These days—in the U.S. at least—it’s hard to walk down the street without coming across a Sam’s Club or a Blockbuster Video. It’s rare to drive down the highway and not pass mega-stores such as Home Depot or Wal-Mart before reaching your destination. Such super-stores are successful because they offer a variety of products at the right price to suit the needs of just about any customer. Warehouse-type stores, with something for everyone, are becoming ubiquitous in some parts of the world, and a similar trend is taking shape in the binders and additives segment where large, multinational suppliers are growing in number.
Many customers are looking for binders and additives to give end products specific qualities such as strength, flame retardancy, adhesion, softness and durability among others. Bigger suppliers have the flexibility to offer a variety of these characteristics and in many cases combine them. Not only can larger companies give consumers a wide range to choose from but they can also provide far-reaching customer service programs and detailed product information. With geographic expansion into Asia and Latin America and penetration into existing textile markets underway, there is greater demand than ever for binders and additives that can meet increasingly advanced, highly specified customer needs.
Strength In Numbers
As is the case in many industries, quality products are a primary focus for suppliers of binders and additives. In this market, demand is growing for products that meet advanced and versatile performance requirements at a competitive price. One supplier pointing to the ability of big market players to meet such needs was marketing manager David Anderson of Omnova Solutions, Fairlawn OH, who predicted that the market will soon be dominated by large companies. “I think you’re going to be seeing a lot of mergers. The competitive landscape is changing and you’ll see only large manufacturers in the future,” Mr. Anderson said.
Jim Tanger, business manager of nonwovens and textile coatings at BASF, Charlotte, NC, also cited a new focus on high performance binders and additives. “We’ve seen a recent market shift. There is less emphasis on environmental performance compared to the last five years. Cost and performance are drivers,” he said.
In the growing nonwovens industry, where new uses are found almost every day, customers are also looking for binders and additives to be more multi-functional. Robert Valentin, business manager for paper and nonwovens at B.F. Goodrich, Cleveland, OH, commented on this growing request. “People are demanding more from our customers, thus demanding more from us. There has been a growing demand for compounded products,” he said.
Another supplier emphasizing versatility was Gabriele Thye, marketing manager at Wacker Polymer Systems, Burghausen, Germany, who said that the need for versatile binders and additives is on the rise. “The process design of our customers is important. They need very good performance, fast acting at low temperatures, good results and competitive pricing,” she said.
Mr. Anderson also pointed to a growing trend to have customer-specific binders and additives. “We have a diverse variety of polymer systems and are customizing for unique requirements,” he said.
Globalization And Expanding Markets
With discoveries of new applications and increasingly versatile products, demand for nonwovens is on the rise. Jeffrey Ellis, product manager at Para-Chem Southern, Simpsonville, SC, forecasts an increase of nonwovens uses. “We see tremendous growth worldwide in nonwovens. There are new applications daily. Personal care products are always trying to improve and nonwovens will be a big part of that,” he said. With significant market growth in Asia and Latin America expected, many companies have established a presence in these regions.
John Robinson, marketing manager-nonwovens at Air Products and Chemicals, Allentown, PA, referred to expansion as inevitable for nonwovens suppliers. “There is significant cross-regional business. Companies are looking for product uniformity across the globe—they want to buy the same product in North America, Europe and Asia.”
Despite recent economic hardships in Asia, many suppliers still see growth potential in China along with Latin America, specifically Brazil. Mr. Anderson of Omnova was one supplier predicting growth in these markets. “I see a real pressure point from China and Latin America. China and Brazil are powder kegs and we’ll be seeing significant growth in the next three to five years,” he said.
Hal Morris, textile nonwoven technical service manager at Rohm & Haas, Philadelphia, PA, also discussed potential in the Asian market. “I see Asia as an expanding area,” he said. Mr. Morris went on to cite new business activity for Asian manufacturers in areas such as polyester roofing mats.
The Future of Chemical Bonding
Another topic on the minds of suppliers was the use of chemical bonding versus heat bonding techniques. In recent years there has been growing concern from binders and additives producers over a decline in the use of chemical bonding. With new nonwovens technologies on the way and others already well in place, some suppliers contend that chemical bonding has been threatened by thermal bonding, needlepunching and other techniques in certain markets. Whether or not chemical bonding is actually losing marketshare is a topic that is still up for debate, however.
Mr. Valentin of B.F. Goodrich described the use of chemical bonding as very strong and predicted steady growth. “I haven’t seen a decline in chemical bonding. The overall market is growing,” he said.
Para-Chem Southern’s Mr. Ellis disagreed. “I see chemical bonding losing some share but you can’t make certain products with the new technology, so there will always be a need for chemical bonding,” he said.
Moving beyond growth in chemical bonding to overall industry growth, a spokesperson from Ameripol Synpol, Akron, OH, also sees the nonwovens industry on the rise. “Nonwovens is definitely a growth market. We’ve experienced new markets, a greater variety of nonwoven substrates and increased market demands,” the spokesperson said.
Mr. Morris from Rohm & Haas predicted that nonwovens will threaten textile-dominated areas. “More people will start producing value-added products. A finishing process to enhance aesthetics and utitility is needed to produce the value-added nonwovens product. Coating, laminating, printing and other finishing products will be used. Melt blown and spunbond will make more unique products that will potentially replace more expensive textiles,” he said.
Mr. Valentin agreed, “There has been a drive for nonwovens to go into traditional textile markets. There continues to be a gray area between what is textile and what is nonwoven,” he concluded.