If there is one feature that every piece of machinery in the hygiene industry should have today, it is modularity. The rapidly changing design features of such hygiene materials as disposable baby diapers, feminine hygiene products and adult incontinence items have made flexibility paramount in importance among hygiene producers, who want to be able to rebound quickly in the face of changing market requirements.
“Machine buyers ask for more flexible machines because they want to reduce the expenses for the inevitable machine changes and future retrofits when they update their products,” explained Otto Vriend, sales manager, hygiene at Winkler + Dünnebier, Neuwied, Germany. “To accommodate this demand, the number of size parts in production modules has been reduced. Size changes in production take less time to effect and are less costly.”
Whether the requirement is for stretchable side panels, resealable attachment devices or a pre-formed airlaid core, machinery must be able to handle these changes easily and effectively. While this has posed somewhat of a challenge for companies who supply machinery to the hygiene market, many welcome this challenge as an incentive to up their innovation. “There’s no difficulty in keeping up with the rapid rate of innovation in hygiene when the creation of new technology is a mission and, for us, the more difficult and challenging the project is, the more satisfactory is the achievement of new innovation,” explained Giampiero De Angelis, commercial director of Fameccanica, Teatino, Italy.
Fameccanica generally approaches the need for constant and continuous improvements in the hygiene industry from two angles. For one, the company is constantly working on a significant number of small improvements and solutions that are developed and added on its machines that have already been installed; for another, Fameccanica offers new machinery models and process units that allow customers to increase their technology and new product features. “Among our new models are new process units for elastic material applications, new revolutionary systems for the stacking and packaging at high speeds, new high performance machines for feminine hygiene items and new systems for production data collection and analysis,” Mr. De Angelis added.
In addition to modularity and flexibility, hygiene manufacturers are demanding other features from their machines including speed, competitiveness, standardization, improved product performance, reduced raw material consumption and production cost savings. With all these requirements pulling them in different directions, hygiene machinery manufacturers are working harder than ever to satisfy their customers.
“In the past few years, the hygiene industry has rapidly changed. Customers are demanding speed, competitiveness, flexibility and standardization and ask for continuous upgrading interventions on traditional machinery,” remarked Thilo Konig, sales and marketing director of GDM SpA, Offanengo, Italy. “They expect improved product performance and reduced raw materials consumption. More in general they look for production cost savings.”
W + D’s Mr. Vriend agreed saying that machinery production manufacturers and machine builders cooperate closely during the construction phase to monitor raw material efficiency. “As nearly two-thirds of the production costs of any hygiene product are raw materials, the reduction of waste is an important issue,” he said. “Likewise is the machine efficiency.”
These challenges have been further exacerbated by the shrinking consumer base caused by consolidation within the hygiene industry. Despite these problems of overcapacity and competitiveness in the hygiene market, many find it attractive because of its tendency to be recession-proof. “No matter what the economy does, there is a need for these products,” remarked Jim Anderson of Innovent, Peabody, MA, a manufacturer of vacuum-forming equipment for feminine hygiene items. “The fact that it’s not a growth area does not affect us so much because we have other areas we are targeting for growth. This is a good market because the bottom probably won’t fall out.”
The rapid rate of change and innovation in the hygiene market has made this a busy time for machinery manufacturers, who seem constantly to be developing new machinery and equipment for the industry. This trend toward diversity can be a double-edged sword for equipment suppliers, however, as finding customers for their new products in such a tightly consolidated and mature segment can be difficult. “Competition among machinery suppliers is intensifying due to a decrease in customers as a result of mergers and acquisitions of smaller hygienic producers by bigger producers on a global basis,” said Yukio Yoshioka, director of Zuiko, Osaka, Japan.
“Shrinking business chances are resulting from the decrease in the absolute number of customers but, conversely, such a severe situation has furnished us with a chance to create something new in concept.”
For instance, Zuiko has been developing advanced technologies for lines of pull-on style diapers for both babies and adults and is engaged in research and development efforts for high speed machines for thinner feminine hygiene pads, Mr. Yoshioka added.
GDM has been approaching its development process from challenging and demanding market segments such as high-performance and speed-focused customers. The result is GDM’s new baby diaper, sanitary napkins and adult incontinence production line portfolio. “These production lines represent, in terms of concept and execution, the unequivocal expression of the most innovative technology in this field, and they are based on the same design concept (standardization), meeting the most demanding expectations on flexibility and performance and guaranteeing the most competitive production costs to customers,” he said.
Among the new developments are fem-care production lines capable of producing 1400 sanitary napkins or 4000 panty shields per minute or 800 pieces per minute in the light incontinence technology. Adult brief lines manufactured by GDM are capable of producing 450 pieces per minute with an efficiency greater than 90% and waste rate lower than 2%.
Additionally, the company has introduced the “BT” series of baby diaper production lines. The “BT 800 Antelope” and “BT 1000 Fenix.” Nine of these units have already been purchased. “The unit responds to the most demanding market requirements concerning product quality, process performance, speed, efficiency and product cost effectiveness,” Mr. Thonig explained.
GDM’s “BT 600 Pegasus” line, which was completed in 2000 and designed to produce diaper and training pants covers the biggest market demand together with the forthcoming (during 2002) “BT 300 machine.” “The BT 600 is the extreme expression of speed, competitiveness, final product optimization in quality, cost efficiency, consistency and complexity, flexibility, simplicity and easy maintenance,” Mr. Konig said. “This production unit has been conceived to exalt the above-listed value drivers, being a design concept that shakes the traditional concept of disposable production lines.”
In 2002, GDM the “BT 300,” which is based upon BT 600 technology will be added to this line. This line will cover the extremely competitive low market range demand. The actual BB333 is still giving GDM satisfactions from customers and markets demanding low speed production units with standard product design at competitive prices, according to Mr. Konig.
Meanwhile, machinery manufacturer Cellulose Converting Equipments, Moscufo, Italy, has been developing three new types of machines for each hygiene segment—baby diapers, sanitary napkins and panty shields. When launched, sometime this year, these machines will allow CCE to respond to three diverse requests common among hygiene producers—high capacity, medium-to-high capacity and low capacity (for budget-minded projects). “These three machines will allow us to be well set for the future of the hygiene market,” remarked Walter Cesaro, company spokesperson.
Another hygiene machinery manufacturer conforming to the demands of today’s market conditions is SSP & Technology, Garlasco, Italy. The company is currently offering technologies for the production of airlaid material directly on the converting machine, ultrasonic ears application and leg elastic application, which was made through a joint product and is reportedly the only machine of its kind on the market.
“Product innovation is for us the most important point as every time there is some innovation on products we have to be ready immediately to offer the right machinery and equipment to allow all our customers to manufacture the innovative products,” said Robert Crippa, chief executive officer of SSP. “Of course, most of the time, it is very difficult to keep up with the rapid rate of innovation in such an industry, but this also one of the strongest successful points of the group—be ready to immediately satisfy any customer’s request.”
The continuous rate of new launches in the hygiene machinery segment are good proof of the diversity and fluidity of the business. Naturally, all of this new technology was not born out of nothing. Instead, it is a response to the constantly changing trends in the hygiene segment. “New technology and new product trends live together,” explained Fameccanica’s Mr. De Angelis. “There is not a request followed by a response. We are always on the starting line to create new technology to develop the new trends together with our most challenging customers. Technology does not follow—it is just the vehicle to find solutions to troubles and to realize customers’ dreams.”
Name Your Customer
In recent years, the hygiene industry has been marked by several challenges, chief among which are consolidation and maturity, particularly in the more developed regions of North America, Western Europe and Japan. The smaller customer base, coupled with slackened demand has forced machinery manufacturers to tighten their reigns by focusing more closely on large customers and targeting on new territories outside of the developed regions in search of new clients.
“The hygiene industry for machinery manufacturers in the past several years have seen a large number of newcomers entering this business mainly in Central and South America and Eastern Europe,” remarked Giorgio Biancardi, managing director of RML Raynworth, Lugano, Switzerland. “Meanwhile national converters that are strongly positioned are investing to follow market expansion with mainly private label products. On top you have the four or five global converters, which spend more and more on innovation and marketing trying to take marketshare away from each other in a very aggressive way even using patent infringements.
“Competition and consolidation has badly affected us because clients underestimate the value of professional services next to reliable converting lines and are guided mainly by the machine price, which in real terms is a minor amount in relation to the overall capital requirement,” Mr. Biancardi added.
As the large, multinational hygiene producers such as Procter & Gamble, Cincinnati, OH, Kimberly-Clark, Dallas, TX, and Johnson & Johnson, Skillman, NJ, continue to vie hungrily for marketshare in developed regions like North America, the machinery manufacturer has to work hard to grab their attention. “North America can still be considered the lighthouse of business, offering a lot of good opportunities to whomever is able to catch them,” explained Fameccanica’s Mr. De Angelis. “Europe appears to be a steady market with a good chance of technological renewal in order to support the business already started and developed until now.”
Looking toward less developed regions, Asia is now showing economic recovery, which should provide a lot of room for new product introductions in the hygiene segment. South America, however, is in a state of flux caused by the increasing number of acquisitions of smaller manufacturers by larger companies, Mr. De Angelis added.
Still, most experts predict that the key areas prime for growth are China, India, Asia-Pacific, Latin America, Eastern Europe and other areas where hygiene items are still considered luxury items. However, in these regions costs are a big concern as many manufacturers do not have the capital required for a sophisticated machine. “The start up of operations in low income nations means offering budget-oriented machines,” explained CCE’s Mr. Cesaro. “Of course these can later be updated to full speed and full options.”
A Time For Change?
The big questions on everybody’s mind, particularly in the baby diaper segment, is whether or not major manufacturers will convert their lines to accommodate pre-formed airlaid cores. Already, many feminine hygiene manufacturers have made this switch, leading to thinner, more absorbent cores, but the diaper industry has yet to follow suit.
“From a machine builder’s stand point, we see airlaid cores as being the first product innovation in a long time that could potentially reduce machine costs, add speed and increase efficiency,” remarked David Nelson, marketing manager for machinery manufacturer R&L Engineering, Albany, GA. The technology to incorporate airlaid cores in modern products already exists and can be readily integrated.”
While some feel that the capacity expansions recently made by airlaid producers such as Buckeye Technologies, Memphis, TN, and Concert Industries, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, show that airlaid technology will most certainly find its way into diapers cores, others feel that such a change would be too costly and unrewarding for most diaper manufacturers, who already produce extremely thin diapers. Still, most machinery manufacturers are covering their bases by offering machines that are flexible enough to handle the switch to airlaid.
“We have been able to upgrade our machinery very easily to supply new machines that were ready to run airlaid cores,” Fameccanica’s Mr. De Angelis said. “For the future we see a wide scenario of new technologies that will help customers in the managing of this material, and we are already working on that.”
For now, airlaid cores are still in the future, and, until they become widely used, machinery manufacturers must be able to offer machines that can load highly absorbent, ultra-thin cores into diapers. “Airlaid cores are obviously superior and preferable, but they will be limited for application on thin core type diapers in the foreseeable future,” said Zuiko’s Mr. Yoshioka. “In this regard, machine builders are relied upon to make available improved absorption capability and further cost reduction.”
In any commodity-driven market such as hygiene, end product manufacturers are focused on one thing—cost. This means that any cost-saving measure could be made overnight and, in some instances, this could change the entire way a diaper, panty liner or sanitary napkin is produced. Fully aware of this, machinery manufacturers are keeping their lines flexible and able to handle changes in the general design of the absorbent material.
As the hygiene industry continues to evolve, the machinery available and the general consumer demands of the market will continue to feed off one another, leading to more innovation and advancements in the market. “Machine manufacturers and hygiene producers will continue to be like the two wheels of a cart with both sectors interacting to positively affect and stimulate the hygienic industry,” Zuiko’s Mr. Yoshioka said. “Not to be neglected as factors impacting the industry are trends in consumer behavior and the significance of environmental policies of the communities in which we operate.”
These advancements will also be heralded by the expanding geographical scope of the hygiene industry as consumers in less developed areas continue to rely more heavily on disposable hygiene items. This global proliferation is the long-range goal of everyone involved in the hygiene market—from the raw material supplier to the machinery producer to the end product manufacturer. “Once an item becomes a staple product rather than a luxury, the business is there forever,” Innovent’s Mr. Anderson said. “Once the consumer gets used to it, they can’t live without it, and this means good things for those of us involved in the business.”
Recent Hygiene Machinery News
BHT Bicma-Hygiene Technologies, Mayen, Germany, has recently introduced a combined cut and seal applicator on an ultrasonic basis for elastic ears. The company also offers machinery to produce multi-layer cores with different SAP concentrations in the layers for high product performance at reasonable production costs.