Key PersonnelMatt Trerotola, vice president and general manager DuPont Nonwovens; Mahesh Mansukhani, global business director-Tyvek/Typar and Nigel Budden, global business director-Sontara
PlantsRichmond, VA (Tyvek); Old Hickory, TN (Sontara, Suprel, Softesse); Luxembourg (Tyvek, Typar); Asturias, Spain (Sontara) and Shenzhen, China (Tyvek and Sontara converting facility)
ISO StatusAll plants ISO 9002 certified; Luxembourg facility also 9001 certified
ProcessesFlash spun (Tyvek), spunbond (Typar), spunlaced (Sontara), Advanced Composite Technology, Hybrid Membrane Technology
Brand NamesTyvek, Tychem, Sontara, Suprel, Softesse, ComforMax, Typar (worldwide except North, Central and South America)
Major MarketsConstruction, health care, protective apparel, industrial, filtration, absorbents, home furnishings, envelopes, geotextiles, graphics, packaging, footwear
Under new leadership this year is DuPont Nonwovens. In October 2005, Matt Trerotola replaced Mark Vergnano as vice president and general manager of the division, which reported sales in the $1.35 billion range last year, a 6-7% increase. Mr. Trerotola has continued to focus on leveraging DuPont’s position as a value leader across all of its end use categories, which range from construction to medical gowns to protective apparel to, most recently, filtration. “We consider ourselves a value leader so we are focused on delivering value and getting paid for that value,” he said. “This has been difficult as raw material and other logistical costs rose so rapidly. Margins have been squeezed and we have had to pass along these costs to our customers. But, we continue to focus on bringing value to the market through new technology.”
Despite these challenges, DuPont Nonwovens has been able to remain strong. While its goal of double-digit top line growth was not met in 2005, due largely to a late-in-the-year slowdown, executives say the division is on track to achieve this goal in 2006.
One core strategy moving DuPont Nonwovens forward is the division’s continued focus on selective barrier technology. “When you think about our technology, we have many products that are successful because of their selective barrier solutions,” said Mr. Trerotola, referring to Tyvek housewrap and medical packaging products and Sontara medical gowns, to name a few. “We have had a strong position with these selective barrier solutions and now we are seeing the opportunity to add new markets and technologies.”
Among these markets are filtration and energy storage, two areas DuPont is targeting with its newest innovation in selective barriers. Hybrid Membrane Technology (HMT) is a combination of submicron fibers and high surface area that delivers an optimal balance of flux-barrier performance. In the spring of 2006, DuPont started up a production line in Korea, on which to make the new material. HMT is allowing DuPont to expand its presence in filtration markets, presenting strong growth opportunities for nonwovens, because of its ability to uniformly trap submicron particles, such as bacteria, while maintaining high flow rates,” said Sandra Van Wormer, president, Hybrid Membrane Venture. Additionally, energy storage applications will benefit from the fabric’s high uniformity. “The application possibilities are many,” Ms. Van Wormer said. “DuPont is working to bring HMT value to customers in a variety of areas that require a selective barrier.”
The Korean investment represents DuPont’s commitment to meeting global market needs. Elsewhere in Asia, DuPont operates a nonwovens joint venture in China as well as converting assets in China and Japan. For now DuPont can satisfy Asian demand with its existing technologies from facilities in North America and Europe but has been plowing other resources into Japan, China, India and Korea, the four Asian countries earmarked for future growth.
Beyond Asia, Eastern Europe and Latin America are other hot spots for growth. DuPont largely serves Eastern Europe from its West European operations in Luxembourg and Spain, while in Latin America, its joint venture with footwear supplier Cipatex, initially designed to open up opportunities in the footwear arena, continues to expand.
“The bulk of our production is in North America and Europe,” Mr. Trerotola explained. “But, we are constantly looking at all of our segments from a global basis. Europe and the U.S. are our largest businesses, but we now have a substantial Asian business and a small but fast growing South American business.”
The DuPont Tyvek business, based on flashspun nonwovens technology, continues to perform well as evidenced by the division’s recent announcement it would increase production output at both of its major facilities—in Richmond, VA and Luxembourg. While Mahesh Mansukhani, global business director, Tyvek, would not elaborate on the scope of the Richmond expansion, which is set to come onstream within 18 months, he did reveal that the additional Luxembourg capacity would result in a 15-20% global Tyvek capacity increase by 2008. “It shows that we have a strong belief that we will continue to grow much in the same way we have been,” he said.
In recent years, Tyvek has grown a steady 6-7% annually, thanks to gains in construction, protective apparel and medical packaging as well as in smaller areas such as envelopes, graphics and other niche applications.
In the construction segment, DuPont Tyvek has countered slower market growth in Europe and Asia as well as recent slowdowns in the U.S. housing market with new product introductions such as Metallized Tyvek, which is incorporated into Tyvek AtticWrap and ThermaWrap to reflect heat, helping reduce heat build-up in the summer and heat loss in the winter. “Construction is a major contributor to the growth of Tyvek, but we have a nice pipeline across all of our segments,” Mr. Mansukhani explained. “A lot of our success has to do with our ability to introduce new products that give customers new opportunities and new reasons to use Tyvek.”
Meanwhile, protective apparel has benefited from synergies that exist between Tyvek and other DuPont brands, such as Nomex and Kevlar. DuPont Personal Protection, a division encompassing the protective product brands, has been able to offer a range of protective solutions. These offerings have expanded to garments that protect from multiple hazards. For example, Thermopro utilizes nonwovens knowledge along with Tychem and Nomex experience, is the first garment to meet NFPA standards for both flash fire and chemical protection.
The Tyvek medical packaging business has benefited from the introduction of Asuron, which offers the same high microbial protection and physical characteristics as Tyvek 1073B while delivering substantial improvements such as wider heat-seal window, better printability and bar code readability, a more homogenous appearance and broader regional production capabilities.
The development of Asuron and other new products using Tyvek illustrates how dynamic this technology is, according to executives.
“The thing about Tyvek is that it provides a combination of attributes that allow it to bring a number of qualities for many applications,” Mr. Mansukhani said. “Competitors have tried and been able to do fantastic things with one attribute of this fabric, but not one has been able to achieve all of them in one substrate.”
In addition to the major markets for Tyvek, there are a number of smaller niche markets which DuPont officials were unwilling to reveal. “We don’t want to lose our competitive advantage. These smaller niche markets are our growth engine. These are the markets we want to turn into the next major category for us,” Mr. Mansukhani said.
The DuPont Sontara business unit generally falls into two segments, medical fabrics and diversified fabrics, which includes wipes and home furnishings, among others. In 2005, both segments achieved double-digit growth despite somewhat flat sales in industrial wipe categories.
The DuPont Medical Fabrics business includes several brands: Softesse spunlaced material, Suprel advanced composite fabric and Acturel films. The type of fabric largely depends on the type of medical procedure.
Suprel, launched in 2003, was DuPont’s first new polymer technology. Combining the softness of polyethylene with the barrier protection of polyester, Suprel meets two key needs of the medical community—comfort and protection. “We have been very excited about Suprel,” said Scott Gettelfinger, North American business manager. “This year, we are seeing significant adoption rates thanks to the value combination offered to nurses and surgeons who are looking for the best combination of comfort and protection.”
As the medical community becomes more cognizant of infection prevention protocol, so has its willingness to pay higher price levels for the right protection for personnel and patients alike. For its part, DuPont has been working with distribution partner Medline to educate medical purchasers about the value proposition of Suprel and Softesse. “The combination of protection and comfort allows nurses and surgeons to perform at a better level and provide better healthcare,” Mr. Gettelfinger explained.
Suprel tends to go into higher end medical garments such as Aurora surgical gowns, Orthomax drapes, Aurora Surgical drapes and DuPont Isolation gowns, which at the same time offer improved barrier protection and increased breathability for the medical market.
Meanwhile, DuPont’s Softesse, a spunlace offering for the medical market, continues to perform well as the medical communities of emerging regions increase their conversion from reusable gowns to single use, a trend brought on by infection control awareness. “We are seeing increases in inventories signaling the adoption of single-use gowns globally,” Mr. Gettelfinger said. “This is just the result of natural market evolution.”
Beyond medical, DuPont spunlaced nonwovens have enjoyed significant penetration in the wipes segment, particularly in areas where high absorbency and low linting of Sontara are valued. One major coup for the DuPont wipes business is its role in an automobile surface preparation system, which contains both wet and dry wipes to prepare an automotive surface prior to painting. “We are the only company that can combine our in-depth know-how of the automotive refinish paint process and the performance needed for associated wiping products, ultimately delivering a better paint job.”
And, despite reports of commoditization in consumer wipes, DuPont executives commented that there are still opportunities where value can be appreciated in this segment. “The new spunlace lines coming onstream are targeting a broader consumer and hygiene market than we are, so they are not necessarily a direct a threat to us,” Mr. Gettelfinger said. “We choose to play in areas where our technology is appreciated and valued.”
Turning back to the company’s Advanced Composite Technology, three years after its launch into the medical market, this technology is expanding into new areas such as construction, landscape fabrics and protective apparel where it is valued for its flexibility.
“Being able to bring new products to our existing customers by offering additional value to them is our ultimate goal, and we are achieving this with our new technology,” Mr. Gettelfinger said.
In fact, DuPont is only at the tip of iceberg where this technology is concerned and the mixing of different polymers into one substrate will allow DuPont to target a number of markets currently not on the nonwovens radar.
“If you look at the history we have in technology from a polymer standpoint, it is limited,” Mr. Trerotola said. “We have instead offered value in coating or other techniques. But, with our new pipeline we are moving to technologies that have more polymer flexibility. This is very exciting for DuPont because we have a lot of polymers. It is really a joining of two strengths, and it has allowed us to think about transforming into a much broader area than what is considered a traditional nonwoven.”
Expanding into new realms will allow DuPont to both expand its offerings in markets it currently works in and beyond, Mr. Trerotola added. “We are leveraging the DuPont vision into markets we already know a lot about and we are looking at new market areas to target their unmet needs. We have three strategic priorities. We want to bring the power of DuPont to our customers; we want to explore synergies, not just with our customers but within our businesses, and we want to take advantages of similar value chains within our company.”