Spunmelt changes the map

By Karen McIntyre, Editor | February 28, 2012

New investment spans the globe as nonwovens industry prepares for hundreds of thousands of tons of new capacity to reshape the spunmelt market

Currently, around the globe, there are at least 25 spunmelt lines either under construction or just starting up. Each of these represents at least 15,000 tons of new capacity entering the global nonwovens industry, meaning that by conservative estimates, this market is will expand by 375,000 tons during the next three years.

These new investments all have several things in common. They are all based on high performance, high speed production lines that offer ultra low weight, uniform materials. This new technology is helping nonwovens manufacturers achieve the lower weights that their customers in the hygiene market demand. Says one nonwovens expert, five years ago weights in the 13-15 gsm range were the gold standard where today 11 gsm is more average and some companies are achieving weights as low as 8 gsm. While getting much below these already ultrathin levels is unlikely, future efforts will center more on polymer flexibility as manufacturers look to lessen their dependency on petroleum-based products and cater to green trends in the consumer market.

North America
The most mature market for nonwovens, North American, continues to be subject of ambitious investments in spunmelt, despite high market penetration in most hygiene markets and low birth rates. In this region, investments in new machine are responding to demand for lighter weight, more sophisticated nonwoven substrates that allow hygiene makers to essentially do more with less, and manufacturers are particularly bullish about the adult diaper market as the baby boomers continue to age.

Large-scale investments from market leaders like Avgol in North Carolina and PGI in Virginia will likely replace older, noncompetitive assets . At the same time, investments from South American companies like Companhia Providencia or FitesaFiberweb, who both announced firm plans to add a second large-scale line in 2011 as their first lines came onstream, are helping these firms gain a stronger foothold in North America,market they were both previously supplying from their lines in the south.

Europe is probably the region with the least ambitious investment plans but that’s not to say the continent has been left out of this boom in spunmelt capacity. Italy’s Union Industries added a 24,000-ton line in late 2010, which was expected to significantly drive growth in 2011 and beyond and Dounor is currently finishing up construction on its sixth line. Moving east, Pegas Nonwovens, the Czech Republic’s largest nonwovens producer, has been extremely ambitious in its expansion plans, adding a new line basically every other year for the past decade. Its most recent line—its ninth—added 20,000 tons to its global capacity in late 2011.

The Middle East
Serving as the gateway between Europe and Asia, the Middle East has seen a great deal of nonwovens investment in recent years. Leading the way with nonwovens growth in the region is Egypt, where not one but two large-scale investments are now underway. Pegas Nonwovens announced in September it would definitely build its first foreign plant there. According to the company, it will build a first line, capable of making 20,000 tons per year, with a schedule completion date of late 2013. This line will be followed by a second investment slated for 2015-16, depending on market conditions. Also investing in Egypt is Gulsan. The Turkish nonwovens maker said in October it would start up a 20,000-ton line there during the third quarter of 2013. These two investments coincide with Procter & Gamble’s decision to start making diapers in Egypt but they are not the only companies bullish about the
Middle East.

In Saudi Arabia, new lines are under construction at Advanced Fabrics (SAAF) in Al Ahore, Saudi German Nonwovens in Al-Khobar and Mada Nonwovens in Al Jubail. While SAAF’s line will largely target medical applications globally, SGN said it would target hygiene markets with its new multi-line nonwovens manufacturing site where its first line is set to come onstream any day. Mada announced in May it would invest in a six-beam line, more than doubling its current capacity and allowing Mada Nonwovens to manufacture innovative products with the lower basis weights favored by the hygiene industry.

Latin America
The Latin American spunmelt market is largely dominated by three companies—Companhia Providencia, FitesaFiberweb and PGI who have all invested heavily in the technology during the past several years. While PGI’s investment efforts have slowed in recent years, the company has sites in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Cali, Colombia and San Luis Potosi, Mexico and executives said Brazilin expansion is being considered. Meanwhile, local producers like Companhia Providencia and FitesaFiberweb continue to invest in Latin America even as they focus on North American expansion. In July, Providencia it would add a spunmelt line at a new plant in Pouso Alegre, Brazil which would increased its capacity in the countryby 20,000 tons to 120,000 tons when fully operational.

Meanwhile, FitesaFiberweb, which is now fully owned by Brazil’s Petropar Group, is building a spunmelt manufacturing facility in Lima, Peru to chase hygiene growth west of the Andes.

By far the region seeing the most investment is the Asia-Pacific where companies from around the globe are investing heavily, hoping to be in a good position to take advantage of growth moving forward.

Leading the way with spunmelt investment in China has been U.S.-based PGI Nonwovens who has operated a spunmelt plant in Suzhou since 2006 and has more recently hinted at starting a greenfield site in southern China. Additionally, Avgol has been ambitious in China where it has operated since 2005 and is ontrack to complete its third line in mid-2012. The new line will bring Avgol’s Chinese capacity from 24,000 ton 40,000 tons.

“We identified great opportunities in the China/Asia Pacific markets, which are considered markets with high growth rates in the categories of disposable hygiene products and specifically baby diapers," says Shlomo Liran, Avgol’s CEO. "The investment in a third production line in China underscores our complete satisfaction with the investments we have made to date in China within the scope of the partnership, and prepares the groundwork for driving the sales momentum in response to the already high demands in China. This strategic decision is the outcome of the continuing increase in the volume of purchases and the expression of trust in Avgol and in its production lines by our major customers in China, as well as throughout the world. Increasing our production capacity will enable us to give expression to our competitive advantages – global presence, innovation, uncompromising quality and superb service to our customers, and to fortify Avgol’s positioning as a leading and preferred supplier for the long years ahead.”

Other companies currently investing in China include First Quality Nonwovens whose first non-US site, currently being built in Wuxi, China and will ultimately hold two lines; China’s Jofo group who is adding a 3.2 meter wide line scheduled for start up at the end of 2012 to meet demand from rapidly growing disposable hygiene and medical applications areas in Asia; and Japan’s Mitsui Chemicals who will start a 15,000-ton operation in Tianjin, China in September 2013 and is also adding a line in Japan.

Meanwhile, Toray Industries, a Korean firm, has been involved in a comprehensive Asian expansion plan that started in Korea, continued into China and is now extending into Indonesia in 2013. When all of this investment is done, Toray will make 43,000 tons os spunbond in Korea, 58,000 tons in Nantong, China and 20,000 tons in Indonesia, which the company said will follow growth in demand for disposable baby diapers in the ASEAN countries.

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