Nonwovens Industry
Welcome to Nonwovens Industry
FacebookRSSTwitterLinkedIn
Print

Review & Forecast



As 2005 draws to a close, nonwovens executives describe the year as positive for the industry.



Published December 8, 2005
Related Searches: Vision private label Filtration Show composite
Review & Forecast
rn
rn
As 2005 draws to a close, nonwovens executives describe the year as positive for the industry. Despite excalating raw material prices, overcapacity in some key areas and severe competition, the nonwovens industry continues to triump. Looking ahead to 2006, the industry will continue to grow, thanks to new capacity investment and continued global penetration.
rn

The nonwovens industry began the past year with a positive outlook and demonstrated continued growth through the third quarter of 2005, according to James Schaeffer, CEO of the Polymer Group Inc. “While the optimism has been dampened by an extremely difficult raw material environment, as a result of a series of global natural disasters, 2005 was still a good year for the industry as a whole,” he said.
rn
rnAt PGI, it was a year of continued improvement and considerable activity related to laying the foundation for future growth, with a new spunmelt line installed in Cali, Colombia and additional spunmelt expansions kicked off in North America and Asia, Mr. Schaeffer added. “These capital investments position us for continued progress and put us where our customers need us to be. Additionally, they provide a platform from which to launch innovative products using this technology. We also continued rolling out new products as a result of our focus on innovation and relationship expansion with key customers.
rn
rn“In 2006, new materials, new applications in non-traditional markets and new requirements are expected to drive growth for the industry and our company. Additionally, we see increased innovation efforts becoming more paramount to maintaining a competitive position in the industry. We are pleased to have helped lead the way for the industry by using cotton in baby wipes for the first time and expect to continue to leverage our technological expertise to introduce new products to the market.”
rn
rnLooking ahead, Mr. Schaeffer said that nonwovens are expected to increase their penetration in an array of commercial markets—including home building applications like foundation barrier fabrics, carpet backing and breathable construction materials. Nonwovens should also play a role in rebuilding efforts of hurricane-devastated areas.
rn
rn“An increase in consumer safety regulations could lead to greater use of flame-resistant (FR) materials in bedding and home furnishings, and more stringent environmental standards will drive the use of nonwovens in filtration,” he said. “We also see demand for value-added wipes continuing, as customers remain focused on innovation and development of products that will help them differentiate themselves. PGI has a favorable position in this market and is continuing to develop high-performance wiping products. Alternatively, we expect commodity wipes materials to see additional pressure, as consumer product makers increase performance requirements.
rn
rn“In the coming year, we expect the industry to continue to invest in growing markets but also expect to see more consolidation among industry players as some technologies reach their peaks,” Mr. Schaeffer added. “We think the overcapacity in certain markets that has created unfavorable market conditions will most likely be addressed in 2006 and ahead. Just as in the stock market, there will be winners and losers, and we are focused on being the winner in our markets. The companies that have done the right planning, executed well and invested judiciously in the right technologies to meet market needs will be rewarded.”
rn
rnIn conclusion, Mr. Schaeffer said that at PGI, executives feel great about its strategy, team, products and technologies, development efforts, the investments it has made for the future and how it is positioned to serve its customers. “We are only at the beginning of an exciting period of growth, and we are confident in our ability to meet the challenges and seize the opportunities of the future.”
rn
rnThe highlight of the year for Johns Manville was its plans to build the largest, fastest and the lowest cost structure nonwoven glass mat production facility in Etowah, TN to support its growing roofing, wallboard and specialty customers growth, according to vice president of roofing materials Zain Mahmood. This line will have the capacity to produce over one billion square meters of nonwoven glass mat and will also serve its emerging global glass mat customers in China, Latin America and the Middle East.
rn
rn“This new investment, coming on line in early 2007, emphasizes the focus Johns Manville has on nonwovens as a platform for future growth,” Mr. Mahmood said. “We are also launching many new products in our core markets that will be produced with the help of this new investment.”
rn
rnSecond, JM is excited about its newest capacity in spunbond nonwovens, which is expected to launch in the third quarter of 2006. This state-of-the-art facility will produce ultra low-weight spunbond applications for the emerging markets of Central and Eastern Europe, Turkey, Middle East, North Africa as well as Western European roofing customers. With the Johns Manville Synthetics nonwovens research facility in Bobingen, Germany, many new technical challenges are being overcome, Mr. Mahmood continued.
rn
rnTogether, these two investments mark over $100 million of investments for Johns Manville in recent months.
rn
rn“Third, the nonwovens industry is clearly facing some headwinds today,” he said. “The continued volatility of raw material pricing, especially for hydrocarbon-based raw materials, energy and transportation, is effecting everyone in the industry. In recent months, JM has asked its customers to share the burden of these increased costs with 5-15% surcharges, depending on the markets. With their own costs skyrocketing, customers have shown a propensity to shoulder this burden with JM.
rn
rn“With market discipline, the long term prognosis for this market is strong, since nonwovens allow our customers to meet requirements related to strength, moisture resistance, fire resistance and other emerging codes. Nonwovens, at the end of the day, provide an economic value proposition for our customers that is undeniable.”
rn
rnFourth, with significant technology investments in nonwovens, Johns Manville is building a global research and development capability to support its end use customers. This will result in a Global Non Wovens Technology Center under the premise of Johns Manville Technology Center with locations in Littleton, CO, Bobingen, Germany and Shanghai, China.
rn
rn“Finally, Johns Manville is the world’s leading provider of glass and polyester nonwovens in construction and specialty materials sectors with locations in Bobingen, Karlstein, Steinach, Wertheim and Berlin in Germany; Trnava, Slovakia; Shanghai, China and Waterville, OH and Etowah, TN in the U.S.,” Mr. Mahmood concluded. “JM nonwovens leads the global markets in roofing shingles, Built up roofing, wallboard solutions, synthetic underlayments, flooring applications, battery separators, filtration media and many other applications.”
rn
rn“During 2005, the nonwovens industry continued to aggressively pursue increased product performance to meet customers’needs and invest in capacity expansions, while balancing these challenges with the impact of significantly increased energy costs,” said director of new markets at Hollingsworth & Vose, Walpole, MA, Angelika Mayman.
rn
rnH&V has relied on three core initiatives to succeed in this business climate. The first is increasing performance requirements. H&V has increasingly focused on synthetic filter media to meet customers' demands for longer life, higher performance and increased capacity in their end products. We've applied our broad range of synthetic technologies across numerous product lines, including NanoMelt submicron meltblown, meltblown/cellulose composites, Nanoweb synthetic coating, Long Service Interval media and pleatable synthetic composites.
rn
rnThe second initiative is geographic expansion. To serve customers locally, H&V successfully started up its new meltblown facility in Hatzfeld, Germany in the first quarter and broke ground on its new site near Shanghai, China in the second quarter.
rn
rnThe third initiative is handling energy cost increases. The unprecedented increase in the costs of natural gas and oil since 2003 has dramatically increased the expenses roll goods producers incur to operate production facilities and the prices paid for many raw materials and freight. Producers have implemented energy cost recovery price increases throughout 2005.
rn
rn“H&V will continue its focus on developing new products to meet increasing customer requirements, while working to offset the continued high oil, natural gas and energy dependent raw material costs in 2006 with productivity and quality improvements,” Ms. Mayman concluded.
rn
rn“What a dynamic year we all had in the nonwovens industry in 2005,” proclaimed Georgia-Pacific’s Paul Farren. “Full of opportunities, potential for disaster and all the ingredients of an Agatha Christie mystery novel. For those companies that adapted to change, were willing to take risks and adjusted to the reality of the times, it was a golden opportunity to advance. For those who saw the glass half empty and gloom on the horizon, it was safer to stay in the trenches and go to battle another day. Each company in its own way evaluated the environment (it was the same for all of us) and chose a strategy consistent with their perception of the reality and their ability to achieve their specific short and long term objectives.
rn
rn“The industry as a whole did well under the circumstances, but some companies evaluated the industry realities and executed their strategies better than others,” Mr. Farren continued. “We believe that G-P was one of these companies. Our strategy was straightforward and not revolutionary—we did not even need a consultant. We simply stayed with the fundamentals of delivering value to our customers through product quality/service and supported by delivery dependability and relationship credibility.”
rn
rnIn fact, G-P’s customers helped the company to become better because if it didn’t, they could not improve their business results and differentiate themselves from their competition.
rn
rnAccording to Mr. Farren, G-P had four primary success drivers in 2005. First: listening to customers and responding to the realities of their circumstances and listening to vendors as to how it could improve its product offerings while reducing costs. Second: reducing costs in manufacturing operations through process improvements and strategic capital investments on existing machines “Older machines are like wine that gets better over time,” said Mr. Farren, “if you listen to them and replace some key joints and a few teeth.” Third: dependable and reliable customer service with a just-in-time delivery model. Four: aligning with customers who care about G-P’s welfare as it cares about theirs.
rn
rn“With the petroleum-based substrates under stress due to raw material uncertainties, our airlaid (pulp-based) technology saw a renaissance as many customers throughout multiple market segments rethought the relationships between substrate requirements, value proposition and costs,” Mr. Farren explained. “Our business has concentrated on our core competency—pulp-based/latex airlay and consequently has adapted our cost/performance proposition into a differentiated advantage for our economy/value percentage of our customers’ business. Has it been easy? No. Have we lost sleep? Yes. Did we have all the answers and have a crystal ball vision of the future? No. We did not, however, venture off from the fundamentals of who we are, what we offer with value and what we are not. Our success for which we are thankful, has come from our customers who challenge us everyday to get better (or else). Some things never change, so what do we see for 2006? We know one thing—we need to step it up another notch! We know that our customers expect us to be better than in 2005 because things and requirements are changing again. We know that these requirements may require us to review modifications to our existing technology and/or perhaps new technologies. We plan to stay with the fundamentals again this year with a few more plays. We’re listening to our customers, and if you know Georgia Pacific, stay tuned. We hope that every company has a good year in 2006, and we plan to be one of them. What an exciting industry to be in!”
rn
rnThe continued skyrocketing price increases in raw materials and energy during the last year, and more recently due to Katrina, have been significant factors affecting manufacturing and marketing at roll goods producer Precision Custom Coatings, according to Dan Kamat, vice president of the industrial textiles division. “We were again forced to raise prices. Several suppliers to the automotive sector declared bankruptcy, forcing a lot of restructuring of the supply chain,” he said. “Precision has been able to fill the gap and provide the requirements of the automotive market.”
rn
rnThe company continues to grow in the needlepunch business, where it will increase production capacity by more than 50% during the next few months. Meanwhile, the company’s apparel business continues to grow in the overseas market. With all of these expansions occurring, management expects a double digit growth in business during the next year, Mr. Kamat added.
rn
rnMogul’s polypropylene spunbond nonwovens business is experiencing chronic problems, as has been the case for the past several years. “Polyproplene spunbond can be defined as price-driven so costs are becoming very critical and a main issue is polymer price, which is closely related to petroleum prices, which have been at high levels for one-and-a-half years,” Mogul commercial director Serkan Gogus explained. “Polymer prices are at high levels and it's difficult to pass this increase on to end users due to strong competition. Also, freight costs are significant for nonwovens, which are driven by high petroleum prices as well and for companies like us that export the majority of production, it’s a critical issue.”
rn
rnThese factors have led Mogul to focus its strategy toward restricting its business portfolio, leaving low profit business and focusing on margins more than volumes. The company is also exploring possibilities of adding value to products by additional processes such as coating, laminating, welding, printing and perforating.
rn
rnMeanwhile, on the polyester side of the business, Mogul’s Mopet polyester-based spunbond fabrics are being widely accepted in the marketplace. While the company is not yet running this line at full capacity, it is reporting a regular and remarkable sales growth.
rn
rnThe third leg of Mogul’s nonwovens business is meltblown/composites. Here the company operates a regular and ongoing business that is running well. “We try to develop new materials and new applications for this range of fabrics,” Mr. Gogus said. “Wipes and building materials are under focus for new product developments.”
rn
rnLooking ahead, in 2006 with current polymer prices Mr. Gogus expects even worse conditions and sales for polypropylene spunbond while for polyester spunbond, he expects a continued increase and in meltblown/composites a stable year is also expected.
rn
rnThe current state of the spunlace world is really not exciting, due to the well known overcapacity and the consequent profitability failure, explained Mario Saldarini, commercial manager of Orlandi. “Maybe the market projections for spunlace consumption in the last two years were too optimistic, encouraging both roll goods suppliers and converters to build new lines,” he said. “It seems a scenario very similar to the recent airlaid problems.”
rn
rnAccording to Mr. Saldarini, Orlandi is facing the problem like all other European spunlace producers, with the difference that—thanks to its technical characteristics and lower cost—its new patented three-layer product Naturlace (synthetic fibers plus fluff pulp) gave satisfaction to Orlandi customers and consequently to Orlandi during 2005.
rn
rn“This is the reason why we didn’t abandon plans to expand in the Americas but instead invested in a commodity product,” Mr. Saldarini said. “We will be ready in a very short time to announce a new investment related to a new patented technology. The new product will be softer, bulkier and more resistant, having again a lower cost.”
rn
rnRight now the only way to get through the market stagnation is to be in a condition to offer new products, giving customers the possibility to differentiate their product, avoiding the me-too situation, Mr. Orlandi opined. During 2005, Orlandi launched two developments, the first of which is a three-dimensional embossed spunlace with considerable bulkiness and perfect pattern definition.
rn
rnThe second development is a totally biodegradable version of Naturlace for wipes, consisting of natural fibers and fluff pulp. This new product possesses enhanced absorption and is more economic than existing biodegradable spunlace.
rn
rnViscose manufacturer Kelheim Fibres GmbH is one of the leading specialty fiber producers for the nonwovens industry. With its trilobal Galaxy fiber, it is the largest supplier worldwide for tampon fibers. Just recently Kelheim added Viloft nonwoven to its range of specialty fibers—another innovative and interesting product for the nonwovens sector.
rn
rnGalaxy is a specialty viscose fiber with unique absorbency characteristics. The special trilobal cross section of Galaxy delivers a fiber with increased absorbency, superior to any other cellulosic fiber, such as cotton or standard viscose. Besides its main application as a fiber for tampons, Galaxy is also ideally suited to many other nonwovens processes and a variety of end uses.
rn
rn“We work in close cooperation with our customers to create individual fiber solutions for their specific needs,” explained Matthew North, commercial director.
rn
rnAt present the company is targeting the wipes market. Their new innovative Viloft nonwoven is serving a market need for wipes that are flushable. Initial test work has shown that, during disposal, Viloft nonwoven enhances the disintegration process of nonwoven materials.
rn
rnViloft nonwoven offers a new fiber concept with revolutionary characteristics. Its modified flat cross section delivers a fiber with increased flexibility and softness when compared with fibers of conventional cross sections. In addition, Viloft shows an outstanding performance in contact with fluids: it retains its softness and exhibits high levels of absorbency. These unique properties of Viloft offer new interesting benefits for the whole nonwovens industry.
rn
rnFor Lenzing, 2005 was extremely dynamic, according to Nick Hrinko. “It seemed to be a year that compressed the events of several years into one! Key happenings included the following:
rn
rn• Asia—especially China—was on everyone’s watch list
rn
rn• new spunlace capacity was added in North America
rn
rn• the world market for absorbent wipes continued to grow
rn
rn• industry consolidation continued
rn
rn• petroleum prices saw record highs, affecting the cost of synthetic fibers
rn
rn• rayon supply got tight in North America due to a domestic supplier’s financial problems
rn
rn• sustainability, as a topic of discussion, started to appear on the agendas of several nonwovens conferences
rn
rn• companies rediscovered the viable role that cellulose fiber plays as a renewable, natural resource
rn
rn• escalating energy costs resulted in upward price pressures from the supply chain
rn
rn• resistance to the price pressures resulted from the major consumer companies and retailers.”
rn
rn“All this made for a most interesting year,” Mr. Hrinko explained.
rn
rnThrough it all, Lenzing managed to score another record sales turnover following the consolidation of the Tencel business acquired in 2004, Mr. Hrinko added. “Lenzing’s commitment to the industry and its dedicated focus on cellulosic fiber technology enabled it to respond to fast changing market demands,” Mr. Hrinko said. “Leveraging our global presence, we were able to move supply to where it was needed. In addition to our current five plants, with a sixth plant opening in China in 2006, we were able to supply and support our customers. The existing global network of sales, marketing and technical support staff enabled us to quickly qualify products and improve any technical difficulties that may have existed. We were able to serve the market as never before.
rn
rn“We expect 2006 to be a year of equal dynamism. Bio-active fibers, flame retardant fibers and enhanced absorbency are a few of the areas that we are focusing on for growth in the New Year.”
rn
rnSunoco views the nonwovens industry as a critical, high-demand growth area for polypropylene. Currently, products offered are primarily for spunbond-type fabrics, but it is recognized that there are many other technology-critical opportunities, such as meltblown fabrics and SMS-type constructions that are of interest, said Edwin Townsend, nonwovens sales manager. “Consequently, Sunoco has ongoing efforts in the nonwovens segment that involve both modifications of existing products and development of entirely new products to serve these types of identified needs,” he said. “Sunoco looks forward to bringing these materials and expertise to the market in 2006 and beyond.”
rn
rnThis has been a dynamic year for Tredegar Film Products, said Stephen Pouliot, director of sales and marketing. In 2005, Tredegar continued its focus on customer needs, delivering consumer-noticeable innovations and penetrating emerging global markets.
rn
rnDuring the past year Tredegar opened a technical center in Richmond, VA dedicated to accelerating production processes of new products to customers and the market segments it serves; furthered global penetration in the personal care market segment with innovations such as the AquiDry Family of transfer layers, ComfortAire topsheets and StretchTab elastic laminate closure systems and differentiated itself from film manufacturers with advanced films and composites for global markets. “For the year ahead, we believe nonwovens will continue to play an important role in our new products as we combine our expertise in apertured films, laminates and elastics with nonwoven technologies to offer sophisticated products,” Mr. Pouliot said.
rn
rnStarting slowly in the first months when everyone was waiting for INDEX in Geneva, the year 2005 finally turned into a dynamic and fruitful year for the key hygiene markets, according to Andrea Allar, sales manager of BHT Bicma.
rn
rn“For Bicma, it was an essential milestone since the company had its 10th anniversary. In these 10 years since 1995, Bicma has undergone substantial growth and development to become the worldwide respected, competent and qualified business partner it is today. The anniversary was celebrated in a nice event on Bicma’s premises and was attended and enjoyed by many customers, suppliers, business friends and representatives of the federal and local government,” said Ms. Allar.
rn
rnAmong the products Bicma is offering are: elasticated ears/wings/belts in baby and adult diapers, combined with a narrow product chassis. “They have established a firm marketshare and set a new standard for these products,” she continued. “Ultrathin airlaid-like fluff cores in three layers with SAP in the center layer, made in-line in the machine, are now available in anatomical shape. This generation is replacing the earlier one that had been straight-cut. Classical folded airlaid cores in straight cut continue to slowly disappear from the market. Cost, function and comfort of the new anatomical fluff cores are convincing.”
rn
rnAdditionally, new materials are being developed to replace classical elastic strands such as lycra or spandex, by either stretchable foams or films. Solutions of this kind have been in the market for some time for side elastics in light incontinence products, but trials are also ongoing to have more comfortable materials as well leg cuffs for baby or adult diapers.     “Meanwhile, research is ongoing to find new solutions for absorbent cores,” said Ms. Allar. “However, after the unexpected availability problems in hot melt and SAP, the initial thinking to replace fluff nearly completely by SAP might have changed. It will be interesting to follow the developments in the coming year.”
rn
rn“As expected, we have seen a lot of investments in the fem care market after the INDEX exhibition,” Ms. Allar continued. “Upgrades of existing equipment to follow the market trends and to get higher output and better efficiency were one main field of investment. On the other hand, more complete machines are now on order than we had expected in the beginning of the year.
rn
rn“In particular, the private label market in Europe seems to be entering into a new phase of growth, after having passed some years of consolidation and uncertainty. Besides the typical growth areas such as light and heavy incontinence, the femcare market is getting into a more dynamic phase again.”
rn
rnSome key trends for 2005 are undisputable, according to Eleonora Giulivi of GDM SpA. Among these are:
rn
rn• Economic instability, e-auction and frequent changes in product specification are creating confusion in the choice between new equipment and upgrades on existing equipment.
rn
rn• Market places of developed countries require more premium products. “Premium” means high quality and innovative features that can be provided only by superior technology.
rn
rn• Raw material price increases, drives to install more efficient machinery with very low extra consumption or specific solutions to minimize material usage.
rn
rn• State-of-the-art machinery can deliver a dramatically less expensive product compared to old technology or the installed equipment.
rn
rnAccording to Ms. Giulivi, the outcome of such trends is clear. “Innovation requires R&D and strong spending capacity. A minor player cannot invest independently in R&D without a specific contract, therefore exposing the buyer to the risk of failure/delay,” she said. “Only a few companies can sustain high research and development expenses and provide technology suitable for ‘premium’ products. This research and development effort leads to the delivery of more efficient designs and product costs per unit.
rn
rn“Currently installed machines in developed countries are too old and cannot manufacture new products or be efficient. Top European and U.S. companies are going to invest capital in new equipment to keep their businesses alive. This represents a bright future for companies, like GDM, that have improved their portfolio in the past years with a sustained R&D efforts,” she continued.
rn
rnIn response to these conditions, GDM has created the Matrix program, which offers high flexibility and performance at the same time.
rn
rn“The Matrix program revolutionizes the concept of machine and production process,” Ms. Giulivi explained. “This program’s lines consist of a series of processes formed on elementary modules. The modules can be positioned and moved along the production line, like construction blocks, until they match what the customer wants. The use of modules makes it possible to combine flexibility and performance without having to invent and verify the correct operation of a completely new machine each time. The lines belonging to this program best fit competitive markets where product quality and innovation are a must.”
rn
rnAccording to Ms. Giulivi, a different approach is required for emerging markets. “Effective machinery, simple and reliable is the best fit. GDM’ s Chroma program is the answer to this need,” she said. “This is the entry level program, which offers GDM technology with very limited investment and is accessible to everyone. This translates into undisputed quality of the finished product, simplicity and running reliability and the GDM warranty. The Chroma program provides the necessary facilities for all the main product features with the potential for progressive configuration to follow the customer from start to product evolution. Technology simplicity makes this platform the favorite choice for a start-up in emerging markets. The GDM trade name assures continuous support and product improvement in order to keep up with changes in market trends.”
rn
rn2005 continued to be a year of innovation for the industry related to the ongoing introduction of new uses and substrates for consumer, baby, household and industrial disposable wipes that are converted and packaged on Elsner equipment, said Rusty Elsner, CEO of Elsner Engineering. “We had a constant stream of dialogue with the key industry players including substrate suppliers and end users and have continued to develop several new rewinders and folding machines in the past several years to meet our never-ending nonwovens customers’ demands,” he said. “We also saw some consolidation and repositioning of both competitors and customers in the industry in 2005. We also saw more competition and requests arising out of the Far East from both a substrate and machinery standpoint. This is not unusual and I believe our key to success will be continued innovation. Like many of our customers, 2005 continued to be a growth year for Elsner in the industry and we are excited about the future!”
rn
rn“Our customers need to get the product to market faster and require Elsner equipment to allow them more versatility because of the ever-changing demands for the wipes to be converted and packaged differently,” Mr. Elsner continued. “I see more of the same for 2006 and the years ahead, and we believe we have positioned ourselves well to support the challenges.”
rn
rnSpecialty nonwovens are in the midst of a whirlwind of changes and new ideas, according to Hills Machinery’s Allison Hanney. “Fabric producers are constantly searching for new polymers, processes and additives in order to fulfill the rising demands of the nonwovens industry. New polymers offer properties such as elasticity, conductivity, inherent flame retardancy, great strength, biocompatibility and chemical resistance. With petro chemical prices rising, polymers made from renewable resources are becoming more interesting. Fabric producers are also searching for new processes such as nanofibers, multi-components of all types and hydroentangled spunlaid-type processes. And, finally new additives such as biologically active agents, flame-retardants, carbon nanotubes, cleaning agents and liquid management agents are in demand. Developments in all three areas are providing a rich palette of tools for new product developments, from functional protective garments to medical implants and wound dressings. Increasingly, nonwovens are a functional part of engineered, composite structures, and also continue to invade the traditional woven and knitted markets.
rn
rn“More often, fabric producers are turning to multi-component fiber structures in an effort to make these specialty-type products,” Ms. Hanney continued. “Hills has been able to fulfill the demands of nonwovens producers by developing, engineering and building the latest in multi-component nonwoven extrusion machinery. For example, Hills has recently delivered the world’s first commercial islands-in-the-sea spunbond machine and is also filling orders for several melt blown machines capable of bicomponent and sub-micron fabric production.”  
rn
rn“I see where the American Film Institute ranked this, from Top Gun, as the 97th best movie quote: "I feel the need—the need for speed,’” remarked Craig Thompson of equipment producer Martin Automatic. “We feel the need, too. We manufacture zero-speed splicers (rewinds and tension controls, too) for nonwovens on a number of levels, from narrow web converting to wide web laminating and printing. The ongoing emphasis is on increasing throughput by increasing the speed of these processes.
rn
rn“For a number of reasons, zero-speed splicing of nonwovens—using a storage festoon or accumulator to pay out web while the splice is made—is often the preferred, even the necessary, method over flying pasters. There has been a perception, however, that zero-speed splicing is limited to slower, narrower lines and that it is not a viable alternative as line speeds and web widths increase.”
rn
rnFor some time now, Martin Automatic has been able to match process speeds of 1500 fpm/460 mpm in its nonwovens splicers and has recently introduced a zero-speed splicer in its MAS line for 2000 fpm/610 mpm. According to Mr. Thompson, the company has also developed technology that will take splicing speeds well beyond this.
rn
rn“These developments are going to expand the nonwovens industry's perception of where zero-speed splicing can and ought to be used,” he predicted.
rn
rn“After some years of growing demand in all areas of the soft disposable sector, the hype is called off,” said Juergen Schaefer, managing director of Optima Filling and Packaging Machines GmbH. “The majority of players in the Western Hemisphere have increased capacity by installing new high speed lines in production, replacing their existing low speed ones. Now it’s time to consolidate. This is what we can read in the newspapers around the western world. Unfortunately for us, the demand for new packaging machines in the rest of the world is not increasing. Demand is at the same level as prior years.”
rn
rnMr. Schaefer continued by asking what kind of influence China will have in the future. “At a labor rate of $50 per month, it is difficult to come up with a return on investment that makes any sense. It will still take some years before the Chinese market will open up for automated packaging in the paper industry,” he explained. “Will the Chinese machine manufacturers try to sell their equipment to the countries outside of China? Of course they will, and it is a challenge for all of us as machine suppliers to stay ahead of them by offering highly reliable and flexible solutions tailored specifically to the needs of our customers.
rn
rnStill, there continue to be new fields of interest such as wet wipes or wipes in general, he admitted. “We can see a growing demand for all types of automated packaging,” he said. “From single packs, multi packs and containers to tubs and flow wrapped products—everything goes.”
rn
rn2005 turned out to be another dynamic year for the role of ultrasonics in various nonwoven applications, according to Melissa Alleman, sales and marketing manager of Sonobond Ultrasonics. Ultrasonic welding technology has long proven to be an ideal solution for particular assembly needs of the nonwovens industry, such as filter assembly and the manufacture of disposable medical products. Throughout the current year Sonobond has been working with industry insiders to facilitate manufacturers as they work to meet consumer demands; Sonobond technology has been able to keep in step with market demands for increased efficiency and productivity while keeping cost and environmental concerns in mind.
rn
rn“Nonwovens production has grown to meet rising demand from major consumer companies, so next year will bring new features and materials to existing branded products,” Ms. Alleman said. “Consequently, increased interest in improved materials, from stretch and elastic nonwovens to those with more cloth-like capability, will lead to the expansion of nonwoven products into new markets as well.  
rn
rnSonobond is known for its unique ability to provide state-of-the-art technology for the particular and varying requirements of manufacturers. Its award-winning RingMaster, first introduced in 2002, proved most useful for manufacturers with high volumes of filter bag production. “When customers with small-scale production of filter bags expressed interest in Sonobond’s technology,” explained Ms. Alleman, “We responded with the Filter Collar Bonder, which was introduced at this year’s Filtration Show in Chicago, IL.”
rn
rn“Sonobond’s ultrasonic technology has provided the high speed, good quality, seaming and trimming needed for a wide range of nonwoven products and they expect to benefit from the increasing product and processing improvements in the year ahead.”