Expert's Opinion

Succeeding in New Nonwovens Markets

By George Kellie, Chief Executive of Kellie Solutions Group | July 9, 2012

Why nonwovens are able to develop new markets at a time of economic difficulty.

Kellie Solutions has been a positive advocate of nonwovens and nonwoven technologies for more than 20 years. In that time we have been actively involved in helping to develop major new applications in hygiene, construction and technical end-uses. Many of these have become volume applications with worldwide markets of size and scale.

Today we are working in an ever-expanding range of sectors and end-uses that are more niche, but very rewarding. However, in a difficult economy that has persisted since the 2008-2009 period, we are increasingly recognizing that nonwovens—as a broad category—can offer vital solutions to a multiplicity of challenges. As a result, we have been able to help a number of our clients find new solutions and markets under complex economic conditions.

We broadly categorize the potential advantages of nonwoven over more traditional or accepted materials as an interplay of performance, cost and sustainability. The chart below sets out the mix that we regard as essential for success.

‘Why Nonwovens’ © Kellie Solutions Ltd 2012

The next generation of commercially successful nonwovens products will be those that can bridge all three of these competing demands. We have increasingly observed the fact that nonwovens, as a sector category, has a unique opportunity to mix fibers and forming/binding/finishing processes to offer an exceptional range of properties, which can be individually tailored to customer requirements. 

We can see how this works. For example, engineering for material efficiency is a vital component of these strategies One of our most important pieces of work has been our assessment of the development of lightweighting across the nonwoven industry and the link to changes in manufacturing technology. We characterize this drive to lightweighting as “Light is Good.”

In almost all nonwoven production processes, the largest cost factor is raw material. Since the nonwovens producer supplies against a specified minimum basis weight, all weights in the MD and CD direction above that minimum are an unnecessary cost factor. If the weight distribution curve can be narrowed, then the average can be reduced.

It is also self-evident that producing the same product with less material can generate a broad range of benefits. For example, reducing web weights leads to lower freight transport costs (and less transport energy)—lighter means more m2 per web—which often reduces the frequency of reel changeovers during conversion, leading to less waste.

So the benefits are obvious; but what are the limitations and how are these being overcome? The Achilles heal of some nonwovens has, in the past, been web uniformity. To produce lightweight webs without a major loss of performance the vital factor to be controlled is the web basis weight variation (so-called “2 sigma variation”) and formation. Almost all of the technologies of nonwoven manufacturing have made giant strides to improve formation and reduce 2 sigma variations. This has opened the door to weight reduction without significant loss of performance. This process is on going and we can see that further weight savings will take place over the coming years.

A good example of the ways that nonwovens have been able to generate new markets is in packaging. We have recently studied this in depth and have published our detailed review called “Nonwovens in Packaging.”

The scale and growth of the market is shown below. Since this publication the market has continued to grow in volume and has further expanded in the range of end-uses.

© Kellie Solutions Ltd. 2012. From 'Nonwovens in Packaging'

Secondly, the proportion of applications that we define directly or indirectly as sustainable is growing even faster.

© Kellie Solutions Ltd. 2012. From 'Nonwovens in Packaging'

The combination of technical advantage, cost efficiency and material sophistication bodes well for nonwovens and we see great opportunities for nonwovens across a range of applications, limited only by our imagination and technical skills.

Dr. George Kellie is the Chief Executive of Kellie Solutions Group. He can be reached at Phone: +44-1829-732249; E-mail:; Website:;


The ideas and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect views held by Nonwovens Industry.