The Great Shake-up

By Ellen Wuagneux, Associate Editor | June 7, 2007

recent M&A activity has stirred up challenges

Last year’s spate of spin-offs, mergers and acquisitions has certainly changed the face of the fiber finishing sector of the nonwovens industry. Unfortunately for suppliers, all of this activity has resulted in fewer players and even tougher competition in the marketplace. The fact that many of their customers continue to downsize hasn’t helped either.
Topping the list of acquisitions is Imperial Chemical Industries’ approximately $813 million sale of Uniqema to specialty chemical maker Croda International last summer. According to Croda, the deal fulfills a long-term strategic objective that further develops its position as a leading specialty chemical company. The integrated business now operates under the Croda brand and is set to build on its product portfolio and enhance future growth. Meanwhile, the Uniqema name has been retained, representing the combined base oleochemicals portfolio of both businesses.

Another key merger is Ciba Specialty Chemicals’ sale of its Textile Effects business to Huntsman Corporation in February 2006 for approximately $272 million. This move follows Huntsman’s 2003 purchase of Vantico Group S.A., which was formerly Ciba Specialty Chemicals’ Performance Polymers division, based in Basel, Switzerland. With manufacturing facilities across Europe, Asia and the Americas, the Textile Effects segment had sales of about $1.1 billion in 2005. Originally known for innovations in packaging, and later, rapid and integrated growth in petrochemicals, Huntsman today has revenues of $11.5 billion, 11,300 employees and 62 operations in 22 countries.
On the joint venture front, two key suppliers—Hammonton, NJ-based Polyvel, Inc. and Goulston Technologies, Monroe, NC—are involved in a partnership to manufacture and market melt additives for the global synthetic fiber and nonwovens industries. While Goulston supplies fiber lubricant technology for the manufacturing and processing of synthetic fibers and nonwovens, Polyvel specializes in the engineered compounding of liquid additives for the plastics and fiber industries. Together the two companies will offer melt additives designed to provide significant added value for customers.   
In another recent move in the fiber finishing sector, Lanxess (created in 2004 through the combination of most of Bayer Chemicals Corporation and portions of Bayer Polymers LLC) divested its Textile Processing Chemicals (TPC) business unit at the end of 2006. All the activities of the TPC business unit outside of North America were acquired by the Dutch investor Egeria and business unit management. Renamed Tanatex Chemicals, the acquired business unit has traditionally produced fiber finishes for the textile industry but now also offers new finishes for fiberglass and other applications.

Looking At Legislation

Some suppliers of fiber finishes contend that legislation will play the most vital role in future fiber finishing trends, even beyond consumer desires, new machinery and new applications. Following EPA’s announcement that it plans to call on industry to essentially eliminate PFOA (perfluorooctanic acid) release and its presence in products over the next decade, an increased use of more environmentally friendly fluorochemicals is expected.
Another factor is the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (USEPA) global stewardship program, which invites companies to reduce PFOA releases and its presence in products by 2010 and eliminate them by 2015. PFOA is a raw material in the manufacture of fluoropolymers and surfactants, which are used in the production of a range of non-stick and stain-resistant surfaces, breathable membranes for clothing and water-repellant products. These fluoro products, under certain conditions, can break down, releasing PFOA to the environment. USEPA has reported that PFOA is persistent in the environment and has been detected in low levels in wildlife and humans, and animal studies conducted have indicated effects of concern. Companies are being asked to meet these commitments in the U.S., as well as in their global operations.
In Europe, an important proposal was formally adopted in December 2006 by the Council of Environment Ministers and will become effective this month. The REACH (Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals) regulation is expected to impact most engineered textile producers as chemicals on fabrics are subject to registration. Under this proposal, substances manufactured or imported (on their own or in preparations) in the European Union in volumes greater than one ton per year would have to be registered in a central database managed by a new European Chemicals Agency.
Unlike regulations in the U.S., the EU registration requirement would apply to “articles” (objects composed of substances and/or preparations, with a specific shape, surface or design), where substances could be released during normal and foreseeable use. The proposal also contemplates pre-market authorization of the use of chemicals of “very high concern,” placing a high burden of proof on businesses seeking to put these chemicals to new uses not previously approved. Finally, downstream users must consider the safety of their use of substances, take appropriate risk management measures and report required information.    

Who’s Offering What?

Despite such regulatory challenges, suppliers continue to push toward further innovation, process optimization and added value. When it comes to R&D efforts, most fiber finishes are being designed to improve nonwovens’ processing and efficiency. This is true in the needlepunch area, where fiber lubrication is important, in SMS fabrics, where hand has become important and in fiberglass production where adhesion and lubrication are key.
Now an integrated part of the Croda brand, Uniqema—launched in 1999—provides both fully formulated spin finishes and ingredients for man-made fiber production. The company’s formulated finishes provide critical effects to the surface of synthetic fibers such as lubrication, antistatic protection, emulsification, wetting and wicking.
According to the company’s website, Uniqema combines breadth of product range, expertise in formulating these products into effective fiber finishes and a complete global manufacturing capability. Understanding the intimate interactions between fiber, finish and equipment guides Uniqema in the development of new products to improve the efficiency of fiber production and the quality of its customers’ products, whether they are fibers, yarns or nonwovens.
One example of Uniqema’s latest technology is its patented Enhanced Surface Coverage (ESC) offering, which gives exceptional uniformity of finish application and outstanding spreading on fiber surfaces. The wicking performance, either temporary or durable, of its hydrophilic products for polyester and polypropylene hygiene applications (diapers and feminine care, for example) provides better comfort and peace of mind for the wearer. Uniqema’s products for PET and polyamide fibers, which go into apparel and home furnishings,  enable high processing speeds for efficient manufacture, and are designed to impart softness to acrylic fibers.
Even prior to its acquisition of Uniqema, Croda offered a range of emulsification and surfactant systems for textile end uses. Key applications and functions include: antistats, defoamers, detergents, dispersants and wetting agents, dye carriers/solvents, dye leveling and wetting agents, emulsifiers, foam finishes, lubricants, sizing/desizing, softeners, spin finishes and water repellents.
For its part, Huntsman, a global manufacturer and marketer of commodity and differentiated chemicals, manufactures basic products for a variety of global industries including chemicals, plastics, automotive, aviation, footwear, paints and coatings, construction, technology, agriculture, healthcare, textiles, detergent, personal care, furniture, appliances and packaging.
Sold under the Huntsman Textile Effects business, Phobol, Phobotex and Phobotone products are oil-, water- and soil-repellent finishes for textile applications. Also available is the Dicrylan range of polymer products for coating and easy-care finishing of textiles; Fornax anti-slipping agents for textile finishing; and Fungitex fungicidal finishes for textile applications. For softness, Huntsman offers Megasoft, Migafar, Turpex (which increases abrasion and tear strength resistance), Sapamine, Ultratex and Ultrasof. To impart flame retardancy, Huntsman supplies finishes such as Pyrovatim and Pyrovatex. Huntsman’s Ultraphil is a moisture management agent for soft and hydrophilic textile finishes.
Under the Polyvel/Goulston joint venture, the companies’ product line includes HydRepel melt additives for polypropylene fibers and nonwovens that impart durable hydrophobicity, durable alcohol repellency, durable hydophilicity and soft hand. These products are being sold by Goulston’s direct sales force and worldwide network of agents. In addition, Takemoto Oil & Fat Co., parent company of Goulston Technologies, also offers the additives to its customer base.

Further Fantastic Finishes

As if all of these offerings weren’t enough, Tanatex has unveiled Preparation KP-03, a spin lubricant for acrylic with good drafting properties, no impact on subsequent dyeing and no reduction in whiteness up to 200°C. It is an APEO-free product with good antistatic properties.
Also available from Tanatex is Persoftal CNP and Persoftal NFP. Persoftal CNP is a special weakly cationic wet waxing agent to reduce friction values in yarn package processing with no effect on whiteness. As wet waxing products, they can be used on nonwovens where fiber lubricity must be superior in performance.  
Another product finding use in the nonwovens arena is Tanatex’s Fibermate POC, which is a low friction co-efficient with good running properties for weaving and knitting on polyester and polyamides. It features an excellent effect against oligomers; it is free-rinsing and easily washed from garments and end products. Because this APEO-free product has excellent coverage of oligomers and is free-rinsing, it makes an effective processing aid in nonwovens production where dusting is a problem.  
Also from Tanatex is Protolube 5441, a lubricant and protective emulsion for fiberglass that has fiber to fiber and fiber to metal protection with good cohesion properties. This is the latest in Tanatex’s technology for improving processing on fiberglass.  
Tanatex’s Baypret Nano-PU is a self-crosslinking polyurethane finish to improve hand, abrasion and hydrophilic properties. This product is an appropriate choice in applications where durability or abrasion is a concern.  
Tanatex has also been making inroads in the automotive sector, according to Michael Hobbs, a company executive. “In conjunction with some of our textile partners, we have developed a new system for finishing automotive seat belts built around our polyurethane products. This new finish meets the ever-increasing demands on the automotive industry.” He added that improvements have been made to tracking retention, rub fastness and friction co-efficient—all in combination with the flexibility of the seat belt.  
One brand new finish from Tanatex for automotives is Baygard Shield, which provides unsurpassed cleanability for automotive upholstery. “We have had some requests for improving the cleanability on nonwoven headliners,” explained Mr. Hobbs. Also new is Baypret Nano Pollen, which effectively reduces the amount of pollen that will adhere to fabrics, carpets and nonwovens.
At Allentown, PA-based Air Products, finishes are designed to provide feature enhancements to nonwovens such as hand feel (stiff or soft) or barrier resistance (i.e. flame retardancy or oil/grease), allowing manufacturers to incorporate a range of attributes in a cost-effective manner. Polymer offerings from Air Products include Airflex EF9100 emulsions, which are designed for grease-resistant papers and are potentially useful in food packaging applications, non-blocking, recyclable and repulpable.
Also available from Air Products are Airflex EP1188 emulsions, which are fluid barrier finishes providing hydrophobic properties to nonwovens and paper. Airflex EP1188 polymer dispersion finishes provide hydrostatic head barrier performance and moisture vapor transmission. They are designed to offer barrier properties where traditional finishing techniques (such as film lamination) may be cost prohibitive or not practical/possible. Potential applications for EP1188 include nonwoven tabletop covers, disposable blankets, food bibs, food packaging paper/nonwoven, roofing scrim, hygiene applications, nonwoven wallpaper and PE replacement.
Cognis Corporation—Textile Technology, Charlotte, NC, is another supplier aiming for better performance at lower costs. The company’s developments have yielded such products as Standapol 1345 and Standapol 1480, which impart permanent hydrophilicity and water carrying capabilities to polypropylene. Also in the area of polymer additives, Cognis offers Standapol 1973, which imparts a soft touch. These products can be used in fiber production or in spunmelt nonwovens. In addition to these products, Cognis has a full line of products developed for apparel fibers, which deliver care, freshness and comfort to the consumer.
Custom compound supplier Noveon is also keeping an eye on costs and continues to target its polymer research efforts toward a new generation of products with positive cost-performance values. Noveon provides value to its customers by providing waterborne products that help customers meet EPA’s National Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants, EPA 40 CFR, Part 63.
Several of Noveon’s products are designed to impart flame retardant and breathable barrier properties to nonwoven substrates under the MyFlam and Permax product lines. Noveon’s MyFlam high performance compounds were created to be environmentally responsive for long-term consumer exposure.
Noveon also provides hydrophilic polyurethane polymers and custom compounds marketed under the Permax trade name. The Permax product line provides the ability to impart hydrostatic barrier properties along with breathability and high moisture vapor transport rates to a variety of nonwoven textile substrates. These environmentally green waterborne coatings can also be used as a binder to attach high performance value additives to the surface of the nonwovens such as activated nano-particles or serve as a laminate tie-coat to bond two substrates together while still providing breathable barrier properties.

One European producer active in this sector is Schill+Seilacher AG, Boeblingen, Germany, which develops spin finishes for polyamid 6, polyamid 6.6, polyester, polypropylene, viscose, acetate and elastomers. This includes a range of products for the production of nonwovens. “Finishes for the production of nonwovens are an important part of our product range, including products for drylaid (spunlaid and carded) as well as airlaid and wetlaid nonwovens,” offered Marcus Münchberg, the company’s area sales manager. Schill+Seilacher’s product range for nonwovens applications comprises a variety of tailor-made finishes to cover a multitude of different end uses. The finishes provide hydrophilic, soft, durable, hydrophilic, hydrophobic, repellent and antistatic properties. End uses include hygiene and personal care, wipes, household, technical applications, packaging and wrapping, medical applications and filtration.
Schill+Seilacher also offers tailor-made spin finishes for the production of short cut fibers for paper reinforcement, concrete reinforcement and fiber reinforced composites. Additionally, Schill+Seilacher offers several primary and secondary finishes for staple fibers that are converted into needlefelts, suitable to meet the requirements of the automotive industry. The company also offers different topical flame retardant products (for example for needle felts) as well as polymer-modifiers for PET (such as halogen-free flame retardants, additives for cationic dyable PET and others).

In the area of spunbond/spunlaid nonwovens, Schill+Seilacher offers hydrophilic finishes to meet the individual requirements of its customers. The company also offers a new finish providing durable hydrophilic properties for polypropylene and polyethylene/polypropylene bico material.