Spunmelt Surge: Where Will It All Go?

By Karen McIntyre, Editor | February 16, 2011

The spunmelt market has made our jobs here at NONWOVENS INDUSTRY very easy these past couple of months. The many line investments announced between November and January have filled our breaking news pages for the past 10 weeks as the industry appears poised for unprecedented expansion.

So, this month when it came time to write our planned annual review of the spunmelt market, I thought the article would simply write itself—I was wrong.

Sure, there was a lot of material to work with—nearly everyone who is anyone in the spunmelt market is either adding a new line or has announced that they will add a new line in the next year or two. New lines are planned for Brazil, Peru, the U.S., China, Japan and Malaysia, showing how global this technology has truly become and reaffirming the strength of the hygiene market—the key consumer of spunmelt technology. Amidst this growth, however, it seems that views on the state of this market vary.

Some say that a 40% surge in global capacity is what the spunmelt market needs to handle growth in the adult incontinence market in developed areas and increases in all hygiene markets in developing regions, namely China. These experts claim that even if there is any capacity left over—after the hygiene market's hunger is satiated— the extreme efficiency of these modern, high speed lines will allow it to find a home in new market areas, some within the nonwovens realm and some not.

At the same time, an estimated 400,000 tons increase in just three years makes some industry watchers a little skittish and they worry that bleak times could be ahead for spunmelt manufacturers when it comes to pricing levels. These pessimists envision a period ahead of little investment, similar to the 2008- 2009 timeframe when machinery suppliers reported a near standstill in orders.

Still others believe that the markets will be able to handle all of the new capacity, which can offer lighter weights and higher speeds, but some older, underperforming lines will have to be permanently idled because older generation products won't be able to compete.

Either way, right now it's happy times in the spunmelt market, particularly on the machine side, with order books full for months, if not years. Whether or not this leads to a temporary overcapacity situation for spunmelt manufacturers, this expansion will boost nonwovens role in hygiene markets and elsewhere as producers focus on innovation to develop new products.

Speaking of innovation—two areas receiving a lot of attention recently are protective apparel and food packaging and this month NONWOVENS INDUSTRY focuses on new developments in these important markets. Beginning on page 26, Personal Protection: Still Tops On Everyone's Mind uncovers how the nonwovens industry is balancing the needs of comfort and performance in protective gear. Meanwhile, associate editor Sandra Levy talks to airlaid manufacturers about how they are displacing paper, foam and other materials in food packaging applications in Nonwovens in Food Packaging: It's a Wrap on page 50.

Karen McIntyre

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