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Spunbonded & Melt Blown Nonwovens



despite overcapacity issues and price pressures, these two technologies remain tops with producers



Published August 17, 2005
Related Searches: winding Freudenberg fiber bedding
Spunbonded & Melt Blown Nonwovens
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despite overcapacity issues and price pressures, these two technologies remain tops with producers
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ong known as two of the most dynamic and diverse technologies in the nonwovens industry, spunbond and melt blown materials have seen their share of ups and downs during the last several years, largely due to such market factors as overcapacity, raw material costs and pricing pressures. Still, these markets have remained attractive to roll goods producers because of the overwhelming volume of the materials used in important markets including hygiene, medical and filtration.
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rn“The market has seen increased competition due to increased capacity. Probably the biggest evidence is that a new competitor entered and left the market really quickly,” said Tom Quantrille, director of business development, BBA North America Hygiene, referring to Unifi Inc.’s recent sale of its new plant three months after commissioning it.
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rnAmong the major markets for spunbonded materials are hygiene cover stock, medical fabrics, geotextiles, construction and carpet underlays. Melt blown materials primarily target the hygiene, filtration and industrial segments. While the properties of the two fabric types differ from each other, similar processing styles often mean similar companies’ involvement in the two areas. Both are made from an integrated process of spinning, attenuation, deposition, bonding and winding. Melt blown fabrics tend to have a lower fiber denier than their spunbond relatives. Furthermore, melt blown fabrics are composed of discontinuous filaments unlike spunbond materials.
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rnStill, despite their differences, melt blown and spunbond nonwovens are generally grouped together and represent the fastest growing markets for nonwovens.
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rn“Between 1995 and 2000, the spunbond/melt blown market has been very profitable,” said Delphine Carter, spokesperson for Dounor, Neuville en Ferrain, France. “With the arrival of new capacity at the end of 2000, the market has seen an overcapacity situation. Nevertheless, our traditional markets such as hygiene are increasing and we are noting high demand for new applications in various areas such as medical, bedding and geotextiles.”
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rnUnder Pressure
rnThe overall economic picture is not as bright as it was 18 months ago so it is no surprise that many of the spunbond and melt blown producers interviewed by Nonwovens Industry have been complaining of pricing pressures and sales decreases. “I believe the polypropylene spunbond market is under pressure of price, overcapacity, increased competition,” said Serkan Gogus, commercial director of Mogul Nonwovens, Gaziantep, Turkey. “This situation is getting severe. The slowing down of world economies and overcapacity brought on by new investments along with continually declining prices, are making life difficult for all producers. Things are a little better in the specialized melt blown market.”
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rnRecent machinery and equipment developments have contributed to the issue of overcapacity in this market. Where once a company needed a strong base of knowledge to enter the spunbond and melt blown categories, now a company needs only enough capital to purchase a complete production line, which is available for about $40 million. In a strong business climate, this significant investment is certainly worthwhile because of the high quantity of materials the machines are able to produce.
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rn“The high speed lines now available from Reifenhauser allow anyone with capital to enter the nonwovens industry and be successful,” said Lee Sullivan, global manager, Freudenberg Tufts Division, Durham, NC. “This can lead to overcapacity issues because it can take the industry a while to absorb this added capacity. This condition didn’t exist 15 years ago.”
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rnOvercapacity has most effected the hygiene segment where pricing tends to fluctuate sharply with demand. Companies have chosen to handle this problem one of two ways—increasing their output to sell more materials at lower prices or targeting other niche applications where pricing pressures are not so great.
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rnNever one to be dependent on one segment, Freudenberg Tufts has kept out of the hygiene business and instead manufactures heavy denier polyester spunbond material for the industrial and automotive carpet backing and mats. The economic slowdown has somewhat impaired Freudenberg’s spunbond business because automotive sales and new construction are two of the segments first affected by poor economic conditions, according to Mr. Sullivan. Still, these segments began to pick up during the second quarter of 2001 and the company expects sales in the segment to decrease only 10-12% for the full year.
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rnMany watchers of the nonwovens industry, particularly the spunbond and melt blown markets, were shocked this spring when Unifi, Greensboro, NC, announced it would sell its newly built production facility in Mocksville, NC, to Avgol Nonwoven Industries, Holon, Israel. While many feel it is a strong sign of increased competitiveness in the industry, those familiar with the deal insist it was just a result of asset allocation on Unifi’s part. “Unifi’s decision was based on the total corporation’s capital allocation plan,” said Moshe Goldwasser, principal, Avgol.
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rnIn terms of the business on a global level, Mr. Goldwasser said the strength of the North American market is evident by his company’s establishment of a facility there. This move was brought on by global demand. Europe, meanwhile, is being affected more strongly by overcapacity and unprofitable pricing levels.
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rnIn Japan, the spunbond and melt blown markets have been hurt by recession. “Prices are going down in the roofing and building and geotextile markets, which are our major markets,” said Yukio Kawasaki, spokesperson for Toyobo, Osaka, Japan. Still, the company is making some inroads in the automotive seat supporter market.
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rnOncoming Composites
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The similarities between spunbond and melt blown materials have not only led to similar companies’ involvement in the business. Additionally, a lot of work has been done with composite structures featuring layers of spunbond and melt blown material (SMS). Kimberly-Clark, Neenah, WI, first developed SMS material in the early 1980s for use in surgical packs, gowns, sterilization wrap and disposable industrial apparel. Significant growth occurred in the mid-1990s as SMS was commercialized for cover stock applications in hygiene products. Currently more than half of the hygiene cover stock manufactured is spunbond and SMS material and future technological investments are expected to lead to lighter barrier leg cuff weights.
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rn“The future of the market is in the combinations of melt blown and spunbond, especially in the hygiene market,” said Pavel Hubaty, managing director Ecotextil, Neratovic, Czech Republic. “We have a new sample from a bicomponent melt blown/spunbond market and we are increasing production 10-30% per year.”
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rnAccording to data provided by INDA Association of the Nonwoven Fabric Industry, Cary, NC, spunbonded combined with SMS composite structures have grown the fastest of all the major nonwoven technologies in North America during the last decade. In terms of volume, approximately 12 billion square yards of spunbonded polyproylene and SMS materials were produced in 2000 and this segment is expected to see continued growth that will outpace the nonwovens industry.
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rn“I believe composites are the future of the business,” remarked Mogul’s Mr. Gogus. “With composites, you can produce very special fabrics to fulfill different technical requirements which can’t be possible with standard fabrics. I’m expecting progress with bico spunbond fabrics and we’re trying to develop different composites on our melt blown line.”
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rnComposite structures can either be manufactured together on a production line capable of spunbonding and melt blowing or produced separately and needled together. Because spunbond layers are much thicker than melt blown layers, some companies are now experimenting with SMMS and SMMMS composites, upping the number of melt blown layers to make the two more compatible.
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rnTaking On Technology
rnOne player not resting on its laurels is BBA Nonwovens, Simpsonville, SC. In March the company introduced two new products expected to revolutionize the spunbond market. First the company’s “Flite 4.0” forming technology is a way of laying down filaments to optimize air flow and give the material superior formation. The result is a fabric with lower basis weight that is less expensive and ideal for top sheet applications. The company began using the technology on spunbond systems but expects to add it to its SMMS lines later this year, according to Mr. Quantrille.
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rnFurthermore the company’s new “Softspan EPS” is a complex blend of polymers in one fiber that looks like one material. The company is dubbing this material “like polypropylene, only better.” It offers improved thermal sealing properties, making the diaper edges softer and stronger while making line speeds faster. “We are trying to be a full service type of company delivering new technology as well as global reach to withstand the competition,” Mr. Quantrille added.
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rnAdditionally, BBA is doing its part to expand the scope of the spunbond market by targeting new areas with its materials. For instance, the company’s medical group has made aggressive strides in expanding the use of its “Securon” brand in the medical area and the filtration group has been marketing spunbond and SMS materials as filtration media.
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rnWhile hygiene continues to be a strong focus for BBA, Mr. Quantrille admitted that other areas need to be tapped if a company is to garner success. “From a demand standpoint hygiene is very good. Nonwovens are replacing other materials such as film and wood pulp in disposable applications and we are continuing to see growth and further penetration,” he said. “At the same time, there are definitely increased price pressures.”
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rnAnother company making strides to boost the spunbond market is Freudenberg, whose “Evolon” material is made from spunbond technology. “In the long term, when we ask ourselves, ‘What is the product of the future?’ the answer is Evolon,” Mr. Sullivan said. Evolon is targeting apparel applications, an industry that has been coveted by nonwovens producers since the early days of the industry.
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rn“Evolon gives nonwovens the chance to look, act and feel like a textile,” Mr. Sullivan said. “If we have this conversation five years from now, we will only be talking about Evolon.”
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rnThe current problems such as pricing pressures and overcapacity that are now plaguing the spunbond/melt blown market will certainly be resolved in coming months as new applications are tapped and existing markets expand. This will mean further growth for these ever- dominant nonwoven technologies.
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Capacity Expansions And More Among
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Freudenberg, Weinheim, Germany will add a new spunbond production line at its Durham, NC facility. This $40 million investment will make the company the largest producer of polyester spunbond materials in the world.
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rnToyobo, Osaka, Japan, is currently installing a 6000-ton polyester spunbond line at its Iwakui facility. The line is scheduled to come online in April 2002.
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rnMitsui Chemical, Tokyo, Japan completed construction on a 9000-ton line for SMS nonwovens in April 2000.
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rnAdditionally, the company will construct a SMS line in Thailand with an annual capacity of 15,000 tons. This line expected to come onstream sometime next year.
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rnUnitika, Osaka, Japan, will expand its annual production capacity of spunbonded nonwovens by 40,000 tons. The new capacity is scheduled to be in place sometime next year.
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rnAsahi Chemical, Osaka, Japan has announced plans to increase the capacity of its polypropylene spunbonded nonwovens from 15,700 tons to 41,700 tons with the addition of two new lines. The first line is scheduled to come onstream this year while the second line will begin production in 2003. Additionally, Asahi doubled its annual polyethylene melt blown capacity from 100 to 200 tons last year.
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rnAsahi subsidiary, Asahi Kasei is increasing its polypropylene spunbonded nonwovens capacity. The new capacity will bring the company’s annual polypropylene spunbond capacity to 13,000 tons. The company is also shifting one of its polypropylene spunbond production lines to polyester in response to market demands.
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rnDaiwabo, Osaka, Japan, increased its spunbonded nonwovens capacity from 7000 to 12,000 tons last year. The company is also promoting the development of melt blown nonwovens made with non-conventional polymers.
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rnJentex Corporation, Buford, GA, has begun producing melt blown media for the global medical and filtration markets. The company also customizes melt blown material for specific market areas.
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rnMogul Nonwovens, Gaziantep, Turkey, added melt blown and composite nonwovens to its list of technologies last July. The company’s current melt blown capacity is 1100 metric tons.
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rnEcotextil, Neratovic, Czech Republic, was expected to start running a second melt blown line in March. The line increased the company’s production capacity to 1500 tons per year and produces melt blown webs for filtration applications.
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rnFirst Quality Nonwovens, Great Neck, NY, is installing a new line for meltspun nonwovens at its McElhattan, PA plant. The company is also expected to begin operation of a second new line sometime this year.
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rnTusco, a joint company formed through an agreement between roll goods producers, Unitika and Teijin Limited, both of Osaka, Japan, will increase its polyester spunbonded nonwovens capacity from 4000 to 6000 tons per year.
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