Tell us something about your experience in this industry.
I’ve been in engineered materials for all of my career, and engineered fabrics like nonwovens for over 15 years. I was President of Fiberweb Americas, at the time a major roll goods producer for hygiene, wipes, medical and industrial markets, and a member of INDA’s Board of Directors. I was also a buyer of nonwovens at HydroLogex in the wastewater sector. So I’ve had considerable exposure to this industry at different levels of the supply chain.
What is the prevailing growth rate of nonwovens and disposables? What can you predict regarding its growth in near future?
For the decade of 2002 through 2012, global nonwovens tonnage increased at an average annual growth rate of 6.8%. This 10-year period average annual growth is down from previous years. The nonwovens industry provides materials for many industries, so it is no surprise the nonwovens industry was impacted by the global economic slowdown and the “great recession” experienced in the United States and Western Europe. Auto production, housing construction, public works construction projects, housing remodel & repair, home furnishing purchases all declined during the years beginning in 2006 and continuing through to 2012. Disposables as a category did slightly better during this time period, but were less robust than prior growth periods. With the global economy improving and rising nonwoven production volume, we anticipate the industry will expand at an average rate of 7.6% per year for the period of 2013 through 2017.
How this industry is different compared to the woven products/apparels?
Nonwoven consumption and adoption has a strong correlation to a country’s per capita GDP. Typically durable nonwovens are the first to appear in emerging markets in such as shoe linings, agricultural sacks and covers, and construction materials. Once the US$1,500 per capita threshold is reached the consumption of feminine hygiene products advances, with a correlation to females entering the work force. Soon after are bandages and wound care items followed by baby diapers at the US$3,500 per capita level. The disposable wipes and adult incontinence care products appear when the per capital income level approaches US$10,000. While this is approximate, it is a fairly good forecaster for disposable nonwovens production adoption, in addition to demography.
The nonwovens industry is more than just personal care disposable items though. The absorbent hygiene (baby diapers, feminine hygiene and adult incontinence) and disposable wipes (both consumer and industrial/institutional) account for less than half (42%) of the total nonwovens consumed globally. The consumption and use of many of these products are related to per capita GDP, but the spectrum of nonwovens end uses are broad and each category has its own unique drivers.
Durable products, those with a long life that are more or less permanent, are in hundreds of end use applications, the largest categories being geotextiles (used in civil engineering construction projects such as paving, dams, embankments and drains), upholstered furnishings & bedding, building construction (primarily house wrap and roofing materials), carpet components/backing and automotive (approximately 40 automotive parts – not including filters – are made from nonwovens from trunk liners to acoustical and thermal insulation). So while the name “nonwovens” is very tidy, the world it covers is multi-faceted, unlike woven products which have a single primary use, that of apparel.
There are many environmental problems caused by disposable products like sanitary pads, tissues, wipes etc. How can they be solved?
As with everything from burning fuel to heat a home and cook to driving an automobile to the use of disposable nonwoven products, there needs to be a balance between the benefit of the product or practice and the impact on the environment. Disposable nonwoven products provide consumers with tremendous benefits in the areas of convenience, personal hygiene, healthier environments, and better sanitation. Responsible manufacturers have significantly lowered the weight and area of nonwoven fabrics without compromising performance, which has significantly reduced the landfill footprint of nonwovens. And we see more use of biodegradable materials in nonwovens. Further INDA and EDANA are leading the way to promote the proper disposal of nonwoven disposable wipe products through the release of “Guidelines Document for Assessing the Flushability of Nonwoven Disposable Products”. So we in the industry are trying to achieve the proper balance between the benefits and the social costs of our products, and the efforts will continue.
What points should be taken care of while manufacturing nonwovens and disposables?
Quality considerations will vary by end use of the nonwoven fabric and end product, but product uniformity of the fabric is often one of the key manufacturing considerations; uniform fiber coverage across the web. Also, material yields and the maximum use of recycled fiber and resin are important considerations. And, as in every manufacturing operation, safe operating procedures around fast moving machinery are essential.
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