Since bottoming out during the great recession of 2008, makers of wipes and wipers for the industrial market—including manufacturing environments, the food service industry, hospitality and industrial specialty areas have seen their businesses steadily pick up. This year industrial wipes makers pulled out all the stops to ensure that when they close the books on 2010, it will be a banner year.
From expanding their product lines, to focusing on innovation in products and packaging, to educating customers, to providing tools to help customers select the proper wipers for their applications, to forging sponsorships, to using natural fibers, industrial wipes suppliers are employing a plethora of innovative tactics to keep the momentum going.
Rory Holmes, INDA’s president predicted that the industrial market will grow slowly during the next few years, about 3% a year up to about $1.45-$1.5 billion in 2013. “Nonwoven products have about a 50% share of the industrial sector and could better compete without all the regulations applied to only nonwovens. Our 2008 numbers showed $670 million in nonwovens and about the same in laundered shop towels. This volume (for nonwovens) is expected to grow to $840 million in 2013, which is about 5% per year growth,” said Mr. Holmes.
Mr. Holmes said that nonwovens in the food service sector accounted for $120 million in 2008, while laundered food service towels contributed $245 million. “There is regular penetration by the nonwovens companies and we see this segment growing to about $140 million in 2013. Innovation and/or a breakthrough in this segment could speed up the penetration. Nonwovens already fulfill all of the healthcare, institutional and medical segments where we anticipate the products to account for $470 million in sales in 2013, up from $375 million in 2008,” said Mr. Holmes.
No doubt about it. Nonwovens manufacturers are finding innovative ways to catapult them to the front of the pack.
One company that is on a tear in the industrial nonwovens market is Kimberly-Clark Professional where it is differentiating itself from the competition is by marketing its nonwovens products through an affiliation with NASCAR and its crew chiefs.
On weekdays, you’ll find Todd Berrier, NASCAR crew chief of Jeff Burton’s No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing getting cars ready for a race weekend. Mr. Berrier and a staff of 10 tear the cars apart, replace the nuts and bolts and wipe up oil, dirt, grease and fingerprints. With four teams each taking two cars out to races per weekend, you’d expect the shop to be littered with filthy shop rags and stocked with a bunch of laundered rags, but Mr. Berrier and the teams use the Wypall brand of nonwovens wipers in the shop and also at the track. All told, NASCAR goes through some 250 cases of Wypall wipers a year.
Stephanie Rossignol, K-C Professional’s wipers and partnership products business leader said, “We believe the audience that participates in NASCAR generally uses wipers in their workplaces. We believe Wypall is the crew chief’s choice to make the cars high-performing, working machines.”
K-C Professional is the title sponsor of a NASCAR Nationwide Series race—the Wypall 200 in Phoenix on November 13. K-C Professional hopes the sponsorship will play a major role in letting consumers know about its industrial wiping products and how they can be used to clean the toughest, most stubborn messes. “This is an excellent fit for the brand and this sponsorship opportunity is central to our consumer outreach and brand-building efforts,” Ms. Rossignol said.
End users like Mr. Berrier appear pleased with the nonwoven wipers’ performance, ease of use and cost efficiencies.
“We use Wypall wipers where we used to conventionally use shop towels that were laundered all the time. Wypall absorbs better than regular shop towels and the way it’s packaged is very convenient. The dispensing works well because you get the wipers out as you need them. You can take them with you where you go. For what we do it works really well,” said Mr. Berrier.
The wipers are used to wipe water, oil, grease, dirt and fingerprints from the interior and exterior of the cars. Noting that NASCAR still uses a laundered uniform service, Mr. Berrier said, “But we don’t have to have bins of stuff everywhere and we don’t worry about getting them (rags) back on Wednesday. Everyone has a roll around cart for their tools and they have a box of wipers with them wherever they go. You can throw them away and don’t have to worry about picking up all your dirty stuff and putting them back somewhere to store and waiting for the following week to get them back. The people who supply our work shirts and pants supplied the shop towels for years. You don’t see red rags or laundered rags around here anymore,” said Mr. Berrier.
Wipes makers are being aggressive when it comes to educating customers about wipers and helping them select the right wiper for their particular application.
“The last two years have been tough for everybody. This year we’ve had some growth again. Sales have started to trend upward compared to last year and we have continued to see growth, especially with the wiper lines,” said Chris Iuzzolino, product manager of absorbents and wiping products for New Pig, a manufacturer of sorbent materials, wipes and rags for the industrial arena including chemical manufacturing, metal working, automotive, food production plants and fleet maintenance facilities.
New Pig’s private label wipes sales are growing in response to the company’s focus on educating its customers in its industrial products catalog. “Those products are typically featured in prime real estate in our catalogs, and we put a lot of time and effort into development and manufacturing of those wipes. We continue to add different unique packaging, put-ups and SKUs for those products to continue to grow that product line and put some emphasis around it. We have 16 pages dedicated to wipers in our full size catalog,” said Mr. Iuzzolino.
In order to help customers select the right product, New Pig rates its wipes based on a numerical system which helps categorize the wipers from light duty to very heavy duty applications. “Some people don’t know what they need. They’ll try different types of wiping materials. There’s airlaid, hydroentangled fibers and DRC materials,” said Mr. Iuzzolino.
New Pig also conducts focus groups and its sales force reaches out to customers to ascertain what difficulties they may be experiencing. “From those visits and calls and internal focus groups, we’ve built a selection process within our catalog pages to help them select the wiper material,” said Mr. Iuzzolino.
K-C Professional is also focusing on helping customers make selections from its range of Wypall wiper products, which includes limited use, L10 through L40, and extended use, X50 through X80. “They are differentiated for different tasks and different levels of use. We have a whole range of products, so depending on the task, we have a wiper that is going to be competitive from a price perspective,” said Ms. Rossignol.
For example, K-C Professional’s Wypall L wipers include a dairy towel to wipe off cow udders and a paper towel-like product, which is used at grocery store check-out counters. The company’s X70 wiper is used in delis and bakeries in stores like Wal-Mart, while its Wypall X80 products are used to clean parts of cars as they are getting ready to be assembled.
“Our customers’ needs will vary from department to department and what they need in a paint shop may differ from what they need in their maintenance shop and manufacturing floor. Maintenance shops tend to use wipes a lot for wiping off tools, parts and spills,” said Ms. Rossignol.
Another longstanding player, ITW Dymon which manufactures wipes for the industrial, institutional and hygiene markets is also focusing on educating customers about the benefit of its wide range of wipers.
A specialty chemical formulator for three decades, ITW Dymon launched Scrubs in a Bucket waterless hand cleaner in 1993 and currently offers 22 formulas under the Scrubs brand name. Among ITW Dymon’s innovative products is Scrub Stainless Steel Cleaner, a dual-textured meltblown product which provides a fine fiber on one side and a coarser fiber on the other side.
Chris Plotz, ITW Dymon’s development manager said, “Initially we had to sell people on the idea. People asked, ‘Why do you need this wonder rag?’ This was in a time and age before people understood that wet wipes are convenient, they are money and labor saving and there are all kinds of positives.”
As part of its education strategy, ITW Dymon created a “Scrub Crud” demo using an aerosol product the company developed that contains asphalt, road tar, grease and oils. “You put it on your skin and with a couple of swipes of our hand cleaner it’s gone,” said Mr. Plotz.
Disposable Versus Laundered
While nonwovens have made inroads in the industrial market, makers of nonwovens wipes aren’t taking any chances. They are aggressively touting the advantages that they believe disposables offer over laundered rags.
K-C Professional has a program dubbed “Exposed” which is aimed at companies that use rental shop towels. Emphasizing that the rental shop towel market is the largest part of the wiping market, Ms. Rossignol said, “Companies don’t realize that the ‘clean’ towel they think they are getting isn’t really that clean. Once they understand this they are more apt to be concerned about and aware of the problems associated with rental shop towels. We want them to understand what is truly in the product they are receiving from the rental shop towel company. In most cases you will find they are not very clean products—they have residual chemicals that could be dangerous to workers. They could have shards or metal shavings in them. You are not necessarily getting back the same rental shop towels you previously used. You could be getting them from another company, which used them for a different kind of application. We believe the biggest advantage of disposable wipers is that you are getting a clean, safe, consistent product every single time as well as a product that was engineered to do the task that you are performing with the wiper,” said Ms. Rossignol.
Mr. Iuzzolino took Ms. Rossignol’s thoughts one step further. “The biggest advantage with single use wipers is that you are getting a clean, new wiper each time for your wiping application so it is less likely that you are recontaminating or cross contaminating a surface. Studies show that a lot of times when rags are laundered there’s still trace amounts of heavy metals, petrochemicals, and even metal solids such as shards which could cross or recontaminate a surface you are trying to clean.”
Mr. Iuzzolino insisted that since laundered rags are thrown into a batch process to be washed, foreign contaminants from another facility’s rags may be reintroduced into the process. He further warned that if a laundering facility gives you 100 rags and a company returns 50 for laundering, they may be charged for the additional 50 rags.
Ms. Rossignol agreed that there may be hidden fees associated with the use of laundered rags. “Some people think of the rental charge as a flat fee, but there tend to be other charges, such as environmental and lost towel charges. Sometimes you get charged for lost towels when you might not have lost any of the towels,” she said.
To critics who argue that laundered products are more ecofriendly than single-use wipers, Mr. Iuzzolino countered, “When you wash something you are creating a waste stream that is being introduced back into the environment. If they are doing a solvent washing process, they are creating a solvent that still needs to be disposed of or in water washing processes there are contaminants released into municipal water systems. They are still generating a waste. At some point in time those rags are no longer reusable because they’ve been used so many times—they become shredded so they have to be disposed of too.”
Mr. Plotz said that he believes the chemical process to make rayon laundered rags is as energy intensive as making a polypropylene product or polyolefin substrate. “The bigger thing than the manufacturing, weaving and washing is driving it back and forth, shipping it out to someone and shipping it back in,” said Mr. Plotz, adding that there is also the potential for a fire when transporting laundered rags because they may have been used to clean up alcohol and other flammable solvents.
When it comes to advancements in substrates for wipers in the industrial setting, combinations of synthetic fibers and cellulose fibers are becoming dominant.
“We’ve seen an increase in substrates within the hydroentangled fiber type products, which are a combination of synthetic fiber and a cellulose fiber. With hydroentangled products you get excellent strength but you also get the absorbency because you have the cellulose fiber married to a synthetic fiber. We’ve seen a lot of growth from our double recreped cellulose product, DRC,” said Mr. Iuzzolino.
Pointing out that when a cellulose material goes through a recreping process it provides more softness, strength and absorbency than a traditional airlaid material, Mr. Iuzzolino said, “Airlaid cellulose was an industry standard for a long time until DRC was developed. DRC gives you really good hand softness. It’s great for wiping surfaces, but it’s also soft enough to wipe grease or oil on hands or face. In industrial settings such as an automotive or steel manufacturing plant, it’s fairly warm inside and an employee may be around oil spray or mist in the air which gets on their face, hands and arms. DRC is an excellent product due to that softness to allow it to be used on your body too.”
Based in Germany, Sandler AG is also making headway in the industrial market. The company uses a wide range of production technologies and markets its materials for the automotive, filtration, construction, industrial and household wipes sector.
For industrial cleaning Sandler offers sawatex substrates for dry and wet wipes that are moisturized with cleaning lotions or solutions. The company offers product variants which can be used for cleaning glass and metal as well as substrates for all purpose wipes. The wipes substrates can be impregnated with surface-active agents, such as oil or wax. “We do supply wipes substrates made of 100% viscose. The extremely absorbent 100% viscose qualities are available from 40–120 gsm, in a plain version or apertured for an even greater dirt holding capacity. These wipes substrates guarantee optimum fluid absorption. Products in our portfolio are made from lyocell and we have substrates that are made of 100% polyester or 100% polypropylene. With a wide range of other suitable fiber blends, these materials cover a multitude of applications,” said Ulrich Hornfeck, Sandler’s vice president of sales, logistics and purchasing.
Another advancement in fibers for the industrial sector is
Fibertect CS (Cotton Silking), a new cotton carbon nonwoven distributed by First Line Technology and manufactured by Hobbs Bonded Fibers. Applications include natural gas and gas decontamination.
Amit Kapoor, president of First Line Technology explained, “There are vents that have relievers that blow out natural gas. To prevent environmental leakage they can drape any kind of gaskets that might be leaking or any kind of seals with Fibertect in a larger format such as a 24 square inch piece of fabric. Fibertect will absorb the gas bi-products and anything toxic. The outer material is polyester or cotton. We needlepunch activated carbon into the material and the activated carbon will absorb any kind of chemical warfare agent, chemicals, or toxic industrial chemicals, and it will contain it within the carbon. It won’t release it so there’s no off gasing of the material. This is a great tool for petroleum companies because they can absorb any kind of gases, in a liquid or gaseous form that could cause harm. We can make it in large pads, a hand wipe format and a large drapeable cloth.”
Environmental concerns are increasingly impacting product development trends and the use of natural fibers is gaining momentum.
Switzerland-based Norafin is active in several industrial areas including construction (roofing membranes, insulation material) composites and industrial wipes. In the industrial area Norafin has recently focused on the composite sector.
“Composite structures made of nonwovens can be used as roofing membranes and windmills,” said Eveline Salem-Geser, marketing manager for Norafin. “Due to the material's natural characteristics and the ecological benefits, we have ventured into flax fiber processing and introduced the material into our hydroentangling process. The flax fiber is very robust and durable, has a relatively low weight and good vibration absorbing properties, which offer many benefits. Industrial nonwovens made of flax can be used as components in composites. In addition to the positive fiber characteristics they offer a great deal of advantages for various applications, such as construction, wind energy or packaging, thanks to the nonwovens’ texture and properties which includes a smooth surface and wood-like optical appearance.”
Sustainability, a trend that has taken off in other nonwovens sectors is becoming dominant in the industrial sector. In response, companies are starting to process natural fibers.
Ms. Salem-Geser said, “For many industry partners today, it is very important to work on new functional and environmentally friendly product solutions to satisfy the needs of their own customers as well as the demands of the market. Sustainability and ecofriendliness have become more and more important. Norafin has started to process natural fibers that are biodegradable and offer nonwovens made of natural fibers to the industrial sector as an alternative to today's existing materials. Taking into account customers’ requirements, the demand for nonwovens made of natural fibers is clearly growing. Of course, the advantages of nonwovens always depend on the customers’ needs and the final application. One advantage of the nonwoven used is its surface characteristics (e.g. improved dirt absorbing properties) or the grip of the material as well as the extraordinary MD:CD (machine direction/cross direction) ratio Norafin can offer.”
Being environment friendly is also a key focus for K-C Professional. In September 2010, K-C Professional launched a line of 40% post consumer recycled fiber Wypall L30, L40 and X60 wipers. Ms. Rossignol said, “We are seeing early adapters of these wipers in government, education and some manufacturing facilities. Education and government have been on the leading edge of environmental issues and they are now moving to a new category of wipers. Previously, they had mainly been focused on chemicals, towel and tissue products. They are now focusing on wipers. Until recently, manufacturing hasn’t had as much of a push to us or demand for recycled content products. We are bringing this recycled fiber Wypall wiper to them because they actively asked for this from a towel and tissue perspective and a chemical perspective. We’re being proactive around our environmental proposition for wiping in these markets.”
The wipers contain up to 35% more sheets than the standard package, which means there is less packaging waste. “We also have 100% recycled packaging,” said Ms. Rossignol.
Sandler is also embracing sustainability. Dr. Hornfeck said, “Sandler is living a holistic approach which encompasses every aspect of business life—from the visions of corporate management to the organization of the company through to its responsibility for and commitment to its surroundings. Many facets, which were characterized as sustainable economic management during recent years, have been practiced and lived at Sandler for many years. For the first time, these activities are now comprehensively and systematically documented. As one of the first companies in the region, Sandler recently published a Corporate Social Responsibility report. In this brochure, the nonwovens producer documents its approach to corporate responsibility for a sustainable development which exceeds the mere fulfillment of legal stipulations.”
From a product standpoint, in 2007, Sandler began focusing on environmentally friendly production in the wipes sector with its “Less is Best to Nature” new product series. “By means of ongoing process optimization Sandler succeeded in reducing the consumption of raw materials in production and ushered in new product standards featuring consistent quality and functionality. We are also increasing the share of natural resources in our raw materials. More eco-friendly products are not only an issue in the wipes market. In all market segments ecofriendliness as well as the preservation of resources are increasingly gaining importance. In segments such as the automotive and construction markets the recyclability of our 100% single-polymer materials, made of PET for example, is a vital criterion,” said Dr. Hornfeck.
Premoistened wipers that can be used in certain niche applications such as surface disinfecting and cleaning wipers for the industrial market is another trend that is gaining traction.
“There are wipers that are premoistened with degreasing solutions for cleaning surfaces or your hands. There’s also ones designed for metal cleaning like stainless steel. We’ve seen that specialization in the industrial marketplace. If you buy a dry wiper and have to dip it in or spray a degreaser on a surface and wipe, then you are buying both products. If you marry those into a premoistened wiper the company only has to buy the premoistened wiper because it has the cleaning agent impregnated into that,” said Mr. Iuzzolino.
Mr. Iuzzolino predicts that as companies try to reduce the volume of chemicals they use and the amount of waste they are generating there will continue to be an uptick in specialized premoistened wipes in the industrial market, much like there has been in the consumer market. “There’s more available on the market, the technologies have gotten better as far as the substrates being used and there are dispensing options. The same thing will follow suit with the industrial market. You’ll see more folks looking to do that as they try to reduce their inventory levels and try to become greener and try to reduce the amount of waste they are generating,” said Mr. Iuzzolino.
Packaging for industrial premoistened wipes is also showing signs of mimicking consumer wipes packaging. “They are smaller and can be placed on a workbench or toolbox,” said Mr. Iuzzolino.
Crystal Ball Predictions
So where is the nonwovens market for industrial applications headed in the future? One area that appears ripe for growth is the health care sector.
“Over the last year the biggest thing, considering we’ve had some economic issues, has been disinfectants and sanitization products. N1HI was a humongous deal across the board in nonwovens,” said Mr. Plotz.
He continued, “Our facility ran night and day for awhile during N1H1. Purell was on allocation and people were scrambling to find a way to combat H1N1 in their institutional and industrial facilities. Disinfectants are here to stay. People have a heightened awareness of bugs in the workplace. If someone gets sick you’ve lost a valuable resource, much more today than in the past. Our products remove biofilm from your skin. Our towels are texturized so when you rub them on your skin. Not only does it take the cross contamination aspect out of it, but it removes the blood, pus and everything you’ve touched in a day. MRSA, C-difficile, germs are in most cases hard to kill or have resistance to older technologies. We’re looking at what’s the next step, how do we do this in a safe way or a way we can combat MRSA. MRSA continues to be a huge push for us for product lines.”
Ms. Rossignol anticipates that makers of wipes will have to respond to changes in manufacturing. “Wiping in general is getting a little cleaner. Manufacturing is getting a little cleaner, so in developing new and innovative solutions for manufacturing environments we have to take into account the changes taking place in manufacturing today. Equipment and processes are becoming cleaner and more efficient and our new wiping products are designed to address and respond to these changes.”
Susan Stansbury, of wipes consultancy, Converting Influence, offered this view of the future: “Wiper converters are not only adding highly productive equipment, they are increasingly providing more choices in folding, additives and packaging. Products may be stacked, folded in many sizes, interfolded for pop-up convenience, perforated for roll dispensing and packaged in various materials and configurations. These add-on capabilities are driven by ever-more user convenience factors in terms of dispensing and performance.”
Mr. Plotz envisions there will be a strong need for industrial nonwovens in the wind industry. “They are probably going to put up 40,000 windmills in this country in the next year and a half. They are 200 to 400 feet tall, have three blades and each blade weighs 1600 pounds. The blades comes out of a mold which has a gel cote so that the next time they make a windmill blade it pops out. It’s easier to sand by hand than to make a whole new mold. Industrial wipes comes in after they sand. There’s a tremendous amount of sanding and finishing work that goes on. They use wipers to remove all the dust, debris and any other contamination such as the gel cote from the surface prior to giving it a nice white coat,” said Mr. Plotz.
Rick Jezzi, consultant at A.D. Jezzi & Associates believes the industrial market for nonwovens will grow, but slowly. “This is a mature markets phenomena—this disposable wipe thing. Emerging markets are not there. They may be there on medical and consumer antimicrobials for health reasons, but they are not there on wipes to clean bathrooms or wipes in a machine shop or on a construction site. They’ll use what they’ve always been using because of cost. You’re looking at a mature market phenomena that is going to be slow. As far as innovation, you’ll still see niche applications develop but not with the frequency we’ve seen before.”
Mr. Jezzi believes that biodegradability is a trend that will become even more evident. “We are seeing biodegradable becoming much more popular. In the whole wipes category—be it industrial, medical, and consumer, in the next five years you’ll see the advent of biodegradable polymers, be it a polylactic acid or polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHA). You are going to see these types of polymers become more prevalent and used more in industries based on economics. The green polymers and certain chemical families are going to be affordable and will drive the replacement of the polyolefin and polyester based polymers used today in industries. The economics are getting attractive. If you take your crystal ball and do a ‘what may be possible scenario,” they could be cheaper than polyolefins if polyolefins stay as high as they have been. I believe that corner to be turned. You’ll start to see green biodegradable nonwovens penetrating every aspect of the nonwoven spectrum,” said Mr. Jezzi.
Mr. Kapoor predicted that there will be more integration of different nonwoven technologies. “For example, nonwoven cotton being combined with nonwoven carbon to be needlepunched together to create Fibertect’s new product. There are other nonwoven technologies and a lot of nonwoven products that can be combined to develop a new nonwoven material that can be used in the industrial segment,” he said.
Dr. Hornfeck envisions an even brighter future for nonwovens in the industrial wipes market. “In the industrial wipes market, nonwoven substrates offer the possibility of creating customized product solutions, owing to the large number of combinations of raw materials and web forming and bonding processes. With additional refinement technologies such as structuring or aperturing, the surface of the wipes substrate can be enlarged, thereby enhancing the dirt holding capacity. Printing or embossing designs offer the possibility of distinguishing the products from the competition.”