2012 Nonwovens Sales: $1.35 billion(estimated)
Key Personnel: Marc Doyle, president, DuPont Protection Technologies; Kevin Corby, global technology director, DuPont Protection Technologies; Diego Boeri, global Tyvek and Sontara business director, Du-Pont Protection Technologies
Plants: Richmond, VA (Tyvek, Hybrid Membrane Technology, HMT); Old Hickory, TN (Sontara); Luxembourg (Tyvek, Typar); Asturias, Spain (Sontara); Shenzhen, China (Tyvek and Sontara converting facility); Brazil joint venture (Sontara)
ISO Status: All plants are ISO 9002 certified; Luxembourg facility is also ISO 9001 certified
Processes: Flash-spun (Tyvek), spunbond (Typar), spunlace (Sontara, HMT)
Brands: DuPont Tyvek, Tychem, Energain, Sontara, Typar.
Major Markets: Construction, healthcare, protective apparel, industrial filtration, absorbents, home furnishings, envelopes, geotextiles, graphics, packaging, footwear, automotive.
DuPont, the maker of Tyvek and Sontara nonwovens remains bullish about its nonwovens business and the contribution it can have to the global industry. “Our focus is growing our core markets, finding new markets for our existing technology and also looking at new technologies that can expand our business,” says Tyvek and Sontara global business director, Diego Boeri.
The majority of DuPont’s nonwovens business falls within the business unit DuPont Protection Technologies, which was formed four years ago by combining the company’s nonwovens business with its sister units on the aramid fiber side. This business unit essentially contains most of DuPont’s technologies that protect people, the environment and critical processes worldwide. Within nonwovens, only construction falls outside of DuPont Protection Technologies and is managed by the Building Innovations business of DuPont. Within the protective market, key markets for Tyvek include protective apparel and medical packaging. New markets for the technology include optics, air cargo and consumer bags.
Within Tyvek, DuPont Protection Technologies is seeing two axes of growth. One is a strong focus on core markets including protective apparel and medical packaging; the other is the development of new business areas. In recent years, new business areas have included air cargo application, optics and, most recently, consumer bags.
The most successful of these three, air cargo, is the result of global mandates for controlled temperatures, between 15-25°C when shipping pharmaceutical products. To meet these mandates, DuPont has developed a new brand, Tyvek Air Cargo Covers, large hoods, available in regular Tyvek or metallized Tyvek varieties, which are placed over pallets of pharmaceutical products when they are most vulnerable, such as during temporary air transit control chain breaks like sitting on the tarmac, where they are subject to solar radiation or temperature extremes.
“The cover really guarantees that temperature remains controlled,” Boeri says, adding that the unique combination of properties offer high reflectance to shield the product from solar radiation, lower thermal conductivity which decreases the effects of temperature extremes and breathable barrier, which prevent trapped gas from damaging products. DuPont has already secured contracts for the covers with a few global pharmaceutical companies and is in the process of signing more deals both in pharmaceutical and in the food transport market.
Another of DuPont’s developing market areas is consumer bags, such as reusable shopping totes, and the company is currently conducting several customer trials in North America under the brand name Verdiva. With several cities across the U.S. already banning retailers from dispensing free plastic bags, the market for nonwoven shopping bags is expected to grow.
To help it succeed in new markets, DuPont is continuously investing in and improving upon Tyvek technology. The addition of metallization in some grades of Tyvek is one interesting development that has allowed the company to make inroads in existing areas like construction as well as new ones, air cargo. “This is not standard metallization,” Diego says. “The process allows us to apply an extremely thin coating of metal without destroying the properties of Tyvek. The big thing is it allows the breathability of Tyvek to remain mostly intact.”
Beyond metallization, improving the breathability and the flexibility of Tyvek are among DuPont’s main focus areas in offering news grades of the fl ashspun technology. These growth efforts toward new product development fueled DuPont’s decision last year to reinstate an idled production line in Luxembourg. This adds to our global capacity and gives the technology a more balanced footprint across the oceans, Boeri says.
Meanwhile, in medical packaging, another core Tyvek market, DuPont is proving its commitment to the medical packaging market through a $30 million investment known as the company’s Medical Packaging Transition Project. These efforts will not only modernize the technology for Tyvek fl ash spun nonwovens used for medical packaging, it will also allow DuPont to create a strong foundation for growth within the medical packaging market.
Through industry collaboration, DuPont is targeting the entire value chain within medical packaging, working with independent test labs, the U.S. FDA and other regulatory agencies internationally. DuPont is also working with several sterile packaging and medical device manufacturers around the globe in advance of the commercialization, which is scheduled for early 2015.
Earlier this summer, DuPont announced that transition protocol amendments have been made and accepted by the Center for Devices and Radiological Health at the FDA in the U.S. Additionally; Europe’s four largest regulatory bodies have received a copy of the amendments. In Japan, regulatory bodies are reviewing the data and in China testing criteria have been established.
From a technical standpoint, DuPont has completed developmental material assessments, has successfully produced and tested transition protocol materials, shipped materials to participating sterile packaging manufacturers for conversion and conducted a formal DuPont Product Stewardship review.
According to Boeri, a key milestone was making the transition protocol material available for purchase this summer, well in advance of full commercialization, which is estimated for early 2015. This will support MDM efforts to complete internal risk assessments prior to commercialization and enable them to qualify material for new device packaging, he says.
“We are really optimistic about the project. It’s not just an internal operation. It’s a massive activity where we are working with regulatory agencies and the whole value chain to minimize the impact for our customers,” he says.
DuPont’s other major nonwovens technology, Sontara, which is based on spunlace technology, continues to be used in wipes and medical fabrics for gowns and drapes where it offers low cost, sophisticated products. Describing this business as “stable,” Boeri says that the product plays in a more competitive arena than other DuPont technologies.
“There our focus is two things. The fi rst is maintaining a customer- centric product development program, the second is to continue to fi nd productivity improvements and focus on lean operation. We are always looking at ways to be more productive,” he says.
Beyond medical, Sontara’s other applications include high performance wipes for markets like car detailing, printing and aerospace, as well as other areas where innovation is valued. Energain, DuPont’s latest nonwovens-based technology, continues production on a pilot line in Chesterfi eld, VA. Marketed as a hybrid membrane technology (HMT), this technology primarily targets the energy storage battery separator and biopharma filtration markets.
“We have been working with customers to qualify products and I would say we are still in the middle of development,” says Boeri. “We have trials in energy storage and some sales in biopharma filtration. Timeline is something you always have to keep in mind when you are dealing with new technologies and markets.”
Still the introduction of new technologies as well as expanding in core markets continues to be a key part of DuPont’s growth strategy for these products. “We continue to invest in our nonwovens technology and applications to benefi t our customers,” says Boeri.