The Filtration Boom

August 17, 2005

thanks to myriad new product opportunities in niche and traditional segments, the filtration market is gearing up for skyrocketing sales and even tighter competition

Picture this: You wake up in the morning and take a shower with water that is filtered before it touches your body. You drink a cup of coffee or tea before work and drink water at work, all of which has been filtered. You eat lunch at a fast food restaurant that utilizes filtered oils to cook your food. You drive to and from work in a car that uses a variety of filtered fluids and has a filter that cleans the air you breathe inside the cabin. In fact, the air you breath all day inside your office and later at home has all been filtered before you even take a breath.

Is it any wonder the filtration market is being hailed as the fastest growing market within the nonwovens industry?

“Nonwovens are a major technology player in filtration,” stated Ed Homonoff, president of Edward C. Homonoff & Associates, Brooklyn, CT. “Nonwovens play in a number of different areas and they will continue to grow in this business. Nonwovens are not going anywhere—they will continue to take share from paper and textiles within the filtration marketplace.”

Christopher Coates, president and CEO of Ahlstrom Technical Specialties, Mount Holly Springs, PA, agreed. “There is no getting around the fact that nonwovens will be integral to the whole filtration business. There will be some existing technologies replaced by new applications, but certainly it is a dynamic, growing business.”

Constant Competition
With industry experts expecting 5-6% annual growth for the filtration market, there is definitely an attractiveness to this area for many nonwoven roll goods suppliers. And like any other growing marketplace within the nonwovens industry, there is a good deal of competition afoot due to the involvement of a large number of players. “I’d say the filtration market is very competitive and is getting more competitive all the time,” explained John Robertson, business manager air filtration for Johns Manville, Denver, CO. “There’s a lot of overcapacity and many producers chasing the same number of customers.”

Richard Faucher, industrial filtration sales manager for needlepunched filtration media producer Texel, Quebec, Canada, shared the same feelings. “New companies that were focused on other sectors are now looking to become involved in the filtration area. It is one market where there has been constant growth because we will always need filtration as customers are always looking for cleaner air and water,” he stated.

As filtration roll goods producers work to defend their marketshare within this competitive market, the only way to do so is to make sure they give the customer what they want. “It’s a very competitive market especially in the commodities, given the advent of high speed machinery,” detailed Stephen Copperwheat, general manager for Knowlton Nonwovens, Utica, NY. “Customers are savvy now and are shopping around, so there’s a great deal of pressure to keep the prices down. The manufacturer that comes out with the best product at the cheapest price definitely wins,” he said.

Similar thoughts were expressed by Dianne Newman, director of marketing development and planning for Hollingsworth & Vose, East Walpole, MA. “The nonwovens filtration market has become increasingly competitive as customers expect improved performance without a concomitant price increase. We believe there is overcapacity in some, but not all, segments of the market and that manufacturers must offer a broad range of manufacturing processes and materials—including composites and laminates—to remain competitive,” she said.

So as customers look for that perfect product to fit their filtration needs, it’s up to roll goods manufacturers to make sure they have a product that meets those requirements. “There’s no doubt that customers are becoming more demanding and are looking for finer filtration and more specialized media,” detailed Per Lindblom, director of sales and marketing and new product development for PGI, Dayton, NJ. “It’s no longer the case where one product can fit all needs.”

While a product may meet a customer’s needs technically, it also has to meet their standards of quality. “We’re seeing more requirements from major customers for uniformity—that is, a uniform web with a spot-to-spot uniformity,” said Frank Baker, Filtration business manager for BBA Nonwovens—part of the BBA Group, Chesire, U.K. “We are also seeing much more stringent requirements for microcontaminations—parts per billion down on some contaminants such as silicon—because the filtration product is going into various types of FDA regulated applications.”

At eswegee Vliesstoffe—part of Textilegruppe Hof, Hof/Saale, Germany—the company has been able to keep its competitive edge within the filtration market by providing customers with two services rather than just one. “We have found that companies have to be more flexible and have more equipment to do something with the roll good, rather than just produce it,” explained sales director Detlev Käppel. He explained that the company has received a positive response to its converting capabilities, as it is able to perform aftermarket functions such as slitting and die cutting.

Turning It Up A ‘Niche’
While some nonwoven roll goods producers are offering customers additional services and products to meet specific needs, other companies are branching out their product portfolios to encompass more specifically-targeted items for smaller, niche markets within the filtration arena. “Manufacturers are trying to stay away from the traditional markets and find specialty niche markets where there isn’t as much competition and there’s an opportunity to make reasonable profits and margins,” stated Ross Davis, vice president general manager for wet laid nonwoven manufacturer Cellulo Company, Fresno, CA.

“There are always opportunities to develop new products and, in doing so, develop your own niche market,” explained Gary Romanik, national filtration manager for Western Nonwovens (WNI), Carson, CA. “Innovations from the R&D standpoint will eventually drive the marketplace as manufacturers are able to come up with a product that is either a higher efficiency or better cost factor.”

According to Dieter Gsell, manager air filtration, dust removal for Freudenberg Nonwovens, Weinheim, Germany, while niche markets may currently be an oasis from filtration’s heated competition, it may not remain that way forever. “Some manufacturers focus on real niche markets with products that, so far, can hardly be substituted by other suppliers. However, these hidden niche markets will become more and more visible and achievable for other manufacturers, making competition in these niche markets more intensive in the future,” he detailed.

Despite the looming possibility of increasing competition within niche markets, filtration media suppliers are still striving to strike it rich in those areas. As many manufacturers see it, to be successful, new products will most likely need to utilize new or advanced production technologies. “Some of the niches call for very specialized and unique technologies or composites and for those products, niche markets offer some very nice opportunities for companies,” said Jim Posa, group vice president and general manager for Lydall Inc., Rochester, NH.

Through the use of newer, more sophisticated technologies—such as melt blown and composite nonwovens—manufacturers are reporting growth opportunities both in individual marketshares and product offerings. According to Edwin Hoel, president of All Felt Filtration, Ingleside, IL, there is continually strong growth in the melt blown area of the filtration market, as well as growth opportunities for the company itself through composite technology and electrostatically charged filtration media for air filtration applications. “Composites enable us to take our charged fiber and look at specific niche applications where we can combine it with melt blowns for a product with even higher efficiency and longer product life,” Mr. Hoel explained.

As a manufacturer of melt blown filtration media, nonwovens-newcomer Jentex Corporation, Buford, GA, is seeing opportunities for its products as some customers are moving away from fiberglass toward melt blown media. “Since the early 1990s there has been a move by manufacturers to replace glass with melt blown media,” explained sales manager Ron Maddix. “With glass, one can produce both large and small fibers and the same can be said of melt blown, which leads us to believe that there is a market conversion opportunity creating growth for melt blown media.”

Dieter Magiera, managing director for Vliesstoffwerk Christian Heinrich Sandler GmbH, Schwarzenbach/Saale, Germany, agreed. “Because of new requirements in the fine filter area, the use of melt blown technology will become more important. With this technology, new application fields like automotive interior filters were introduced. Melt blown technology has to be targeted to compete against glass fibers in the future.”

On the air filtration side of the market, composites are providing growth opportunities for companies such as AQF Technologies, Charlotte, NC—which was recently acquired by BBA. “I think in transportation composites are already a major component and we are starting to see them more and more, especially in the HVAC, commercial and industrial markets,” stated Jay Forcucci, director of marketing for AQF’s indoor air quality group.

Checking In With The Environment
Speaking of the air filtration market, this area has experienced a good deal of growth—and is expected to do so into the future—due to recently increasing concerns over the environment. As consumers are becoming more aware of the air they breath and what might be lurking unseen, filter media manufacturers are finding themselves up against stronger requirements and even more government intervention. “There have been more stringent regulations on air filtration in terms of particles being captured and nothing being emitted by the filter itself as there is far more awareness,” stated J.C. Sneyd, director of marketing and sales for the nonwoven fabrics business of Kimberly-Clark, Roswell, GA. “People are learning now that there is a greater need for higher end filtration, more than they knew five years ago, and you are seeing more people willing to pay for performance.”

Lillian Caret, sales engineer for Tex Tech Industries, Portland, ME, agreed. “Especially with the new Clean Air Act, people are being forced to look at higher efficiency fabrics and I see this trend continuing as customers are asking for much more filtration efficiency materials.”

In other areas of the world the environment also plays an important role within the filtration market. In the Far Eastern filtration market, environmental factors have been a big influence in an increased demand for certain products, according to Toshio Yoshida, general manager for the Air Filters Department of Japan Vilene, Tokyo, Japan. “There has been more demand for establishing recycling or waste treatment systems that use filters, as well as measures to decrease industrial waste through eco-friendly filters,” Mr. Yoshida added.

Wang Yu Ming, chief engineer vice general manager for Hangzhou Xinhua Group, Hangzhou, China, concurred. “Customer requirements for environmental protection have become more and more strict, no matter what field or industry they are in, resulting in a series of regulations and rules that have been promulgated and implemented,” he said.

Around The World
Speaking of other areas of the world, in the filtration market, product demand often varies by what continent—North America and Europe are substantially mature markets, while other areas such as South America, Asia and other developing countries are expected to drive growth. “In general, filtration is one of those markets that you would call truly global,” Lydall’s Mr. Posa explained. “There are different focuses in different parts of the world depending on what segment you are talking about in filtration.” By way of example, he pointed to the difference between the water systems in the U.S. and Europe, with both areas holding their own beliefs about what aspects of the filtration process are the most important.

Another example of differing needs can be found in the European automotive air cabin filtration market. “Europe has led the way with car makers adopting cabin air filtration. Asia is probably second, with the U.S. lagging considerably behind, due to a number of reasons such as economy and air quality,” explained Keith Darnell, director of new business development for AQF.

The Far East is one of the areas expected to grow the most over the next few years along with South America, according to Serkan Gogus, commercial director for Mogul Nonwovens, Gaziantep, Turkey. “North America and Europe will be the main markets and growth is expected in the Far East and South America,” Mr. Gogus added.

C.K. Chaudhuri, general manager for Charminar Nonwovens, Hyderabad, India, gave his impression of the global outlook for the filtration market. “Asia, Africa and South America are having comparatively better growth since the countries situated in these zones are in developing stages. New industries are coming up in these countries and they are opting for international norms of pollution control. Such a situation is creating more opportunities for filter media and at the same time, a parallel replacement market is also growing,” he said.

High-Flying Future
With the help of niche markets, sophisticated technologies and global growth possibilities, the filtration market is destined to continue to be a successful area for many roll goods manufacturers. Jim Iaquinto, manager business development for Carlee Corporation, Rockleigh, NJ, was one manufacturer citing vast growth potential for filtration. “There might be a certain level of maturity in the HVAC business, but this may bode well for some enhanced growth. Certainly in the smaller niche markets that we are concentrating on—whether in the automotive aftermarket or other OEMs—there will be very strong growth.”

At Eagle Nonwovens, St. Louis, MO, the company stressed the influence of government regulations on the filtration market and how such standards dictate the market’s maturity. “The filtration market matures every time businesses find the economically optimal point where they are in compliance with the law and the reverse is also true. When new emission standards are codified, a new round of growth in the filtration field is engendered,” stated Michael Brennan, vice president sales and marketing. “Future growth in the filtration market will always be influenced more by government legislation or mandate.”

Mr. Davis of Cellulo also reported growth for the future of the filtration market, but stressed the important role of nonwovens within this area. “Nonwovens will continue to play a significant role because there isn’t anything out there that is easier to use. There aren’t any other medias that can economically handle the levels of suspended solids that nonwovens can,” he stated.

“I think filtration is going to be a good segment for nonwovens for the foreseeable future,” K-C’s Mr. Sneyd commented. “In the past, a lot of filtration was done just in the structure of the nonwoven, but chemistry is going to have more of a say by providing a media that relies on more than just its fiber structure for filtration efficiency.”

Mr. Faucher of Texel also predicted nonwovens taking a more active role within the filtration market due to the advent of technological advances, culminating in a bright future in filtration media. “Due to the evolution of high efficiency technology and the use of synthetic raw materials, producers can create or compose any type of product to meet specific requirements,” he added.

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