When it purchased the part of Ahlstrom a few years ago, Finland’s Suominen Nonwovens became the world’s largest maker of spunlaced nonwovens. Alistair Brown, the company’s director of marketing and communications, sat down recently with Nonwovens Industry to discuss his thoughts on the global supply picture for spunlace, opportunities in the wipes market and new applications for the material.
NWI: How would you characterize the global spunlace market in terms of supply vs. demand, margins, new technology, etc?
AB: The demand in product markets which spunlace technology currently serves is high in volume and enjoys a healthy growth. There are however differences in both regional demand and supply and thus in the balance of the two. The spunlace supply in Europe continues to exceed the regional demand. As a result, margins in oversupplied markets like Europe tend to be tight for the supply chain in total. New technology development, in all areas of nonwoven manufacture, continues apace to look for new added-value segments where the technologies are most suited.
NWI: Does wipes continue to consume the lion's share of this market? How would you characterize this market?
AB: Wipes do still consume a significant share of the nonwoven substrate produced with spunlace technology in Europe, as the technology is so well suited to serve the functionality and softness sought in end-use. In North America, the wipes market is supplied by a more diverse technology platform. Other significant applications and segments include for example incontinence, hygiene and household. The wipes market continues to grow globally driven by favorable demographic and socio-economic trends as consumers seek greater and greater functionality and convenience in the products they demand.
NWI: What steps are spunlace manufacturers taking to lessen their reliance on wipes? In which markets specifically are you seeing more opportunities for spunlace? What is driving this?
AB: All larger manufacturers and converters seek to spread their sales interests across a number of diverse segments and end-uses in order to ensure no limit over-reliance on any one market. Suominen has a broad technology platform and wide geographical footprint and is clear in its desire to increase the share of all added value nonwoven products in its portfolios – both in wipes and other segments. Suominen has recently formed a new structure to allow further focus on its care business, i.e. medical and hygiene segments. Very recently, Suominen also entered the tabletop market with Novolino Nonwovens manufactured with a technology ideally suited to the needs of this market segment.
NWI: How are new technology developments opening up doors for spunlace nonwovens?
AB: Technology developments open doors in multiple areas like improved functionality, lower weight, and cost effectiveness.
NWI: As new investments start to come on stream in spunlace, will the global supply vs demand picture shift? Are these investmetns warrranted?
AB: Clearly, any new investments are likely to impact on the supply/demand -ratio regionally and even globally. New investments in the areas of supply shortage and/or those which bring increased added value to the product and end-user are most likely to succeed.
NWI: What factor does Chinese production play in the global marketplace? Is Chinese-made spunlace being exported to markets like Europe and North America?
AB: Any country with the size and resources of China will have a role to play in global consumer product supply chains based on spunlace technology. And consequently, yes, certain Chinese spunlace is available throughout the world.