In 2008, China’s nonwovens industry witnessed a roller coaster-like rise and fall of raw material prices due to changes in currency exchange rates and international oil price fluctuation, affected by the U.S. sub-loan crisis and the impact of the financial crisis. The industry has also been severely challenged by declining exports and decreasing corporate profits. But, with the domestic macro-economy still growing in China, national income is improving and a series of government-sponsored favorable policies, the nonwovens industry has overcome serious difficulties and has also made new developments at the same time. Production levels have increased substantially. There has been new progress on production technology and equipment.
According to the survey statistics, in 2008, nonwovens production in China reached 1.3 million tons, the first time China nonwovens per capita consumption, of 1 kg., exceeded the global average, 0.92 kg. Of China’s total production, spunmelt nonwovens reached 678,000 tons, including 648,500 tons of spunbond nonwovens. Meltblown nonwovens production reached 29,500 tons. The production of needled nonwovens in the drylaid nonwovens category reached 325,000 tons; thermal bonded nonwovens production reached 68,000 tons; chemical bonded nonwovens production reached 89,000 tons and spunlaced nonwovens production reached 112,000 tons. Airlaid nonwovens production reached 50,000 tons. Wetlaid nonwovens production reached 12,000 tons.
Table 1 shows China’s nonwovens production levels for 2008.
In 2008, the total output of nonwovens had a growth rate of 17.1%, which was much higher than the GDP’s 9% growth rate during the same period. From 1978 to 2008, China’s nonwovens industry has been achieving an average annual growth rate of about 20%, which is higher than the average annual GDP growth rate of 9.8%.
Spunmelt nonwovens production represented 50.33% of the total output of nonwovens, which is higher than the average percentage of the world spunmelt nonwovens production. The production of spunmelt nonwovens grew more than 25% in 2008, including a 26% growth of spunbonded and 18% increase in meltblown. The main reasons for the rapid growth of output of spunbonded nonwovens are:
• Increased market demand for spunbond nonwovens in 2007. Several new spunbonding production lines were put into operation in 2008, including a 4.2-meter Reicofil IV 4.2 SMMS production line by Nantong Toray TPN Company, a 4.2-meter Reicofil IV SS dual-beam production line by Shandong Jo-Fo Company and other high yield equipments. Meanwhile, the technological breakthrough of domestic spunbonded equipment manufacturing in recent years, has caused the manufacturing costs of machinery to drop dramatically. The price of domestic spunbonded production lines is very low compared with imported equipment, resulting in dozens of new China-made spunbond lines, some of which are narrow lines, were used.
• The total output of Chinese drylaid nonwovens still had a significant increase in 2008 but because of the faster growth rate of spunmelt nonwovens, the proportion of drylaid nonwovens production in China temporarily dropped to 45%.
• Spunlaced nonwovens grew more quickly in 2008 with growth a rate of 21.74% because several of the imported six spunlace production lines in Yangtze River Delta in 2007 were in full operation in 2008, while the quality of China-made spunlace production line has been greatly improved. The improved quality and lower price also caused the domestic spunlace equipments to be more popular.
• Needlepunched nonwovens still achieved double-digit growth of 12%.
• Chemical bonded nonwovens grew 5.95%.
• The production of thermal bonded nonwovens declined slightly in 2008, mainly due to the reduced demand of hotmelt interlinings used in garments as well as certain hygienic uses.
• Production of stitch bonded nonwovens also declined slightly in 2008, mainly due to declined exports of footwear and a decrease of shoe materials consumption.
The annual production of airlaid and wetlaid nonwovens maintained a slight increase in 2008 and the market demand was stable. Fiberweb (Tianjin) Company added a new China-made airlaid nonwovens production line in the second half of 2008.
Main End-Use of Chinese-Made Nonwovens
In 2008, China issued a ban on the use of ultra-thin plastic film shopping bags, this greatly promoted the sales of nonwoven shopping bags.
There are many products in China with significant growth including:
• Packaging materials are growing 51.4%, largely because of the ban on the use of plastic film bags.
• Because of the growing demand of residents’ medical treatment, health care, the medical and health care and hygienic products grew 26.4%; the household cleaning materials grew 21.7%.
Because of the rapid development and application of special nonwovens products, the growth of other application products, which cannot be included in the existing classification, is particularly significant, growing 93.33%.
In 2008, the products with rapid growth included:
• Geosynthetics, 10.14%, higher than 2007.
• Roofing felt, 13.72%, higher than 2007.
• Filter Media, 13% higher than 2007.
The rapid growth of demand for industrial nonwoven product was driven by national infrastructure construction projects (roads, railways, water conservancy, architecture...) and environmental protection projects.
Because of the rapid development of China’s automobile industry, auto sales in 2008 reached 9.3 million, an increase of 6.7%. Nonwovens used for automotive interiors also maintained a growth rate of 9.43%.
Due to the financial crisis, exports declined influencing the production of coated substrates, interlinings, shoe materials and other products.
To actively cope with the financial crisis, the Chinese government recently issued 10 measures to expand domestic demand and to determine RMB 4 trillion investment schemes to promote the economic growth. The 10-industry revitalization plan is major good news. The domestic demand of nonwovens is rigid. The RMB 4 trillion-investment scheme is related to people’s livelihood, major water conservancy project construction, railways, highways, airports and other major infrastructure construction projects.
The improved environmental standards can promote the development of filtration and separation (air, liquid, water) sectors. The demand of industrial nonwovens is an enormous development opportunity for nonwovens industry of China. Geosynthetics, filter-media, automobile interiors and home decoration materials will also develop quickly. China’s aging population, improvement of urban and rural health care system, as well as the growing health needs of urban and rural residents will enable the medical, hygienic and household items to be developed more rapidly.
It’s expected that in order to satisfy the great demand of the development of the Chinese nonwovens industry, China will need more advanced nonwovens machinery, more high performance and varied synthetic fibers and more chemicals. Also, China needs more cooperation with foreign countries the production of nonwovens will continuously grow. It can be predicted that before long China’s nonwovens production will exceed 1.5 million tons per year.