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The nonwovens industry in Japan.

THE NONWOVENS INDUSTRY IN JAPAN Japan is no exception to the worldwide trend of strong growth in almost every nonwovens technology. Nonwoven fabrics constitute one of the rare fields in the textile industry still maintaining a high growth rate.

In 1988, Japanese production of total synthetic fibers increased only 1.1%, while that of nonwovens grew 6.9%. The growth rate of nonwovens in Japan can hardly be expected to decrease in the near future. In fact, growth will surely continue for some time to come. Although there is some concern for the effect of increasing product imports, these have not yet made domestic production stagnant.

In some of the nonwovens markets, of course, imported products are very competitive with domestic ones. The increase in both imports and domestic production means that the demand for nonwovens is very large. However, the competition is expected to become more severe in the future between continuously increasing imports and domestic production.

Production Of Nonwovens

Japanese nonwovens production in 1988 was 132,000 tons (about 2.2 billion sq. meters), which represented an increase of 6.9% from the previous year. The production detail is shown in Figure 1, classified by production methods.

Higher growth rates were shown by thermal bonded (22.4%), spunbonded (11.8%) and melt blown (11.1%) technologies. These were followed by needlepunched (4.9%), wet laid (4.7%) and stitchbonded (2.9%) processes. Nonwovens made by resin bonding remained substantially stagnant, while spunlaced nonwovens showed a decrease. The decrease in spunlacing is mainly because Uni Charm, a top manufacturer of spunlaced, changed the material of its diaper coverstock to thermal bonded nonwovens.

Hereafter, growth of resin bonded, needlepunched, stitchbonded and wet laid nonwovens is expected to be less than 5%, while that of spunbonded and thermal bonded is projected at about 10%. Thermal bonded nonwovens have shown rapid growth, supported by a strong increase in the production of baby diapers, which are a major market for thermal bonded nonwovens.

The expansion of thermal bonded nonwovens, however, may be shortlived as the disposable diaper market matures. The popularity of baby diapers, having reached 59% in 1988, is expected to exceed a figure of 70% in 1989. Therefore, the growth of baby diapers themselves will level off, causing the growth rate of thermal bonded nonwovens in Japan to decrease.

On the other hand, spunlaced nonwovens, which showed a temporary decrease, are expected to further increase in uses other than coverstock, also supported by an increase of newcomers in the field of spunlace production.

Fiber Consumption By Nonwovens

Fibers consumed in the Japanese production of nonwovens in 1988 are roughly classified into 27,300 tons of filaments and 93,700 tons of staple (with Futamura Chemical's TCF categorized as staple fiber). The shares of raw materials are shown in Figure 2. As to bicomponent thermal bonding fibers (staple), olefins and polyesters totaled 10,800 and 8300 tons, respectively. Polyester, whose consumption is now remarkably increasing, will exceed olefins in 1989.

In the field of filaments, polypropylene, which showed a growth rate exceeding 20%, is expected to maintain a healthy rate of not less than 10% in 1989. Polyester is also expected to show a high growth rate of 6-10%, while nylon is expected to remain at a growth rate not exceeding 5%. In staple fibers, polyester is expected to increase 6-10%, while polypropylene, nylon and vinyon will grow at a rate not exceeding 5%. Polypropylene staple fibers are being chased by polyester in the field of needlepunched and thermal bonded nonwovens.

Polyethylene (flash spinning), pulp (air laid) and aramid (needlepunched, thermal bonded) are expected to increase in the future.

Demand For Nonwovens

Classified By Use

Table 1 shows the use classification of nonwovens consumed in 1988. It is estimated that, in 1988, durables and disposables had 60% and 40%, respectively, on the basis of weight. Recently, disposables' share is increasing due to light nonwovens being used in the coverstock of diaper and sanitary napkin products. The consumption of light nonwovens in these fields has reached 25,000 tons and has become the most dominant area of disposables.

Classified by the areas of use, the production is steadily increasing in the fields of industrial, medical/sanitary and household products, while the consumption of needlepunched carpet is holding steady. Promising end use fields include filters, civil engineering/construction and automotive products, FD liners, battery separators, basis cloths for adhesive plaster, disposable clothes and durable paper.

The Present And The Future

Of the many uses of nonwovens in Japan, only limited kinds have come to maturity. Most of the possible uses are in the development stages. This means that the demand for nonwovens will doubtlessly continue to increase, although competition will also become more and more severe.

To comply with diverging future demands by overcoming the competition, it is essential that manufacturers continue their efforts in further developing improved production technology, including new material fibers and resins. [Tabular data omitted] [Figures omitted]
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Author:Ohmura, Kin
Publication:Nonwovens Industry
Date:Jul 1, 1989
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