Picture this scenario: It’s Saturday at 10 a.m. in a Shop Rite supermarket in New Jersey. In walk two new parents with their baby in tow. If you follow them down the baby care aisle you’ll see that they are looking for diapers that offer a good fit, high absorbency, natural materials that won’t harm their baby or the planet and a price tag that won’t break the bank.
This scene is also being played out in the personal care aisle by consumers seeking the same qualities in adult incontinence and san pro items. So, it’s no wonder that hygiene machinery specialists are edging each other to offer faster, more efficient, cost-effective systems to meet manufacturers’ demands for product enhancements for baby diapers as well as adult incontinence and san pro items.
While navigating a tough economic terrain, suppliers have found a silver lining—or at least a new impetus to try things differently. They are developing new equipment, offering retrofits to existing lines and using state-of-the-art technology to help producers meet cost and efficiency requirements while delivering product enhancements. These enhancements include thinner cores with higher superabsorbent concentrations and low or zero-waste baby diaper ear applications.
One company on a tear in hygiene machinery technology is Fameccanica. Founded in 1975, Fameccanica serves all sectors of the disposable hygiene market—feminine hygiene, adult and baby diaper and light inco. Fameccanica’s four plants are located in Italy, China, Brazil and Westchester, OH. The Westchester plant offers spare parts, technical assistance and sales support.
Thin Is In
With thick products as outdated as the automat, hygiene equipment suppliers are focusing their efforts on developing machines that are capable of running thinner material.
Fameccanica’s sales and marketing director Ettore Paolini said, “The trend in most of the geographical areas is to go thinner, that is, to increase the amount of SAP and reduce the amount of fluff. Our systems are capable of doing this and while still keeping a good core integrity and good quality of the diaper. This has been one of the most serious challenges in the past decade. Fameccanica has been working a lot to develop such a technology, thus being able to deliver many of those systems to the industry.”
Consumers in some of the developing markets have been slow to trust and accept thin diapers until recently, but that trend is changing now even in the most conservative areas. Customers in these markets, especially in Asia, are rapidly beginning to embrace thinner diapers, thanks largely to the educational efforts of the multinational consumer companies that show consumers they are just as effective as their thicker counterparts.
“A couple of years ago, consumers in emerging markets would not trust a thin diaper. Things are moving so fast. Today in Asia thin diapers are becoming a reality. The process that took several years in developed countries to get to a certain point is taking place now at an unbelievable pace in emerging countries. They are moving so quickly to make better products that even after only two years some products are already out of date,” said Mr. Paolini.
Make no mistake. As the market for incontinence products is growing by leaps and bounds, the multi-piece design diaper, especially for briefs is becoming dominant.
Famecannica offers technological solutions to produce multi-piece diapers with a rectangular (unshaped) chassis and elasticated (rectangular or shaped) ears. “This multi-piece diaper construction is ultimately reducing the cost of the product,” said Mr. Paolini.
Unlike a shaped diaper, the multi-piece concept consists of a straight chassis with the addition of rectangular or shaped front and back ears. “In this way, you can keep the same performance of the diaper and the same fit, but the cost is reduced because there are no trims (waste) going to the landfills as in the case of the traditional adult brief. In fact, the leg shaping process adopted for the adult brief causes the elimination of some material that goes to waste,” said Mr. Paolini.
Diapers with rectangular and shaped ears are popular in Europe and the Middle East, while in
North America there is a demand for both rectangular and shaped ears.
Another experienced hygiene machinery player, GDM SpA serves all segments of the disposable hygiene industry, with particular focus on high-speed baby diaper and adult incontinence production lines.
GDM offers converting machines with specific features for various market segments, such as entry level, highly flexible or extreme performance solutions. The company also offers end-of-line equipment and asset protection services.
Headquartered in Offanengo, Italy, GDM also has offices in Richmond, VA, Sao Paolo, Brazil, Suzhou, China and Pune, India. The company’s main business is concentrated in Europe and North America. Executives also noted the trend toward multi-piece diaper designs.
“We can clearly see a trend towards multi-piece products in adult incontinence business, together with the use of new, high performing materials, which are absorbent materials that are both fluff or non-fluff based, where the latter are typically obtained from a polymeric base in the baby diaper and feminine hygiene business,” said Giacomo Rinaldi, sales and marketing manager.
Mr. Rinaldi agreed with Mr. Paolini that multi-piece products are advantageous compared to traditional products because they reduce the amount of raw materials needed, and therefore the cost of the final product. “They virtually eliminate material scrap from processing, increase machine speed, provided that the constructor has high-speed capabilities and potentially differentiate the materials for diaper front and rear wing components,” said Mr. Rinaldi.
Japan-based Zuiko manufactures machines for baby and adult diapers, fem care hygiene (sanitary napkins and panty liners) and adult incontinence. Zuiko’s main markets include Asia-Pacific, North America, Central and South America, the Middle East, Europe and Africa.
According to Yumiko Koide, marketing leader, sales division, there is increased demand in the baby diaper sector in the Middle East and Africa.
In response, Zuiko offers the Z-Style machine. “It is a very reasonable and efficient manufacturing machine for baby tape diapers. It is a standard basic machine for producing baby tape diapers and still keeps a lid on costs. It is for customers worldwide who want to produce standard and good-quality products in the hygiene industry,” said Ms. Koide.
Acknowledging that consumers associate “made in Japan” with high quality as well as expensive products, Ms. Koide said Zuiko wants to change the pricey product image, while keeping the confidence in the quality of its machines. “We believe our machine is the only machine that offers quality and service that satisfies all customers in the world,” she said.
Hygiene equipment manufacturers are trying to catapult themselves to the front of the pack by responding to producers’ requirements to be eco-friendly.
“The fact that the diaper is thinner means that companies will save a lot in transportation and shelf space. When you produce a thinner diaper it means you save a lot on the carbon footprint that is generated by the logistics of the diaper,” said Mr. Paolini.
Going green is also important to Zuiko, not only to please customers but because the company believes that it has a corporate responsibility to meet in a world that is increasingly demanding sustainable products. “Zuiko always considers producing manufacturing machines that produce less-trim products. This is not only for our customers, but also required to meet the changing times. Companies must create an industry that answers the needs of the age,” said Ms. Koide.
GDM is also heeding the call to go green. “We offer sustainable solutions with different raw material combinations and different quantities of the raw materials as well as the use of more compact, low power absorbing solutions for web transportation,” said Mr. Rinaldi.
Mr. Rinaldi went on to say that only a machine that can cope with reduced, thinner materials and still deliver a consistent performance for optimal web handling and waste reduction can claim to work towards being sustainable.
In response to the demand for organic alternatives to traditional raw materials, GDM has engineered and delivered equipment that is capable of combining the use of cotton and high absorbing materials.
“Energy-efficient production and reduced carbon footprint, obtained by reducing the amount of energy to handle materials both within the converting machine and after it, delivers more compressed, compact products even when no advanced end-of-line equipment is available. More compact products imply less logistic costs for distribution and therefore less carbon footprint,” said Mr. Rinaldi.
Hygiene machinery specialists are also responding to players in the incontinence market who are intent on providing a better experience for consumers who are purchasing these products.
Mr. Paolini pointed out that the big players in the adult incontinence market want to make their customers more comfortable. “They want to manufacture products that create a different experience for consumers. They are trying to produce and create products that are easier and more convenient to use and provide a better fit. They are trying to distinguish inco products from institutional products provided by hospitals, so that consumers will buy them from retailers. They want more discreet products, products that work better and that are more appealing,” he said.
Speed Up, Costs Down
The 800-pound gorilla of hygiene machinery companies remains keeping costs down while running lines faster.
“In developed countries and in countries where the cost of labor is very high, the key to winning competition is to reduce labor and overall factory costs per diaper and to achieve that you have to go faster. Very fast machines are the answer to those markets where the competition is very high. Fameccanica’s portfolio includes high speed machines and we are working to get those machines even faster. We will be coming out with some news next year with some interesting new platforms for faster, more competitive machines,” said Mr. Paolini.
Chinese hygiene machinery manufacturer Xingshi is also focused on speed. The company specializes in high speed machines for baby diapers, sanitary napkins and adult diapers. The company’s markets include China, Southeast Asia, South Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Russia and America.
“We developed the first set of fully servo system sanitary napkin and baby diaper machine and stacker. Our machine offers high speed and high efficiency to meet the world’s advanced levels,” said Cici Lee, a company spokeswoman.
Flexibility is A Fave
In addition to speed, providing flexibility can also be a key differentiator for hygiene machinery specialists. “When it comes to serving some regions, the driver is not how fast you go, but how flexible you manage to be—for example, medium capacity lines which are designed to be very flexible and able to produce different product structures. We are working in two different directions. One direction is to create very fast machines that produce one product at a time with very high efficiency and very low waste. And the other direction is to create machines that are flexible enough to manufacture different product structures while reducing the amount of time needed for changeovers from size to size,” said Mr. Paolini.
Mr. Rinaldi agreed that offering flexibility is an advantage. “We judge the competitiveness of our innovations based on the advantage they can create for the customer. In this case, flexibility and output are connected. When a producer has to deal with an increasing variety of products, for example private label, then the machine's ability to adapt to different products’ specification arising from changing market demands can play a crucial role in protecting customers’ investment and increasing its return rate,” said Mr. Rinaldi.
GDM claims that its solutions are flexible because each process is associated with its own mechanical, electrical and pneumatical sub assemblies. “We have to rate our proposal based on the final outcome for the customer: a high speed solution that is very difficult to run may not always be the preferred choice compared to a medium-speed solution that has much higher operational consistency. In the end it's the net output, not the speed alone, that matters to producers,” said Mr. Rinaldi.
Ms. Koide seconded Mr. Rinaldi’s sentiments. “It’s not only the speed, customers tend to prefer the total-balanced manufacturing machine from the view points of quality and efficiency,” she said.
Out With The Old
As requests for multi-piece diapers and ultra-thin cores increase, hygiene machinery makers are responding with new machinery and retrofit kits.
“The demand for retrofit kits has been constant in the last four to five years. There’s an amount of business that is constant through the years and it may be switching from one feature to another. A few years ago the big things were the retrofit of diaper machines for the back and front ears for baby diapers. Now it’s going down a little bit because most of the machines in developed markets have been retrofitted and the new thing coming is multi-piece for adult incontinence and the thin cores,” said Mr. Paolini.
Hygiene machinery specialists appear unfazed when it comes to the effects of the lingering global recession.
“Fameccanica hasn’t been negatively impacted by the recession. What we have seen is that the big brands slowed down their investments while most of the regional or private label companies saw some growth in the same period, which substituted for the investment from the big brands. The company continued to grow during the recession periods. In 2009 and 2010 private labels gained. Next year we will see the private labels stopping their growth or the peak they had in the last couple of years and the brands picking up again,” said Mr. Paolini.
Mr. Rinaldi said the economic crisis proved to be more of an opportunity than a real threat to GDM, as the company showed customers how to save money through the reduction of what he described as “total cost of ownership.”
“Whether this would be accomplished through an advanced process control (allowing less raw material to be used) or by the flexibility to adapt the machine to changing product features, our customers had the chance to better appreciate the advantages of the GDM solution,” said Mr. Rinaldi.
GDM introduced a dedicated platform for various markets, including developing and emerging, private label, primary brands and local brands. “We also looked at the market arena not as a place where to sell mere equipment, but as a place where production capability had to be available. This implies a deeper involvement of GDM into the customer’s operation field so they can then focus on the highest value-adding activities such as product innovation and channel management,” said Mr. Rinaldi.
Commenting on the recession, Ms. Koide said, “We are facing a sudden appreciation of the yen at the present time, however, we keep in our mind the challenge of offering quality first."
Tactics For Success
Forming alliances with packaging companies is another tactic to ensure success in the hygiene machinery sector. Fameccanica’s success hinges on its ability to deliver the complete solution, from converter to packaging system. The company delivers packaging systems through an alliance with Optima Packaging in Germany, dubbed Paksis.
“We deliver machines to the industry under the Paksis name and are already delivering a high number of machines into the baby diaper and adult incontinence sector. We are about to launch our new machine for fem care products. It’s an integrated stacker and bag filling machine, ” said Mr. Paolini.
Headquartered in Osaka, Japan, Zuiko’s measure for success has the company operating an office and factory in Shanghai as well as an office in Chicago. “We are working efficiently. We have divided the roles: The headquarters in Japan serves as a control tower and main production facility. The Shanghai branch is for the production of reasonable products, especially in Asia. The Chicago office is for service and sales activity that our headquarters cannot cover geographically,” said Ms. Koide.
GDM improved its adult diaper platform with advanced features like zero waste and low trim ear applications. The company also introduced solutions for applying discreet products at high speeds with a no slip phase, with virtually no need to operate a manual size change. “We can deliver solutions that can shorten investment payback time, through material savings, increasing efficiency or waste optimization. GDM’s flexible machine construction allows for better investment protection in case of continuously and rapidly changing market demand,” said Mr. Rinaldi.
So where is the hygiene machinery market headed as we embark on a new year?
Fameccanica’s Mr. Paolini envisions growth will continue in the Middle East, North Africa, China and Latin America. “China is still a growing market and we will still see growth there. Latin America is also going to be a very interesting market for the next couple of years,” said Mr. Paolini.
Mr. Rinaldi believes that the true competitive advantage of diaper producers in the future will be their ability to control distribution channels and get closer to their customers. “Distribution is the segment of the industry value chain where the most bargaining power lies. Think of the increasing power that big retail companies have towards producers when deciding the shelf space and possibly the price range of products. Retailers are not really absorbing any of the costs generated by the current high raw material prices. This implies that, with diaper producers in need to focus more on effective ways to sell their products, more room will be available on the operational side of the business, whose excellence has traditionally been the basis for creating a competitive advantage. As machine producers, we believe that the companies who will focus on delivering repeatable, predictable and efficient production platforms (where the term platform is intentionally not limited to the machine alone but includes operational support) will also take advantage from being a partner to their customers and hence building success together.”
Mr. Rinaldi envisions that there will be an increase in cultural acceptance toward adult inco products. Producers need to focus on distribution and channel management to regain bargaining power in the value chain. “There will be an increased demand for production assistance services,” he said.
Ms. Koide expects growth will come from developing markets. “Most customers are considering producing anywhere in the world. They are looking for new places outside of their countries to expand their hygiene business, especially developing areas and countries. As for hygiene products, in developed countries customers like the "gorgeous looking" Japanese products. Now the hygiene industry is saturated with products that have functionality. They may switch from products that offer function to those that are good looking or unique,” she said.
Xingshi’s Ms. Lee insisted that the key to success for hygiene machinery manufacturers is continued innovation. “Innovation means risk, and we may result failure in return. We won't give up our efforts of pursuing innovation,” she said.
Mr. Paolini predicted that there will be some consolidation of players in the future. “In some parts of the world there will be some concentration of players. In certain areas today there are still a high number of companies producing. In the future this number will be reduced to a few because of the competition. Only the best ones will survive—the ones that will be able to make their production effective and efficient.”
Perhaps Mr. Paolini summed up the future of the players in the hygiene machinery market best when he said, “Nonstop innovation is our backbone. The principle on which we base all of our actions is delivering innovation and cost effective solutions to our customers. Fameccanica has been growing quickly because it has been able to meet the requirements and the needs of its customers. The secret to success is always the same: Listen to your customers and then try to satisfy their needs.”