Are We There Yet?

August 17, 2005

air laid manufacturers head toward a market break-through

with stakes at an all-time high, air laid manufacturers are on the move, ready to make good on their promise of an unprecedented, millennium-style market break-through

A decade ago the big news in filtration was that nonwovens were gaining ground over traditional textiles. Today, as we approach the millenium, nonwovens continue to represent an inexpensive, durable, versatile and disposable alternative to non-nonwoven competitors. In fact, so much growth has taken place in the overall filtration market that nearly everyone seems to have a specialization in this niche-oriented business. Despite growth levels of about 3-5% per year, manufacturers report price pressures from customers as well as for raw materials—which can represent up to 60% of the cost of media—and in some areas of production, overcapacity has lead to consolidation. In low- and medium-end markets, price is often a key parameter over performance. Because it is often easy to substitute different medias to achieve similar performance, a buyer will often make decisions based largely on price.

In terms of applications, the market is made up of two sectors—liquid and air filtration, with the former including applications such as aquarium cartridges and filters for the pet industry as well as water purification filters in residential or municipal arenas. Air filtration end uses include HEPA and ULPA products, as well as HVAC and ASHRAE units. Other uses for nonwovens in filtration include melt blown fabrics that go into food and beverage applications for liquid separation and fabrics that are used in respirators, face masks and vacuum bags.

No Where To Go But Up
Having grown from $850 million in 1988 to $1.3 billion in 1995, the nonwovens filtration market is anticipated to hit the $2 billion mark worldwide by the year 2000 according to Filter Media Consulting, La Grange, GA. At the finished product level, the total value of the global filtration market is estimated at $3.25 billion according to consulting firm The McIlvaine Company, Northbrook, IL, a figure that can be broken down into 41% for the Americas, 35% for Europe and Africa and 24% for Asia. Looking ahead, McIlvaine forecasts that U.S. marketshare will fall from 22 to 20% in the next four years and Japan’s share will decrease from 9 to 8.5%, while China, on the other hand, will enjoy a 12% marketshare with a 10% increase.

While there are differing opinions about where certain geographical locations will fare in the future of the filtration market, most manufacturers believe the U.S. to be the largest market or the area with the most potential for development in the short term. John Reeves, president and CEO of AQF Technologies, Charlotte, NC, said, “The air filtration market in the U.S. is much larger than in Europe in part because most Europeans do not have air conditioners. Much of the air filtration market is represented by HVAC systems.” Mr. Reeves estimated U.S. marketshare at roughly 50%, with Europe and Asia each representing 25%.

In terms of geographical growth sectors, many companies pointed to the U.S., particularly the Midwest, as an area of growth potential. “In the U.S., the Midwest, specifically Detroit, MI, has the highest potential,” said Steve Copperwheat, plant manager for Knowlton Nonwovens, Utica, NY. “I would put the South second,” he added. After the U.S., Western and Eastern Europe as well as China were cited by many companies as areas of growth. “Today the North American and European markets are the largest,” commented Dianne Newman, director of market development and planning for Hollingsworth & Vose, East Walpole, MA. “For the future one would look to China and India, but they’re clearly not there yet.”

As far as which segments or processes are the most widely used in the filtration market, answers range from needlepunched and wet laid technologies to melt blown and spunbonded processes. Many manufacturers pointed to growth in the melt blown sector, which is considered a very strong, growing area. More melt blown composites are being introduced and there is more emphasis on combining materials in order to receive the best possible performance at the most reasonable cost. Mr. Copperwheat of Knowlton Nonwovens shared this viewpoint, “Wet laid nonwovens right now are popular, but I think you’re going to see a gradual shift toward composites where you’re using a different number of fabrics.”

Global Market Conditions—Weak Or Strong?
Another important issue in the filtration sector is excess capacity, which is currently affecting profitability and is expected to lead to consolidation through joint ventures and acquisitions. Two recent examples of consolidation are the purchase of filter manufacturers Puralator-Facet Products Air Filtration, Henderson, NC, and Facet International, Torino, Italy, by Clarcore Inc., Rockford, IL. A second example is the acquisition of Environmental Filter Corporation (EFC), Santa Rose, CA, by Filtration Group, Joliet, IL (see sidebar on page 48 for more details).

Although certain manufacturers defined the filtration market as weak, most characterized it as either strong or on an even keel with small growth percentages. Roger Hattersley, manufacturing representative for Bernard Dumas SA, Bergerac, France, commented on market conditions. “Currently, it’s a very competitive market. I think we’ll see more consolidation of companies because there are just too many companies in the market presently.”

Steve Lister, general manager of the Filtration Division for Johns Manville, Denver, CO, was more hopeful. “The filtration market is still quite healthy. The HVAC market is growing at about 4-5% worldwide and in the HEPA/ULPA cleanroom area, we’re starting to see some signs of recovery in the second half of 1999. Liquid filtration continues to be a very high growth segment at about 6-8% in North America.”

Tony Centofanti, president of National Nonwovens, Easthampton, MA, described the market as steady and pointed to an increased demand for filtration media. In response to such demand, he explained, the company is under way with efforts to create new products and enhance existing ones. Jim Iaquinto, product manager of Carlee Corporation, Rockleigh, NJ, also mentioned new product development initiatives. “We’re working on a HEPA-type filter for air/gas applications and also on our ability to laminate nonwovens or wovens. Our new product is a very high efficiency depth filter, which may be combined with electrostatic properties. We’re also looking to maximize life expectancy of our media.”

Diversity At Its Best
Another key trend in the nonwovens air and liquid filtration markets is an increasing number of niche segments. “The filtration market is slowly gravitating toward specialty products rather than commodity products,” said J.R. Turgeon, filtration sales manager of Tex Tech Industries, North Monmouth, ME. On the one hand there are commodity products—high capacity, ready-to-be-purchased items—and on the other hand companies are treating customers more as clientele, indicating increased cooperation between suppliers and customers necessitated by an increasingly specialized market.

Another related trend in the filtration market is the manufacture of finer and smaller fibers—up to 250 nano-meters in diameter—especially important in cleanrooms and medical uses. Commenting on this trend was Mr. Copperwheat of Knowlton Nonwovens, “I think you’re seeing many high-tech, specialty fibers out there and everyone is becoming more of a specialist within filtration. The filtration market is no longer a case where the customer is coming to you and saying, ‘I need fabric X. They’re now saying ‘I have a need for a fabric that will do X, what can you make for me?’”

One example of such increased cooperation is a recently established distribution agreement between AQF Technologies and Shinwa Corporation, Kawanoe, Japan. Mr. Reeves of AQF commented on the brand new arrangement, “We’re in essence turning over the marketing of our technology to another company and I think that’s a bit different than you would have seen five to eight years ago. It makes more sense for Shinwa to handle it because they know more about the Asian culture and have a reputation with channels in place.”

Other manufacturers agreed on the subject of heightened specialization, referring to the filtration market as an area that is quickly becoming a “science.” “Many more people are starting to understand filtration better and because of that you’ll see more composites in the market,” commented Mr. Reeves. “For instance, taking a melt blown, combining it with a spunbond and then electrostatically charging it makes for a more effective material than any of those materials would ever perform individually.”

Not only is the market becoming more scientific, manufacturers are more aware of the effects products have on the larger community. “Overall, the filtration market will become a more scientific market where companies are trying to market filtration media rather than commodity nonwovens,” predicted Fabrice Werner, director of marketing at Ahlstrom Filtration, Mount Holly Springs, PA. “More filtration OEM’s are now selling filtration performances that bring values to the end user, for instance, health protection, cleanliness and longer life. An excellent example of these values in action can be found in the vacuum bag market with the “Endust” program, which promotes the filtration performance of the bag.”

And The Battle Continues...
Another trend noticeable in the market is an increased usage of synthetic melt blown materials compared to glass wet laid fabrics. While overall manufacturers were divided on this subject, certain companies described glass as a diminishing market. “The synthetic market is gaining remarkable ground on organic products. The death toll has been sounded for organic (glass) products,” said one manufacturer. “That [separation] occurs in very high volume businesses,” said Mr. Iaquinto of Carlee. “There’s a significant amount of capacity and glass usage to reinsulate houses has probably been reduced, which has been the case for the last 15 years or so. There’s an increase in activity for glass in roofing and that’s the area where you’ll find the two (glass and synthetics) will bang heads.”

Offering another viewpoint on the glass versus synthetics division was Mr. Reeves of AQF, who cited a changing of the guard of sorts. “There is a strong trend toward the use of synthetics because they are more durable and possess many positive attributes. As technology evolves, anyone could see synthetics taking over the traditional glass markets.”

Dr. Christian Sandler, managing director of C.H. Sandler GmbH, Schwarzenbach-Saale, Germany, commented on the positive attributes of synthetic materials for use in filtration. “More and more developments of thermal bonded synthetic filter media are carried out, which are very efficient with regard to their arrestance and life. Furthermore, synthetic materials can be processed on high performance machines so that less expensive products can be offered to the end user.”

Despite the bad press glass has received in the past, it has retained its place in the filtration market. “Glass is so inexpensive that in many cases people just wear protective garments to overcome its negative attributes versus switching over to synthetics,” said Mr. Centofanti of National Nonwovens. Other encouraging news regarding glass is that more and more companies are offering a biosoluable microfiber-based material, which is highly absorbent in lung fluid, in addition to a low-boron fiberglass. o

More than 2000 professionals from around the world will gather at the Filtration ’99 International Conference and Exposition at Navy Pier in Chicago, IL this month. Sponsored by INDA, Association of the Nonwoven Fabrics Industry, Cary, NC, the exposition, which will be open Wednesday, November 3 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Thursday, November 4 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., will include more than 200 exhibitors showing the latest in filter media, raw materials, filtration components and services. (A complete list of exhibitors begins on page 54.)

The Filtration ’99 conference will take place Tuesday, November 2 from 1 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., Wednesday, November 3 from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and Thursday, November 4 from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesday’s line-up will feature a tutorial session on the fundamentals of filtration followed by an “Ask The Experts” panel. On Wednesday, Robert McIlvaine of McIlvaine Company, Northbrook, IL, will present the keynote address and Thursday’s lectures will look at the end use side of the filtration market. A reception will be held in the Expo Hall on Wednesday night from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Also scheduled to take place during Filtration ’99 is the second annual Filtration and Separation Product Achievement Awards Dinner, which recognizes outstanding filtration and separation products selected through a vote by readers of Filtration & Separation magazine. The event will take place Wednesday, November 3 from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. at the Hyatt Regency Chicago on the Riverwalk and will include a four-course sit-down dinner, drinks and entertainment. Award categories will include the following: Environmental Innovation Award, Best Website Award, Filter Media Award, Cartridge Filters Award, Liquid Filters Award, Liquid Separators Award, Membrane Filters Award, Air and Dust Filters Award, Gas and Hot Gas Filters Award, Filter Applications Award, Testing and Monitoring Award, Overall Product of the Year Runners-up Award and the Overall Product of the Year Award.

What follows is a complete list of upcoming sessions and topics for the Filtration ’99 conference:

Tuesday, Nov. 2—1 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.

“Filtration 101—The Fundamentals Of Filtration,” Ken Rubow, Mott Corporation, Farmington, CT; Anthony Flannery, AF Nonwovens; David Paul, DHP Inc.

“Ask the Experts,” Moderator: Lutz Bergmann, Filter Media Consulting, La Grange, GA; Anthony Flannery, AF Nonwovens; William Gregg, Mikropul Environmental Systems, Summit, NJ; John Kroha, Flexon Inc., Leetsdale, PA; David Paul, DHP Inc.; Ken Rubow, Mott Corporation; Tony Shucosky, Memtec America, Timonium, MD.

Wednesday, Nov. 3—

Cartridge And Crossflow Filtration—Moderator: Rob Bender, Evanite Fiber, Corvallis, OR.

“New Pleated Fiber Media For High Temperature Applications,” Stephen Stark, W.L. Gore & Associates, Elkton, MD.

“Nonwovens For Industrial Dust Removal Applications,” Stefan Berbner, Freudenberg Nonwovens, Weinheim, Germany.

“Sorption Removal Of Colloid/Turbid Particles,” Tod Johnson, PhD, Filter Flow Technology, League City, TX.

“Crossflow Microfiltration,” John Richardson, Westech Engineering, Salt Lake City, UT.

For more information on Filtration ‘99, contact INDA, Association of The Nonwovens Industry, P.O. Box 1288, Cary, NC; 919-233-1210; Fax: 919-233-1282; Website: www.inda.org.

Three new absorbent core innovations. Two large-scale capacity additions. One major cross-continental merger. Nowhere is the countdown to the new millennium more apparent than in the air laid market, where the big Y2K question has less to do with computers malfunctioning than with whether air laids have finally reached the “Holy Grail”—the absorbent diaper core. Following years of speculation and industry rumor—stemming from concerns over capacity, cost, run times and delivery systems—it looks like air laid nonwovens have finally “arrived.”

Needless to say, their arrival has not gone unnoticed. With key capacity increases slated for the near-term future and a prominent acquisition about to take place, the air laid market—poised for an unmatched market breakthrough—has earned a reputation as a technology sector well worth watching. And the industry is doing just that.

The Countdown Begins...
Beginning with the topic of growing capacity both Concert GmbH, Berlin, Germany and Buckeye Technologies, Memphis, TN, are under way with plans to significantly boost current air laid production. Expected to start-up in December and reach full production levels late in 2001, Concert’s DM 70 million expansion will triple annual capacity at its plant in Falkenhagen, Germany and will center on the addition of what the company calls the most modern air laid cellulose fiber production facility in the world.

For its part, Buckeye also uses superlatives to describe its expansion plans, which involve the addition of the world’s largest air laid machine. The new 50,000-ton per year system is expected onstream in late 2000 at a yet-to-be-revealed location. The line will be triple the size of traditional machines and will be specifically designed to manufacture a new family of heavier basis weight, multifunctional products for various absorbent applications.

On the acquisition front, Buckeye’s purchase of Walkisoft is another factor set to change the air laid industry as we know it. The deal—which was expected to be finalized early this month—involves the acquisition of air laid manufacturer Walkisoft GmbH, Steinfurt, Germany, the nonwovens business of UPM-Kymmene. The $120 million purchase doubles Buckeye’s air laid capacity to approximately 85,000 tons per year.

While most manufacturers were wary of predicting just what the merger would mean for the market at large, many agreed that its ramifications are not expected to significantly change the face of the business and that the acquisition is not indicative of a trend toward widespread consolidation. This is not to say that manufacturers are not keeping a watchful eye on this area of the market, however. “We are interested to see how this works out,” commented Olof Lundin, marketing manager at Duni AB, Bengtsfors, Sweden. “This is quite a new story and we have yet to see what the effects will be. Buckeye has shown a strong interest in air laids, first through its Merfin acquisition and now through this purchase. One thing is clear,” he added, “a merger of this magnitude is a recognition of air laid technology and its possibilities,” he said.

Susan Stansbury, nonwovens marketing manager at Fort James, Green Bay, WI, described a certain level of consolidation as a positive sign for air laids. “Some of the consolidation in the market suggests air laid technology has moved from a small niche position to taking its place among the larger volume nonwoven fabrics. Converters and customers with larger products can be assured of both capacity and commitment to this business,” she said.

Reaching For The Grail
If there’s a hot topic in air laids, it’s hygiene, and more specifically, the coveted baby diaper core. It seems that anybody who’s anybody—and that means just about everybody with even a peripheral interest in the hygiene sector—is watching this market very, very closely. Just how high are the stakes? According to John McNicol, president and chief operating officer of Concert Industries, Quebec, Canada, “The replacement of traditional fluff pulp/SAP-based materials with air laid nonwovens in diaper core applications would require four times the world’s air laid capacity.” Duni’s Mr. Lundin also described this as a substantial market change. “The air laid baby diaper core will have a huge influence on the business as we know it. This is the next big move for air laids.”

Who will place first among diaper manufacturers in the race toward the air laid diaper core remains to be seen. Jill Langevin, marketing manager for Buckeye Technologies, offered a prediction. “I don’t think we’re going to see the big players taking the lead. We will likely see a small but significant player go first, with other manufacturers following.”

Another question worth asking is when penetration into the baby diaper market can be expected and that—like many questions in the nonwovens industry—is a matter of perspective. In the feminine hygiene and adult incontinence markets, air laid nonwovens have reached at least an initial level of acceptance, with air laids used in both absorbent core and acquisition layer applications. In feminine hygiene, manufacturers report that most progressive panty shield and panty liner SKU’s feature air laid components. So when exactly will the baby diaper frontier become a reality?

According to Paul Boynton, director-specialty pulp sales and marketing at Rayonier, Jesup, GA, air laid cores may already be on retail shelves. “Due to the highly secretive nature of this business and the number of proprietary arrangements, it’s very possible that these products are already available in one form or another without wide acknowledgement of this fact.”

Offering an update on European market penetration was Alexander Maximow, sales director at McAirlaid’s Vliesstoffe GmbH, Steinfurt, Germany, which made its debut early this year. “Trial marketing is already under way in Europe and the first product of this type should hit the shelves in Europe by January.” He added that there is one European baby diaper manufacturing line with air laid converting capabilities already up and running.

“Although there has been a lot of speculation about the potential for air laid in diapers over the past several years,” said Ms. Langevin of Buckeye, “I believe we’re finally there. Several air laid cores developed specifically for diaper applications are now commercially available and a large number of manufacturers are seriously testing them.”

Concert’s Mr. McNicol also predicted an imminent transition. “The missing factor was speed, but now that issue has been addressed. The standard for air laids has been set in the feminine hygiene market and we will see a similar transition take place across hygiene markets in general—in adult incontinence and then in baby diapers. Large-scale capacity investments will help break this open.” He added that the merits of thinner, increasingly advanced air laid structures—along with increased productivity and an ability to hit key value points—make it hard not to replace with air laids.

Even if issues of adequate capacity and production speeds have been addressed, another important challenge remains convincing baby diaper manufacturers to reconfigure existing converting equipment to handle air laid absorbent cores. According to Mr. Maximow of McAirlaid’s—which manufactures “SuperCore,” a brand new modified cellulosic fiber-based product—this is not a significant obstacle for air laids. “It’s really just a matter of modifying existing diaper lines. The hammermills and drum formers need to be eliminated and an unwind system must be added to unpack the layered (festooned) material. Companies can save waste by eliminating these components.”

Ms. Langevin agreed, explaining that Buckeye’s new “Unicore” multilayered, composite technology—which is currently in the process of becoming commercialized—is designed to run easily on existing diaper and feminine hygiene lines. “Manufacturers should be able to simply bypass certain equipment components rather than undertake substantial machine modifications.”

Looking at things from the perspective of R&D was Concert’s Mr. McNicol, who pointed out that while novel product designs may not require drastic machinery changes, a significant amount of research and development work is required behind the scenes. “The first part of the challenge is to prove that the material will provide benefits with value. For instance, there are 12-16 materials involved in a baby diaper and if that number can be reduced to four or five, that’s a real advantage.” Mr. McNicol added that a composite core would allow the replacement of several products, providing improved economics and value through a simpler, better performing product. “Ultimately, this is the vision,” he said, “first the absorbent core and eventually other components such as acquisition layers.”

Rayonier’s Mr. Boynton also cited an array of possibilities for air laids and specifically for the company’s new “NovaThin” product, which was launched earlier this year. The new product—which incorporates SAP and fluff pulp directly into a hydrogen bonded air laid structure—represents Rayonier’s debut as a manufacturer of preformed cores and propels the specialty pulp supplier into a new arena. “We are assessing our options about whether to develop this and future generations of NovaThin on a larger scale through an expanded manufacturing base, in-house or otherwise. We may also form partnerships and/or licensing agreements. No matter what the outcome, these discussions will lead to a broader scope of possibilities. This is a long process and NovaThin is not a one-size-fits-all product. It’s a platform technology, not a single answer. The absorbent core could be a starting point, but there are a lot of possibilities,” said Mr. Boynton.

Fort James’ Ms. Stansbury also commented on product opportunities and variations. “In addition to transfer-acquisition layers and a greater emphasis on absorbent cores, another key product development trend focuses on composites of all kinds, including multilayered laminates, top sheets combined with inner layers and barrier back side webs. In absorbent core markets, customers look at the entire structure’s performance, so even if you provide just a single layer, you must understand how it works in a complete structure. In other markets, customers are seeking additives like antimicrobial treatments, special surfaces, high loft and other features tailored to their segment,” she said.

How Goes The Market?
By most accounts, current conditions in the air laid sector are very strong in terms of sales, with pricing and capacity both acting as important market influences. Offering a hygiene market update was Concert’s Mr. McNicol. “We have seen very strong growth in the market driven largely by hygiene applications. There has been a push in the feminine hygiene sector toward more sophisticated products and better performing structures with improved designs. This transition has increased demand for air laid capacity in its own right, but other sectors have also reported growth.”

Ms. Stansbury described dynamic market conditions and said that major markets, such as feminine hygiene and baby wet wipes, are being carefully monitored as changes occur globally. “Some geographies lead change in some markets and they may be entirely different in other segments,” she said.

Playing a key role in the air laid market is raw material pricing, a fact that is not surprising considering the reliance on fluff pulp in parts of the market. Mr. McNicol offered an overview of the situation, “The case has always been that one apple in the cart is more of an issue than the others. With the exception of fluff pulp, the other raw material markets are generally stable. Capacity for SAP, for instance, has increased when needed, but fluff pulp has always been a moving target with continual ups and downs.”

Mr. Maximow of McAirlaid’s agreed. “The game in air laids is very cyclical; it is a steady wave of change. Anyone who has been in the business for a while is not surprised by this fact. There has never been a steady fluff pulp price—this is an area where you see very dramatic hikes and falls.” He added that there has been slight overcapacity recently in the air laid market, but that fluff pricing is increasing and is expected to go back up by the end of the year.

Rayonier’s Mr. Boynton emphasized the importance of price, particularly in the hygiene sector. “The baby diaper market offers very low margin for retailers. As a result, the price of materials will always be an important factor in diaper design.” He added, however, that lower cost is not the focus of the trend toward thinner, preformed cores. “It’s about increasing manufacturing efficiency with higher throughputs, improving comfort levels and decreasing package sizes to take up less retail space,” he said.

Ongoing Technology Upgrades
Technology improvements—in the form of new machinery twists as well as upgrades to bonding technologies—are also helping to drive air laid growth. “Certainly there has been a lot of progress made,” said Mr. McNicol of Concert. “Ten years ago machines were a lot different. Thanks to the ongoing efforts of machinery designers, manufacturers and customers, we have seen unparalleled technology improvements and the achievement of new thresholds.” Mr. McNicol went on to credit the use of thermal and multibonding technologies as well as other improvements for leading the way to a broader shift toward air laids.

Ms. Stansbury attributed certain improvements in air laid technology to the flexibility of forming systems. “The use of various fibers, additives and layering are all possible. Technology changes in other areas will certainly become part of the air laid line-up. For example, changes in melting points for bicomponent fibers will play a role in thermal bonding improvements. New bonding technologies go beyond just holding fibers together. Functional attributes for use in converting are being developed for improved post-embossing, laminating, resiliency and other characteristics. Developments in superabsorbent powders, fibers and specialty binders continue to offer new air laid possibilities,” she said.

Ms. Langevin of Buckeye also addressed the issue of technological change. “Air laid technology has evolved significantly since the original ‘latex’ or emulsion bonding process was introduced in the 1970’s. In recent years there has been substantial market penetration of multibonded and thermally bonded materials.” She went on to characterize these bonding processes as extremely flexible, allowing for a broad range of fibers to be incorporated—from wood and cotton to various synthetics—as well as superabsorbents, odor control agents and other raw materials in all sorts of combinations and layers. “There are a nearly endless number of design options for highly engineered structures with a range of fluid management functions,” she said.

What Else Is New?
Despite the attention garnered by the up-and-coming air laid baby diaper core application, life goes on in other arenas, where product development trends are under way both within the hygiene sector as well as in other niche and non-absorbent markets.

Discussing this subject was Ms. Stansbury, who explained, “We continue to offer absorbent core options, but may not see the same urgency to commit a major part of our future to webs for baby diaper cores and other commodity, large volume markets as companies who are pulp suppliers to these markets,” she said. Ms. Stansbury added that, as a diversified manufacturer involved in a range of product areas, Fort James is interested in specifically tailoring to converting and user requirements rather than limiting its focus to a few commodities.

Ms. Langevin of Buckeye also alluded to other areas of opportunity. “There is a lot of uncharted territory and market potential for air laid nonwovens. The major air laid players are very busy keeping up with growing demand in traditional hygiene and wipes markets. However, we have R&D resources committed to exploring new applications and some of the smaller air laid producers also claim to be investigating niche markets such as filtration and medical. Based on the early growth stage and flexibility of air laid technology, there is still a lot of evolution to come,” she said.