markets for spunlace ranging from medical, hygiene and industrial
to apparel, safety and protection and construction to the ever-broadening
wipes market, the demand for spunlaced material is still climbing.
And, manufacturers, eager to cash in on the diversity of this market,
are examining hybrid technology and composite materials to further
broaden the appeal of spunlaced nonwovens and expand this technologys
scope into new markets. This should lead to continued growth in upcoming
|Spunlaced materials are
growing in the medical and home care markets, with products
ranging from gauze and bandages to household cleaning wipes.
The spunlace market is undergoing an impressive explosion in
demand due to the development of many consumer products that feature
wiping applications in the cleaning and cosmetics area, said
Lee Sullivan, general manager of the Tufts division at Freudenberg,
Durham, NC. This increased demand is supporting all of the spunlaced
investments that are being made.
Spunlaced material is dominating many markets for nonwovens, especially
the medical and wipes segments. Spunlaced fabrics provide a textile
look and feel while offering softness, bulk, drapability, breathability
and disposability. Spunlaced materials also typically do not use binders
or chemical additives and offer low linting properties. These characteristics
make them ideal for applications where consumer comfort is a high
In the wipes markets, which is now one of the fastest growing markets
for spunlaced material and nonwovens in general, manufacturers have
chosen spunlace to woo customers in many product categories. Household
cleaning and personal care wipes are showing significant growth opportunities
for spunlace, as new products become available, and large consumer
companies begin to use spunlace in their wipes.
Spunlace is taking away marketshare from other fabrics, such
as needlepunch, because it can be manufactured at lighter weights
such as 50 gpsm., instead of, for example, 80 gpsm., explained
Mario Saldarini, commercial director of Orlandi Spa, Varese, Gallarate,
Italy. Spunlace is also completely disposable.
Spunlace: A Personal Affair
From furniture polishing wipes to wipes that exfoliate skin, products
of all kinds are filling store shelves. And, with many of these wipes
promising to make household cleaning chores easier or to condense
a beauty routine into one step, consumers have quickly adapted to
wipes ease of use.
Large consumer companies, such as Procter & Gamble, Cincinnati,
OH, are boosting spunlaces presence in consumer markets by incorporating
nonwovens into their products. P&Gs Swiffers electrostatic
dust cleaning cloths, which comprise spunlaced material, have witnessed
tremendous success since their launch three years ago. Additionally,
copycat products and line extensions have opened up opportunities
for spunlaced materials. It seems that consumers who are completely
unfamiliar with the nonwovens industry can recognize the inherent
benefits of spunlace in helping them achieve daily taskssuch
as floor cleaning.
People are discovering how easy and convenient wipes are to
use, said Michael Lunde, vice president of business development
at Jacob Holm Industries, Denmark. Consumers really like the
idea of pulling a wipe out of a small package, using it and throwing
it away. They are ideal for domestic chores.
While all of Jacob Holms wipes products are experiencing strong
volumes, the companys personal care wipes segment is growing
the most. Consumers are willing to spend more money on a facial
wipe that, for example, may help make them look younger, said
Mr. Lunde. Personal care wipes are growing beyond makeup removal
wipes. Now there are wipes that contain sunscreen or wipes that help
exfoliate or moisturize the skin.
The look and feel of spunlace is attracting customers.
According to Ken Pearce, director of consumer care and specialty products
at BBA Nonwovens, Nashville, TN, spunlaces ability to offer
a textile-like feel and better aesthetics has made consumers more
aware of the various attributes that one wipe compared to another.
With increased consumer awareness have given manufacturers more insight
into what consumers are looking for in a product. Therefore, innovation
remains at the forefront of manufacturers priorities in trying
to achieve their product differentiation goals.
plant in Cressa, Italy, which manufactures a three-layered material
featuring two layers of spunlace surrounding a layer of wood
With the big push for consumer companies to use nonwovens, it
is our job, as an industry, to work with these companies to develop
new markets, opined Mr. Lunde. We need to be proactive
and find out what customers are looking for. Consumers are not going
to know the difference if a wipe is spunlaced, airlaid or meltblown,
but they will try the product, and if they like it, they will continue
to buy it.
In response to consumers increased product loyalty, roll goods
manufacturers are using machines that can pattern or emboss spunlaced
fabrics to differentiate their products. More manufacturers
want to create a product that is just a little different than the
next guy, said Daniel Feroe, area sales manager for Rieter Perfojet,
Greensboro, NC. Their goal is to make a product with a slight
difference that is still visible to the consumer. Consumers can then
associate certain patterns with certain products and will gravitate
more toward using these products. Even something as small as
the holes in a facial wipe are noticeable to the consumer, according
to Mr. Feroe.
Spunlace manufacturers are striving to differentiate
their products in the smallest of ways, partly because of increased
competition. Product sophistication for spunlace has peaked right
now, as manufacturers and machinery suppliers offer varying characteristics
to stand out.
line features in-line impregnation/printing and through air
The increased demand for wipes is leading to the need to create
more sophisticated products with recognizable features, said
Axel Seitz, manager of Schwarzenbach/Saale, Germany-based Sandler
AGs hygiene products division. A newcomer in the spunlace market,
Sandler will offer multilayered spunlace designs and in-line thermal
embossing when its spunlace line comes onstream later this spring.
The companys spunlaced material will target the baby, medical,
industrial and cleanroom markets and will focus more specifically
on markets that use parallel-carded spunlace.
Advancements In Technology
Constantly aware of stringent customer demands, spunlaced machinery
suppliers are always striving to develop machinery that is both
cost and energy efficient. Spunlace technology improvements have
included machines equipped with lower pressure jets, to save energy,
and machines incorporating wood pulp, to allow a more uniform transfer
of energy across the total width of the web.
Fleissner, for instance, has incorporated mesh sleeves with microporous
shells into its drums to decrease energy consumption by 50% and
subsequently cut costs. There is an increased demand for new
products to be produced more economically and efficiently,
Alfred Watzl, vice president of Fleissner, Egelsbach, Germany, explained.
Like Fleissner, Idrosistem, Bassano del Grappa, Italy, has been
striving for more efficient production. The company supplies water
filtration systems that remove bacteria from water jets in spunlace
systems. This creates a more sterile product. This is essential
for any spunlace company that manufactures medical products,
said Saverio Trevisan, president of Idrosistem. Properly filtered
water is fundamental to the production of high quality spunlaced
material. Water with the tiniest of particles can clog the jets
causing streaks and damaging the product. Preventing spunlaced
equipment from becoming damaged during production is key in preventing
downtime and increasing production efficiency.
The competitive nature of the spunlace market has made apparatus,
such as water filtration systems, more important to manufacturers
that need the best in fabric quality to compete in this market.
This is even more important for manufacturers that are investing
in new technology to boost their business.
Nordson Corporation, Dawsonville, GA, for example, plans to incorporate
an in-line hydroentangling unit at its Center of Excellence facility
in Dawsonville this year. Currently, the center houses multiple
bicomponent meltblown and spunbond spinning technologies, including
a one-meter wide SMS bicomponent pilot line. We are supplying
a research platform for our customers to improve and develop their
products, explained Mark Snider, marketing manager at Nordson.
Once manufacturers test machinery, they have more options in selecting
which technology can better their products to allow entry into new
Particularly favored in spunlace technology is combining a staple
fiber and wood pulp. Wood pulp fibers are less expensive than other
fibers, such as viscose, and can still offer a high level of absorbency,
making them ideal for wipes. Orlandi is experiencing the economic
benefits of wood pulp through its spunlace line in Cressa, Italy.
The line can produce a three-layered spunlaced material, featuring
a wood pulp layer surrounded by two substrates containing staple
fiber. According to Mr. Saldarini, the line produces wipes for baby
and household care wipeswhich are two of the fastest growing
markets for spunlaced material in Europe.
As the wipes market continues to expand, manufacturers are incorporating
more hybrid technology and using composites. Although hybrid technology
and composites have already greatly impacted the spunlace market,
spunlace technology continue to generate interest.
Jacob Holm, for one, is looking more into composites for personal
care and industrial cleaning wipes. Hybrid technology is not
penetrated to a great extent, but there is a lot of potential,
said Mr. Lunde.
Still, manufacturers feel that it will only be a matter of time
before the results of hybrid technology can be seen.
New combinations of spunlaced and spunbond are on the way,
observed Fleissners Mr. Watzl. New composites with spunbonded,
carded, meltblown, airlaid nonwovens or with tissue will increase
marketshare for spunlace in commodities and special niche products.
energy filtration plant for pulp. Idrosistem’s water filtration systems recycle nearly 100% of the water used.
As newer composities become available, combining
airlaid with spunlaced material is particularly showing a great
deal of potential throughout Europe. Rieter Perfojets Airlace
3000 machine manufactures materials typically comprising 50% airlaid
and 50% spunlace, by infusing spunlace onto a prebonded web. Airlaid
material is then added through a series of low-pressure wood pulp
injectors. In Europe especially, combining airlaid and spunlace
is big, Mr. Feroe noted. In the U.S., it seems to be
coming. However, incorporating an airlaid machine is very expensive
and, if a company invests in one, it would most likely dedicate
itself to predominantly producing airlace products.
Despite the high price of adapting lines to accommodate hybrid technology,
it is still driving technological innovation in the spunlace market.
One of the main reasons behind this trend is the ability of hybrid
technology to allow a product to fit into more than one market.
For instance, Tenotex, Terno dIsola, Italy, operates an impregnating
and an in-line calendering line that add bulk to the companys
spunlaced products for the wet wipe, personal care and home care
markets. Added-value features like these shape the spunlace
market, explained Aldo Ghira, managing director of Tenotex.
Also, producing a web by using a multicomponent machinery
line or through hybrid technology achieves benefits that cannot
be done with spunlace alone. Incorporating a web, for instance,
allows a material to be made with varying degrees of performances.
Incorporating greater speeds and widths have also become more important
for manufacturers that want to enter a growing market more quickly.
Improvements in carding provide a good indication of the extent
to how much some machines have been changed.
Carding machines have really shown improvement, said
Rieter Perfojets Mr. Feroe. They are getting much faster
and wider. Carding machines with spunlace 10-15 years ago typically
ran 100-150 m/min. and can now run up to and more than 250 m/min.
Widths have increased from 2.5 meters wide up to 4.5. Obviously,
this means the material can be produced much quicker and there is
more of it. Fortunately, strong sales in the household wipes market
are helping to absorb all of this capacity.
coat was made using a spunlaced nonwoven out of high-temperature
fibers that provide flame protection.
A Foggy Outlook?
The picture for spunlaced materials right now is perfectly clearthey
still are in great demand. However, this picture may start to blur
as manufacturers wait to reap the rewards of their research and
development efforts. It could take several years for this to occur.
Freudenbergs Mr. Sullivan predicts that composite growth in
medical applications will eventually take share away from spunlace.
The medical market is one example of a segment where materials
other than spunlace are also prospering, explained Mr. Sullivan.
It is in the medical apparel area where SMS materials have
shown strength and may erode the traditional spunlaced segment.
The next logical evolution in the medical fabrics industry is an
SMS product based on a polymer other than polypropylene. If this
were to occur, there would be a dramatic increase in capacity versus
demand, putting great stress on the smaller players.
Even though Freudenberg is the worlds largest nonwovens producer,
its spunlaced business is relatively small, making it one of the
companies that could be impacted by such a scenario. The companys
staple spunlaced fiber only serves niche markets. With other material
combinations gaining speed, Freudenberg is strictly going to focus
its spunlaced materials on technical applications, such as flame
retardant barriers. Mr. Sullivan, therefore, does not foresee major
growth in the companys future for traditional spunlace. We
tend to focus more on technical applications, while others focus
more on large volume applications, Mr. Sullivan explained.
With the continuing trend in commodity status, the spunlace
market will evolve into a situation where the big players are the
eventual winners, and the smaller layers have to develop niches
With this in mind, Freudenberg is hoping its Evolon material, which
consists of hydroentangled, continuous-filament microfiber materials,
will help Freudenberg advance in specialty markets.
Our future capacity expansions will focus on Evolon, not traditional
spunlace, said Mr. Sullivan. It is increasingly difficult
to offer differentiated products with traditional spunlaced materials.
I would not encourage further investment by anyone with this technology
as consumer products are predicted to drive sales by at least 10%
during the next few years, resulting in a saturated and slowing
While Freudenberg might not see spunlace as a growth area, many
other nonwovens producers continue to see potential for this market.
Manufacturers of all sizes continue to pursue new product development
in a variety of end use areas.
It is more important now for the nonwovens industry to be
able to cater to more complex applications, such as personal care
product developments, Jacob Holms Mr. Lunde opined.
Working with sub-suppliers and customers to create desirable
products and, at the same time, making sure that you are capable
of adjusting your production lines to new substrate demands with
an ever increasing frequency requires a lot of investment to stay