needlepunch industry is in a state of change as it refocuses itself
in the direction of specialty products. During the past four years,
the words “lagging,” “stagnant” and “saturated”
were most commonly used to describe needlepunch. Economic troubles
and overcapacity forced many needlepunch producers to review their
business strategies and make efforts to right their sinking ships.
Essentially divided into two groups—specialty and commodity
producers—commodity needlepunch manufacturers enjoyed a boom
in the 1990s. The goal, according to experts, was chasing optimum
prices and lowering costs, while constantly seeking protection from
Asian influence. However, faced with a changing landscape, manufacturers
of needlepunch material are exploring specialty-based market opportunities
and technology to gain an innovative edge and remain viable.
Needlepunch, although stricken with heavy competition, is a wide and
varied market, and uses include automotives, technical felts, filtration,
home furnishings, padding, medical and papermaking felts. Needlepunched
nonwovens have traditionally been found in tennis ball covers, marine
carpeting, ballistic felts and high-performance brake pads. The emergence
of more specialty applications has manufacturers striving to retool
existing product lines to provide materials for these niche and specialty
“We’re always trying to retool our (needlepunch) business
and stay one step ahead of our competitors, trying to find those value-added,
specialty products,” said David Rowell, executive vice president
and COO, Foss Manufacturing, Hampton, NH. “We have certainly
aimed ourselves and our business plans at specialty markets that are
in need of development—that plays a key role for us.”
Overcapacity has largely impacted commodity needlepunch producers,
typically those making 2-, 4- and 6-ounce needlepunch fabrics. These
manufacturers are being faced with the challenge of developing specialty
uses for their materials to avoid problems. Needlepunch is especially
gaining momentum in the automotives market, where it continues to
replace woven materials, thanks to its moldability and ease of trimming.
Needlepunch is currently found in car package trays, headliners,
trunk liners, carpeting and padding, and manufacturers expect this
number of applications to increase.
Needlepuncher Precision Custom Coatings, Totowa, NJ, currently supplies
a black needlepunch material that acts as a sheath for the fiberglass
hood liners in Cadillacs. The material is embossed with the Cadillac
logo, and its luxurious feel, said Dan Kamat, PCC’s vice president,
Industrial Textile Division, is exactly what the luxury auto maker
was looking for.
“Unless you can do something special, you can’t get
a premium for your product,” said Mr. Kamat, “Commodity
needlepunch is an extremely competitive market, you have to have
the ability to add value.”
|PCC produces a hotmelt coated needlepunch
material used in the production of the Brillo Toss ‘n’
Scrub scrub pad.
Although PCC’s core business is apparel, Mr. Kamat sees huge
growth potential in the company’s budding industrial markets,
which make up about 15% of its industrial business and is the company’s
fastest growing division. Of its industrial products, 30% are needlepunch.
In 2001, the company added a 5.5-meter-wide line to its one-line
By 2003, PCC had reached its capacity in needlepunch and added a
third line, this time a 5.5-meter-line. The capacity helps PCC provide
materials for such products as industrial wipes, geotextiles, healthcare,
filler pads for incontinence pads and fire-retardant fabrics that
meet the most stringent safety codes. Furthering its ability to
give added value to its customers, PCC—whose primary business
is coating—has the largest hotmelt line in the industry. This
ability has enabled PCC to provide the material for a double-sided
disposable cleaning pad. Developed to offset declining steel wool
sales in the household cleaning market, Church & Dwight’s
Brillo Scrub ‘n’ Toss leverages the Brillo brand name
into the growing scrubbers market.
Raw materials price escalation is one of the largest problems currently
facing the needlepunched nonwovens industry. The problem has caused
end users to reduce less profitable products and shift toward those
products that are more likely to be profitable. Experts say that
having strong relationships and long-term agreements with raw materials
suppliers are key. Some manufacturers are also taking advantage
of the market’s downturn by working on raw material innovation.
“At Foss, our whole approach has been to achieve this through
specialty fibers. We are spending large amounts of energy on this
fiber development,” said Mr. Rowell. Fiber development, he
said, is a way to help his company bring extra value to the marketplace
in difficult financial times. This is being achieved through bicomponent
fibers, fibers with special additives or combinations of both.
“This allows the engineering of fabrics using those fibers
that bring extra value to the marketplace,” he said. The results
have included such innovations as flame resistance, antimicrobials
for the medical industry, recyclables or ones with enhancements
to increase cycle times or yield for end users.
|Foss Manufacturing’s Fosshield
technology has a number of uses where antimicrobial properties
are a requirement in needlepunch fabrics.
One such offering by Foss is the recent development of a patented
process, known as Fosshield Antimicrobial Technology. Ideal for
use in needlepunch fabric, the fibers are built around registered
inorganic silver-based antimicrobial agents. The patented process
incorporates the silver antimicrobial additives throughout the bicomponent
and binder fibers of fabrics.
With many needlepunch manufacturers eyeing specialty markets, the
current demand for high-performance products is especially strong.
These demands have led machinery manufacturers to create new needlepunch
technology that provides roll goods manufacturers with faster machines,
offering smoother surfaces and even weight distribution. The result
is needlepunch with quality that gives manufacturers the chance
to develop new applications.
Therefore needle suppliers and needleloom machinery manufacturers
are also fostering innovation in the needlepunch market. Recent
efforts in needle development include ways to make them last longer
and not break as easily. Needle manufacturers have also introduced
more fine-gauge needles in their line-ups for a better surface quality.
Foster Needle, Manitowoc, WI, for example, is enhancing its needle
quality to ensure their products offer better and longer-lasting
“Recent capital expenditures at Foster have been extensive
as improvements into all areas of our process have been implemented
in the year,” said the company’s president Perk Foster.
“All of our sales personnel—each of whom have been needlepunchers
in their past employment—carry CD-roms and other instructional
techniques with them into our customers’ factory areas and
conduct literal classroom experiences for the production staffs.”
Needle supplier Groz-Beckert USA, Charlotte, NC, has designed its
needles to have a longer life span. The company’s new conical-shaped
needles, for example, prevent needle breakage in applications using
heavyweight or shoddy materials. The needles are conical in shape
up to approximately one inch of the needle’s crank, which
results in less build-up and improved surface quality.
Improvements have also been made in the needleloom business, as
machines feature new technology to offer higher speeds and throughputs
for greater production. Productivity gains are often achieved through
machinery technology, working methods and the originality of the
products. To help the needlepunch carpet industry to regain satisfactory
levels of financial return, NSC Nonwoven is enhancing needlepunched
|To help the needlepunch carpet industry
gain satisfactory levels of financial return, NSC nonwoven has
developed the NL 11/Twin-SE Carpet Star.
Among the company’s most recent offerings is the A.50-SDB
needleloom, designed to rib a 320 gsm carpet product—in line—at
speeds up to 16 m/min, which correspond to a production of approximately
This technical ability eliminates intermediate storage of flat needlepunched
and significantly shortens the production process. The finished
structured carpet is produced in line and wound up at the end of
the line, saving costs of labor, storage and handling of flat needlepunched
Additionally, the company’s Ouat!sys technology ensures entry
of the carded web into the crosslapper carriages at very high speeds
while preserving fiber orientations in the web. It does this without
increasing tension drafts to diminish web characteristics.
Until now, this bottleneck severely limited the plants’ ability
to optimize production on older lines. Ouat!sys, therefore, contributes
not only to an overall increase of line output, but also to an improvement
in the qualitative characteristics of the final product.
Meanwhile, needleloom maker Fehrer AG, Linz, Austria, has introduced
the NL 11/Twin-SE Carpet Stat, a structuring needlepunching machine
for the production of high-quality rib and velour products with
two independently operating needle zones. These allow the creation
of a new range of large repeat patterns and needled carpets with
a surround or borders on all sides, offering the production of conventional
patterns at higher speeds. The two needle zones are adjusted to
one another electronically in accordance with the prescribed recipe
for maximum design flexibility.
The cost effectiveness of needlepunch will remain an advantage in
the future, while product and new market development will remain
a top priority of needlepunch manufacturers. Consolidation will
help some survive, but innovation is the key for future success.
“While overcapacity is still an issue it is better now than
it was two years ago due to mergers and acquisitions. I anticipate
further activity along these same lines,” said Danny Grover,
|Needlepunch companies must have the
ability to add value and fill specific needs when producing
roll goods to survive the current state of the market..
With these measures being taken, words to describe the needlepunch
market should become “rapid growth,” “strong sales”
and “innovation.” Whoever can supply a cost-effective
and quality needlepunch product that meets a new need will prosper.
In the meantime, manufacturers must continue to push forward with
innovation to find new uses and markets for needlepunch. Although
it may be years before the industry can see just how well their
efforts have paid off, these are the manufacturers that will be
ahead once the economy picks up. “Product development and
innovation of new designs in felting needles have been major goals
and strengths in the past and will continue in the future,”
said Foster Needle’s Mr. Foster. “This development work
is continually ongoing and more unique and useful new styles will
be forthcoming in the very near future.”