For the medical market, Ahlstrom offers a diverse range of single-use medical fabrics and includes materials designed for conversion into drapes, gowns, facemasks, protective apparel and sterilization wrapping of medical devices. With over 40 years of experience in the medical market its portfolio is constantly evolving and offers a number of customized products however the most well known products in the market place are the Reliance range for sterilization wrap, BVB (breathable viral barrier), a bulletproof viral barrier gown, and its facemask coverstock.
We spoke with Valeria Erdos, product manager, drape, gown and apparel at Ahlstrom, about recent developments at the company on the medical front as well as broader trends in the market at large.
Nonwovens Industry: Any recent news at the company on the medical front?
Valeria Erdos: We have recently launched two new products to the medical market—Ahlstrom Reliance Tandem, our interleaved solutions for SBS (sterile barrier systems) and Ahlstrom TenderGuard our Soft SMS offering for surgical gowns.
TenderGuard is Ahlstrom’s Soft SMS designed especially for surgical gowns. It offers great protection and comfort, complementing our full range of gown products designed for all protection levels used in the operating room.
Reliance Tandem is our interleaved wrapping solution that provides flexibility, safety and economy for sterile barrier systems. It utilizes our newest technology, SMS, in combination with our existing crepe and wetlaid technologies to provide the optimal combinations for sequential wrapping or the use of two SBS sheets, each of which provides specialized performance for sequential wrapping.
Additionally, our newest plant in Longkou, China opened in November 2012. The new plant provides local supply to wrap, overwrap and pouch paper. This investment shows Ahlstrom’s commitment to the medical papers and fabrics, offering the widest range of products in the market.
NWI: What is the overall health of the medical nonwovens market?
VE: The medical nonwoven market is currently going through a transformation, but overall is healthy. There are several simultaneous dynamics occurring at the moment and include cost pressures in mature markets, growth in emerging markets, marketers reducing dependency on China and increasing competition among nonwoven producers especially in SMS technology.
NWI: What are the major trends you're noticing in today's market?
VE: Major trends we are seeing are associated with cost reduction programs in mature markets. Sustainability concerns relating to the operating room is another key trend and lastly, the higher adoption rates of single-use medical fabrics in emerging markets.
NWI: What are the fastest growing end use applications?
VE: Globally there are growth opportunities in all medical end-uses, but it seems that surgical gowns and scrub suits are the fastest growing, especially in ICA (infection control apparel).
NWI: What are the challenges facing the market?
VE: Education about HAI’s (hospital acquired infections) and implementation of Minimum Performance Standards for protection are the major challenge.
NWI: What is the growth outlook in the market?
VE: Investments will be selective in the coming years; there will be localized geographical growth and companies with the most innovative approach will find great growth opportunities.
NWI: What are the key growth drivers in medical nonwovens?
VE: Health care spending is the major driver, along with standardization and legislation.
NWI: Are hospitals and health care providers “getting the message?”
VE: The message regarding infection prevention varies greatly in different geographies. One cannot expect to have the same degree of awareness in countries where access to health care is a challenge. Having said that, in developed areas of the world, nonwoven manufactures have little influence in communication with hospitals. Generally marketers manage the relationship, including the education and promotion of single-use medical fabrics.