The price of the raw materials and the energy costs associated with spunbond nonwovens rose sharply in 2005 because of an increase in worldwide petroleum prices. This caused profits for major manufacturers to deteriorate. Therefore, each company tried to hike the price of nonwovens, but some customers would not accept these rising prices. This affects the profits of many nonwovens manufacturers. Passing along prices has been particularly difficult in the diaper market, because these product are made primarily of polypropylene-based spunbond nonwovens.
Mitsui Chemicals, a leading manufacturer of polypropylene spunbond nonwovens in Japan, produces polypropylene-based spunbond nonwovens in Thailand, through its wholly owned subsidiary MHM Co. MHM’s capacity is currently 14,000 tons per year, and this figure will increase by 20,000 tons when the construction of a new plant is complete. Operation of this new plant is expected to begin in early 2007. It will bring Mitsui Chemical’s total capacity to 68,000 tons with half produced in Japan and half made in Thailand. The company reports that 50% of its sales are conducted in Japan; 30% in Southeast Asia and 20% in China.
Meanwhile, Unitika produces nonwovens in Thailand through its Tusco joint venture with Teijin Films. Tusco produces 4000 tons of polyester-based spunbonded nonwovens a year. Additionally, Toray produces 4000 tons of the material a year in China and its joint venture with Saehan Industries (Toray Saehan) in South Korea makes 52,000 tons of polypropylene-based spunbond nonwovens a year. Toray has a 73.2% stake in this venture, while Saehan owns 26.8%. This makes Toray Group the largest producer of spunbond nonwovens in Asia with a capacity of 60,000 tons. Although Asahi Kasei is the largest maker of spunbond nonwovens in Japan, the company has not expanded its production into other foreign countries, nor does it have plans to.