Similar to other nonwovens technologies, much of Chinea’s airlaid machinery comes from the U.S, Europe and other developed areas. This market began at the end of the 1990s when Rite, based in Wuzhong, built a commercial airlaid line, based on Dan Web technology, in Taiwan. This line, featuring latex bonding technology, was followed by some thermal bonded airlaid production lines.
Currently, there are about 28 airlaid producers, with 35 production lines, opearating in China. Their total production capacity is about 120,000 tons per year. Of these lines, 26 are based on thermal bonding with a capacity of 72,400 tons per year and representing 74% of toal lines and 60% of total airlaid capacity. There are also four lines featuring multibonding capabilities with a total capacity of 28,000 tons per year. Two of these were imported and two were made in China. Latex bonding represents five lines with two imported and three made in China. The capacity of these five lines is 19,000 tons per year.
Table 1: Marketshare Of Airlaid Types
Thermal bonded airlaid nonwovens are widely used as interior absorbent core material in feminine hygiene items and baby diapers. Most hygiene products use thermal bonded instead of multibonded products in China.
Thermal bonded technology uses PE/PP core/sheath bicomponent fiber (about 30-40% in airlaid) as bond fiber to stick pulp. With bico fiber and latex spray systems, thermal bonded airlaid production lines can only run clear through a dry oven. This means the plant is cleaner and the product is bulkier and softer, making it ideal for use in the absorbent core of hygiene and medical products. Because the airlaid machine and the bico fiber are both produced in China, the price of thermal bond airlaid is not too high (about $1.75 per kilogram) and can be competitive.
Airlaid based on Chinese latex bonded technology is not as high quality as products made outside of China. Many customers of airlaid will not use the latex bonded airlaid products for wet wipes because of their poor wet intensity and this product has had difficulty competing with mutibonded nonwovens.
Elite, based in Shanghai, operates M&J Fibretech technology and has developed several types of latex bonded airlaid nonwovens. The products have four patterns and their intensity is good in both wet and dry applications.
With both thermal bonded and latex bonded technology, Jiexin is one of the biggest airlaid makers in China with seven production lines. Jiexin was operating six thermal bonded and one latex bonded lines with a total capacity of 18,000 tons per year, but the sale of three lines brought the capacity to 12,000 tons. Jiexin’s latex bonded airlaid has good wet intensity and thickness and can be used for wet wipes.
The most sophiticated lines in China are Fiberweb’s line in Tianjing and Qiaohong’s line in Nanning, both of which are based on Danish technology.
Table 2: Airlaid Manufacturers In China
Four or five Chinese companies can make airlaid production lines. These include Jiexin in Gangdong, Jiahan in Shanghai and Danyaun and Liaonin but investment in new lines has been halted because of an oversupply situation. This situation has made it difficult even for some thermal bonded manufacturers to sell all of their capacity. To combat this, some of these manufacturers have tried to convert their thermal bonded lines to latex bonded.
Absorbent Products Market
In the absorbents market, thermalbonded airlaid nonwovens are favored as core material for their bulkiness, softness and cost effectiveness. In China, 80-90% of core material is thermal bonded but the rest is mulitbonded, which does not have the same lint-free problem as thermal bonded but are more expensive.
Because it is not expensive to establish a thermal airlaid line, too many lines were established and now productivity is only 30-40%. The total ouput of latex bonded and multibonded is the same and productivity is 50-60%. It is said that BBA’s demand exceeds its capacity and the company has already announced plans to add a second line to its operations.
In China, the raw material for wet wipes is mainly spunlace, which has a 70% share. Other materials used in wipes are thermal bonded or air through nonwovens. Airlaid’s share is under 8-10% because wipes converters regard Chinese airlaids as lint-free and low wet intensity and therefore not appropriate for use as wipes.
Recently, some Japanese and Korean business units have inquired about the use of airlaid in food packaging but this market is just beginning.