Filtration: Focus of Many

By Karen McIntyre, Editor | November 11, 2011

Vast in the number of markets it serves and types of nonwovens technologies it uses, the filtration market has been the subject of much attention in recent years as older players broaden their scope and newcomers enter the fold.

Vast in the number of markets it serves and types of nonwovens technologies it uses, the filtration market has been the subject of much attention in recent years as older players broaden their scope and newcomers enter the fold.

Air or liquid. Baghouse or cartridge. Meltblown or wetlaid. Carbon or fiberglass. There is no shortage of choices for companies looking to do business in the filtration market. Not only are there many filtration markets, the technology choices from both the nonwovens process and the raw material types are vast. Add to this the fact that this is one market where people seem willing to spend their money, and it’s no wonder why it continues to constantly attract new players.

“Global sustainability requirements for lowering energy use have directly or indirectly driven increased demand for cleaner, more energy efficient and longer-life solutions,” says Angelika Mayman, global business development manager for Hollingsworth & Vose.
With more interest being paid to fresher air, more efficient fuel or cleaner drinking water, filtration media are not only becoming more sophisticated, they are fetching higher prices in the marketplace. Consumers are placing a premium on these products and the result is a rapid rate of innovation within the filtration market. From fine fibers to nanotechnology to charged fibers, new technologies are all over the place in filtration, expanding nonwovens’ scope in this market.

According to data furnished by INDA, Association of the Nonwoven Fabrics Industry, growth does continue for nonwovens within filtration even in economic downturns. While dry applications, led by interest in heating, ventilation and air conditioning applications, continue to lead growth, the need for cleaner drinking water as well as fuel and blood applications is boosting sales on the liquid side of the spectrum.

Helping this trend is the fact that consumers usually place more stock in clean air or water than in their economic concerns, meaning that many markets for filtration are recession-proof. While consumers might wait a little longer between filter changes when times are tough, there is a definite limit to how much they’ll sacrifice.

New to the fold
Totowa, NJ-based Precision Custom Coatings (PCC) just entered the filtration market a few years ago as part of its expansion into more industrial-focused markets. For the most part, the company, whose roots are in industrial coating and apparel, has concentrated on qualifying itself as a contender in the wire-based pleated air filter market including the industrial, commercial and retail segments.

According to David Reamon, head of PCC’s filtration business, entry into the filtration market has been
tricky, taking a good 18 months to get exposure and qualify its products. However, this process allowed PCC to design filter media that – in performance– are equal to or greater than anything else on the market.

“With any new business, there is a trial and error process,” he says. “But, it seems the filter manufacturers market is developing a good feeling about us as a supplier. It’s not simply just a matter or proving yourself, but being able to repeat it. We have very successfully done that and we are doing that.”

DuPont is another nonwovens veteran who more recently has entered the filtration segment. Its Nomex KD is a filtration medium that combines the company’s Nomex and Kevlar performance fibers in a unique nonwoven material. It is suited for high temperature applications such as asphalt production and cement clinker coolers.

According to public affairs manager Cathy Andriadis, DuPont has teams focused on specific filtration applications where high performance filtration is needed for either protecting people and the environment, and these teams are working with industry leaders in these targeted applications to develop, qualify and supply specialty high performance materials.

“We feel the targeted segments in filtration are important to our businesses and continue to develop high value in use materials,” she says.

While specifics cannot be revealed, Andriadis says the company recognizes some specific liquid filtration applications for critical processes, environmental challenges and improving filtration throughput/life as its leading targets.

“DuPont does have a competitive advantage in filtration applications due to a broad area of science core competencies, wide materials portfolio and our engineering capabilities,” she adds. “We remain focused on specific applications where these areas can deliver high value-in-use protection.”

Going global
As Asia ramps up its infrastructure, better filtration devices have become a necessity. With this trend sure to continue, nonwovens makers targeting filtration are investing rapidly in the region. In the past 12 months, H&V, Ahlstrom, Freudenberg and Andrew Industries are just a few of the companies expanding in the East, looking to support current customers heading there and attracting new ones.

A longtime leader in the filtration market, H&V has continued to focus on expanding its product offerings while broadening its global footprint. Recent investments include a new line at its Suzhou, China, facility, a new joint venture operation in India, additional glass capacity in the U.K., and a new European meltblown line. These investments allow “H&V to manufacture more products locally, widen our local portfolio of offerings and also create more products to meet specific needs,” Mayman says.

In June, H&V said it would form a joint venture with Nath Group to build a new mill in India. This new site will be able to make engine filter media as well as selected products in the HVAC filtration market in response to demand for high quality filtration products in the country. Also in Asia, H&V is adding a new paper machine able to make filter media for engine and industrial filtration applications. H&V has operated the plant in Suzhou since 2008.

Ahlstrom has also had a filtration presence in Asia for some time but its priorities there have shifted in recent months. The company sold its Wuxi, China-based dust filtration assets to Andrew Industries as part of a global exodus from this business but it continues to operate a site in Binzhou, which it acquired from Shandong Puri Filter and Paper Products in September 2010. “As Asia remains one of our key strategic regions, the acquisition of Shandong Puri Filter and Paper Products, which was confirmed in September 2010, has strengthened our position as a global leader in filter media manufacturing,” says spokeswoman Noora Blasi. ”The operation has gone well, and now, with operations in all the main regions, we are well positioned to serve our customers with global reach with local assets.”

Meanwhile, Andrew Industries, in addition to its Ahlstrom acquisition, has been beefing up its Chinese dust filtration business, called China Felt, for the last several years and is reporting 10-15% growth in this arm of its business, despite fierce competition. “The demand for dust filtration products continues to grow and new competitors have entered the market in the past couple of years,” says John Lewis, president of U.S.-based Southern Felt, an Andrew subsidiary.

Beyond dust filtration, executives hope the Wuxi assets will allow it to venture into some liquid filtration markets. Additionally, the company plans to add some needlepunching operations to the site to broaden its supply base in China.

Beyond China, the group is also establishing an Indian facility. While this site won’t make nonwovens initially—but will instead focus on roll good distribution and converting—eventually needlepunching capabilities will be added.

Rasing the bar
In addition to geographical expansion, new product development is a source of triumph for many filtration media providers. Lydall Performance Materials, Manchester, CT, USA, continues to grow its sales thanks to its ability to react to shifts in demand, particularly in power generation, commercial applications and industrial areas.

The company’s Arioso high performance air filtration composite media are found in high efficiency fume extraction filters. The filters are used to remove fine particulate matter, which is contained in smoke and fumes generated by laser/plasma cutting and welding operations. The filters made with Arioso are designed to remove even the finest particles to provide cleaner air discharge in the workplace and in the environment.

H&V is also blazing a trail with new products. Its NanoWeb fine fiber technology continues to be refined and enhanced, allowing the company to produce finer fiber diameters with increasingly narrow fiber diameter distribution ranges, according to Mayman. “Current air filtration product designs offer improved performance relative to self cleaning cartridge filters as well as dramatically improved performance against various contaminants such as soot particles,” she says.

Additional new products from H&V include Inviscant, a hydraulic and fuel filter media that responds to regulatory and performance requirements in fuel and hydraulic segments, Capaceon filter media, which break the link between basis weight and performance, offering increased dust holding capacity for air filtration media and Technostat Plus, a higher performance, lower pressure drop version of the original Technostat, which is being widely adopted in face masks, medical filtration and HVAC applications.

Additionally, H&V is actively selling fuel, lube and air products that are integral parts of engine systems meeting the latest emission and fuel economy standards. “Many of these products leverage the breadth of H&V technologies in optimized and complex composite-layered media,” Mayman adds. “H&V continues to work with customers to exceed the future global challenges of working with poor fuel quality, biofuel, smaller space allocations and stricter emissions and energy efficiency regulations.”

Meanwhile, Ahlstrom continues to beef up its role as a global leader in transportation filtration with the addition of new capacity in places like Louveira, Brazil, even as it expands its role in advanced filtration areas including water, gas turbine, high efficiency air and life science filtration. “Our research and product development is continuously working on developing new and improved filter media solutions,” Blasi explains. “As the market requirements for filter media are changing, we are at the forefront and ready to offer new solutions to our customers.”

Nanotechnology is one area of focus as media are achieving higher efficiency with smaller and smaller fibers. Another focus area is water filtration using carbon technology, which Ahlstrom markets through its Disruptor technology. These filters rival UF and MF membrane filters in terms of retention and efficiency. They can be used to reduce or remove a wide range of contaminants from water including viruses and bacteria, chlorine, iodine, iron, lead, tin, copper and membranes. Applications include beverage manufacturing, pharmaceutical makeup water, point of use and point of entry filters.

A diverse product range with potential in a number of markets is fast becoming a must in the filtration market, many experts agree. Cerex Advanced Fabrics supplies nylon spunbond scrim to help support filtration media. John Hancock, vice president of sales, says he is seeing his customers handle more projects than ever before. “What’s driving this is the chemistry,” he says. “It’s filtration companies that really get squeezed because so many additives and ingredients can really be damaging to a filter. A lot of energy is really being applied to developing long-life products – products that will last a really long time at high temperatures.”

At the same time, companies want diversity to help them stand out in the marketplace, giving suppliers the challenge of offering a lot of options.

“There is a movement toward more customizable solutions,” says PCC’s Reamon. “Fundamentally, now more than ever the industry is trying to differentiate because so much of the industry –particularly the high volume part of the industry – is in fact acommodity and it’s very difficult to delineate oneself from the next major competitor.

“The challenge is to determine how to provide products and services to manufacturers that allow them to delineate enough so they can communicate it to the customer.”

Even as it continues to establish its place in the air filtration market, PCC already has a goal to expand its role into liquid filtration media. Reamon explains,“We will continue to figure out where we best filter value-wise, relative not only to the competition but also to ask the critical questions: What does the customer want.”

Study tracks nonwoven filter growth
The global market for nonwoven filter media is projected to experience a 7% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) over the next five years, increasing from a value of $2.5 billion in 2010 to $3.5 billion in 2015, according to a study released recently by BCC research.

The largest market, the Asia-Pacific region, is forecast to grow at the most rapid compound annual growth rate (CAGR), approximately 9.5% by 2015. From an estimated value of $923 million in 2010 (a 37% market share), regional sales will reach nearly $1.5 billion by 2015. The European and North American markets are relatively mature and face intense competition from other types of filtration media as well as other separation and purification technologies. A compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 5.2% is forecast for the EU. North America will have a slightly better CAGR, about 5.4%, over the five- forecast period.

BCC Research compiled this study to form a comprehensive understanding of the recent advances in nonwoven filter media manufacturing, its commercial applications and worldwide markets. For the purposes of the report, the materials included filter media manufactured by airlaid, wetlaid, spunbonding, meltblowing and apertured films extrusion.

Since the end processes using nonwoven filter media are designed to control pollution and the purity of fluid streams, they are heavily regulated. Critical filtration processes include several application sectors: water filtration, HVAC (heating, ventilating, and air conditioning), manufacturing, and food processing. Increasing consumer awareness of product safety, water purity and air quality, and their long-term effects on human health, are prompting new technological trends in the filtration industry.

Corporations engaged in the nonwoven filter media industry must understand the significance of these trends to effectively manage their enterprises and resources. So do stakeholders in the industry, who need to be aware of the effect these trends place upon their operations. End users of nonwoven filter media must consider the effects of these changes to select the most cost-effective options among available products and technologies prior to committing significant capital resources.

More information: www.bccresearch.com