The Wonderful World Of Hygiene Machinery

August 17, 2005

with increased competition and stricter customer guidelines, manufacturers of hygiene machinery and equipment are doing their all to keep on top of the market

It’s been quite a run for hygiene products. Innovations in product components, structure and packaging in the disposable baby diaper, feminine hygiene and adult incontinence product categories have been numerous over the past few years. Add that to increased raw material prices and heavy competition and you have an arena where marketshare gains are hard to come by. For the manufacturers of hygiene machinery and equipment, there has been no exception. Competition is tighter than ever and with the advent of new products and increased customer demands on speed and other factors, the hygiene machinery market has become a place where truly only the strongest survive.

This competition is being felt by companies such as Komer Costruzione Meccanica Robotica, Scalo, Italy. “We think the hygiene market becomes more competitive each year, because our competitors are much more skilled and flexible to the requests of customers,” explained Giovanni Amico of the company’s sales department.

To give themselves an edge in this competitive battle, many hygiene machinery manufacturers believe keeping an eye on the latest trends is the only way to go. “If you don’t develop your machines to meet new requirements within the hygiene market, then you will have trouble because the most important thing in the hygiene market is development,” commented Bernd Göbel of the board of management for Bikoma AG, Mayen/Eifel, Germany. “There is constant development and there are many things changing in this business. Every company that works for the hygiene field needs to develop constantly, otherwise you’ve lost the market.” To stay on top of the market and its demands, Bikoma has established a special department that is strictly for the development of new systems and applications for machinery.

Otto Vriend, manager of hygiene machinery for Winkler+Dünnebier (W+D), Neuwied, Germany, expressed a similar idea but took it one step further by explaining how both machinery producers and product manufacturers need to work together to keep abreast of developments. “Machine manufacturers are problem solvers and that is why the customer supplier relationship has evolved to close cooperation. Product marketers focus on development, production and marketing of products and brands and they rely on machine builders for process development, machine engineering and building. This way of working saves costs and generates machines tailored to meet the product manufacturers’ needs and specifications,” he said.

Satisfaction Guaranteed
While many machinery and equipment producers have realized the importance of working in conjunction with product manufacturers to meet their specific needs, these requirements have become increasingly rigid over the past few years. As has been the case for sometime, every product manufacturer is looking for speed. At the same time, however, the hefty price tags that come with these types of machines have led hygiene product manufacturers to ask for production lines that are flexible as well as fast so more than one product can be made on them, cutting down costs.

“Our customers are asking for more flexibility regarding product design,” stated Lothar Geiger, technical manager for BHT Bicma Hygiene-Technologie, Basaltweg, Germany. “They want to be flexible until the last moment to decide what products should be produced on the machine, because there are always new developments.” Mr. Geiger explained that this type of machine design has also led to a closer working relationship between machinery supplier and customer. “For us it is important that our customers ask mainly for machines that can react easily to any kind of change in product design,” he added. “Because of this, there will be more close cooperation between machine suppliers and our customers so that we can develop together the machines and product for the years to come.”

At Fameccanica.Data SpA, Chieti, Italy, customer requirements have been focusing on flexibility in terms of raw material usage. “Customer requirements of end product manufacturers for the last two years have been mainly a product cost reduction to keep the quality unchanged and continuous product innovation,” said Giampiero De Angelis, commercial director. “These requirements have turned into an optimization of the transformation process and raw materials consumption in addition to the use of new raw materials.” To meet these needs in an easier fashion, Fameccanica suggests its customers use machinery with technology that is likely to be updated. For this reason, the company currently offers three different design platforms of machinery for emerging markets, developing markets and highly demanding markets. “The best way to keep a highly competitive edge is to aim all our efforts toward continuous innovation, superior product quality and a wide range of services,” Mr. De Angelis added.

RML Raynworth, Lugano, Switzerland, has also reported changes in customer requirements due to the raw materials now being used in the manufacture of disposable hygiene products. “The market orientation of our clients who are looking for renovated machinery is clearly towards thinner pulp core products through an increase in superabsorbent polymers (SAP),” stated managing director Giorgio Biancardi. “Because of this, RML is installing a SAP electronically controlled and double gun on most renovated lines to grant perfect positioning of the polymer.”

The Skinny On Raw Materials
As hygiene products become increasingly thinner due to the use of such materials as SAP, new product specifications are unveiled that in turn call for changes or adjustments to existing machinery. For core forming equipment manufacturer FT&D International, Helen, GA, thinner products have meant tighter customer requirements for standard weight deviation and precision. “Customers are requiring more precise forming equipment with tolerancing being much tighter, due to their need to produce a product with little or no standard weight deviation to remain competitive and save money on raw material usage,” detailed president Nathan Toney. “The thinner the pad gets, the more pronounced standard weight deviation becomes, meaning that the drum has to turn as concentrically as possible with no wobbling or disconcentricity, because the more out of tolerance it is, the higher the pad weight deviation ratio is. Mainly we’ve had to become even tighter on our precision and tolerancy.”

Mr. Vriend of W+D reported that, as feminine hygiene products have decreased in bulk, the need for more sophisticated machinery has also increased. “Femcare product development shows less obtrusive and better fitting products,” he commented. “The price increase of pulp and the developments in the nonwovens industry have led our customers to resort to higher SAP loads, compensating reduced fluff volume and the use of both hydrophilic and hydrophobic webs, making the product more comfortable. In the process, femcare products have become thinner.” Mr. Vriend went on to say that for his company, it is not the changing features of the nonwoven materials involved in the manufacture of these products, but rather the number of different components that are combined to make up a single feminine hygiene product. “The more complex the eventual product is, the more sophisticated the machine design for this product must be,” he added.

The use of SAP is not the only change in raw materials used within the hygiene market. Mark Calliari, sales engineer for Paper Converting Machine Company (PCMC), Green Bay, WI, reported other liquid material changes that can affect machinery. “There are some fluids that have become more challenging, with some that are thicker and a little tougher to put on a machine,” he explained. “You need the substrate to wick whatever solution quickly into the substrate, so of course there is no question that there has to be a good marriage between the substrate, the fluid and the machine to get that done. The biggest thing is to impregnate the substrate quickly to not have any spillage or anything like that.” Additionally, Mr. Calliari spoke of other solutions that can present their own opportunities or potential problems, such as more volatile or flammable products. “There are new usages and with those new usages there becomes more challenges to those products,” he added.

At Caldiroli srl, Castellanza Va, Italy, the company has continued to keep its hygiene machinery and equipment offerings capable of meeting the latest changes in raw materials. “In principle our machines are very versatile and we do our best to put them in condition to utilize the new raw materials that are offered as alternatives within the market,” explained Ermanno Lavino, sales manager. “New raw materials are always welcome as they oblige the end users to change the machines and we are always ready to equip our machines with new raw materials and special nonwovens.”

Packaging Prowess
While new raw materials have caused hygiene machinery and equipment manufacturers to update their products, innovations in packaging have had a similar affect. According to Fabio Zampollo, sales director for SSP & Technology, Villanova, Italy, the new packaging trends are one way in certain parts of the world and the opposite in others. “Developing countries, such as South America, China and India, are looking for very small counts with packages of five to 10 pieces, while the trend is geared towards jumbo packs in Europe and the U.S.,” he explained. “This forces us to develop integrated systems with the packaging companies.”

One of the latest innovations in feminine hygiene packaging was launched by Procter & Gamble, Cincinnati, OH, into the U.S. last year through its “Always Thong” panty liner that is shaped to fit into a thong or string-style underwear. Known as “Always Tanga” in Europe, the body-shaped product features a box that is the same V-shape. This new packaging resulted in a major machinery change for Bikoma, according to Mr. Göbel. “Some changes in the machine were needed to bring the product in the right direction to the packaging machine,” he detailed. “This is very important in terms of waste.”

Mr. Göbel explained that when the products were packaged in square packages or bags, the products could run across the machine direction, resulting in a big savings of raw materials. With the new shaped packaging, an addition to the production line was needed in order to align the product in a way that would save raw materials. “Customers did not want to lose this savings so something had to be changed on the machine to turn every other product towards the other direction to bring them into the packaging area,” he added. “This was great as you don’t lose the advantage of omiting 47% of waste and you get it into the body-shaped packaging.”

In baby diaper packaging, however, the movement towards using packaging to get as much product on the shelf as possible continues, as reported by Mr. Calliari of PCMC. “There is no question in baby diapers that the packaging is intended to compress product or take up less space, whether it be shelf or transportation space,” he said. “There has been a big movement during the past 10 years to compress product down as much as possible to make it more visible on the shelf and yet take up less room in transportation. In packaging, the package is probably the second most important thing after the functionality of the product as presentation has become of utmost importance, especially with the escalating amount of SKUs in the marketplace.” Mr. Calliari also mentioned there has been a push away from corrugated boxes for films in packaging. “That hasn’t happened a whole lot yet in the U.S., but it has started to show up a bit in Europe,” he added.

A Global Market
The hygiene markets in both the U.S. and Europe seem saturated to most hygiene machinery producers with growth possible for innovative and sophisticated products. “Europe wants only very sophisticated machines of high production capacity and the same can be said of North America,” Mr. Lavino of Caldiroli stated. “Of course, there are always some medium sized producers who are still interested in machinery with less productivity.”

“Europe appears to be a steady market with a good chance of technological renewal in order to support the business already started and developed until now,” commented Fameccanica’s Mr. De Angelis. “North America can still be considered the lighthouse of the business, offering a lot of good opportunities to those able to catch them.”

Other areas of the world, such as the Far East and Latin America, are still considered good growth opportunities as economies flourish and populations expand. One company taking advantage of these opportunities is RML Raynworth. “We have concentrated most of our marketing efforts in recent years on Central and South America and only recently began exporting to the Far East,” according to Mr. Biancardi. “We see upcoming markets in the Middle East.”

“Asia and South America are split markets,” explained Bicma’s Mr. Geiger. “On one side they need simple products and on the other is a bigger marketshare where sophisticated products are needed.” As for the future, Mr. Geiger sees potential growth on a global level rather than for individual areas as each section has its own needs that can be fulfilled. “We think the hygiene market has good growth potential as penetration worldwide is still relatively low,” he commented. “In the future penetration will be higher first for simple products in growing markets such as the Far East, but there will also be good potential for sophisticated products for mature markets such as the U.S. and Europe.”

Mr. Vriend of W+D also commented on how the different global areas will affect the growth of the hygiene market for the future. “There are a variety of factors influencing the market for hygiene products. Birth rates are declining in North America and Western Europe and there is a slow but noticeable growth in wealth in Asia, Eastern Europe and Latin America. And life expectancy is increasing. These influences together lead us to believe that the hygiene market will remain a busy place for the next decade at least,” he stated.

Mr. Vriend went on to explain that there will be a shift in the type of products sought. “In emerging markets, feminine care product sales will increase along the lines of industrialization, urbanization and rising income for the user groups. In established markets femcare product sales show stasis while incontinence products meet with higher demand. Where products sales volume does not grow, added-value features attract the user,” he explained.

A Look Into The Future
While on a global scale the future looks bright for the hygiene market, some manufacturers are not sure what the short-term future might bring due to innovations that could change the face of hygiene product manufacturing as it is known today. One of these new ideas is the premade, or preformed, core, which, according to Mr. Toney of FT&D, could possibly have an impact on the industry. “The future is kind of cloudy right now. I know it will be a slow transition, but the premade core that has been the buzz of the industry lately poses a threat to us because people won’t need our equipment anymore, but it’s also a new technology and is going to be expensive to get into. Manufacturers like P&G and K-C (Dallas, TX) may have the resources to do this, but the little guys are still going to have to get their equipment in check until they can transition over to the premade core,” he explained.

The preformed core is also a topic of interest for Eldim, Peabody, MA, which also works in the core forming area. According to division manager Jim Anderson, this sort of new idea is just part of the evolution of the hygiene market. “The market is changing and our customers are looking for more sophisticated equipment,” he said. “The preformed core is part of the innovative changes that are taking place in the industry. People are always looking for more innovative concepts that are faster and cheaper.”

Another innovation having an affect on the hygiene market is the addition of more electronic features, such as servodrives, according to some manufacturers. “In the future machines will become more electronical than mechanical, which will make them easier and cheaper to operate,” explained Bikoma’s Mr. Göbel. “All the cards, shafts and belts are not needed anymore; you just make a servodrive and you can adjust it that way.” He also mentioned that with the addition of more electronic functions on equipment, it is important that machinery manufacturers keep direct contact with their products no matter where they are. For this reason, Bikoma has installed a system that enables the company to fix problems in Germany on all its products even if the machine is located half way around the world. “This is very important to reduce cost and is very important to the customer because it is a great service,” Mr. Göbel added.