Participation in the medical market is not easy. While at first glance, the market might seem to bear a number of similarities to the hygiene market—widespread use of spunmelt materials, demand for homogenous materials, a tendency toward disposability—manufacturers involved in medical say this market’s sophistication is at a much higher level than hygiene.
And, ever-changing standards have made the medical market more challenging than its sister hygiene market, a reason why not all spunmelt makers are targeting medical nonwovens. “Medical is something that companies need to truly be committed to,” said Dennis Norman, vice president of strategic planning and communication for PGI Nonwovens. “Hygiene companies that have wanted to dabble in medical have had a hard time because they do not have a dedicated medical strategy managed on a global basis with the right technologies and assets like PGI does.
“You could take a five beam line to run in hygiene but it’s difficult to make it for medical without the know-how to meet the different requirements, which is an expertise we provide,” he continued.
The result is that while most companies that make medical nonwovens also have thriving hygiene businesses, hygiene suppliers are not necessarily in medical. Additionally, pressures like constant cost cuts, new industry standards and the converting end’s migration into China have actually influenced some medical companies to exit the business. For instance, Fiberweb last year made the strategic decision to lessen its reliance on medical garments. While it still serves these markets from lines in Washington and Mexico, more of these operations are being dedicated to hygiene and has not made new investments to compete against newer, more sophisticated machines, according to reports.