The Heat Is On

August 17, 2005

the ability to change is helping hot melts 'stick' in the industry

the ability to keep on top of changing market demands
is helping hot melts “stick” in the nonwovens industry

If there was a theme in the hot melt adhesive market this year, it was evolution. Between customer demands, technology advancements, new global market opportunities, environmental concerns and market consolidation, growth and change is running rampant throughout the entire market. As this sector continues to evolve, so will its place within the nonwovens industry.

In terms of customer demands, speed and cost reduction are the two main requirements adhesive suppliers and machinery manufacturers have needed to address. “People want to go faster with production speeds and they want to apply lower weight adhesives,” said Claude Schmid, vice president of Schmid Corporation, Spartanburg, SC—representative for Cavitec, Münchwilen, Switzerland.

For Nordson Corporation, Norcross, GA, meeting increased machine speeds has meant improving its equipment. “What we’ve done is improve our product offering so it can keep up with these higher speed machines, but we’ve also tried to develop new application technologies that provide some glue savings on the cost side of the equation,” explained Carl Cucuzza, senior marketing manager.

As a response to a recent trend toward higher speeds, lower coat weights and thinner films, the May Coating and Acumeter Division of Acumeter Laboratories, Holliston, MA, has introduced a new product. “We now offer the ‘RC Series’ of hot melt roll coaters for precision application of hot melts for striping or continuous width applications up to 60 inches,” stated Tom Giles, product manager of coating equipment.

While manufacturers are making equipment that can keep up with fast line speeds and reduce the amount of adhesive used, raw material suppliers are creating products that can be used with this equipment in smaller amounts. “Our customers are asking us to come up with innovative ideas that can help them create a competitive advantage in their marketplace,” stated Bob Marquette, general manager Nonwovens Division for Ato Findley, Wauwatosa, WI. Adding to the hot melt adhesive—or “value-adding” as many producers put it—is an outgrowth of the evolution of the marketplace as manufacturers are being challenged by their customers to do more with the hot melt product.

H.B. Fuller, St. Paul, MN, is one company that has been facing these challenges from customers as the demands of the industry change. “Rather than just using an adhesive to bond A to B, many times A and B are different and we’re having more unique bonding challenges than in the past,” added Kent Kvaal, global manager nonwoven hygienic industry for H.B. Fuller. “Even in situations where A and B have not changed, the challenges for the adhesive companies would be then to develop next-generational technologies that would somehow provide utility to the customer.”

Bostik, Middleton, MA, customers are demanding lower cost, user-friendly, high performance products that will stand up to end use performance requirements. “Nonwovens are finding new uses in durable applications like automotive interiors, so the manufacturers are looking for adhesives that will bond to dissimilar materials and meet stringent end use requirements,” explained John Halbmaier, manager of hot melt systems for Bostik. “Process people want a material that is easier to process and user-friendly on the manufacturing floor.”

Cementing New Avenues Through Technology
As customer demands have changed and increased, so have machinery and raw material technology advancements as suppliers strive to create innovative products that can meet increasing demands. One such company is equipment manufacturer ITW Dynatec, Hendersonville, TN, which has experienced a 30% sales growth due to its new “Dynafiber UFD” patented technology, an upgrade of existing Dynafiber spray equipment. “The UFD has really created a lot of opportunity for us because in all avenues it helps to keep costs where they need to be,” explained ITW’s Steve Lessley, nonwoven market manager Americas. “We believe it really will revolutionize the way spray technology is looked at in the future.”

Other technology advancements in the hot melt machinery and equipment market have centered around the actual product line that the is attached to. According to Gerry Hicks, president of Newco Enterprises, Lawrenceville, GA, the interface between the actual parent line and the added hot melt equipment is becoming more integrated through the use of PLCs (program logic controllers). In this way, the hot melt equipment gets its commands from the production line instead of from an outside source, allowing it to keep up with high line speeds. “That marriage of technologies has helped to make this business more efficient and has created a better operating system all together,” he added.

On the raw material end of the market, The Reynolds Company, Greenville, SC, offers a technology that has some advantages over traditional hot melts—particularly in the area of yields since the technology allows for more products to be made with less adhesive. According to president Lex Reynolds, the adhesives, which are known as the “300” and “500” series, are an alternative to typical pressure sensitive-type adhesives and can be applied to disposable products with conventional hot melt equipment.

Some adhesive manufacturers have designed new products to coordinate with new product features such as elastics, hooks, lotions and fragrances. “Adhesive manufacturers have had to look at alternate technology platforms in order to meet those technology needs,” stated Mr. Kvaal of H.B. Fuller. “In most cases it has not been a situation where the adhesive the customer used in the past can be the adhesive that can meet their needs in the future.” In response, H.B. Fuller has introduced a “next-generational” elastic attachment technology known as “Fab-U-Las.” “The technology marries extremely well with new equipment technologies and allows for enhanced performance of elastic bonding with a significant reduction in the amount of adhesive used,” explained Mr. Kvaal. The company has also come out with a technology for the stabilization of diaper cores called “Padlock” and technologies for garment attachment for sanitary napkins that have lower viscosity and higher performance.

At Henkel KGAA, Düsseldorf, Germany, a new product to meet similar demands has been released—the “Caremelt/Carebond System.” “This system solution is for lotion treatments on diaper topsheets,” explained Ralf Grauel, director sales and marketing, adhesives for nonwovens and packaging industries. “It uses a compatible hot melt adhesive that shows excellent resistance against the influence of lotion that normally leads to distinct bond strength reduction.” Additionally, the Caremelt lotion treatment offers a variety of active ingredients such as Vitamin E than can be added to the lotion according to customer requirements.

A Market Melting Pot
Now that customer demands are being met through new technology developments, markets in which to sell these products—both already penetrated and new—need to be maintained or established. This can be a bit tricky, especially when dealing with the ever-fluctuating tide of global economics. Most machinery producers agree that North America has been the largest growth area for the hot melt adhesive market this year. “North America seems to have the biggest appetite for this type of equipment,” commented Gary Faulkner, president of Advanced Coating & Converting Systems, Nashville, TN, which is a representative for Independent Machine, Fairfield, NJ. Src=images/dec9921.GIF

For Nordson, growth was found south of the border. “Especially in Latin America this year and to some extent also in Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia, we have seen the market really growing as far as capacity goes, with new machines and equipment going into those areas,” said Mr. Cucuzza of Nordson. He added that the company is seeing signs that the markets in China and Southeast Asia are beginning to recover and that they are expecting some strong expansions and investment in those areas in the next few years.

For raw material suppliers, North America has also been the dominant area for sales growth, but attention is beginning turn toward Asia and Latin America for growth potential for the next few years. According to H.B. Fuller’s Mr. Kvaal, growth for hygiene products and disposables through the year 2003 is projected to be slow in North America and Europe—due to peak market penetration and slowed population growth—and very strong in Asia and Latin America, which will influence the market for adhesives.

Mr. Marquette of Ato Findley agreed, “Latin America has been a great year for us. Our business has grown, the use of adhesives within disposable articles is increasing and our customers are introducing more sophisticated products that use higher volumes of hot melt adhesives.” In Asia, Ato Findley has put a significant amount of energy into the market through its first hot melt manufacturing operation in China, which opened this spring. “We’ve opened the facility and we’ve been qualifying it to supply our customers not only in China but also in other parts of Southeast Asia,” Mr. Marquette continued. “We’re preparing for the future, even if 1999 has been a little bit of a struggle because of the overall economic conditions there.”

Making An Earth-Friendly Market
It is this preparation for the future that has drawn attention recently to the environment. Because this concern is new, many suppliers pointed out that there are no set guidelines yet established to help determine how to go about making products more environmentally friendly. At The Reynolds Company, development work is under way on some new chemistries for recyclable and repulpable hot melts. For Ems-Chemie North American Inc., Sumter, SC, its copolyester and copolymite product lines—which it has been offering for the past 25 years—are already environmentally sound due to the nature of the polymer composition.

According to Salvador Alvarado, director of the nonwovens strategic business unit for National Starch and Chemical, Bridgewater, NJ, concerns over the environment have triggered new product developments. An example of this is National Starch’s product line of biodegradable adhesives as well as its “Cool-Lok” hot melt product that was designed to operate at lower temperatures, resulting in a reduction of fumes when heated. “These are very direct approaches to environmental concerns,” Mr. Alvarado stated.

Bostik has developed a series of hot melt adhesives in a web form that are environmentally friendly because there is nothing sprayed or coated onto a material, making for a clean process. “It is a hot melt that handles like a fabric, but when you apply heat and pressure you can bond two or more substrates together,” explained Bostik’s Mr. Halbmaier. The product line, which is marketed under the name “Sharnet,” has been expanded as the company has been finding new applications for it.

For its part, Savaré I.C. Srl, Milan, Italy, offers a unique environmental friendly technology under the name “Safemelt” (see this month’s cover), which provides both tack free and pack free blocks to the hot melt user. “These hot melt adhesive blocks are produced without any water consumption or waste of cooling energy and may be delivered in chep system, thus thoroughly eliminating any packaging waste,” explained Dr. Biagio Savaré, managing director.

While it might seem that environmental concerns would have the most impact on raw material suppliers, this is not necessarily so. As hot melt technology begins to look for more environmentally friendly solutions, such as water-based or biodegradable adhesives, machinery technology will also have to change, according to Steve Thompson, market manager for Zenith Pumps, Sanford, NC. “Going from a solvent-based type of glue or a hot melt glue to a water-based glue would most likely require changes in machinery,” he commented. “I think it’s a good possibility that water-based adhesives will take over some of the market from hot melts, although hot melt adhesives could certainly consist of water.”

Concern not only exists over the environmental soundness of the product itself, but of the waste associated with packaging. Nordson’s Mr. Cucuzza explained that he has seen some interest in applying adhesives directly from 55 gallon drums rather than from packages. “Some manufacturers see this as a benefit in cost and a benefit in maintenance by melting directly from a drum,” he said. Mr. Hicks of Newco mentioned an idea of making adhesives into little self-contained “chicklets” that could be vacuumed or sucked from a gaylord from a central holding place to the individual applicating machines or melters. “This would allow great flexibility in a lot less packaging, so there would be less going to landfills,” he added.

H.B. Fuller uses this idea of the “packageless” package in its “Zeropack” product—a bag that holds pillows of hot melt adhesive, which, when thrown in the melter, melts homogeneously with the adhesive. “It’s good economics because it’s a self-contained package that doesn’t have a tray that you need to throw away,” explained Rusty Thompson, general manager for nonwovens North America for H.B. Fuller. National Starch has its own version of this product called “Easymelt,” which is a block of pressure-sensitive hot melt encased in a film made of nonpressure-sensitive material that is compatible with the formula of the hot melt so they can be melted together.

In Europe, the idea of eliminating waste going to landfills has been taken a step further. “Everybody is searching for ways to get rid of non-value-added waste, like corrugated silicon paper and trays,” stated Mr. Marquette of Ato Findley. “Ideally we would like to get to the point where everything shipped to a customer is either used, consumed or returned back to us.” This idea is well on its way in Europe, where companies have been using wooden pallets to ship “closed” hot melt adhesives for the past 10 years. When the customer receives the pallets and empties them, the pallet collapses and is reshipped to Ato Findley to be reused again. “There is a whole system in Europe for using these, not just for adhesives but for a lot of purposes,” Mr. Marquette added.

Keeping Strong Bonds
Just as environmental concerns are starting to have an impact, so is the consolidation of companies into large conglomerates. For many companies, this issue has caused concern. “I definitely think consolidation has made it very difficult from the perspective of relationships,” stated Mr. Reynolds of The Reynolds Company. “People come and go constantly and I think that hurts the relationships that companies have between one another.” Mr. Reynolds also feels it is wrong for large, consolidated companies to assume that they should only deal with the bigger players, rather than mid-size, privately-owned companies. “I think smaller and mid-size players have a lot more to offer than many of these companies realize,” he added. “The industry does itself a big disservice when it focuses only on one segment of the supply side.” Anthony Diaz, national sales manager of Spraymation, Fort Lauderdale, FL, also feels consolidation has put a strain on the marketplace. “People’s positions with larger companies are not as stable as they used to be,” he explained. “It’s hard to keep track of who owns whom.”

For others, consolidation has been a plus. According to Mr. Hicks of Newco, if a company that he is working with is purchased, it can help his company gain exposure and new business opportunities. ITW Dynatec’s Mr. Lessley characterized the whole consolidation movement as improving the market by bringing in price competition. “Ten years ago we only had one company that could service around the world and you didn’t have competitiveness in the industry, so basically pricing could be whatever the market would bear,” he explained. “Nowadays there is good competition and there are alternative sources to get hot melt equipment.”

Hot Ideas For The Future
As companies continue to grow and change, so does the hot melt industry as a whole. What will the evolving hot melt adhesive market look like in the future? Pete Brunezz, technical service manager for the adhesives group of Ems-Chemie, suggested that the hot melt business will be influenced by future growth of needlepunched materials, which will replace other types of substrates rather than air laid or thermally bonded carded webs that are at almost maximum capacity. Mr. Lessley of ITW Dynatec took this idea one step further by stating that hot melts have the flexibility to be used in other areas as types of materials change and a way of bonding them together is needed. “Hot melts have the widest and probably the most diverse range of application through equipment than any other type of material,” he added. “As the world grows and countries like China, Latin America and Russia get more into disposable products, the hot melt equipment and adhesive marketplaces will have tremendous growth capability.”

Advanced Coating & Converting is taking advantage of the flexible nature of hot melts to expand into other areas such as the pharmaceutical industry. “There seem to be different avenues that are growing,” said Mr. Faulkner. “I think in the foreseeable future we will see a lot of unique pharmaceutical applications.”

Everyone involved in the hot melt adhesive market seems to agree on one thing: there is a bright future ahead. “Hot melts continue to grow within the industry itself,” stated Mr. Thompson of H.B. Fuller. “Of course growth is limited to the growth of the nonwovens industry itself, but new challenges from end product producers will continue to generate growth for the industry.”

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