Oh Baby!

By Ellen Wuagneux, Associate Editor | January 3, 2007

disposable hygiene machinery producers strive to maintain flexibility, bump up performance and lower costs

Like everywhere else in the nonwovens industry, the hygiene machinery sector is feeling intense pressure to simultaneously increase performance levels and lower costs. “The hygiene machinery market is becoming more aggressive everyday,” observed Davide Viola of Italian baby diaper machinery specialist M.D. Viola. “High raw material costs and the state of the economy are increasing the necessity to invest in new developments in order to increase the performance of machinery and products.”
Market conditions are not bright,” agreed Guido Conio, marketing manager for Italian producer GDM SpA. “Margins are very tight and only companies that can innovate and constantly present the market with more competitive solutions are able to survive.” He added that GDM has made a name for itself as a company that constantly innovates and offers its customers solutions that enable them to upgrade their product competitiveness by lowering costs and increasing performance.

For Lugano, Switzerland-based RML, Raynworth Marketing Limited, innovation is imperative. “Better performing new materials, cost savings and innovative products are the primary goals of all players,” commented Giorgio Biancardi, managing director. “Both global and local converters are investigating these possibilities all the time.”

Andrea Allar, sales manager for machinery supplier BHT Bicma Hygiene Technologie GmbH, pointed to the retail channel as a particularly challenging area. “Price pressures on manufacturers are fiercer than ever for all retail products. Only for products with institutional distribution channels, such as bed underpads or adult diapers, this trend is not yet so strong.”
Beyond performance and price, speed is also a key factor in this ultra-competitive arena. “Our major challenge is to give answers to our customers in no time in order to compete quickly in the diaper sector,” said Mr. Viola.

Not only do producers need to respond quickly, they must also be as flexible as possible to answer
ever-evolving demands for differentiation. “The challenge is to produce customized solutions while ensuring the performance and quality of standard solutions at the same price,” explained GDM’s Mr. Conio. “The market is becoming increasingly segmented and manufacturers are constantly seeking more product niches and ways of distinguishing themselves. This translates into constantly new production lines tailored to specific needs. Maintaining flexibility and high performance levels at competitive costs is the key to success.”

And, it’s not just the baby diaper market that’s experiencing troubled times—the adult incontinence and femcare markets are also facing uncertain fates. As Bicma’s Ms. Allar observed, in Western Europe, fem care and even light inco production are being put into question by many companies who are active in other, more attractive business fields. “The trend to discontinue manufacturing fem care products due to lack of profit was noticable in 2006. Concerning light incontinence, the reluctance of suppliers to enter this market despite promising volume growth is mainly due to non-profitable margins on the finished product when distributed through retail,” she explained.

Creative Measures

Such intense pressure has forced hygiene machinery producers across the globe to use all of their creativity to protect profit margins and stay in business. For many producers, upgrades are the name of the game, and if this can be achieved without substantial investment, all the better.

At M.D. Viola, an upgrade kit as well as several new applications for baby and adult diaper products have been introduced. “We have developed a special kit suitable for most of the diaper machines in the market in order to upgrade the actual product without investing in a completely new machine,” remarked Mr. Viola. The new kit is available for frontal tape with register drawings, cloth-like or plastic diapers with register drawings, rear and front wing application (anatomic or sinusoidal cut) and for baby and adult elastic ear diaper machines. “Many changes have occurred to diaper products in the last year and we have had excellent feedback from customers that, thanks to machine upgrades, orders have increased and they have been able to maintain a strong position in the diaper market.”

For GDM, creative thinking has led to the new Matrix 300 meter per minute adult incontinence system, which recently began production. The system is able to make both traditional all-in-one briefs and belted products. “This represents the best compromise for introducing a new type of product without having to risk investing in a dedicated line and without having the required demand level already available to absorb production,” said Mr. Conio.

What’s New?

One key product trend in the baby diaper market is a continued preference toward elastic ears. According to Mr. Viola, these components are designed to increase the comfort of the diaper and fill the gap between old and new diaper styles.  BHT Bicma is also witnessing this trend and plans to roll out an applicator for elastic diaper ears in different concepts and shapes during the first half of 2007.

Another baby diaper component continuing to attract attention is the core. “The trend is toward increased absorbency in baby diaper cores,” observed Bicma’s Ms. Allar. “Alternative core concepts are being developed with high SAP amounts, new SAP types and decreased fluff weight/thickness.” She added that, as a specialist in fluff forming concepts, Bicma has developed interesting technology to meet these trends.

GDM is also paying close attention to the core of the diaper. The company recently installed its first Matrix Baby 350 m/min (700 ppm) lines with specific technological solutions for the core formation area. According to GDM, the lines—which feature ultrasonic bonding capabilities— are able to produce the most advanced children’s diapers on the market and are second to none.

Also new at GDM is the Matrix 300 m/min feminine hygiene line, which was specifically designed for private label manufacturers. The line can produce more than 60 different products, featuring various types of topsheets, cores and secondary topsheets. Product changeover is achieved by changing the web thread without having to replace any production process parts. “This makes it easy and quick to switch from one product to another and enables PL manufacturers to cater precisely for the market demand of the moment,” said Mr. Conio.

New technology at Bicma includes a complete production program for baby and adult diaper machines and rebuilds, which was introduced in 2006. “The program is based on our own concepts and developments and Bicma’s strong experience in servodrive technology and electronics,” commented Ms. Allar. The company is also focusing on applicators for elastic foam for the sides of light incontinence products. Short-cut foam pieces are applied and stretched from the starting point up to the end without any flat areas. Bicma also offers applicators for elastic foam for baby and adult diaper cuffs, instead of lycra strings, and an Easypack trifolder/single-wrapper for elastic light incontinence products.

Just being unveiled by  RML  is its RML model .007-450-BD baby diaper converting line. Designed to handle basic or premium features, the system has a production output speed of 320 pieces/minute and a production efficiency of 85% with 2.5% waste. The machine produces diapers in sizes small through extra large, according to client specification, and in various product configurations, such as poly backsheet or laminated (nonwoven plus film); pulp core plus SAP; tissue/nonwoven; and frontal tape plus side tapes. For premium diapers, the machine can produce leg cuffs, elastic waist bands and acquisition layers. Additionally, the new RML diaper line features a double pulp reels stand, a saw mill for treated and untreated pulp, a defibration chamber, drumforming and an SAP volumetric dosing unit.
In other news from RML,  the company’s partner Delta, an Italian machinery manufacturer, is introducing the Delta Mod 006 this month. The system will manufacture new adult incontinence products with a patented fastening system. “This  innovative diaper shape provides a level of comfort and hygiene unknown in respect to traditional all-in-one products with lateral flaps,” stated Mr. Biancardi. Until it begins prodution for a major European distributor at the end of January 2007, the line  can be seen at the Delta plant.

Going Global

As predicted, globalization has spurred growth for hygiene machinery in emerging markets, particularly in fem care and baby care products. In addition to China and India, specific areas of interest are Eastern Europe (including Russia and Turkey), the Middle East and Brazil. On the other hand, globalization has also brought on consolidation of production equipment within companies that have several plants worldwide. This caused an investment pause in 2005 and 2006; however, new investments are expected in 2007, especially in new technology concepts and specific upgrades.

For GDM, globalization has helped play a role in the company’s increasing focus on the South American region. GDM has moved the production of certain parts and entire product lines to its Brazilian facility. “This way we are able to better cater to the South American market, which has been very active  in recent years. We can also reduce product costs without sacrificing quality and performance,” said Mr. Conio.
Looking to the Asia-Pacific region in the coming years, Bicma expects some products to be imported from Asia and no longer be manufactured in North America or Europe. “But this trend will not affect all product types,” predicted Ms. Allar. She added that the growing industry in the Asia-Pacific region is causing shortages and price increases of basic materials such as steel for the machines.