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the latest news in these two technology sectors and a look at where the market is headed

These days it seems that nearly every conversation about nonwovens begins with a reference to spunbond and melt blown technologies. Application possibilities for spunbond melt blown nonwovens span consumer and industrial markets. With growth rates on the rise and an ever-increasing number of potential applications--in disposable fields such as hygiene and medical as well as durable end uses including filtration, geotextiles and roofing--it's clear that these technologies are here to stay.

In terms of recent market conditions, the picture looks bright. Many manufacturers are focused on improving the performance properties of already existing fabrics through machinery and raw material upgrades. For their part, customersare calling the shots, demanding improved quality, speed and design. In general, melt blown and spunbond technologies are expected to continue to grow as technology improves and market demands for higher quality and performance continue.

Spunbond and melt blown products will continue to gain importance, according to Serken Gogus, commercial director of Mogul Nonwovens, Gaziantep, Thrkey. "New innovations in machinery and raw materials will increase the significance of production techniques and increase market-share or even create new markets to apply both technologies," he said.

Such technology advancements are occurring along with heightened levels of globalization, a trend that has affected how nonwovens companies do business. Manufacturers are now challenged with higher performance expectations and there is abundant competition for delivery; service, price and packaging. Yukio Kawasaki, general manager of the spunbond operations department at Toyobo, Osaka, Japan, commented, "The world market is becoming more unified, almost without borders, as far as price and quality go."

Mike Mebane, general manager of the Nonwovens Division, Unifi Inc., Greensboro, NC, concurred. "We want to participate in globalization and be able to deliver similar quality, similar products and similar cost in all the markets where all our customers are located."

The Overcapacity Question

With globalization comes certain inevitable market ramifications such as overcapacity. This is a growing concern in some corners of the spunbond and melt blown market, with many companies producing too much of the same thing, which has led to lowered prices. "Prices are down in most industries due to overcapacity," said T. Yoshimura, export manager for Unitika Ltd, Osaka, Japan. Also commenting on this issue was Frantisek Klaska, technical director for Pegas, Znojmo, Czech Republic. "There is a glut of commodity materials and companies are mostly offering the same products. Prices are reduced and the end result is a necessity to offer specialty products."

The story is different in other sectors, where certain manufacturers, less affected by overcapacity woes, are thriving. According to Stephane Maillard, sales director of Dounor, Neuville en Ferrain, France, "Market conditions do not indicate any overcapacity. In fact, the contrary is true--we are finding it challenging to fulfill all of the requests for lightweight hygiene fabrics."

Ezio Bertoncello, sales manager of Ovattificio Resinatura Valpadana (ORV), Padova, Italy, also offered a positive view of the market. "In the first half of the year the market was steady; in the second half demand for spunbond non-wovens increased considerably."

Steve Lister, general manager for the Filtration Division of Johns Manville, Denver, CO, pointed to recent growth as well. "In filtration, North America is growing at a faster rate than Europe right now." He added that the U.S. and Europe are expanding at similar growth rates for spunbonded nonwovens with the U.S. slightly ahead. Specifically in roofing and construction, he said, there is a 3-4% growth rate in the U.S. and 1-2% in Europe.

Zhao Rengxian, manager at Hainan Xinlong Nonwovens, Xinlong, China, offered his take on growth levels in China. "In 1998 spunbonded products totaled more than 50,000 tons, accounting for 20% of worldwide production." On the Japanese front, according to Unitika's Mr. Yoshimura, "There is currently about a 5% growth rate for spunbonds in Japan."

Composites Lead The Way

In light of growing technical demands in the hygiene, medical and filtration sectors, one prominent market trend in spunbond and melt blown nonwovens continues to be an increased use of two-process composites. One reason for the popularity of composites is that manufacturers can combine two or more processes and get better performance properties than a single method. Most companies involved in spunbond and melt blown technologies offer composites of one form or another, while others are looking to join in on this trend in the near future. Some roll goods producers are even exploring rarely-used polymers in composites in order to stand out from other composite manufacturers.

"We use melt blown for its absorbent capabilities and spunbond for topical strength as well as abrasion resistance. Marrying the two together using ultrasonic bonding gives the product better properties," said Mark Johnson, vice president of sales and marketing at Sorbent Products, Somerset, NJ.

Knud Hansen, managing director of Fibertex Nonwovens, Aalborg, Denmark, also commented on this trend. "We believe that spunbond/melt blown composites will outperform products coming from other technologies such as thermally bonded carded products."

Seiji Date, manager of the Axtar Spunbonded Fabrics business at Toray Industries, Osaka, Japan, offered a prediction as well, "SMS and SMMS materials could very well take the place of conventional spunbonds in diaper applications."

As in most markets, the demand for sophistication and specialized performance in nonwoven products mandates advancements in technology. As products become more specialized, each component of a composite can function at a higher level and as more features are added to disposable products, each feature has very specific requirements. Because composites are mulitlayered, each component can be modified to adjust the performance of the end fabric.

Jim Posa, vice president and general manager for Lydall Technical Papers, Rochester, NH, offered an example. "In filtration, composites are used to impart different properties into the sheets where the melt blown layer may play one role and the other coverstocks or layers may perform another function," he said.

J.C. Tai, president of Kang Na Hsiung, Taipei, Taiwan, expressed his opinion on the future of composites, "There are applications in the marketplace that are not fully explored and innovation will lead the way for composites. Melt blown and spunbond will be integrated with new and old technologies and new applications will replace out-of-date nonwoven processes and traditional materials."

With the growth of niche markets, there has been a growing demand for polyester products in composites and this is expected to be an area of opportunity in the future, barring a raw material price hike. Commenting on the traditional role of polyester and polypropylene spunbonds was Morley Thompson Jr., president of Steams Technical Textiles, Cincinnati, OH. "Generally speaking the polypropylene spunbond market is primarily oriented toward hygiene applications and, to some degree, the medical market, while polyester spunbonds generally target industrial or somewhat specialty markets."

With 60% of the market, polyester spunbonds were dominant in Japan for many years, while polypropylene led in the U.S. and Europe. Today, the opposite seems to be the case as more U.S. companies are increasing the utilization of polyester, while Asian manufacturers are moving toward polypropylene. Many manufacturers are employing both raw materials in order to have an edge in the marketplace.

Spunbond Vs. Carded

From the spunbond side of the market, another key issue is continued competition between spunbond and thermal bonded carded nonwovens. In the early 1990's, thermal bonded carded nonwovens were seen as a dying breed due to the quick growth of spunbonds. While in the past five years, spunbonds accounted for 50% of the U.S. diaper coverstock market, many manufacturers agree that thermal bonded products are coming back into play.

Lee Sullivan, general manager of the Tuft Division for Freudenberg Nonwovens North America, Durham, NC, was one such manufacturer. "We're investing in the hygiene business for the first time in the U.S. and our first choice was to use carded because it gives better properties such as softness and comfort. There will be room for both technologies in the upcoming years."

Cleber dos Santos, commercial director for Companhia Providencia Industria E Comercio, Parara, Brazil, concurred. "Competition between carded and spunbonded nonwovens has been an issue since the early 1990's," he said, "but each technology has found its own place in the market despite the fact that large volumes go into spunbond applications."

According to Unifi's Mr. Mebane, "There's a balance between the two technologies because the market needs both for different reasons. In the U.S. however, between 70-75% of coverstock material is a spunbond or a variation of it and in Europe, the ratio is on a more even keel."

Max Castellani, managing director of Atex s.r.l., Settala, Italy, also addressed this topic. "We believe the competition will continue for a while and we also see the preference toward spunbond increasing due to its high strength, which is required in the hygiene market."

While in 1997 the growth rate for spunbonded fabrics was between 6-8%, today the rate is generally said to have slowed down notably. According to Skip Sneyd, director of marketing and sales for Kimberly-Clark, Roswell, GA, "The growth rate is even lower than that--maybe somewhere in the 3-4% range--depending on which markets and applications are being considered."

Although spunbond offers advantages over carded fabrics such as an increase in balance properties and higher strength on faster production lines, there remain certain applications where spunbonds cannot compare to staple fiber. "Other technologies such as thermal bonded carded offer different advantages and will continue to co-exist with spunbond," said Pieter Meijer, vice president sales and marketing of BBA Nonwovens Europe, Biesheim, France. He added, "This is particularly true in the hygiene market where carded fabrics offer softness and loft that SMS fabrics cannot yet rival."

Carded thermal bonding technology offers different capabilities than the spunbonding process, according to Dan Fratini of Cleaver Associates--U.S. representative for Avgol, Holon, Isreal-- "Five or six years ago, the future of thermally bonded carded nonwovens looked bleak, but acquisition layer technology has changed all of that. High loft staple fiber is perfect for this application."

Capacity Expansions And More Among Manufacturers

At BBA Nonwovens Europe Fiberweb France S.A., Biesheim, France, a large SMMS line has come onstream and a complete rebuild has been completed at BBA's Corovin subsidiary in Peine, Germany. The purpose of the rebuild was to increase the capacity of the line and further improve the quality of the fabric. BBA is also planning to add a meltspun line at its Washougal; WA facility (see page 6 for more information)

In early October Companhia Providencia Industria E Comercio, Parana, Brazil, bought its sixth spunbond/melt blown line. The new 4.2 meter wide system has SMSS capabilities and is expected to be up and running in late 2000. The line represents an increase of more than 15,000 tons per year of new capacity to the region.

Recent news from Dounor, Neuville en Ferrain, France, includes the addition of 6500 tons of SMS capacity. The company will add another 7500 tons by mid-2000 with the latest technology including micro-filament capabilities for ultra lightweight fabrics.

Anew SMS line is slated to be fully operational in late 2000 at Fibertex Nonwovens, Aalborg, Denmark. The addition will bring the company's capacity up to 25,000 tons per year.

A filtration material with 99.99% efficiency was recently developed by Kang Na Hsuing, Taipei, Taiwan. Slated to debut in 2000 is an antibacterial, flame retardant and odor controlling microfiber melt blown product.

Toray Industries, Osaka, Japan, and Saehan Industries, Seoul, Korea, established ajoint venture in October called Toray Saehan Incorporated (TSI). In January 2Q00 the company will install another polypropylene spunbond line, which will produce 10,000 tons per year.

Unifi Incorporated, Greensboro, NC, is venturing into the, nonwovens industry come July 2000 when the company will receive a Reifenhauser 4.3 meter machine with microfiber capabilities for SMS production Unifi plans to begin wide-scale production during the first quarter of 2001 with a focus on hygiene, medical and industrial markets.
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Publication:Nonwovens Industry
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 1999
Previous Article:The Heat Is On.
Next Article:SM and SMS Laminates Produced With 100% PP Melt Blown And Bicomponent Fiber PP/PE Melt Blown Webs.

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