Sales: $1.35 billion
Description: Key Personnel
Barry Granger, vice president and general manager, DuPont Nonwovens; James Pawloski, global business director, Tyvek; Nigel Budden, global business director, Sontara and Typar; Raffaella Cristanetti, global marketing and planning manager; Sandra Van Wormer, president, HMT Venture
Richmond, VA (Tyvek); Old Hickory, TN (Spunlace, Suprel, Softesse); Luxembourg (Tyvek, Typar); Asturias, Spain (Spunlace); Shenzhen, China (Tyvek and Spunlace-converting facility); Seoul, Korea (HMT facility)
All plants ISO 9002 certified; Luxembourg facility also 9001 certified
Flash spun (Tyvek), spunbond (Typar), Spunlace, Advanced Composite Technology, Hybrid Membrane Technology
Tyvek, Tychem, Sontara, Suprel, Softesse, ComforMax, Typar (worldwide except North, Central and South America)
Construction, health care, protective apparel, industrial, filtration, absorbents, home furnishings, envelopes, geotextiles, graphics, packaging, footwear, automotive
Diversification will be the key to DuPont Nonwovens’ continued success going forward. The manufacturer of Tyvek flashspun and spunlaced nonwovens as well as nonwovens based on Hybrid Membrane Technology (HMT) and Advanced Composite Technology (ACT), DuPont Nonwovens reported flat sales in 2007 as gains in Asia-Pacific and other emerging markets recouped softness in U.S. housing sales, a key market for DuPont’s Tyvek materials. As DuPont has suffered from a soft housing market in the U.S., the company has been looking at how it can diversify its products, not only in terms of markets but also in geographies.
“One of the key messages for us as we go forward is the importance of our diversification strategy as we look across the types of products and asset lines but also in terms of the customers and industries and even geographies we serve,” explained global marketing and planning manager for DuPont Nonwovens, Raffaella Cristanetti.
In the past several years, DuPont, which has been involved in nonwovens since it introduced Tyvek in the 1960s, has focused on diversifying its technology base, first with the launch of Advanced Composite Technology, combining the benefits of polypropylene and polyester for the medical garment market, and later with Hybrid Membrane Technology, which was purchased from a Korean company in 2005. DuPont has expanded into a number of new areas with both these new technologies as well as its existing ones, according to vice president and general manager Barry Granger.
“It’s been three years since we purchased HMT and two years since we have been commercializing products using this technology,” said Mr. Granger, who took over at the helm of DuPont Nonwovens in October 2007. “We’ve seen several products being launched such as submicron filters for the oil fields, premium HVAC applications and in energy storage devices.”
In the filtration market, HMT offers non-diminishing filtration efficiency, giving users the ability to achieve the performance they need without electrostatic charges. Other benefits include lower pressure drop and improved efficiency as well as longer filter life. The addition of HMT to DuPont’s portfolio provides a unique and differentiated nanofiber media that adds new value in filtration applications. HMT joins Typar, Tyvek and Sontara in offering a range of solutions for the filtration industry.
Beyond filtration, HMT has seen some interest in energy storage, rechargeable energy sources and in the high-end bedding and mattress area with product for severe allergy and asthma sufferers.
Currently, being made in Korea—DuPont Nonwovens’ first Asian production facility—HMT bridges the gap between a membrane and traditional nonwovens and reinforces DuPont’s commitment to selective barrier technology, an important part of DuPont Nonwovens since the beginning. Many of the applications for Tyvek—construction, medical packaging—take advantage of the material’s ability to create a barrier.
The focus on selective barrier technology, however, does not mean that DuPont is deselecting areas beyond this scope. Areas of growth in recent years have included critical cleaning and specialty wipes using its spunlaced nonwovens and graphics and envelopes, which use Tyvek materials.
One area that has become a lower priority for DuPont is elastic nonwovens. After launching Engineered Elastic Nonwovens in April 2007—which were billed as stretchable fabrics designed to fit a range of industry needs—DuPont has taken a step back on this segment more recently. “As we have evaluated markets and looked at where the best return on investment will be, elastic nonwovens is an area where we have decided it wise to take a step back,” said Ms. Cristanetti. “There are still some interesting applications for this material, but we are not continuing it at the same level.”
Meanwhile, DuPont’s long-standing nonwovens technologies continue to be a top priority for the business. Recently completed is an upgrade at DuPont’s Luxembourg facility which allows the company to produce Tyvek with a high-tech metallization as well as other coatings within the material’s fiber structure. In Richmond, DuPont has expanded and improved secondary processing capabilities for construction applications using Tyvek material.
While construction has been softer than it has historically, particularly in North America, it is just one of several application areas for Tyvek, and officials have noted growth across many other core markets including medical packaging, protective apparel, envelopes and graphics.
“There have really been a number of bright spots for Tyvek,” Mr. Granger said. “As we look at Tyvek, we have a more efficient and cost-effective production profile than some of the competitive products out there. We also are looking at how Tyvek can fully leverage its superior strength-to-weight ratio versus other products, which can have advantages in terms of specific applications as well as in costs or productivity—for example, installation of banners or transportation costs.”
Also benefiting Tyvek is DuPont’s corporate-wide commitment to the personal protection market through DuPont Personal Protection, a market-facing unit that brings together all of the company’s offerings for the personal protection market.
Additionally, eco-consciousness has benefited Tyvek as this technology is more reyclable than competing technologies. “We are positioning not only the functionality of our products but also the specifications,” Ms. Cristanetti said.
Eco-consciousness with a goal toward sustainability is important to DuPont as a company. On the polymer side, the company has created Sorona, which is sourced from a monomer created through the fermentation process. So far, this product’s usage in the nonwovens market has been limited, but interest is apparent. In 2007, DuPont received an IDEA Achievement Award for raw material innovation for Sorona.
According to Mr. Granger, all of the DuPont’s businesses are contributing to sustainability goals that DuPont announced in 2006. “We have certainly been working hard in areas such as reducing energy consumption, particularly at plant sites, and shrinking our environmental footprint and are making substantial progress,” he said. “For example, one goal was to hold total energy use flat with 1990 levels. The total consumption is down 7% overall.”
Spunlace is another established technology for DuPont. This business operates through two divisions: medical and performance fabrics. In the medical market, Softess, DuPont’s spunlace offering, has been a leader in gowns and drapes for many years and has only benefited from the addition of other DuPont offerings such as Suprel, using ACT, and Acturel, which is film-based.
The performance fabrics business largely centers around wiping products but DuPont has kept away, for the most part, from the consumer wipes market. It has had a number of successes in the critical cleaning segment, requiring wipes products with value-added benefits for markets such as automotive detailing and aerospace.
Looking at the business from a geographical standpoint, executives admit that the U.S. economic situation has posed a challenge for DuPont’s nonwovens business, particularly in the housing and construction market, however the region is not without its high points, including personal protection, medical packaging, graphics and critical cleaning. “We are seeing strong demand pull and increased interest in working with us either to use existing product lines or develop new products. Many of these markets are growing from a smaller base but they are definitely bright spots.”
At the same time, in Western Europe, where DuPont has a significant base business, growth has continued in the 2-3% range; moving eastward for Central and Eastern Europe and into Russia, there are even stronger growth prospects as DuPont leverages its position in other businesses there. In Asia-Pacific, DuPont continues to see good opportunities in China and India as well as in Japan where there has been increased interest in medical packaging products using Tyvek.
As it looks to developing regions for growth, DuPont could examine the possibility of expanding its manufacturing footprint in its nonwovens business. Today the company has plants in Richmond, VA and Luxembourg for Tyvek; Old Hickory, TN for Spunlace and Suprel; Asturias, Spain for Sontara; and Seoul, Korea for HMT. “Our first step is always looking at how we are utilizing our existing capital on the ground and continue to invest and release capacity with our existing units,” Mr. Granger said. “The next step will be to look at our blueprint to determine where we want to place the next investment. A lot of team members think that Asia-Pacific is the next place we should invest but we are going through a major process before we make any decisions. It’s a long-term decision.”
Like many nonwovens producers, DuPont has been battling rising raw material prices for much of this year. “We are driving productivity very hard even as we see a drop in earnings and existing margins,” Mr. Granger said. “This has meant balancing the amount we want to invest in growth with productivity.”
As a company diversified in both markets and geographies—not to mention its strong tradition as an innovator—DuPont certainly has what it takes to withstand present-day economic problems.
“The good news is there are many opportunities for us,” Mr. Granger said. “Even in times like these, it forces you to make even tougher choices. One of the things we have been working hard on improving is our product development timeline. With the combination of making choices around where we want to put our investments, we are still investing to grow and bring out new products to the industry.
“Nonwovens is a key growth area for our company,” Mr. Granger said. “It is one of five strategic global units within our Safety and Protection platform and it is one of our corporate objectives to double that platform’s growth by 2010. Our overall strategy is to accelerate top-line growth.”