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Through the looking glass: an overview of the glass nonwovens industry.

An Overview Of The Glass Nonwovens Industry

glass filtration, insulation, roofing and other nonwoven products combine to form a market of more than four billion pounds; these 'non-traditional' nonwovens play a major role in the nonwovens industry

A glass nonwoven by any other name - be it a filter, insulating material or roofing mat product - would still make up a substantial portion of the nonwovens industry...

Despite the traditional confusion regarding the glass nonwovens segment and its position in nonwovens (see accompanying box, p. 23), with annual production of more than four billion pounds, the glass nonwoven roll goods segment is certainly one that deserves attention.

Glass nonwoven roll goods can be used in a wide range of end products; these include roofing and building materials, filtration products, flooring substrates, composite materials (used in conjunction with thermoplastic materials that allow for a thermoformable product with excellent stiffness and strength), facer materials and battery separators. For the purposes of this article, highloft fiberglass insulation is also included.

While estimates on the size of the glass roll goods market are hard to formulate because of the diversity of the markets involved and the difficulty in defining terms, an annual worldwide production figure of more than four billion pounds approximates the market. Of this figure, insulation accounts for more than 3.5 billion pounds, with roofing at 800 million pounds, filtration at 8.5 million pounds and carpet, reinforcements and other products at 25 million pounds.

The two major players - covering the widest range of glass nonwoven products - are Owens-Corning, Toledo, OH, and Schuller International, Denver, CO (formerly Manville Sales Corporation). A variety of smaller producers make up industry product segments.

Glass Markets And Marketing

Within the glass nonwovens industry, a host of markets exist where nonwovens are finding application. Chief among these are roofing, filtration and insulation. In the roofing market, nonwoven glass fiber mats have replaced cellulose felts in recent years for roofing reinforcements. Glass mats, produced with a chopped strand wet laid process, provide the supporting structure for the layers of asphalt found in residential roofing shingles and industrial roofing products. The glass mat reinforcement provides improved rigidity and structure and requires less bitumen material, making the end product lighter and easier to handle. The product is also moisture, mildew and flame resistant, helping to provide a shingle that lasts longer, suffers less curling and has greater fire resistance than older cellulose products.

At present, there is no foreseeable substitute for glass nonwoven roofing mats. Charles Salerno, new product/market manager, Elk Corporation, Ennis, TX, put the situation in perspective. "Glass is regarded as a relatively inexpensive fiber as compared to synthetics," he said. Competition from synthetics is not a major concern of the roofing mat industry, but it is an area that the industry monitors.

Some concerns that are facing the glass mat industry involve international trade and tariffs. "Mat production can face stiff competition abroad when exchange rates make American products more expensive," said Robert Bender, senior development engineer, Mats, Fiber and Reinforcements Division, Schuller International. Exported mats produced in the U.S. can and do face disadvantages when exchange rates and tariffs become barriers to trade. Imports also benefit from exchange rates that lower the relative price of the foreign product. In general, most of the U.S. producers participate overseas through affiliates and licensees.

In the filtration segment, filter media can be produced from both microfiber glass fibers and continuous filament glass fibers, depending on the desired efficiency. The questions regarding the safety of glass products - a major issue to glass nonwoven manufacturers - involve microfiber glass, where the fibers are small enough to be inhaled, rather than larger continuous filament products. Questions about the safety of glass fibers and the possibility of it being carcinogenic were prompted by the apparent similarity between glass microfibers and asbestos fibers.

Previously, findings in certain studies led to a classification of glass microfibers as a "possible carcinogen," although recent inhalation studies performed with animals have shown this is not the case. The weight of this new research and eight other previous inhalation studies is being put forward for a reclassification of glass fiber (see accompanying sidebar, p. 24).

Most in the industry now firmly believe that glass fibers are not a health risk. "The markets that utilize glass fiber media are very sophisticated and they have tended not to have the knee jerk reaction to glass that consumer oriented markets have had," said Rick Bruno, product manager, Glass Fiber Products, Hollingsworth & Vose, East Walpole, MA.

One of the main aims of companies today is to communicate with the consumers and allay any fears about glass products; education is now the key to changing the public perception of fiberglass. "Our company is responding to the growing weight of scientific evidence that show fiberglass is not a carcinogen and we are extremely committed to fiberglass," said Mr. Bender, of Schuller.

Another issue facing the filtration segment concerns competition from synthetic filter material. This technology is presently available; however, depending on application, the process is not necessarily cost effective. While most suppliers feel that synthetic fiber media will maintain certain niches within the high efficiency market, glass fiber media is expected to retain its share due to superior performance.

Some electrostatically charged synthetic filters are also making inroads in the filter segment. However, these types of filters may experience a drop in filter efficiency over time and this can discourage their use in critical areas, such as clean rooms.

For the most part, companies involved in glass nonwoven filter media are not exclusively glass producers and concentrate in general on improved filter products. "We are a filter company. We provide what the market requires," said Gary Heilman, marketing manager, Replacement Filter Products, American Air Filter, Louisville, KY. "Our concern is from the standpoint of addressing the market," he added.

Mr. Bruno, of Hollingsworth & Vose, agreed. "We see our role as a partner with filter element manufacturers. All of our efforts are directed to satisfying the filter manufacturers' needs," he said.

Fiberglass insulation, a highloft nonwoven product and the third major glass market, is the largest segment of the glass nonwovens industry. Some of the concerns it is facing include its reliance on the construction industry, competition from synthetics, the competitive nature of the industry as a whole and the health and safety question of installing and using fiberglass insulation.

In terms of health and safety, fibrous glass insulation is "one of the most highly tested and well documented goods on the market," said Jeffrey Hire, manager, industry and market analysis for Construction Products, Owens-Corning. This sentiment is echoed throughout the fiberglass insulation industry, but once again it will take time and effort to educate the public on the safety of glass products. "Public perception needs help to change," said Jerald Foster, vice president, Industrial Insulation, Certain-Teed, Valley Forge, PA.

Synthetic replacement insulations are not a major concern for fiberglass manufacturers. "The highest R-value (a thermal resistance factor) at the lowest cost is the goal of insulation products. Nothing that can replace glass fiber has surfaced," said Mr. Foster.

There are a few specialty niches that are being filled by synthetics in the insulation market, but glass is not being threatened. These include the use of cotton or foam products as insulating material for residential use.

The fiberglass insulation market is a mature and competitive one. The retrofitting boom (the installation of home insulation into older residences) of the 1970's has run its course and the overbuilding of commercial properties in the 1980's has become a noticeable problem. The market is now dependent upon remodeling, new housing, new construction and the automotive industry.

"The economic downturn that hit construction affected the insulation market because construction is one of the major drivers of demand," stated Owens-Corning's Mr. Hire. Mr. Foster agreed. "Overall capacity will have to downsize to match the reduced demand," he said.

A final area of concern for glass insulation manufacturers is the competitiveness of the industry. While not threatened by outside suppliers like synthetic producers, the major glass insulation producers all make the same kind of product, profit margins on insulating material are not very large and there is overcapacity.

In addition, the top companies are always refining the process and making their facilities more efficient, leading to even greater oversupply. This helps explain the relatively few primary manufacturers in this field.

Who's Who In the Glass Industry

Roofing. The major players in the 800 million pounds per year glass nonwoven roofing mat market are Schuller, Elk, GAF and Owens-Corning. Certain-Teed makes a large amount of end use product but purchases the glass mat from outside sources.

Schuller International, Mats, Fiber and Reinforcements Division, Toledo, OH. With production facilities in Waterville, OH, Etowah, TN, Ennis, TX and Wertheim, Germany, the company manufactures glass nonwoven roll goods in the form of mats using the wet laid process. Almost all mat production for use as support in roofing materials is manufactured with the wet laid process, in which chopped strand glass fibers are used.

Owens-Corning, Toledo, OH. The Industrial Materials Group at Owens-Corning supplies the Roofing Division with mat produced from the chopped strand fibers it creates, as well as sells some mat to outside buyers. Three production facilities are located in the U.S., with two others in Europe.

GAF Building Materials Group, Wayne, NJ. A major player in the U.S. only, the company makes nearly all the glass mat used in its end products at a facility in Chester, SC.

Elk Corporation, Ennis, TX. As one of the premier residential shingle producers, Elk manufactures all of the mat used in its roofing products and sells a portion of its roll goods on the outside market. The nonwoven mat, trade-named "Ultra-Mat," is manufactured at the Ennis, TX, location.

Filtration. Glass filter media is manufactured using both wet laid and air laid processes, using chopped strand fibers and continuous filaments. While Farr, Los Angeles, CA, is a very large filter manufacturer, it does not manufacture any of the filter media itself but purchases it mainly from Schuller.

Schuller International, Schuller Filtration, Denver, CO. The company manufactures microglass media for HEPA filters. Filtration and specialty media are manufactured with a proprietary air laid process.

Lydall Inc., Manchester, CT. The company has two divisions - Manning Nonwovens, Troy, NY and Technical Papers Division, Rochester, NH - involved in the glass nonwovens industry. Both divisions manufacture a wet laid nonwoven fabric for various high end filtration products.

American Air Filter, Louisville, KY. A division of Snyder General, the company purchases wet laid glass paper products, but manufactures 100% of the dry spun or continuous filament glass nonwovens used in-house. AAF's product line is predominantly glass nonwoven filters although it does market some synthetic filters and one composite glass/synthetic filter as well. The Fayetteville, AR, facility is the exclusive site for continuous filament production at the company.

Hollingsworth & Vose, East Walpole, MA. As a supplier of high performance media to filter manufacturers around the world, the company has long seen North America as its largest market, but Europe and the Far East are no longer very far behind. Hollingsworth & Vose relies heavily on the finer microfiber grades for its glass media production and has locations in West Groton, MA, Easton, NY and Winchcombe, England.

Insulation. The insulation market is by far the largest component of the glass nonwovens sector, with annual sales of just under $2 billion per year. For the most part, all insulation products are made using the same process that takes raw materials and makes a final product in one step.

Owens-Corning, Toledo, OH. The company, whose name has been synonymous with insulation for many years, has the largest capacity in the industry and has plants located in Newark, OH, Kansas City, KS, Santa Clara, CA, Waxahachie, TX, Fairburn, GA and Delmar, NY. Owens-Corning also has facilities in Canada and Belgium and licensees and affiliates throughout the world.

CertainTeed, Valley Forge, PA. As one of the major North American insulation manufacturers, the company has production facilities in Mountaintop, PA, Athens, GA, Kansas City, KS and Chowchilla, CA. Owned by St. Gobain, Paris, France, CertainTeed is restricted by its parent to selling in the North American market. St. Gobain covers other international areas with licensing agreements throughout the world.

Schuller International, Schuller Building Products, Denver, CO. Schuller is also involved to an even greater degree in the insulation market, with facilities in Parkersburg, WV, Defiance OH (two plants), Corona, CA, and Cleburne, TX.

Looking Into The Glass Future

In general, glass nonwovens should continue to grow in the markets they serve. The filtration and insulation segments of the glass nonwovens industry are fairly mature and should easily resist any major challenges from other products.

Growth in these sectors is tied to diversification, in the form of new uses for glass products or using polymeric fibers with glass fibers to form composites. The wet laid process is ideal for creating new composite applications for glass products as it allows uniform blending, a significant technological advantage.

General trends in the industry include the possibility of globalization of the roofing mat market, in which companies with large operations will begin to compete across international borders. Another new and growing market is fiberglass reinforcements for circuit boards, which provide strength to the boards with less added weight than previous products.

HEPA level filtration media made from synthetics is a possible area of growth in filtration. While it is now possible to manufacture synthetic media, high cost has made production prohibitive. Technological improvements and cost reduction are two areas of concentration. Electrostatically charged media is also a growing area of concentration; many companies are beginning to examine the unique technology and possible applications.

The market for glass filter media is expected to continue to grow, with synthetic filtration products growing moderately as well. A positive market influence in the filtration segment is the increased desire for cleaner environments in areas that have not traditionally used many filter products. Office, building and home filtration systems are more prevalent now than in the past and with their continued growth, fiberglass nonwoven filter media production will also increase.

In the insulation market, due to a possibly strengthening economy and a rise in housing starts, insulations are looking to stronger markets. New building codes that require higher levels of insulation and recommendations for higher levels in existing homes are also a plus, as this will increase pounds per unit even if there is a continued poor market in number of new units.

Glass: To Be Or Not To Be (A Nonwoven)

In assembling the information for this article, it was interesting to note the variation among different segments in the classification of their products. Glass has traditionally been a hard market to describe, with some producers aligning their products more closely with the paper industry rather than with nonwovens. Other segments involve a one step process from raw material to end product and have never classified the final material as a nonwoven. Yet the processes used, whether they are wet laid, chopped strand, air laid or rotary bushing, are all nonwoven technologies.

The insulation industry is familiar with the term "nonwoven" but it is rarely applied because the insulating material is a roll good itself. Looking back, insulation materials were developed and named before nonwovens had established themselves and the product name stuck in the minds of the consumers. Even industry production facilities often go by the name "insulating wool facilities." Other segments of the glass nonwovens industry classify their products by process, calling certain roll goods "chopped strand" or "glass mat" products, omitting the term nonwoven from internal and market references. Filter manufacturers often refer to the media as "glass paper."

The problem is not one of recognition. Most of the players in the glass fiber industry know about nonwovens and almost all would agree that their products are nonwovens, yet there remains a resistance to change. Likewise, the established "nonglass" nonwovens industry itself has been reluctant to classify some glass products as nonwovens, either for the aberration in data it would cause or because of the dissimilarity some of the products have with more traditional nonwoven materials. With the advancement of composite products (combinations of glass fibers with polyester, polypropylene or other fibers in a wet laid product, for example) and the growing acceptance of highloft products as nonwovens (specifically insulation), however, the line is rapidly blurring.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Rodman Publications, Inc.
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Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Author:Sullivan, Scott D.
Publication:Nonwovens Industry
Article Type:Industry Overview
Date:Aug 1, 1992
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