North America’s two largest players—Concert Industries and Buckeye—had both committed to serious capacity expansions as had then BBA Nonwovens with a new line in Asia. At that time, the industry was speculating that all of this new capacity meant that the airlaid diaper core, once considered the holy grail for this technology, was finally going to become a reality. After all, where else would all of this new technology be applied?
Needless to say, the airlaid diaper core never became a reality except for in some swim pants and other specialty areas, and North American airlaid producers have faced some trying times in the past six years—idling lines and selling products at devastatingly low prices. For Concert, the result was bankruptcy and the eventual sale to a private equity fund, while Buckeye faced several years of losses in its airlaid business.
During the past year or two, however, this bleak situation has finally begun to brighten. Under new ownership, Concert resolved to exit unprofitable areas and lessened its output to meet market demand. Buckeye also balanced its output with demand and has focused on paying off debt and improving profits. (For our annual report on the airlaid market, turn to page 29.)
Add to this a focus on new, niche markets and the airlaid market is finally back on track. Already, Fiberweb (formerly BBA) has announced new lines in China and Italy and industry newcomer Danish Airlaid has begun its operation. Several European producers, who did not face the same overcapacity problem as North America, are expressing the need for additional capacity. However, they are examining their growth options with some trepidation, fearful of creating in Europe another overcapacity situation and they should be careful. No one wants to see European airlaid face the hurdles North America has for the past six years.