotton: growth in nonwovens, naturally.
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