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Survey of raw material suppliers to nonwovens.

Manufacturers of binders and resins for nonwovens, primary ingredients in the chemical bonding process, continue to encounter new challenges as the industry continues to evolve. The latest challenge comes in the form of heightened regulatory and customer awareness of the issue of formaldehyde, which is used to crosslink binders in the manufacturing process and has been labeled a potential carcinogen. Recent Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) rulings and the impact of California's Proposition 65 are two major forces impacting chemical binder producers.

The issue of competition from other bonding technologies is also a concern for chemical binder suppliers, but threats from spunbonded, thermal bonded and other bonding methods simply remain areas to be monitored; all of the producers surveyed continued to see a market for their products far into the future.

In general, raw material suppliers have reported a good year for their nonwovens business, although overall growth has been slow. Most suppliers noted improvements in the economy in general and in nonwovens in particular, yet across the board companies remained cautious about predicting a total market upswing.

Formaldehyde: A Real Problem?

While the issue of lowering formaldehyde levels in binder and resin products was the main concern among all the suppliers surveyed by NONWOVENS INDUSTRY, the rationale behind the switch to lower formaldehyde products differs according to various suppliers. Both government regulations and customer demand are playing a part in the development of new products. "Customers want formaldehyde and other toxin free binders, but the industry generally does not change unless there is a definite advantage or unless the government says so," said John Kolackovsky, business manager, Rohm Tech, Fitchburg, MA.

It was a focus on supplying customers' needs that prompted Sequa Chemical, Chester, SC, to introduce formaldehyde free systems. "We were not trying to make a big splash with these," said marketing manager Kim Deacon, "but rather trying to market products to customers that could benefit specifically from the properties. This is not generic product development," he said. "We are looking at problems that face various industries - filtration, roofing and apparel - and trying to help provide solutions."

Likewise Air Products and Chemicals, Allentown, PA, took it upon themselves to go ahead with formaldehyde free technology. "We had a goal to come up with a product that significantly reduced formaldehyde in the latex, in the plant and in the finished nonwoven," said Joseph Molinari, marketing manager.

Arnold Blam, market manager-nonwovens, BFGoodrich, Brecksville, OH said that it was primarily government regulations that prompted his company to begin working on lower formaldehyde products. Some people would rather switch to a product that has no questions associated with it," he said.

That raises the question whether the new low formaldehyde or formaldehyde free products are actually necessary or if the demand comes from customers simply wanting to cover the bases or not lose ground to the competition. "We see people responding because they think they need it and we see people responding out of fear that the competition will have it. How real is the issue?" questioned David Nass, marketing manager-binders, National Starch & Chemical, Bridgewater, NJ.

"I know of few companies that have mandated reducing formaldehyde levels because it's the right thing to do," he continued. Some have concerns about plant emissions or Proposition 65 labeling, but these are very specific instances."

At BASF, new formaldehyde free products have been developed because of customer demand, although the customers are government driven, explained marketing manager-carpet and nonwovens Laurie Dennis, BASF Dispersions Group, Charlotte, NC. "There are two facets to this," she said. "Proposition 65 is providing a very strong impetus from the product level, while OSHA regulations for workplace safety are also a driving force. The pressure comes from both perspectives."

Whether the issue is real or perceived remains to be decided. "The media has certainly played a role in making this an emotionally charged issue," continued Ms. Dennis. "We as an industry must deal with this proactively rather than reactively."

Part of the proactive stance has been at the technological level, as all the suppliers surveyed are hard at work on new products that lower formaldehyde without compromising quality or increasing price. Manufacturers are not willing to pay a premium or sacrifice product attributes to get lower formaldehyde products, commented Mr. Nass, but as technology evolves, lower formaldehyde levels are easier to attain. "Formaldehyde free used to mean zero," he said. "Zero is not a reality and technologies for low formaldehyde are starting to approach that level."

Ms. Dennis concurred. "A lot of times there has been a tradeoff in performance in lower formaldehyde products, but new products are certainly improving in this area."

At Sequa, three technologies are being used to attain higher performance without formaldehyde. The first, explained Mr. Deacon, is the starch graft, which uses the thermoplastic nature of the starch to get the performance usually obtained by formaldehyde crosslinking. "The second method uses heat resistant polymers that don't need thermal curing. Finally, a non-formaldehyde thermal crosslinked product is also available," he concluded.

Rohm & Haas, Philadelphia, PA, introduced a new product, "Rhoplex ST-954," that targets durable applications and is stronger than the typical binder without sacrificing hand, with reduction of formaldehyde - both in the process and in the finished product - only a side benefit.

It is interesting to note that the formaldehyde issue remains grounded in the U.S., with international markets having a different set of problems. We have customers in North America asking for low formaldehyde products, saying they must have this feature, while in Europe there is no interest at all," said Ms. Dennis. "European customers are not willing to pay for the product; in Europe, recycling and composting issues are more critical."

Mr. Nass added, "In Europe there's a different set of health and safety issues. For example, right now because of the concentration of people, Europe is more sensitive to the aquatic toxicity issue and less keyed in to the formaldehyde issue."

Chemical Bonding Vs. Other

Bonding Technologies

As technologies such as spunbonding, spunlacing and melt blowing continue to grow and become more sophisticated, concerns arise that the future of chemical bonding may be limited. Suppliers of chemical binders remain optimistic about where the technology will go as the industry changes.

"Yes, we're concerned about thermal bonding and other bonding processes," said Mr. Deacon. "But things change quickly. Something will pop up in the next year that no one has thought about and provide an opportunity for latex. It's the nature of the industry; there's a lot of development going on and we're going to stay on top of it."

I don't see chemical bonded products phasing out," agreed Richard Ruzzini, market manager-nonwovens at Rohm & Haas. "There are always opportunities for new businesses. One of the interesting things is that alternative technologies such as spunbonds and thermal bonds are beginning to use latex binder in addition to the original bonding method to add a specific end use property."

While chemical bonding may be used in different ways, said Mr. Nass, "it continues to afford roll goods manufacturers ways to add clear value to products. It's just another tool in their bag of tricks."

As one of the newer players in the U.S. binder market, BASF has noted strong potential for chemical binders in nonwovens. "We see a lot of opportunity in nonwovens,' said Ms. Dennis. "Certain properties and performance characteristics cannot be achieved by other bonding technologies."

Nonwovens have certainly been touted as one of the stronger market segments at individual companies. No one reported an off year and although growth at most companies was not phenomenal, several suppliers reported not feeling the recession at all and all expected slow but steady improvement.

What's Happening At The

Suppliers: An Update

Here's a wrapup of what's been going on at the various binder and resin suppliers in the last year.

* In addition to its formaldehyde free line, Air Products & Chemicals is also working on its "Airflex 911" flushable binders, which are being expanded into various applications across the nonwovens spectrum. The products are currently in the trial stage at nonwovens producers.

The major effort at BFGoodrich has been in formaldehyde free products, with several new products being developed in the acrylic, PVC and nitrile polymers area.

* Big news at Rohm & Haas, aside from its work on formaldehyde free products and its new "Rhoplex ST954" product introduction, was the acquisition earlier this year of Unocal Polymers. As a result of the acquisition, the company now has six new emulsion plants, two in California, two in Illinois and two in North Carolina, adding significant capacity to the company. "We are still in the process of determining the best way to integrate the new product lines and capacity from Unocal," said Mr. Ruzzini.

* Rohm Tech is currently expanding its manufacturing facility at its Fitchburg headquarters, adding 20% more space. The expansion, which will be completed at the end of this month, is in preparation for a capacity increase expected by the end of the year. The company also has plans for a larger capacity expansion by the middle of next year.

* Sequa Chemical, in addition to its formaldehyde free binder systems, has also been concentrating on finishing products for nonwovens, including softeners and lubricants.

* A new BASF acrylic dispersions plant in Monaca, PA, will be online in the fourth quarter of this year. The plant, the first acrylic plant in the U.S., will manufacture acrylic copolymer and acrylic styrene products.

BASF also has several next generation formaldehyde free products in the pre-marketing stages and is concentrating specifically in the medical, wipes, interlinings and roofing fields with a broad range of products.

Polypropylene Polymers Provide

Potential For Nonwovens

NONWOVENS INDUSTRY spoke with Shell Chemical, Atlanta, GA, and Exxon Chemical, Houston, TX, both of which supply polypropylene polymers for the nonwovens industry. Here's a brief summary of what's happening in the nonwoven polymers arena.

* Shell Chemical, the second largest producer of polypropylene in the world and the fourth or fifth in the U.S., has substantial market penetration in nonwovens, which Matthew Launikitis, end use market manager-textile and related applications, described as the most difficult industry in terms of performance. "The quality and consistency requirements are extremely important in nonwovens. The name of the game is consistency. You must be able to meet the performance criteria time and time again; small variations are magnified in nonwovens."

Mr. Launikitis reported that nonwovens have great potential and should remain a high growth area. In particular, medical nonwovens, geotextiles and feminine hygiene materials are primary targets for polypropylene resin products.

"If I had to say one thing about non-wovens, I would stress the quality requirements of the products as the key element," he said. "Many companies cannot compete successfully because of this."

* Exxon is doing a tremendous amount of research in the polyolefin area, specifically polyethylene and polypropylene. In nonwovens, polypropylene has been a primary focus, both at the TANDEC center at the University of Tennessee, which is an Exxon licensee, and at its Baytown, TX research center. "Specific areas of research include developing softer fabrics, finer fiber diameters, better coverage and better processability," said James McKinley, segment manager, nondurables. "While there is nothing really new in terms of products, there is certainly a lot of action in polypropylene development as well as melt blown process licensing worldwide."

Nonwovens has been a much more stable business at Exxon than other traditional textile markets such as home construction and automotives. Mr. McKinley said that because of the diverse applications in nonwovens, it has actually grown in a tough economy and has certainly been a recession proof market.

Binding Agents: A European Perspective

Use of resin and latex binders has risen over the last decade, in spite of the increased popularity of thermal bonding and other binder-free systems. However, growth of binder based systems has been constrained by the rising price of many binders. Another major factor has been the increase in energy costs; most binder impregnation system involve an energy intensive drying process.

To some extent the increased usage of binding agents reflects the increased output of the industry in general. But it also indicates that, for many nonwoven applications, chemical bonded constructions are able to offer the required performance/price ratio. Industrial nonwoven constructions based on glass fiber are a good example.

Consumption of binders within the West European industry rose slightly to 39,000 tons in 1990, compared with 38,100 tons during the previous year. Taken over the last decade, the annual rise has not been steady, but the usage of binding agents in 1990 was 23% greater than in 1980.

Five main groups of binders are used, plus other special types. Acrylic resins accounted for 40% of usage in 1990. Styrene butadiene formed 13.1%, nitrile butadiene varieties 12.3%, PVC copolymers accounted for 1.8% and vinyl acetate copolymers provided 13.3%. Various other types formed the balance.

Binder development is currently influenced by three major factors:

-flammability legislation

-disposability

-workplace environmental considerations.

Recent flammability regulations for soft furnishings, established in different parts of Western Europe, were aimed primarily at reducing toxic hazards caused by the ignition of polyurethane foam. Many types of adhesive bonded polyester waddings did not pass the designated tests. Suppliers have developed alternative solutions to the problem and binders are now available for use in manufacturing waddings that are inherently fire retardant. Alternatively, other types of binder can cause a satisfactory "melt away" effect.

As far as disposability is concerned, a degree of toxic risk is associated with certain types of binders if used in nonwoven products that are to be incinerated. Suppliers are now able to advise on a suitable choice to avoid this risk. Binder manufacturers are also able to supply products suitable for use in biodegradable nonwovens based on viscose rayon and other cellulosic fibers.

Growing environmental concern has resulted in more stringent regulations relating to the degree of pollution in water effluent. This can affect nonwovens manufacturers who may have to construct or improve effluent filtration and cleansing facilities. Nevertheless, the amount of binders still used within the industry underlies their continuing importance.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Rodman Publications, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:includes related articles on polypropylene polymers and binding agents
Author:Noonan, Ellen
Publication:Nonwovens Industry
Date:Oct 1, 1992
Words:2355
Previous Article:Bonding technologies: adhesive melt blowing.
Next Article:Addressing environmental issues of silicone technology in nonwovens applications.
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