When I took over the post of editor of Nonwovens Industry nearly eight years ago, the airlaid market was one of the most buzzed-about topics out there. Concert had announced plans to add two side-by-side airlaid lines in Quebec. Its key North America competitor Buckeye was building the "world's largest airlaid line" in North Carolina. Fiberweb (then BBA) was entering the market with a new line in China. And, Rayonier was building a Novathin line in the southeast U.S. The nonwovens industry watched all this capacity come onstream (an estimated 33% increase in world supply) with bated breath. Where was all this capacity going? Had a major diaper supplier finally committed to the airlaid core—then considered the holy grail for the airlaid market—and was placing orders to make this conversion? Or was there some other never-before-seen application for airlaid looming on the horizon?
Zoom ahead eight years and we now know that the airlaid core never happened, and Kimberly-Clark's moist tissue paper project—which was said to require 50,000 tons of airlaid material—never gained steam. What did happen, however, was a serious overcapacity situation in the airlaid market that drove down prices as new markets failed to materialize. In fact, it has taken nearly all this time for the market to correct itself as airlaid producers have added capacity very conservatively and in some cases have even shut down lines.
Now, as 2008 comes to a close, the market has nearly returned to the state it was in before the massive expansion of 2000-2001. Prices are up and demand is tight. While this has been good news for the profitability of airlaid companies, it can prove harmful to the market in general. How are new markets going to materialize if new capacity is not available? While there have been some capacity additions—Fiberweb's lines in China and Italy and Concert's planned line for Germany—this may not be enough and the market might demand that someone step up with a new investment, sooner rather than later.
Industry veteran Phil Mango shares his thoughts on what's happening in this market beginning on page 41. Having witnessed the oversupply situation of 2000-2001 first-hand, Phil shares some interesting perspective on this market.
Also in this issue, Nonwovens Industry features a special 29-page Focus On China section, highlighting what some of the market's most important suppliers—from China and around the world—are doing to tap into growth in this important market.