June 14, 2005

expanded services, upgraded machinery and new markets ease competition

Offering a broad spectrum of services to the nonwovens industry, contract service providers range from laminators, slitters, spoolers, winders and rewinders to printers, recyclers and embossers. Furthermore, the role of contract service companies has gained increasing importance to the role of nonwovens. With competition among these converters often labeled as extreme, contract service providers are constantly exploring new services to enhance their role as the middleman. Whether the job is providing slitting and spooling in wider widths and diameters of materials or increasing color printing capabilities, finishes or embossing patterns, converters have been expanding their technology and services to better position themselves among their customers and competition.

Many converters, who are relied on to add value to differentiate nonwovens now offer their customers' research and development support, inventory control and packaging and distribution. More consumer or industrial product companies are looking for a one-stop converter that can do everything from slitting, laminating, spooling, packaging and distribution in one place. This eases costs by streamlining operations.

Converters must remain extremely flexible to their customers' needs. For example, converting companies will often allow their customers' equipment to be installed in their facilities in a private location and will develop specific equipment to design a specialty product. To enhance their performance, converters are offering improved customer service and placing a higher value on their often-confidential partnerships with customers. The companies spotlighted in this roundup reflected the diversity of this segment and their recent efforts showcase the increased role of converters in the nonwovens industry.

ABC Wiping Cloth Contract Converting Nice-Pak
Atmore Industries Fox Converting Spunfab
Boyd Converting Company KT Industries Tufco Technologies
Combeau Industries Nichols Paper Products Web Converting

ABC Wiping Cloth
Los Angeles, CA

A converter of both paper and scrim airlaid nonwovens and spunlaced materials, Los Angeles, CA-based ABC Wiping Cloths strategy for continued growth includes exploring niche applications for nonwovens. The company converts nonwovens and sells unbranded wipes for original equipment manufacturers and industrial markets.

Richard Callari, vice president and general manager of ABC, recognizes importance of niche markets. One such niche is heat sealed socks and tubes, which are comprised of 100% polyester nonwovens. These products are used to prevent moisture build-up in loudspeakers during shipment. ABC has also expanded its services to include inventory control. With many of the companys customers wanting materials converted on an as-needed basis, concerns regarding inventory and cash flows have risen to the forefront for ABC. "Most of our customers want their products converted on a daily basis," Mr. Callari said. "They do not want to invest in inventory costs for an entire month. Instead, they only want to store materials for a week because it will not impact their inventory or cash flow as much."

Atmore Industries

Atmore, AL

Contract service provider Atmores latest investment for nonwovens is an ultrasonic bonding line that increases its web width from 130 to 156 inches. The line has increased Atmores ability to custom make nonwovens in a range of sizes and weights, according to Billy Farr, general manager. For the agriculture market, of particular interest are Atmore's Gro-Guard ultraviolet crop covers. These covers, which make up 15% of corporate sales, are comprised of spunbonded polypropylene and feature an ultraviolet inhibitor. Launched nine years ago, these covers are custom made to protect fruit patches or vegetable gardens from sun, rain, snow, bugs and freezing temperatures. The covers can be made up to 51 feet wide by 1000 feet long and are custom made to fit any field.

We, and just about every other converter out there, are looking for niche markets or for a product to work differently than an existing product, explained Mr. Farr. Some of these niche areas can be found in filtration sorbents and in carpeting. Converters are looking for something new that can perform well to gain an edge over their competitors. In response to this, we want to offer more services for diversification.

Boyd Converting Company
South Lee, MA

In addition to offering die cutting, ultrasonic bonding, sheeting and trimming services, Boyd Converting Company, South Lee, MA, can custom design a product or process. Boyd's services include researching which nonwoven materials and equipment will best suit a particular product. Boyd is able to convert products for a wide array of markets including consumer and household products, automotives, electronics and medical.

While searching for an ideal roll goods or machinery supplier for its customers, Boyd executives have witnessed how popular nonwovens have become. Companies that originally used a limited amount of nonwoven materials in their products are now incorporating more of the material into their product lines.

Customers who weren't much involved in the nonwovens industry are now looking to offer new products that mostly contain nonwovens, explained Bronly Boyd, president. For example, manufacturers who once offered a product that just featured a nonwoven component are now offering these components as an actual product.

Combeau Industries
Hickory, NC

TSG Incorporateds youngest division, Combeau Industries, Hickory, NC, can convert virtually any type of nonwoven. Combeau offers chemical saturations and coatings and mechanical finishings, as well as calendering and heat transfer printing exclusively to the nonwovens industry Most recently, Combeau has added embossing and engraving capabilities in wipes and decorative felts as well as high-speed, wide-width slitting and rewinding equipment to answer the demands for more product differentiation. Embossing and engraving capabilities can offer product enhancement, surface improvements and differentiated products, explained Ralph Krueger, vice president of business development of Combeau. We offer this mainly for wipes and decorative felts. We are able to guarantee a finished embossed roll for our customers within 10 working days.

Guaranteeing a quick turnaround time responds to roll good manufacturers increased demands for inventory control. Combeau decided to incorporate inventory control services because of the quick turnaround trend that has been gaining speed. Customers want their products in and out of here quickly, Mr. Krueger said.

Contract Converting
Greenville, WI

Slitting and rewinding are Greenville, WI-based Contract Convertings main services to the nonwovens industry. The company, which was founded in 1995, is increasing its outsourced slitting and rewinding capabilities for all nonwoven applications. Capabilities include two-drum surface slitting, duplex/center surface slitting and a wide range of packaging and distribution options. The company's slitters and rewinders feature a line guide and can handle rolls up to 65 inches wide, with an unwind diameter up 72 inches wide.

Contract Converting can slit coated paper, tissue, nonwovens and pressure sensitive films and offers a wide array of packaging and distribution options.

"Contract Converting assists customers with surge capacity, special packaging requirements and slitting during their new equipment installations or upgrades," explained William Schnettler, president. "We also help customers who have special slitting requirements that require technical assistance.

Fox Converting
Green Bay, WI

Fox Converting, Green Bay, WI, offers wideer web printing, up to 86 inches, as well as substrate laminating and coating, flexographic roll-to-roll printing, slitting and rewinding, sheeting, medical packaging and infection control products. Foxs flexographic printing can coat, laminate and/or print wide or narrow widths.

The company, which was founded in 1962 as a bag manufacturer, uses waxes, polishes and soaps to coat virtually any kind of substrate, including spunbond, airlaid and drylaid nonwovens, paper, film and tissue. Fox can laminate films and board stocks as well as customer, industrial and medical products. Meanwhile, in the sheeting arena, Fox can sheet up to 45x60 inch printed sheets in up to six colors. Once converted, Foxs materials target the consumer, industrial and medical markets.

One of the largest growth areas for Fox and for nonwovens, according to company executives, is subtrates, mainly because of their versatility. Because of this, Fox will continue to focus on its coating, laminating and printing services in the future instead of incorporating more commodity services, such as slitting and rewinding, into its business

KT Industries
Fort Wayne, IN

The latest innovation from KT Industries, Fort Wayne, IN, is combining two webs of nonwoven material together and then slitting the web to meet customers demands. In an effort help its customers save costs, KT has striven to minimize the amount of material necessary in the converting process.

"By combining two or more materials together and converting these materials into a high speed delivery package, such as a spool, we can help our customers achieve their cost reduction objectives," explained Jan Dwiggens, manager of sales, marketing and research and development.

Roll-to-roll slitting and spooling are KT's core services to the nonwovens industry. The companys largest slitter can slit mill rolls up to 120 inches wide and 80 inches in diameter into narrow pancake rolls, which are equal to or smaller in size to the mill roll. Meanwhile, KTs spooling line can wind mill rolls ranging from 54 to 120 inches wide and up to 48 inches in diameter.

Our services continue to change as our customers look for ways to lower their costs and improve productivity, said Mr. Dwiggens. To respond to this challenge, we will develop new processes and equipment that allow faster speeds and use of more webs at one time.

Another strategy boosting KTs success is keeping its partnerships extremely confidential. Although the company encourages plant visits for trial runs, access is limited and customer identities and materials are protected.

Nichols Paper Products

Nichols, WI

Nichols Paper Products, Nichols, WI, offers printing services for a wide array of nonwovens, including airlaid, spunlaced, spunbonded, meltblown and carded. Targeting markets in the U.S., Nicholsconverted products are used in retail and institutional markets as well as in diaper linings and panty liner coversheet applications. More recently, Nichols has seen wider rolls and embossing becoming more important to its customers. To keep up with these demands, Nichols, like most converters, has expanded its services.

We have been offering larger diameter and wider rolls and more colors, said Bernie Dahlan, president. These capabilities are all being demanded by our customers. Originally, we were only able to manufacture white or one color. Now we print up to six different colors on nonwovens.

In addition to differentiating its products by offering more colors, Nichols is printing its customers brand names onto the material for further product recognition. The converting industry is much more competitive than it was five or 10 years ago," Mr. Dahlan explained. "Customers are demanding faster machinery speeds and larger diameter rolls in an effort to gain marketshare.

In response to this, Nichols' future strategies include increased productivity and incorporating more sophisticated printing equipment as well as upgrading its older machines.

Orangeburg, NY

To meet the broadening demand for wipes, Nice-Pak has expanded production in all three of its manufacturing facilitiesOrangeburg, NY, Mooresville, IN and Flint, Wales, U.K. Nice-Pak has also begun converting pre-impregnated, dry nonwovens in addition to its wet wipe capabilities. Nice-Pak manufactures private label baby wipes as well as Nice NClean personal care wipes and Grime Boss household cleaning wipes.

Nice-Pak has increased itsl services to meet customers latest demands. For example, in the healthcare industry, there is a growing trend in delegating infection control to nurses. In response to this, the company's PDI division added a clinical sales specialist to assist with questions about Nice-Paks Sani Systems line of infection control products. Meanwhile, in the institutional market, Nice-Pak saw the need to develop a rinse-free, hard surface disinfectant wipe for food preparation surfaces.

In the contract packaging division, Nice-Pak increased its staff to include regulatory, validation and research and development experts after seeing growth for medicated or Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-regulated wipes.

Cuyahoga Falls, OH

Priding itself on its role as a producer of dry, thermoplastic web adhesives is Spunfab, Cuyahoga Falls, OH. These heat-applicable adhesives are supplied as nonwovens to bond, laminate and coat a variety of materials. Depending on a customer's needs, these adhesives can be supplied as a three-inch tape or a 65-inch wide roll. Additionally, the polymers and resins comprising the webs can be altered, depending on end-use applications. Furthermore, Spunfab offers bonding trials at its facility to test fibers, fiber blends, chemicals, finishes and nonwoven materials.

The adhesive webs are easier to use than a film adhesive, explained Alain Wulff, manager of sales and technical services. It yields a high consistency and breathability, which is ideal in good air flow in filtration media.

Spunfab targets a wide array of nonwoven applications, including automotives, furniture, medical, filtration, luggage, upholstery, window coverings, intimate apparel and technical applications. More recently, Spunfab has been supplying its adhesive webs to personal protection product manufacturers.

Tufco Technologies
Green Bay, WI

Offering flexographic printing, wet and dry wipe converting, calendering, thermal and hot melt laminating, integrated downstream packaging, customized blending and on-site quality and process management, Tufco Technologies, Green Bay, WI, supplies one-stop service to its customers. Customers can also outsource their manufacturing to Tufco, freeing up time for marketing and product development.

Tufco offers contract production, dedicated component production and outsourced process management. Contract production allows customers to use Tufcos flexographic printing wet and dry wipe converting, calendering and thermal and adhesive laminating for production. Meanwhile, for component production Tufco will engineer and design customized converting equipment for a specific product in a secured plant location. Outsourced process management allows Tufco's customers to install, operate and maintain their own equipment at Tufco's facility.

In June 2003, Tufco added an on-site, state-of-the-art wet wipes solution blending/mixing facility at its Green Bay plant. This installation gave Tufco the ability to produce a variety of solutions for its wet wipe customers. Explained Michele Corrigan, vice president of sales and marketing for contract packaging, "Our customers are looking for turnkey solutions and by offering a variety of manufacturing options, we allow our customers to focus on marketing and control costs and maximize efficiencies.

Web Converting
Westborough, MA

Web Converting, Westborough, MA, a division of Web Industries, has enhanced its coating and printing technologies and has added a new line to its large-format spooling capabilities. This state-of-the-art line will enable Web Converting to slit and in-line wind a 36-inch wide and 48-inch diameter spool to create thicker, high loft products that are up to seven inches wide in tape width. Web Converting also offers customized slitting and winding for personal care, healthcare, disposable and diagnostic medical product manufacturers as well was nonwoven roll goods producers. Our customized converting solutions allow product and material manufacturers to focus on their core strengths and use material converting expertise to shorten the time to get their products to market, explained Daniel Ott, corporate sales director. We believe there is a real opportunity in the market to give our customers cost-efficient options to achieve the benefits of this highly-efficient format.

Web Converting has also noticed the growing trend for quick turnaround time. Customers also want Web Converting to integrate as many processes as possible to reduce vendors. "Our customers want to see us integrate their existing processes and match their level of quality, costs and information processing," Mr. Ott said.