|In 1999 two spectacular events took place in the staple based nonwovens industry: first, total shipments by domestic producers of olefin, polyester and rayon staple to roll goods producers amounted to 794 million pounds. This figure was a striking 103 million pounds (15%) ahead of the 1998 total and far eclipsed the previous record figure of 691 million pounds in 1998. In the decade of the 1990’s there were three years in which year-to-year sales declined and seven years when they increased, but until 1999 no change in either direction came anywhere close to the 103 million pounds registered for last year.
Second, olefin staple—which had been slowly but steadily gaining marketshare at polyester’s expense—took a giant leap in 1999 to a marketshare of 57% from 49% the previous year. At the same time polyester’s portion of the business plummeted to 35% in 1999 from 42% in the preceding year. The small balance of 8-9% was taken up by estimated sales of viscose rayon staple. The summary figures for the opening and closing of the decade are:
Almost 90% of the increase in the fiber poundage in the market accrued to olefin staple.
With occasional exceptions, the nonwovens market outperforms the conventional textile markets for olefin and polyester staple (details for rayon staple are not available). In good years, nonwovens generally increase more than the other markets while in poor years they usually decline less than the other markets. Table 2 shows that, for the two fibers combined, the market for nonwovens grew at an annual average rate of 4.9% in the 1990’s. The other markets, while much bigger in poundage, only increased an average of 0.8% per year.
Looking at polyester, the conventional textile markets for the fiber stagnated in the 1990’s while sales to nonwovens increased 1.6% per year despite polyester’s loss of marketshare to olefin. Nonwovens now account for only 13% of polyester staple domestic shipments. Broad woven and knit fabrics together used almost half of the total domestic shipments of polyester staple. Other significant outlets are carpet face yarns and fiberfill.
Thanks primarily to nonwovens, olefin fiber sales grew at a very healthy pace of 7.2% per year between 1990 and 1999. The nonwovens business did better at a 7.7% annual rate than did the conventional markets for the fiber, which increased 6.4%. Olefin staple has been doing well in carpet face yarns lately, but even so in 1999, 62% of olefin’s business came from its nonwovens customers. Carpet face yarns absorbed 30% of olefin staple sales last year, with most of the balance going into broad woven goods.
After a very poor year in 1998, polyester fiberfill sales turned up in 1999, although they did not set any records. Sales totaled 421 million pounds, up 9% (34 million pounds) compared with 1998 but still lower than five of the 10 years detailed in Table 3. Nonwovens and fiberfill together consumed 697 million pounds of polyester staple last year, meaning that approximately one third of all polyester staple sold by domestic producers went into those two markets.