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Hot melts for nonwovens: the industry warms up to changes in the business.

Hot Melts For Nonwovens

The Industry Warms Up To Changes In The Business

The diaper converter determines the type of nonwoven coverstock, calculates the percentages of superabsorbent and fluff and then includes the thickness of the poly backsheet in its formulation of the typical diaper. Then the hot melt suppliers are called.

But just because they are a bit down the line when it comes to product development does not mean the hot melt material and equipment suppliers don't play an integral role in the design of a baby diaper. Their ability to put all of the components of the highly complex product together makes them a vital contributor to the final product.

The hot melt industry is certainly not immune to the outside pressures affecting the nonwovens and disposables industries. First and foremost, the environment, while certainly reaching the heart of the disposables industry, has opened up new avenues for "environmentally friendly" hot melts. The traditionally strong customer/supplier relationships among hot melt producers and diaper converters blossomed at a time that demands innovation. And globalization has become the by-word for an industry whose customers supply every part of the civilized world...and some not so civilized places.

Sanity In A Soft Market

"We are just trying to maintain our level of sanity in a soft economic market." That is the (understandably) anonymous comment from one supplier on the state of the hot melt industry. Other reactions varied, but, above all, it appears that hot melt companies have remained flexible enought to "go with the flow" in an often unpredictable market struggling through the same business climate as its counterparts in the nonwovens industry. "In this type of economy we see different types of opportunities," Tom Draskovics, marketing manager-disposables adhesives, National Starch and Chemical, Bridgewater, NJ, told Nonwovens Industry. "There is more need for our customers to differentiate, so they are looking to us to help develop new types of products for them."

The product changes being made by the large and small converters have, for the most part, positively affected hot melt suppliers. One of them is the reliance of adhesives, superabsorbents and carrier substrates in diapers and feminine hygiene products. John Raterman, general manager of the Nonwoven Business Group at Nordson, Norcross, GA, said the addition in 1990 of foam waistbands and standing leg gathers has been "a boon for glue and super-absorbent application equipment companies. All are very adhesive equipment intensive," he pointed out, adding that as recently as 1985 there were only three glue heads on a diaper line, while the newer sophisticated lines have up to six hot melt units on them.

That Environmental Impact

Everywhere you turn in nonwovens looms the specter of the environment. The hot melt business, with its roots in disposables, is no exception. Product development among all of the suppliers has the environmental theme running through it.

For example, at H.B. Fuller, St. Paul, MN, work is being done on the packaging of the hot melts it is shipping to customers. "The adhesive put on diapers is low on the environmental priority list because it is such a small portion of the overall product," pointed out Michael Modak, general manager-Nonwovens Business Unit at Fuller. So Fuller, which is doing research work in different chemical bases, has looked to contribute another method.

"In keeping with the EPA source reduction hierarchy, we are developing ways that our customers will have less to throw away after they receive our product," Mr. Modak said. "Without going into details, he said to expect a new packaging concept from Fuller within the next few months.

The environment has had a direct impact on product development at Acumeter, Marlborough, MA, which is marketing a new convection type hot melt system that uses infrared light for the pre-melting stage. It is, according to Peter Barnard, based on technology Acumeter developed in the past that was then known as "Acu-melt," but the revised technology is being called the "Light-Ray Melting" adhesives system. "It is based on a design developed a few years ago that has been brought back because of the concern over cleanliness and energy efficiency," he said.

Jim Williams, product manager at Spraymation, Fort Lauderdale, FL, another equipment supplier, felt it is a matter of technology meeting customer needs. "People are getting away from solvent-based cold adhesives and into sprayable hot melts," he said. "We have several customers in specific applications coming to us to replace wide web cold adhesives with hot melts."

The environment is also impacting on Roto-Therm, Reading, CA, whose gravure liquid printing of high tech adhesives is replacing flame bonding in many nonwoven applications. "Our process is not only cost effective, it is more atmospherically clean than anything in the business," president Al Dustin said. He reported that two major suppliers of filtration media are already using the system and he mentioned a number of Top 25 nonwovens producers also employing the method.

One other company developing new products based on environmental concerns is IGI Adhesives, Nashville, TN. IGI is involved in one particular area with a water dispersible adhesive for feminine pads. "The customer, being aware of the environmental demand, is looking down the road to see what they can do together with their suppliers to make the problem better than it is," said Bert Blackwood, manager of nonwoven products. "It has turned into a cooperative effort, a two or even three way street, because there is no quick fix, certainly not in the hot melt segment.

The Customer/Supplier Relationship

"Increased supplier/customer cooperation is a matter of need and opportunity," IGI's Mr. Blackwood continued. "It is now mandatory in our business."

It is this increasing intimacy of suppliers and customers that is enabling much of the progressive developmental work to go forward. Although the machinery suppliers admit they sometimes feel captive to their large converting customers--"they are fairly one-sided partnerships" is how one builder put it--overall the vendors welcome the increased closeness.

Dennis Mercer, vice president-marketing and international sales, Mercer Corp., Hendersonville, TN, said his company has become very close to its customers. "They want a partnership to enable them to develop some sense of loyalty to their products," Mr. Mercer said. "We are hoping to encourage them to look at us as a partner."

Oliver Products, Grand Rapids, MI, has been concentrating on a process it calls Continuous Improvement for advancing its supplier/customer relationships, in both directions. "We became aware of it from one of our customers in the medical business," product market director John Green, told NONWOVENS INDUSTRY. Oliver now employs a full time staff person whose sole job is to find "anything you can do to improve your job," as Mr. Green put it. The commitment has paid off as Oliver has received a specification for "Tyvek" from Du Pont on Tyvek 1059 and 1073 that certifies the quality of the product without needing additional testing. Oliver is also working with Xerox, a customer that has won the coveted Malcom Baldridge Quality Award, in improving its own quality efforts.

"We don't call it a quality program because a program has a beginning and an end. Our process is on-going. It is unbelievable the benefits you get from this commitment...and it takes a lot of commitment."

The nature of the equipment business makes these partnerships, and the improved communication they bring with them, invaluable. Mr. Barnard, of Acumeter, emphasized that it is necessary to keep your programs on time. Good relationship mean this can be done. "We sense our customers are looking for more service and more contact and more commitment from their suppliers," he said. "It is necessary for growth to do this anyway."

Added Nona Peterson, sales coordinator at May Coating, St. Paul, MN: "With the long lead times involved in making this type of equipment, it is important to make sure we are supplying everything they need in terms of customer service and manufacturing. They want to be familiar with our staff and they want to keep their fingers on the pulse of their projects as they go along."

Mr. Raterman, of Nordson, is another strong believer in supplier/customer relationships and Nordson has taken a leadership role worldwide in addressing the issue. "We have invested heavily in labs and documentation programs to provide a level of service that wasn't available before," he said. "We are trying to change the minimum standards required to supply the hot melt industry."

The Global Buzzword

Global marketing is a buzzword thrown around the nonwovens industry for the past decade. Today, globalization remains as vital as ever for hot melt suppliers, whose customer lists have names such as Procter & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson and Kimberly-Clark written all over them.

Nordson enjoyed a worldwide presence even before to its purchase of German competitor Meltex last year. "We have a jump on the industry in globalization because we had dedicated ourselves to it a long time ago," Mr. Raterman said. "With Eastern Europe opening up we are ideally positioned both geographically and technically with Meltex (Luneberg, Germany is very near the East German border)."

The Nordson/Meltex marriage, although certainly not without its logistical problems, is now bearing fruit. According to Mr. Raterman, the two companies are organized such that Meltex handles all Nordson and Meltex product lines in Europe and Nordson does the same in North America. Engineering support is based on local markets. One of the primary focuses of Nordson's near term strategy is a heavy investment in the disposables market. "As that globalizes we have to globalize our service network so the same level of support is available worldwide," he added. One of Nordson's largest subsidiary companies is in Japan, where a nonwovens group does applications engineering and lab support work utilizing Nordson and Meltex technologies adapted to local markets.

The globalized nature of its customers' businesses has turned Mercer towards a worldwide perspective for its business as well. "Being able to offer products and service worldwide is important to all of our customers, especially the global converters," Dennis Mercer said. Mercer recently entered into an agency relationship in the U.K. with a company called Petrie & McNaught. In the Far East it has agents in Tokyo and Korea.

International expansion remains "very high on our agenda," Mr. Barnard, of Acumeter, told Nonwovens Industry. "We are doing everything we can to increase our marketability and sales outside of the U.S." To that end Acumeter is fostering sales agents around the world, with a solid nucleus in Asia, including Japan, Singapore, Korea and Taiwan and an office in Hong Kong. It also has a European office in the U.K.

Trying to stay a step ahead of its customers, adhesives supplier H.B. Fuller already has in place a vast global network, with corporate offices in, among other places, Germany, France, U.K., Spain, Sweden, Japan, Taiwan, Korea and a host of Latin American countries. "Our customers will take us this way and it is better for us to be prepared to deliver the same product, service and ideas anywhere in the world so they can better leverage their development efforts," Mr. Modak said, adding that this global and partnership emphasis mesh well. "It all fits in with the need for speed and efficiency, speed in developing new products and efficiency in supply."

With the disposables area a key market, globalization has always been a focus at National Starch. "We have always viewed disposables as a global business," said Mr. Draskovics. "The companies able to supply globally are at a distinct advantage."

National Starch has certainly not been standing still in the international arena. It acquired adhesives manufacturer Beta Chemical in Australia and New Zealand last year and is completing a joint venture with Imperial Polychemicals Ltd. in South Korea, with a hot melt for disposables plant slated to start-up in mid-1991. The new plant will primarily serve the Korean market; National Starch already has a joint venture with Kanebo in Japan and a plant in Thailand serving the Pacific Rim. Domestically, National Starch completed a new adhesives manufacturing facility in Hazleton, PA to serve the mid-Atlantic and New England areas. "We have an emphasis on local supply and service," Mr. Draskovics said. "It is nice to be global, but the local touch is driving our business.

It's Too Hot To Stop

With all of the new product activity in the worldwide disposables business, it is no surprise that there is a significant amount of corresponding new product development among that industry's suppliers. Among the more interesting developments of the past six to nine months:

* Spraymation recently introduced an interesting new product in a related field. Its new fluid flow through monitor, developed at a customer's request to monitor the dispension of perfumes into feminine hygiene products, measures actual amount dispensed in each application down to micrograms.

* Mercer has learned to cope with the expansions of computer equipment suppliers into the materials control field by developing specific configurations for customer applications utilizing the best of these outside technologies. "Commercially there are a lot of PLCs that the bigger converters are incorporating into their production processes, newer machines that will interface with the PLCs. This takes a lot of the electronic controls out of our hands," Mr. Mercer said. Mercer, for its part, has developed a multi-functional microprocessor that it plans to introduce in the fourth quarter of this year.

* As the self-described "new kid on the block" in the hot melt equipment area, May Coating is focusing on the smaller hot melt processing units. These smaller, five gallon size units for dispensing hot melts have been developed to fill the need for lab and pilot size production and testing lines. Another new product is a laminator that allows companies to do their own laminating without the expense of a complete line. "Many customers need some lamination done but they don't want to or need to do their own coating," Ms. Peterson said. "They are buying pre-coated stock and then doing their own laminating."

* As usual, things have been very busy at Oliver Products, where new product developments seem to be the rule rather than the exception. Among the recent developments: autoclavable hot melts for application to Tyvek for medical devices; a version of that adhesive that will seal to polypropylene, a demand also made by the medical industry that wants to use polypropylene because of its higher heat resistance; higher heat resistant adhesives for desiccant packaging; and adhesives for sealing to microporous membranes, adhesives that are able to actually control the porosity of the Gore-tex type products.

Oliver is also putting in a new 44 inch wide hot melt coater, which it expects to be up and running by mid-year. The machine is capable of one or two side coatings of hot melt in one pass and is able to laminate two or three webs together. The machine is capable of handling webs from one to 20 mils thick.

* In the hot melt business for 16 years, Roto-Therm is making its presence known through the development of gravure liquid printing of adhesives at high temperatures, a technology that has enabled some manufacturers to avoid sintering of powders and pastes. "We can put the exact amount of adhesive in any pattern you want," Mr. Dustin said. The equipment can run at speeds up to 100 yards a minute; its advantages rest in its high production rates and repetitive qualities.

* IGI reports that its hot melt wetness indicator is now in three adult incontinence products, all in Europe, and the adult field appears to be the direction in which these wetness indicators are headed.

IGI is currently testing a multi-purpose diaper adhesive. It claims to have overcome the compromises inherent in a multi-purpose product. "The performance characteristics of each individually work against themselves by nature," the company's Mr. Blackwood said. "Everybody is working on a multi-purpose, but there is a learning curve involved."

* Also working on multi-purpose adhesives is H.B. Fuller, whose multi-purpose product for elastic attachment and construction adhesives and for bonding the foam in the waistband has already been introduced to the trade. Fuller is receiving two patents for this multi-purpose adhesive which, according to Mr. Modak, overcomes the past trade-offs between performance and convenience. Fuller is also receiving a patent on a wetness indicator hot melt product.

* Last year National Starch received a patent for a low viscosity, high performance adhesive designed to perform as well as the more traditional high viscosity adhesives; it allows application of adhesives at lower temperatures. Also being promoted is a patentedprocess called "Cycloflex" that can be utilized in both liquid and hot melt applications. It addresses the need for adhesives that are dispersible and repulpable and it will focus on environmental compatibility and friendliness.
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Title Annotation:includes related article; growth of hot melt adhesives use in the nonwoven industry
Author:Jacobsen, Michael
Publication:Nonwovens Industry
Date:Jun 1, 1991
Previous Article:The history of diaper elastic.
Next Article:The new kid in town.

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