2011 Nonwovens Sales: $1.35 billion
Key Personnel: Thomas Powell, president, DuPont Protection Technologies; Roger Siemionko, vice president and global technology leader, DuPont Protection Technologies; Mindy Telliard, global product manager, Sontara, DuPont Protection Technologies; Michael Sanders, global business manager, Energy Storage Solutions, DuPont Protection Technologies
Plants: Richmond, VA (Tyvek, Hybrid Membrane Technology, HMT); Old Hickory, TN (Sontara); Luxembourg (Tyvek, Typar); Asturias, Spain (Sontara); Shenzhen, China (Tyvek and Sontara converting facility); Brazil joint venture (Sontara)
ISO Status: All plants are ISO 9002 certified; Luxembourg facility is also ISO 9001 certified
Processes: Flash-spun (Tyvek), spunbond (Typar), spunlace (Sontara, HMT)
Brands: Tyvek, Tychem, Energain, Sontara, Typar
Major Markets: Construction, healthcare, protective apparel, industrial filtration, absorbents, home furnishings, envelopes, geotextiles, graphics, packaging, footwear, automotive
As it continues to leverage its technologies across a number of global markets, DuPont reports that overall sales in its nonwovens areas continue to be strong, despite uncertainty in the global economy.
“We are in a lot of very unique, niche applications, particularly with Tyvek,” says Tom Powell, president of DuPont Protection Technologies. “The combination of breathability and protection that Tyvek provides has given us advantages in many applications, such as protective apparel and in medical packaging.”
Tyvek, DuPont’s flashspun nonwovens technology, serves a number of core markets, including graphics, construction and envelopes, in addition to protective apparel and medical packaging. DuPont’s other nonwovens technologies include Sontara spunlace nonwovens, which target specialty wipes and medical apparel applications, and Energain, a nanofiber-based product targeted initially toward specialty battery and high-end filtration applications.
Most of DuPont’s nonwovens business falls under its DuPont Protection Technologies (DPT) business, which was formed three years ago by combining the nonwovens business (consisting of Tyvek and Sontara) with its sister units, including Kevlar and Nomex, on the aramid fibers side of the business. This division was formed to group technologies and products that protect people, the environment and critical processes worldwide. This marriage was part of a larger, company-wide streamlining that brought the number of DuPont business units from 25 to 14 and allows the company to respond to customer trends better while capitalizing on synergies that exist between the business units.
“We continue to look for places where we can leverage our technologies to bring new products while keeping costs down to be competitive,” Powell explains. This has helped protect DuPont against economic volatility and uncertainty as well as rising raw material costs.
An important market for Tyvek, construction, falls outside the scope of DPT but reports indicate demand continues to be strong despite difficulties in this market, which is tied heavily to housing starts. Other markets for the technology include envelopes, which have been challenged by a slowdown in snail mail, and other packaging applications, where Tyvek can offer great breathability and a good green story with its recyclability. In a nutshell, despite concerns in construction, Tyvek growth has been strong enough to convince DuPont to bring a production line in Luxembourg back on-stream. The line, which has been mothballed for several years, will help support the company’s existing garment and construction business, according to Powell.
“Tyvek is a unique technology,” he says. “There is no other producer of flashspun polyethylene. It delivers a unique combination of breathability and protection.”
The company is always looking for new applications, he adds. “We are currently working on a couple of things that could be big but are still in the early stages.” He went on to say that electronics have been a recent focus where the reflective properties of Tyvek provide a unique value in lighting applications.
Other advancements in Tyvek include adding metallization and other finishing techniques to provide enhanced protection without sacrificing breathability. One such product provides a silvery finish to enhance designs in banners, bags, tags and other decorative design applications.
Moving toward Sontara, DuPont’s spunlace business, this technology continues to be strong in medical garments, where it offers low cost, sophisticated products to keep workers safe and comfortable. Two years ago, DuPont chose to forego its Advanced Composite Technology (ACT), which it used to make Suprel garments for medical workers. However, Powell says this market remains important to the company. “It is a very competitive market space but it is still a solid application for us. We have some large-scale, high quality brands with nice competitive technologies.”
Additional markets for Sontara, which is a pulp-based spunlace technology, include high performance wipes products for car detailing, printing and aerospace applications and other areas where innovation is valued. Although they have done some business in consumer wipes markets over the years, DuPont presently does not focus on that business area.
DuPont’s latest nonwovens-based business, Energain brand, continues to ramp up at a small commercial facility in Chesterfield, VA. This technology is a variation of a former technology, purchased several years ago from a Korean firm and marketed as HMT (hybrid membrane technology).
According to Powell, the current Virginia line is a small commercial scale and sampling line that is able to show potential customers exactly what the nanofiber-based material can achieve. “We call the line a production pilot and we are doing what we intended, that is demonstrating the base technology, developing basic data for a full-scale commercial facility and producing innovative samples for customers.”
Energain will mainly target the battery separator market where it can provide increased power, improved battery life and also offer higher stability at increased temperatures. Beyond lithium-ion batteries, Energain has prospects in batteries in specialty consumer applications, including laptops, cellphones and power tools.
In other new market developments, filtration continues to be an area of interest for DuPont. The company has provided Nomex for many years into hot-gas filtration applications. About two years ago, the DuPont portfolio was expanded with Nomex KD, a medium that combines Nomex and Kevlar fibers in a unique nonwoven filter medium. The product is well suited for high temperature applications such as asphalt production and cement clinker coolers.
While the development of Nomex KD is a great example of how the combination of DuPont’s nonwovens and aramids businesses could combine to create innovative products, the medium was actually created before the formation of DPT. However, Powell describes filtration as a standout example of a market where DuPont’s staple of science-based products can provide innovation.
“We offer world-leading technology at competitive costs as well as technical and application development expertise close to customers in developing markets,” Powell says. “It seems to be working for us and we are confident it will continue to do so in the future.”