Hygiene Components: Market & Technology Trends

By Tim Wright, Managing Editor | December 4, 2012

Consumer needs and sustainability are driving the hygiene components market forward.

Trends in the hygiene components market include the growth of baby diapers in developing countries and incontinence products in developed countries where adults are living longer. But whether you’re talking about baby diapers in this part of the world or adult incontinence in that part of the world, it’s consumers that truly drive this market. It’s the consumers that place a high premium on comfort and performance and once they find it are very brand loyal.

Another trend throughout all areas of supply is doing more with less. While the price of diapers has not gone up significantly, everything else has due in large part to the big boxes like WalMart who refuse to allow diaper makers increases on their prices.

Regardless, consumers still expect low prices and demand higher quality products and it is the component manufacturers who are left the task of meeting the challenge of innovating new technologies to deliver the performance the manufacturers and ultimately consumers desire.

Component technology trends

In the field of elastomeric netting Conwed is one of the world’s leaders. Its Rebound elastomeric netting is used in composite form with nonwovens and other substrates acting as an alternative to spandex, films and stretchable nonwovens. It is used in waistbands, side panels and various medical composites needing superior hysteresis and breathability.

It is no surprise that hygiene manufacturers look for components that provide superior comfort to end-users. “We consider product performance, convenience and price as important factors that determine consumer adoption but in the end, regardless of the market segment, offering a hygiene product that fits well, breaths appropriately and is easy to use, influences end users’ purchase decision exponentially,” says Ivan Soltero, strategic marketing manager, industrial, Conwed. “In addition to superior stretch and recovery properties, our elastomeric netting has exceptional air and moisture permeability, which affects how comfortable the final product feels for the users.” 

At the end of the day, the product has to perform well. As a component provider, Conwed understands that customizing technical properties is essential for every hygiene application. “Whether we develop tailored force, elongation, stress relaxation and energy loss in our stretch performance or we fine-tune breathability properties through different netting configurations, we understand that our customers need to provide products that execute well to guarantee consumer adoption,” says Soltero.

Hygiene manufacturers have different manufacturing capabilities and having the flexibility to serve various production processes helps component providers maximize exposure of their technology.

“Some customers are able to add stretch engine materials in-line and others require pre-assembled composites,” says Soltero. “We encourage hygiene manufacturers to contact us as we are promoting pre-assembled composites of our leading elastomeric netting with nonwovens for waistband and side panel applications.”

RKW is another component manufacturer that makes backsheet films and laminates that are breathable, non-breathable and can be printed if required. “Key technology trends revolve around the concept of ‘thinner and thinner’ for reasons related to cost reduction throughout the value chain, with the essential element of reducing the amount of plastic in the finished article,” says Patricia Featherstone, director marketing and communications, RKW GBA Hygiene & Medical, commercial director, RKW ACE. “Composites are becoming more important as chassis design changes which means more ‘ears’ and side panels.”

Pantex International designs and produces topsheets, acquisition distribution layers (ADL) and elastics for waistbands and side panel applications. Its innovative high quality materials are suitable for femcare, baby care and adult care products, as well as for the wiping market.

“We see growth in baby diapers where high volumes are involved and also in femcare and adult incontinence we see growth,” says Piero Angeli, R&D manager, Pantex International. “We also see a consolidation of high volume productions like spunbond and backsheet for baby diapers. Pantex is focused on specialties and niche productions and therefore is not involved in commodities.”

Pantex is spending great efforts enhancing visual properties (3D, printing) and softness feel of the topsheets, aspects that are driving a growing trend for the company together with the application of various lenitive additives, according to Angeli. “We see also a strong interest in the market for high elongation products where Pantex is dedicating more and more attention,” he says. “With increasing efforts our goal is to match as close as possible customer requirements, which today revolve around innovation and quality at low prices.”

Texsus is another component provider specialized in the production of high loft acquisition distribution layer (ADL) material made by a carding process called air through bonding. In addition to that, the company manufactures soft-textile topsheets, multi-layer/multifunctional nonwovens, velvet-touch materials and absorbent cores. One hundred percent of Texsus’ production is dedicated to the hygienic market in particular baby and adult diapers, and sanitary napkins.

In the baby diaper market Barbara Bulleri, technical and sales manager, Texsus, says the main trend is moving towards “less fluff” diapers. On that front Texsus is launching a new multifunctional high loft ADL called Multifunctional Acquitex, which is able to compensate for the absence of fluff and to enhance the dryness of fluff-less diapers.

In the fem care market the main trend is superior softness, according to Bulleri. Texsus has launched a new generation of 3D and flower embossed air though bonded topsheets able to add a fancy look to a loftier softness called Softex. The Softex layer is available with different botanical treatments.

Texsus has also launched its Absortex absorbent core technology, which is a compressed composite including superabsorbent polymers (SAP) able to handle high SAP content up until 800 gsm in a very thin layer of less than one millimeter. They are suitable for a wide range of applications including baby, adult, femcare and medical items.

Texsus is equipped with a full optional pilot line and a modern laboratory where it is possible to test nonwovens as well as finished products including baby diapers, incontinence products and sanitary napkins to better support its customers and to follow the market trends.
Furthermore, Texsus is enlarging its production and spooling capacity with a special focus on the production of new ADL and topsheet generations.

Neos Italia manufactures topsheets and acquisition distribution layers based on apertured nonwoven, apertured film and laminate structures. “The function of these components is becoming critical in fully exploiting the performances of thin SAP-made absorbing cores, especially in these times when core components are the main target of cost saving actions,” says Ezio DiCesare, director, business development, Neos Italia.

As a film and laminates manufacturer Neos Italia sources nonwovens from a selected range of suppliers able to deliver nonwovens suitable for its 3-D aperturing. The company also distributes high-performance elastic films and laminates suitable for waistband and side closure components in baby diaper and adult incontinence articles.

Down-gauging is a consolidated and ongoing trend for all hygiene components, not just film, according to DiCesare. “In the last four years technical efforts in this direction have been supported by extrusion technology and polymer/compound makers,” he says. “On topsheets, emollient, moisturizing and odor control additives are becoming a trend also for non-premium products. Anti-microbial treatments are also gaining interest.”

Aesthetic customization through printing is no longer a feature of backsheets only. In femcare products, topsheets are increasingly decorated as well, either by printing or customized perforated patterns.

Cost saving is paramount globally, according to DiCesare. “New solutions that in the past were reluctantly considered are now becoming well accepted, such as low grammage apertured film instead of heavy nonwoven ADLs, or absorbing cores where fluff pulp is completely replaced by combinations of nonwovens and SAP,” he says.

Neos Italia is making further development efforts to improve the capability not just to wound materials included in its range, but also in providing contract spool winding service to other manufacturers of flexible materials, according to DiCesare. “On diaper converting lines, the trend of assembling in line elastic laminates for side closure panels/ears is generating a growing demand for elastic films,” he says. “Neos Italia includes this kind of film in its product range too, as a regional distributor, thanks to close cooperation in place with a leading manufacturer of flexible elastomeric structures.” 

Aesthetics and customization are becoming a must, for both visual and tactile perception. “Soft topsheets are not enough anymore,” says DiCesare. “Materials for this application are requested to deliver a promise for performance at first glance and be noticeable by consumers to gain preference versus competitors’ finished products even before using them.”

Printing and surface finishing capabilities have been recently added to Neos Italia’s product portfolio. New customized laminate structures are at commercialization stage.

Korozo is a company that supplies a full range of products for the hygiene industry, including baby diaper components; side tapes with and without hooks; OPP frontal tapes and textile frontal tapes; breathable and non-breathable textile backsheets; and PE backsheets.

Korozo began its activities in the packaging industry in 1973, and has grown to be a sector leader with continuous investments ever since. As of 2009, Korozo has become a group, consisting of Korozo Izmir, Koroplast, Korsini SAF and Sareks.

Through a network of seven manufacturing facilities of around 130,000 square meters, with over 1400 workers and a production capacity of more than 80,000 tons per year, Korozo is one of the largest producers in Turkey, the Middle East and Europe having exports to more than 70 countries with sales offices in France, the U.K. and Germany.

The product range consists of flexible packaging solutions, carrier bags, stretch films and environmental products.

Recently, Korozo has directed its expertise in blown film to the hygiene industry and has become a reliable producer for diaper components.

For adult incontinence components Korozo offers side tapes, backsheets and bed pads. For feminine care components Korozo offers backsheets, single wrap film and silicon paper. Korozo also offers PE bags for baby and adult incontinence diaper bags, sanitary napkin bags and toiletry product bags.

New product launches include Korozo’s Z tape; Partially glued fastening tape; elastic ear; animal care products; cabin and bed pads.

Korozo is now capable of producing semi products from raw materials, and end products for FMCG channels from semi products, all in-house, with hi-tech manufacturing technologies. In-house capabilities include producing film, high quality printing, lamination and converting processes.

Korozo has achieved a production capacity of 15 million square meters of textile backsheet material per month and 1.1 million square meters of closure tapes per month.

Another provider of tape components is Avery Dennison, which produces a full range of closure systems for baby and adult diapers and for feminine care applications.

“A key trend we are seeing in the baby diaper market is towards softness,” says Birgitta Van den Driessche, global product manager, personal care, Avery Dennison Performance Tapes.
“Ideally, your diaper should be as thin and comfortable as underwear. So the market continuously looks for softer materials. At Avery Dennison, we develop adhesive and closure systems that work well with the newer, fluffier, softer materials entering the marketplace.”

Another trend has to do with manufacturers making diapers more fashionable through design, color and branding. Avery Dennison colored closure systems contribute to the diaper’s fashion appeal, plus they have a very functional value. “A colored closure system on the edge of a diaper improves visibility, which makes the closure easier to open,” says Van den Driessche. “You can very clearly see the tab. That is a big benefit to end-users.”

Through its Creora brand Hyosung is the largest spandex manufacturer in the world. Spandex provides elasticity in personal hygiene products that contributes to comfort, fit and containment.
According to Greg Hearn, Creora personal hygiene sales director, Hyosung, key trends in the hygiene components market include the growth of baby diapers in developing countries while incontinence products in developed countries continue to grow with adults living longer.

Global market trends

In terms of growth, Soltero says Conwed sees different applications trends in different locations worldwide. “Based on industry research, adult incontinence is the hygiene application that has grown at an interesting pace compared to baby diapers and training pants and feminine care,” he says. “We believe the demographics in North America are influencing the growth in adult diapers/underwear.”

Conwed is focused on developing stretch engine materials that provide exceptional comfort and performance in adult incontinence applications. Its latest effort consists of developing pre-assembled composites of its elastomeric netting with nonwovens for those hygiene manufacturers who choose pre-assembled composites rather than making composites in-line.

“Our elastomeric netting provides the stretch engine in elastic composites used in baby diapers, training pants and adult incontinence underwear,” says Soltero. “We have seen the steady growth in the adult incontinence market and believe our netting products are a great fit in this sector. Demographics, buying power and recent efforts to change consumer perception have helped the adult incontinence market grow consistently in recent years.”

“The growing global middle class is the greatest growth driver as education improves, political and cultural boundaries are crossed and money becomes available for disposable products,” says Featherstone. “RKW is responding by reaching out together with its global customers and taking production to where the need for backsheet films is.”

Overall adult incontinence has the greatest potential for growth due to lower overall global penetration rates and a rapidly expanding market driven by longevity. “To support this, the baby boomer generation has ‘come of age’ and therefore presents a new market of informed consumers,” says Featherstone. “Feminine hygiene is the fastest growing sector in the emerging markets as is always the case.”

From Pantex’s perspective it is seeing a significant request for vacuum-perforated film in emerging countries. “There is a trend of growth in general in all the emerging countries, in particular Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EEMEA) region.”

According to Texsus’ Bulleri, while the European market is mature and stable for baby diapers production with some slight growth in the Eastern European countries, the penetration of incontinence products is also growing in some areas such as the Middle East and North Africa.
“Globally the main growth for the hygiene market is in Asia and South America,” says Bulleri. “In these emerging countries there is a buoyant economy, a spurring of domestic spending and disposable consumer income is rising. Expansion of the middle classes is leading to a move away from tradition toward modern patterns of consumption, driving demand for tissue and hygiene products.”

Texsus is evaluating the possibility to develop its production in Asia and South America as a fundamental part of its strategic plan to expand its markets and to be closer to its current customers.

Regional trends include the growing role of private labels in Europe, witnessed by recent announcements of K-C abandoning the local diaper market.

“In Turkey, adult incontinence is the next segment of the hygiene market that local players want to focus on and looks to be the main source for continued impressive growth,” says DiCesare. “In Asia, countries like India, Indonesia and China are attracting large investments from foreign companies installing baby diaper manufacturing capacity to take advantage of increased market penetration and overall growth.”

Neos Italia is responding to these trends by expanding its product range in a way to have components ready to fit, in terms of optimal liquid management characteristics, in synergy with the rest of the product structure where they are requested to be integrated. All components available from Neos Italia can be delivered in spool format, making their converting more efficient.

Overseas delivery of roll goods is an option that foreign customers like less and less, therefore Neos Italia has a high focus on logistics, according to DiCesare. “Neos Italia has approached this market need by appointing an exclusive global distributor, for apertured film products only, able to replicate most of Neos’ products in its own plants located in North America, Latin America, Europe, India and China, in order to make Neos’ plus our distributor’s combined offering locally available in each region,” he says.

In western markets, sophisticated light incontinence products are the main driver for growth, among stagnant babycare, adult incontinence and femcare segments, according to DiCesare. Likewise, products in femcare are becoming more associated with life style. “Without compromising on performance, these products are printed in order to communicate almost as a fashion product that improves self confidence and esteem in end-users,” he says. “In institutional markets, odor control and wetness indicator are no longer an option, but lower price remains a must to gain share. In retail, slim fit is the most targeted feature, in combination with easier wearability and performance. In South East Asia baby diapers is the product segment that guarantees a critical mass to all hygiene product manufacturers, thanks to low market penetration.”

In emerging markets, there is a transition from traditional closures to mechanical closures, according to Avery Dennsion’s Van den Driessche. “This change has been projected for quite some time, but we now actually see it happening more and more,” she says. “China is a big emerging market and we are seeing regional diaper manufacturers now shifting to mechanical hook and loop closures.”

Avery Dennison produces closure products worldwide and offers solutions for different tiers of diapers and for different regions making it well positioned to meet trends switching from conventional to mechanical.

For baby diapers, growth is coming from emerging markets. “Asia and Latin America are still growing. Longer term, look for growth in India and Africa, where manufacturers are still deciding where to position themselves,” says Van den Driessche. “New markets can present challenges for manufacturers and baby diaper production. Both geography and climate conditions can effect where production is located. For adult diapers, growth exists in the mature markets, including the U.S. and Europe.”

Satisfying customers and consumers

There is increased interest in using lighter, smoother and softer composites that support flexible manufacturing of different products. “There seems to be the non-written understanding among suppliers and manufacturers of creating hygiene products that are convenient and comfortable to use,” says Soltero. “We believe that consumers do have a lot more influence now than ever before in the product design because their feedback and true opinions are readily available through social media and other feedback tools that were not available in the past. In order to meet market requirements in the adult incontinence sector we needed to understand the barriers to consumer adoption. Through internal and external market research we concluded that there are two main barriers for consumer adoption: consumer perception and societal norms; and product performance.”

As a component manufacturer, Conwed focused on understanding how to positively affect product performance and found four major factors that it could influence to gain consumer adoption: comfort (“I want something that fits well, is breathable and discreet”); performance (“I want something that works well”); convenience  (“I want something that is easy to change”); and price (“ I want something I can afford”).

“In order to satisfy hygiene manufacturers and end-users, we needed to influence the technical performance that would translate into added value for the end users,” says Soltero. “Thus, our R&D and engineering teams focused on two main elements: stretch performance (force and recovery); and breathability (air and moisture permeability). The challenging aspect of meeting manufacturers’ performance needs and end users’ value requirements is to determine the levels of stretch and breathability required for different product designs and applications such as retail versus institutional, home versus public, day versus night, etc. These are some of the factors that determine the most suitable technical performance to satisfy the final application. Therefore, we concluded that working closely with hygiene manufacturers to identify the market segment they want to serve is the most efficient way for us to develop precise stretch components that add value to the end users.”

In terms of satisfying consumer demands, a search for what end-users want at Neos Italia is performed through frequent store checks where many consumer products are screened, according to DiCesare. “Also, our customers support us in analyzing unmet needs of end users, since they work closely with connection with large retail chains that convey consumers’ preference backwards through supply chain,” he says. “Interpretation and projection of said preferences allow our R&D to work proactively and materialize solutions that in many cases anticipate by years what consumers want next.”

In Western countries, the evolution in consumer demands drives very fragmented product offerings at all levels in the supply chain. “Consumers want products that are skin-friendly, offer better fitting elastic components, thin products and smaller packs/unit of sale are some of the drivers,” says DiCesare. “Neos Italia satisfies finished product manufacturers and end-users by developing and delivering components where a specific level of sustainability has been the driver since concept and design stages and is proven by scientific measurement available on demand for customers.”

“From an end-use perspective, consumers want better products that include better containment, comfort, fit, ease of putting on and taking off at a value price,” says Hearn. “For the adult market, reduced visibility is also key criteria. From a manufacturing perspective, technologies are focused on higher speed and efficiency with reduced waste for better costs and margins.”

Hyosung is working with its customers in reducing the cost of elastification, enhancing operational efficiencies, reducing splicing and longer run times and reducing waste generation.

“Hyosung has introduced some new packages in our unique polymer for longer run times with reduced splicing and stops delivering 150% improvement in efficiencies,” says Hearn. “We have a dedicated global diaper product development team that partners with our key customers to create the best spandex products for their operation and their key target end-use customers. We are being challenged to help our customers improve their efficiencies to offset any potential increases in raw material costs and to improve their margins.”

Avery Dennison, whose customers are diaper manufacturers, says it conducts panel studies with end-users/consumers and works closely with manufacturers to incorporate their insight into its product developments and the ways in which it brings products to the marketplace.

Price pressure

The last few years have been challenging for all industries using oil-based resins. “Price fluctuation of raw materials has affected the hygiene industry and we see nonwoven manufacturers facing this challenge,” says Soltero. “We believe that baby diapers and wipes are probably the toughest segments in which suppliers and manufacturers can pass price increases as competition is fierce and cost is a major concern. In the adult incontinence segment, manufacturers are also under the same pressure but can rely on other factors in their product mix such as comfort, performance and convenience to achieve consumer adoption.”

In the disposable hygiene market prices have a big impact on product design and trends, according to Bulleri. “The main impact is raw material costs,” she says. “In 2012 raw material costs have been quite unstable even if better compared to 2011. There is a real difficulty in trying to pass the raw material cost increase on to the final customer.”

As a consequence of price pressure applied by retail chains on hygiene product manufacturers, most components are subject to same pressure too. “Especially in southern Europe overall resins and power costs have been growing steadily in last three years,” says DiCesare. “Passing along cost fluctuations is not always possible, especially for materials where commoditization has occurred. Special materials suitable for niche market segments in hygiene and other applications in disposable products (absorbing materials suitable for core application) are resisting well to price erosion. In general, the closer you are to retail distribution in supply chain, the heavier is pressure on prices.”

Doing more with less

Like many companies operating in industries today that are focused on sustainability, Conwed is reducing, recycling and reusing materials and inputs. Through its broad experience manufacturing netting components it has developed expertise to manufacture products more efficiently with less waste.

“We continue to make progress in reducing our greenhouse emissions, water consumption and resin waste,” says Soltero. “More importantly, we understand that our discipline to manufacture lightweight netting more efficiently makes immediate impact to our customers’ sustainability efforts of doing more with less. We see manufacturers from all kinds of industries asking us to develop lighter netting with optimal tensile strength. Therefore, the hygiene industry is certainly not disconnected from a global trend of making products more efficiently.”

Since the first generation of Rebound elastomeric netting, the development team has been able to reduce 65% of the weight while keeping optimal tensile strength and stretch performance. Having lighter components helps hygiene manufacturers develop products that feel less intrusive and more comfortable to use.

Technology is expensive and therefore quality and dependency of raw materials is of the highest importance. “Costs have to be reduced at all levels,” says Featherstone. “RKW responds by offering ‘more for less’ in terms of thickness of films, putting as many meters on a roll as possible and offering reduced ‘hidden’ costs to the customer, and by responding to speed of technology change with innovation that meets the challenges presented. ‘More for’ or ‘with less’ are general trends, not only in our business. It is a fact of the present and more so, will drive the future. This is a challenge that needs to be addressed and met on all levels, and throughout the supply and value chain.”

Sustainability is of great importance and will be even more in the future, concurs Angeli. “The nonwovens industry can contribute its part even if higher costs are still affecting the process,” he says. “In addition we are facing a significant high price of raw materials and a strong request from our customers for price reduction while keeping the high requirements for quality and service.”
“Sustainability issues are becoming more important compared to years past,” says Bulleri. “Texsus has in place a sustainability policy that was implemented in 2010. As part of this project last year Texsus finalized an investment of over €1 million for a photovoltaic system able to generate part of the company’s electrical energy consumption.”

Texsus has also developed a Multitex topsheet and ADL multi-layer nonwoven combined in one unique, easy-to work structure made of soft topsheet and high loft ADL. “The Multitex concept pays close attention to sustainability, as it allows the use of lighter materials compared to traditional structures and avoids any need of glue between layers,” says Bulleri. “It generates a real benefit in terms of sustainability compared to classical structure using separate ADL and topsheet material since less material means less energy consumption for material production; less transport cost means less CO2 in the atmosphere; and no glue means it’s easier to recycle and requires less energy consumption for producing the diaper.”

In terms of sustainability and traceability at each step of the supply chain Neos Italia responds by offering FlowerTool, a flexible and powerful sustainability measurement system based on global standards that can be applied to raw materials, finished products, projects, plants or even entire corporations.

“Sustainability and regulatory issues are impacting the market in the same way as natural selection makes certain living organisms fit better to certain environments rather than others,” says DiCesare. “In fact, mature markets where awareness for environmental and sustainability issues is stronger, are demanding a constant screening of components at all steps in the supply chain to gain confidence about certain finished products and give/keep their purchasing preference for it.”

Many component suppliers are not able to provide such a screening at this stage in time, therefore they may not be qualified to become part of a supply chain where sustainability is measured and monitored at each step. “Such an ability or disability in providing a uniformly accepted measure for the sustainability of a single product or range is not absolute, since it is based on the capability of a manufacturer to qualify his products under certain standards (i.e.: REACH, FDA, etc.), which means that what works for a region may not work for another region of the world and vice versa,” says DiCesare. “At this point in time, a lack of common and globally accepted rules to measure sustainability is a fertile ground for protectionism as well, because it happens that component suppliers that want to export from one region of the world to another may easily get inhibited from accessing their new target market because in their region the upstream supply chain is not capable of delivering a measurement or a certificate that qualifies their overall level of sustainability. On the other hand, these same difficulties that a component or finished product manufacturer may experience while attempting to export in a new market, work as a stimulus for continuous improvement in relation to sustainability issues, which in the end benefits all players downstream in the supply chain and ultimately, the end user.”

Up-to-date converting technology is key to keep performance at acceptable level while down-gauging film or fiber webs, according to DiCesare. “Neos Italia has constant focus on this aspect thanks to an internal engineering division and a deep knowledge about performance limits of materials subject to downgauging, and related alternatives,” he says. “In addition, lean organizational structure implemented late in 2011 is proving to be extremely effective to keep innovation at a good pace.”

While several regulatory requirements exist throughout the industry, there is not one standard. “What we have is a lot of ongoing discussion as to what is really important,” says Van den Driessche. “Some customers focus on introducing recyclable/biodegradable components in a diaper. Others focus on reducing their carbon footprint and base their product design decisions on a total product lifecycle analysis. From Avery Dennison’s side, we look at the total impact to help our customers quantify what best meets their needs.”

Doing more with less is an ongoing conversation in the industry, according to Van den Driessche. “There is much to be gained by using less material,” she says. “For example, because diapers are disposable products, they generally end up as waste and that accelerates the environmental impact discussion. Assuming that energy and waste factors associated with producing thinner materials are the same as with thicker materials, using less material can lower the impact on the environment. Also, thinner materials are more efficient to transport and more products can be put on retail shelves. At the same time, all manufacturers are pressured for cost and efficiency. So everybody is looking at making diapers with fewer components and thinner materials.”