Technology In Search Of A Champion

By Karen Bitz McIntyre, Editor | December 3, 2009

Back in the late 1990s, when airlaid manufacturers still had cause for optimism, industry pundit Ivan Pivko published a book titled Technology in Search of Markets.

At a time when producers were investing heavily in new equipment, Ivan, a long-time participant in—and more recently observer of—the airlaid market, made no secret of his skepticism about the need for this unprecedented capacity surge. Over a few-month span in 2001, investments by airlaid giants Concert Industries and Buckeye Technologies, as well as newcomers Rayonier and BBA, increased the world capacity of airlaid an estimated 30%, a surge from which the technology continues to recover in terms of both pricing and usage levels.


Each October, Nonwovens Industry publishes a look at the airlaid market and our coverage has traditionally included commentary by Mr. Pivko, who since publishing his book has continued to doubt many airlaid producers’ game plans for recovery. Remember his satirical call for a peanut butter wipe in 2003, in which he forsook the consumer market’s need for such a wide variety of wipes? This year, unfortunately, family obligations prevented Ivan from writing for us, but we were luckily able to find a great replacement in the form of Phillip Mango.

A former technology executive and airlaid company owner, Phil now runs a consulting firm focusing on new product and market developments in airlaid and other nonwoven technologies. In his article “Airlaid: State of the Industry, Better . . .But Not Good” (page 32), Phil calls for an “Industry Champion” to help the airlaid market continue its recovery. Where Ivan thought new markets were key to airlaid’s rebound, Phil is betting on a “well-managed company that would drive the industry, optimizing process and equipment, investing in new product development, both long and short term, negotiating on an equal basis with multibillion dollar customers.” Similar to how DuPont and Ahlstrom have boosted spunlace or how Freudenberg has dominated spunbond, this company would help boost airlaid’s presence across many market segments.

Already there are many companies well positioned for this role. Concert, with its new management, seems unwilling to participate in floundering markets for the sole purpose of moving capacity. Buckeye, with its massive North Carolina line, as well as operations in Canada and Germany, continues its reign as the world’s largest airlaid producer. And, Georgia-Pacific con­tinues to unearth new markets for its airlaid output.

The search for an industry champion should not be exclusive to the airlaid market. Producers of all types of nonwovens should be working to not only improve their own position but also the role of nonwovens across multiple market segments. By managing their operations, optimizing their processes and focusing on new product development, these champions will help ward off the pricing problems, overcapacity issues and other major dilemmas that have been challenging the nonwovens industry for years.

Karen Bitz McIntyre


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