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Case Study:Vistamaxx Propylene-Based Elastomers for New Soft Nonwovens Fabric

April 28, 2011

Vistamaxx propylene-based elastomers lead to new soft nonwoven fabric for high quality hygiene absorbent products

JOFO (Weifang) Nonwovens Company, one of China's premier nonwovens manufacturers, has introduced an innovative soft nonwoven fabric based on ExxonMobil Chemical's Vistamaxx propylene-based elastomers. The key to the success of this new soft fabric, which is well-suited for the manufacture of high quality top and backsheets used in diapers and napkins, is the balanced combination of soft touch, drape and mechanical properties that Vistamaxx delivers to polypropylene (PP) nonwoven fabrics.

The nonwovens industry in China has experienced significant growth in the last 20 years.The hygiene and medical markets are the largest users of nonwoven fabrics both globally (56%) and in China (43%). With such considerable growth opportunities, manufacturers of nonwovens fabrics are now looking for innovative solutions to introduce differentiated products to meet varied market needs. Enhanced soft touch, better fit and lower basis weight are the main benefits that consumers are looking for in the hygiene market. Of these benefits, soft touch is becoming increasingly popular as it reflects the level of comfort in a hygiene product that could ultimately influence a buyer's decision.

For many years, manufacturers added slip additives to PP spunbond fabric to improve the softness, but this solution cannot meet the requirements of consumers today. Carded PP and bi-component (BiCo) fabric are alternate soft nonwoven solutions at a much higher cost. As such, customers are eager to find a good but cost-effective soft solution.

"As one of the market leaders in the nonwovens industry in China, we try to utilize innovative technology to produce premium products for our customers. In particular, we are looking at developing a soft nonwoven product for higher tier hygiene customers as we believe that the market potential is very promising," said Julia Luo, Deputy General Manager, JOFO (Weifang) Nonwovens Company. "We had initially used a softness additive to modify the PP spunbond fabric.However, this solution delivered a slippery feel instead and did not achieve our desired softness performance. Moreover, it did not meet customer requirements for processability, drape and fit. Hence, we needed to explore other material solutions."

ExxonMobil Chemical first began its collaboration with JOFO Group in 2001 through the supply of ExxonMobil TM PP3155E3 polypropylene resin, which provides excellent spinnability and consistent product quality.With JOFO (Weifang)'s search for a soft solution, ExxonMobil Chemical then recommended the use of Vistamaxxpropylene-based elastomers, which have proven to provide an outstanding combination of soft touch, drape and mechanical properties to PP nonwoven fabrics.The softness of PP spunbond fabric is improved by adding Vistamaxx� propylene-based elastomers while tensile strength is maintained. In addition, the lean blend of Vistamaxx propylene-based elastomers with ExxonMobil PP3155E3 can be used as a drop-in solution in current spunmelt operations with little, if any, additional investment in facilities.

This lean blend application was developed and tested by ExxonMobil Chemical's nonwoven polymer experts at its Shanghai Technology Center, specifically targeted to meet the needs of the Asia Pacific market.

The trial of a formulation comprising Vistamaxx propylene-based elastomers and ExxonMobil PP 3155E3 resin was successfully completed and JOFO registered the brand name "SilkSoft" for its new soft nonwoven fabric.

"Adding Vistamaxx� propylene-based elastomers is cost competitive compared to other alternative market solutions based on BiCo or carded PP nonwovens. Due to its better tensile properties, it offers downgauging potential in the diaper top sheet by replacing widely used carded PP fabric. We believe it has great market potential," said Luo.

Today JOFO (Weifang) is promoting the "SilkSoft�" nonwoven fabric to major brand owners in China and overseas markets. Some have already chosen it for new diaper products, having received very positive feedback from consumers.

"Initially, we put the focus on backsheet and topsheet development to meet hygiene market needs. But, we are also in the process of developing soft nonwoven solutions for other applications, such as medical disposable products," said Luo. "This fabric is recyclable and the simple production process consumes less energy and generates less waste."

"SilkSoft" nonwoven fabrics are providing opportunities to expand our business and upgrade our product portfolio for the industry. We look forward to continuing our collaboration with ExxonMobil Chemical to develop more new product solutions to address the growing needs of customers around the world," said Luo.

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