Scalpel. . . Suction. . . Nonwoven
rnour annual ‘check-up’ on recent trends and issues in the medical market
The medical market is a booming business for nonwovens. While the medical disposables segment equals $700 million worldwide, $400 million of that is spent on medical apparel, according to consultant John R. Starr, Osterville, MA. Thanks to recent medical market trends such as an increased need for barrier products and cost-effective healthcare materials, everywhere you look, companies are reporting increases in sales figures. These trends reveal that no matter where the medical industry turns next, there is always room for nonwovens and always a company to take up future challenges. One leading market trend is the recent increase in “bloodless,” non-invasive operating techniques such as laser surgery, which not only cut down on the amount of protection needed by both medical worker and patient, but also result in less time the patient actually spends in the hospital. “One of the big factors that nonwovens rested on is cleaning up blood during the operation,” stated a spokesperson for U.S. Nonwovens, Brentwood, NY. Vice president of sales and marketing for American Nonwovens, Beaver Dam, KY, Ken Knudsen agreed. “People are in hospitals less and there are a lot more out-patient procedures, so people are moving in and out more quickly. There are just fewer nonwovens needed per procedure per stay,” he said.rn
At the same time, some medical roll goods companies suggested the opposite is occurring. According to a spokesperson for DuPont, Wilmington, DE, the use of more increasingly bloodless operating techniques has had a minor impact on the market for nonwoven materials. “Regardless of the type of surgical technique used, there will always be a need to operate with an aseptic field and to use proper precautions,” the spokesperson commented. “Although it does change the balance of protection and comfort that may be required in those specific procedures, it does not eliminate the need for a product that provides adequate protection for the healthcare staff.” In other words, there may be less demand for reinforced garments or specialty gowns, but the staff will still wear a protective garment in the OR.rn
Src=images/sept9921.gifAccording to some manufacturers, the increase in non-invasive surgery has actually driven demand in some parts of the medical market. Lynda Kelly, business unit manager for the medical and consumer fabrics group of BBA Nonwovens, London, U.K., reported a slight increase in the general wound category as more patients are discharged immediately after surgery and have to personally manage their recovery at home, increasing the use of sponges and bandages. “Here consumers are managing their recovery and the consumer mentality is, ‘I’ll go buy this to fix it,’” Ms. Kelly explained.rn
One company positively impacted by the increase in laser surgery is Bio Med Sciences, Bethlehem, PA. With a product line almost exclusively made up of medical nonwovens, the company manufactures wound care and scar treatment products. According to sales manager Mark Dillon, Bio Med has seen a significant increase in the number of laser surgeries due to the smaller reimbursement levels doctors receive from managed care in the U.S. for certain surgical procedures.rn
A Need For Protection
rnOn the flip side of the coin is the increased need for barrier products, such as drapes and gowns and germ-eliminating products used to treat hospitalized AIDS, hepatitis and multiple-resistant pneumonia patients. “Universal precautions have been the standard in place for several years and these require consistent use of effective procedures and products to protect healthcare providers and patients,” explained DuPont’s spokesperson.
An increase in medical product sales was also cited by Isolyser, Norcross, GA, which it attributes to the recent launch of its “EnviroGuard” spunlaced material for gowns, drapes and other medical applications. “In markets where reusables dominate, concerns over cross-contamination, strike-through and nosocomial infections appear to be shifting the emphasis towards disposables,” stated Marty Paugh, marketing director of Isolyer’s “Orex” Technologies International’s Healthcare Division.rn
Wovens Vs. Nonwovens
rnAs is the case in many market segments, the medical sector sees its share of competition between nonwovens and other textiles. Disposability is one of the main reasons hospitals and operating rooms prefer nonwovens over woven fabrics, say most suppliers to the medical industry. “In the hospital there is a freshness factor,” explained a spokesperson from U.S. Nonwovens. “When you are finished with disposables, you throw them away and that’s it. Other textiles retain stains even after washing, which people don’t want to see in a hospital.”
Other manufacturers feel nonwovens offer more possibilities than wovens, allowing them to better adjust their product lines to potential customers. Lantor (U.K.) Ltd., Bolton, U.K., is one producer that credits dry laid nonwovens for offering maximum flexibility in specialty medical products. “This is difficult, if not impossible, to achieve with woven or knitted products,” stated Richard Kiedish, general manager.rn
Src=images/sept9922.gifNonwovens’ ability to meet specific needs have helped them slowly steal the show from woven products in various areas including gauze. At Hainan Xinlong Nonwovens Industry, Xinlong, China, spunlaced medical gauze products account for 20% of sales, which is an increase from last year that is expected to continue. “Spunlaced products will increasingly replace traditional gauze thanks to characteristics such as breathability, absorbency, lint-free, soft hand, low cost, antibacterial and anti-adhesion properties,” commented Guo Kaizhu, chairman.rn
Malik Industries, Kennett Square, PA, is also looking for its needlepunched gauze to take the place of traditional woven gauze materials. According to Abdul Malik, president, the conversion from gauze to needlepunched nonwovens has been slower than anticipated due to corporate red tape, along with the time needed for R&D, lab and clinical trials and FDA approvals. “The future of nonwovens has arrived and it is only a matter of time before we see a gradual replacement of gauze and woven fabrics in many applications,” Mr. Malik declared.rn
Medical wipes have experienced a similar trend toward nonwovens over the past two years, according to Mr. Knudsen of American Nonwovens. “Doctors want to move toward nonwoven wipes due to their disposability and the education that goes along with them—less cross-contamination and less cross-infection,” Mr. Knudsen explained.rn
‘Examining’ New Products
rnSrc=images/sept9923.gifIf nonwovens are the fabric of choice for medical applications, then new product developments are needed to maintain this trend. At AET Specialty Nets and Nonwovens, Middletown, DE, Mark Abrahams, vice president and general manager of the Specialty Nets and Nonwovens Division, reported that the company this year has begun to manufacture melt blown products for use in face masks, blood filters and specialty medical areas. AET is also currently experimenting with combining melt blown material with its existing “Delnet” apertured film and other nonwovens to make composites for the medical industry. “I think when you start looking at face masks, wound care products or some specialty gowns and drapes, combining different nonwovens has extra benefit,” Mr. Abrahams explained.
Also on the new product front, U.S. Nonwovens will be introducing an antimicrobial wipe that prevents the growth of different types of bacteria within a certain amount of time. The company is working on placing an indicator within the wipe that will let the user know when the antimicrobial within the wipe has expired. At BBA Nonwovens, “Softex” spunbonded nonwovens have recently been launched for the gown and scrubsuit markets. For its part, DuPont is broadening its “Tyvek” product line with “Tyvek 2FS” for less demanding flexible packaging applications.rn
Is There A Medical Nonwoven In The House?
rnAs medical nonwoven manufacturers concentrate on the new products of today, they are also contemplating what will be required tomorrow. One up and coming trend is increased global market demand in Europe for medical nonwovens, which continues to drive nonwovens growth. “Outside the U.S., the conversion of textiles to nonwovens remains significantly lower than in the U.S.,” said Randy Davis, vice president sales and marketing, Dexter Corporation, Windsor Locks, CT. “We expect that nonwovens will play an increasingly important role in these markets in the future.”
Another future focus for medical disposable nonwoven producers is pollution, which continues to grow on a yearly basis. This is especially true considering the size of hospitals and the number of patients and employees that use medical disposables each day. “As reusables markets move to disposables, there will be a corresponding increase in the amount of waste generated,” Mr. Paugh of Isolyser said. “We believe that this is a critical issue from both a cost-of-disposal and environmental perspective.”rn
Another factor expected to play a part in the future of medical nonwovens is the Y2K issue and contingency plans set up by hospitals. “I do think we’re going to see some growth in late 1999 more attributable to Y2K contingency planning by hospitals than true market growth,” explained Ms. Kelly of BBA.” Hospitals are very concerned about Y2K and the easiest solution for contingency planning is to build inventory.”rn
No matter how you slice it, there will always be a place in the medical market for nonwovens. Thanks to their flexibility, disposability and cost-effective nature, nonwovens will continue to tighten their hold in the marketplace through new products and innovations into the next century and beyond.