Emerging markets for nonwovens

By Karen McIntyre, Editor | April 5, 2012

Hundreds of applications open up new doors for nonwovens in never-before-penetrated markets.

Nonwovens are often associated with disposables like diapers, wipes or feminine hygiene items. These products represent a large percentage of nonwovens sales globally; however, there are literally hundreds of applications outside of hygiene, many of which are opening up new doors for nonwovens in never-before-penetrated markets.

In fact, growth of durable nonwovens is outpacing that of disposables. According to INDA, in North America durable nonwovens sales are growing about 4.5% while disposables are pretty flat. This growth is being driven by geotextiles, which are being used in a lot of government-sponsored infrastructure improvement projects, as well as in the rebounding automotive market and to some extent the construction market—although this segment has been hit hard by a low rate of housing starts.

What’s even more interesting is that many of the newer applications for nonwovens are fetching considerably higher prices than more traditional, disposable applications. This could be the motivation behind companies like Ahlstrom or Fiberweb narrowing their focus on more technical markets, and it surely seems to be where the action is in terms of new product development.

That’s not to say, of course, that disposables aren’t seeing any action. The scores of products that compete each year for competitions like the Visionary Awards or the WOW awards prove that innovation remains in this market.

Either way, the market for new types of nonwovens is hot and manufacturers are surely looking for the next Swiffer—Procter & Gamble’s blockbuster floor cleaner—to help propel their businesses forward.

Wall coverings

In the past couple of years, wall coverings has emerged as one of the fast growing nonwovens markets. Driven by advancements in technologies as well as by changes in home decorating trends, this market has attracted players such as Ahlstrom and Hollingsworth & Vose, which are partnering with wallpaper manufacturers.

Just this month, Ahlstrom presented a revised Ahlstrom EasyLife product range at China Wallcovering Expo 2012, in Beijing, China. The revised EasyLife product range features new embossable materials, offering additional 3D capabilities which will enhance the design possibilities in wall coverings. All new products have been developed sustainably to minimize their environmental impact. All Ahlstrom wall coverings use certified pulp and the materials conform to industry standards (CE and RAL). Recycled polyester is used in several new products and Ahlstrom is reducing the use of chemical binders through substitution with natural binders.

Reporting that sales growth is strongest in China, Ahlstrom partnered with the China Wallcovering Association to present a catwalk show featuring models dressed in clothes made of wallcovering. The goal was to demonstrate the  link wallcover has with fashion and illustrate the textile-like touch and aesthetic features of Ahlstrom EasyLife. Additionally, Ahlstrom and its Chinese partner, Shanghai East Star Environmental Inks, which is China's leading supplier of water-based inks to the wallcovering industry, introduced a  “Certificate of Authenticity,” which will enable customer wallcover collection books to be clearly identified as exclusively containing high performance Ahlstrom materials.

According to Strategic Analysis Inc., the demand for nonwoven-based premium wallcoverings will increase by an annual rate of 39%

CAGR from 2010 to 2015. Ahlstrom is one of the leading suppliers of nonwoven substrates to China and the company has been present in the market for 10 years. Ahlstrom recently announced plans to invest €30 million in a new wallcover substrates production line at its Binzhou plant there.

Battery Separators

Estimates on the size of the battery separator market vary but experts agree that this market for nonwovens will rise thanks to growth in the electric cars market as well as in the personal electronics segment. This has prompted investment in the category by several key players in recent years. Companies like Ahlstrom and DuPont have invested in porous membrane technology that they think will enjoy decent growth as the electric vehicle markets continues to grow.

Tonnage growth is not the only factor influencing investment in the area. While battery separators represented only 3% of the durable applications in North America last year, they comprised 11% of sales, according to INDA, showing that the price per square meter of these applications is significantly higher than other durable applications like construction of automotive materials.

DuPont is targeting this market through its Energain membrane technology which is being built at a brand new line in Chesterfield County, VA. Meanwhile, Ahlstrom has made a key acquisition in the market with its purchase of membrane technology specialist Porous Power.

The Pet Care Market

Currently, the US is the largest market in the world for pet care products, representing approximately $30 billion in worldwide sales, and—even with the recent global economic downturn—the US has continued growing at the rate of 4-5% annually, with further growth expected.

The nonwovens industry is capitalizing on this growth through the development of puppy training pads, paw wipes and a slew of other products designed to play up to consumers’ allegiance to their pets.

In July, the oneCARE Company, under a license with Nestlé Purina PetCare Company to use the Purina brand, announced its Purina Pet Gear products are now available in Walmart stores in the US. The line includes products such as training pads, designed to make a new pet’s homecoming easier.

The Purina Pet Gear Ultra Dry Training Pads feature the DryStep cover, designed to prevent leaks and paw prints from tracking through the house. The pad features a top layer that contains thousands of microfunnels to channel liquid quickly into the middle, where it’s rapidly absorbed and locked away. The leak-proof backing also protects floors and carpets. The pads are available in 10-count, 20-count and 40-count and come in an easy-to-store box for convenient dispensing.

“Bringing a new puppy home is an exciting time for the whole family, but it can also be a bit challenging for those responsible for housetraining,” says Jennifer MacLean, oneCARE’s marketing director for pet care products. “We’ve created several new products, all designed to make pet care simpler and easier, allowing pet owners to spend more time playing and bonding with their pet.”

Meanwhile, Japanese hygiene leader Unicharm took a bet on the pet care market this year when it formed a joint venture with Sumitomo Corporation, giving it a significant stake in the common share of The Hartz Mountain Corporation (Hartz), a wholly owned subsidiary of Sumitomo.

“This new strategic partnership brings together the brand power, deep category expertise and existing market share of Hartz with Unicharm’s proprietary technology and high-performing innovation,” says Koichi Isohata, a representative at Sumitomo. “The alliance is intended to grow the Hartz business, maximizing the potential of the US Pet Care market and ideally build the business globally.”

Under Sumitomo Corporation’s ownership, Hartz has successfully expanded its share of the US pet care market. By capitalizing on the chemical expertise of its parent company, as well as its strong distribution network, Hartz has increased its leadership position in Animal Health, with UltraGuard, the number one brand of retail flea and tick treatments in the country. In addition, Hartz is the leading brand of dog toys, puppy training pads, natural treats, pet shampoos and bird and small animal diets.

Bedwetting pads

Kimberly-Clark is currently launching an absorbent pad, under its GoodNites brand—to be placed under potential bedwetters at night. The disposable bed mat features adhesive strips to adhere to a fitted sheet to provide nighttime security against bedwetting.

“As a trusted leader and expert, GoodNites brand understands the challenges of millions of parents and children who are dealing with bedwetting,” says Dave Caputo, senior brand manager, GoodNites. “GoodNites bed mats is a new bedwetting protection choice that offers outstanding absorption in a cloth-like mat, helping give families a better night’s sleep.”

The new product is currently rolling out in most retail outlets that sell GoodNite products.

Carpet backing

Colbond’s latest offering to the flooring industry should help nonwovens grow in carpet backing applications. Colback Profloor is a nonwoven backing material which eases the creation of complex tuft constructions and enhances end product characteristics. The new backing will help carpet producers raise their product portfolio to the next level and strengthen their position in the flooring market.

Marc Krauth, vice president sales and marketing said: “Colback Profloor is the result of a major R&D program we carried out in close cooperation with leading carpet tile producers. With this  launch we will make the product available to a wider group of customers.” 

The new backing delivers benefits during carpet manufacture and service life. Examples include enhanced tuftability, stitch holding performance and process behavior contributing to increased process efficiencies, further improved carpet appearance and superior dimensional stability of the finished carpet tile.

 Ludwig Cammaert, design and technical development manager business carpets, says, “Desso has already chosen Colback Profloor because of its superior technical performance. It offers a significant improvement in the dimensional stability of carpet tiles with economic advantages too.”


Roofing and construction, despite economic difficulties, continues to be a viable opportunity for nonwovens. Fiberweb is proving this to be true through the launch of a new line of premium roofing accessories under the brand name Climat. Climat is a comprehensive system of vapor permeable roof and wall membranes as well as vapor control layers that are based on three decades of experience in the production of complex technical nonwoven fabrics. The range is based on decades of experience in manufacturing and the application of building laminates in providing private label products to some of the most well recognized names in the market. With Climat, Fiberweb’s European building segment now has its own brand, relying on a strong collaboration between manufacturing specialists and application professionals to serve new segments (i.e., national building merchants) with superior quality and service gaining closer proximity to the end market.

One of the exclusive features of the Climat range relates to the latest generation of  “functioning film” technology known as Linopore UV+. This Fiberweb patented technology offers an SD value of 0.02 meters offering exceptional vapor permeability while simultaneously providing a protective layer against water ingress. In aging tests in line with the European norm EN 13859, Climat products surpassed the requirements by more than 40%, placing Climat products with Linopore UV+ technology among the most rugged and durable products in their class.

Submicron technology

Polymer Group, Inc. is targeting a number of new applications with its new submicron technology. The company recently unveiled a new platform technology to produce nonwovens containing submicron fibers that can deliver improved performance properties for healthcare, industrial, filtration and new emerging market applications.

PGI’s proprietary Arium technology produces a matrix of fibers, which are mainly sized under one micron in diameter.

“Arium is a completely new technology platform for the industry that will enable us to meet the market need for increasingly cost-effective fabrics with improved performance at a value proposition unmatched by any other submicron fiber technology,” says Veronica “Ronee” Hagen, PGI’s CEO.  “Just as we did with our Apex and Spinlace technologies, PGI is leading the industry and investing in game-changing platforms.”

PGI has improved the process of producing submicron fibers with its new technology after significant R&D efforts.

“While other processes can generate fibers at the submicron level, none can do it as efficiently, and with the same commercial level of throughputs, as Arium technology,” says Bob Dale, PGI’s senior vice president of research and development.

“PGI has invested in a pilot line in the US at its Waynesboro, VA facility to produce fabrics using the Arium technology,” he continues. “The technology can stand alone or be retrofitted to PGI’s existing meltblown equipment.”

“Our Arium technology allows us to be more competitive in our core markets while opening up new opportunities in other markets,” says John Heironimus, the company’s senior vice president, chief marketing and chief sustainability officer. “By combining technologies or utilizing Arium technology alone, PGI can deliver innovative product solutions to the market.”

The submicron fibers contained in materials produced with the Arium technology can provide higher surface area, biosafety and tunable porosity that enhance performance benefits such as absorbency, adsorption, opacity, softness, barrier protection, acoustic performance and high-efficiency filtration.