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The U.S. industrial fabrics market: nonwovens and conventional textiles combine for $4 billion business.


Nonwovens And Conventional Textiles Combine For $4 Billion Business

civil engineering fabrics are forecasted to lead growth in what has become a significant textile segment; nonwovens will continue to play a vital role through a combination of engineering, performance and cost benefits Civil engineering applications will lead the healthy industrial fabrics market to steady growth through the middle of the 1990's. Volume for the market as a whole is forecasted to rise 41%, from 1.42 billion sq. yards in 1988 to two billion sq. yards in 1993. In value terms, the increase will be 45%, from $2.79 billion to $4.06 billion, as higher value fabrics increase in importance. These figures reflect both nonwovens and conventional textile utilization.

Large government expenditures on restoration and improvement of the country's roads, bridges and waterways should mean boom times for geotextiles, whose share of total industrial fabrics consumption volume is projected to rise from 22.3% in 1988 to 26.8% in 1993.

Geotextile growth is expected to be highest in underliners and primary and secondary road stabilization. Asphalt overlay and erosion control applications will show much smaller increases. The leading manufacturers of such geotextiles continue to be Phillips Fibers, Spartanburg, SC; Foss Manufacturing, Haverhill, MA; and DuPont, Wilmington, DE.

Automotive interior trim, the second largest industrial fabrics end use market, will experience a market decline from 17% in 1988 to 13.9% in 1993, although consumption will rise somewhat in absolute terms. The segment is limited by slow growth in the U.S. automobile and light truck industry.

Automotive trim products will tend towards higher quality, maximizing comfort, aesthetics, durability and fade resistance levels. There is hope that a single fiber suitable for all interior trim will soon be developed to reduce installation costs.

Growth Mirrors Economy

The industrial fabric market comprises roughly 20% of the total domestic textile market. The varied performance of leading economic indicators suggests that after six and a half years of expansion, the U.S. economy is entering a period of temperate growth, continued consolidation and regrouping. Current trends in the industrial fabrics industry mirror these, although activity in industrial fabrics is not tied as closely to consumer spending, interest rates and short term economic fluctuations as are other textile industry segments. The industrial fabrics industry tends to be more stable as a whole.

Industry concentration of fiber and textile mill companies has increased during the past two years and is expected to continue into the future. Mergers and subsequent spinoffs in both of these sectors have created a confusing competitive atmosphere where short term effects include price run-ups due to curtailed production (raw material shortages) and the loss or rearrangement of traditional supply channels. In the nonwovens industry, this is exemplified by the closing of Avtex Fiber's rayon staple plant in Front Royal, VA last year.

The competitive environment increasingly favors niche marketing and customized products rather than commodity goods. This is particularly true of laminated fabrics. For non-commodity goods, domestic manufacturers will experience advantages over overseas operations as they are better equipped to offer custom products, more responsive services and shorter lead times.

Domestic fabric manufacturers are benefitting from the relatively low value of the dollar against world currencies. The penetration of imported fabrics appears to be leveling off in most areas that have been under pressure in recent years. Fabric manufacturers are also benefitting from the declining penetration of imported finished products.

Pressure from imports varies among end product segments and certain fiber and fabric types. Markets with only nominal penetration of imports are geomembranes and geotextiles, roofing fabrics, protective apparel and automotive trim, all areas in which nonwovens are strong.

Applications for geomembranes and geotextiles, protective apparel and architectural fabrics require a high level of technical knowledge and a commensurate level of engineering in fabric development and production. Generally, fabric end uses that are secure from import penetration are those with unique or custom fibers and fabrics or those that require a large amount of technical end user support. Domestic fabric suppliers to high end and high performance product areas are better protected from the threat of import dominance.

Strong Market Forecast

The data in Table 1 provides a summary of five industrial nonwovens segments measured in square yards and dollars. For this portion of the market, fabric usage in 1988 reached 953 million sq. yards, a dollar equivalent of $1.6 billion, while in 1989 square yards totaled one billion, valued at $1.8 billion. [Tabular Data Omitted]
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Publication:Nonwovens Industry
Date:May 1, 1990
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