Hygiene Components: Balancing Performance with Cost

By Karen McIntyre, Senior Editor | December 4, 2013

Suppliers to the hygiene market respond to lower fluff levels and thinner cores.

Baby diapers continue to pave the way for innovation in the hygiene market. As the market demands thinner diapers with less pulp, suppliers of adhesives, acquisition/distribution layer materials and films and nonwovens for backsheets and top sheets are amending their product lines to follow suit. These efforts are not only leading to thinner diapers that call for less waste and less space on store shelves, they are also trickling down into other hygiene product segments like feminine hygiene or adult incontinence, a market that is poised to grow larger than the baby diaper market in coming years. Already, reports out of Japan are saying the more adult diapers are being sold there than baby diapers.
Whether the end user is the very young or the very old, manufacturers of hygiene items are looking to provide them with the very best solution to their needs at the lowest possible price point. Therefore, the suppliers to the hygiene manufacturers struggle to balance cost with innovation.
Bostik offers adhesive solutions
Despite reports of a declining market for fem care products in the mature geographies—caused by an aging population and a reversal of usage of fem hy products for light incontinence—adhesive maker Bostik still considers this an attractive market with growth opportunities in many regions.
“The largest growth opportunity is clearly in the emerging geographies where penetration is still increasing today,” Paul Andrews, marketing manager, EMEA for Bostik hygiene, says. “When coupled with education programs encouraging and talking about the use of such products, this means the use of products will grow. At Bostik, we believe that we are well positioned to grow with this market due to our localized production capabilities, global brands and strong position with the global producers.”
A few years ago, Bostik launched the Securance range of adhesives for fem care and light inco products. These products for construction, wing dot and, of course, pad positioning have proved very successful due to their cost in use, easy processability and high performance, Andrews says.
“However, through our network of contacts with co-suppliers to the industry as well as our deep relationships with key customers both globally and regionally, we are observing a change in the types of materials used in fem care articles,” he says.
“With the goal in mind of improving in the areas  like fluid management, comfort, discretion and skin protection we see a growth in the thinner, more open, three-dimensional or highly apertured top sheets.”
These materials can prove challenging for the more typical construction adhesives in terms of the potential for adhesive bleed through and deformation of the 3D structure due to residual tack after compression. To address the needs of the hygiene manufacturer, Bostik has more recently introduced Securance Low Tack construction adhesive in April. This new adhesive provides superior performance, enables reduced add-on with low basis weight nonwovens and no bleed through even with perforated film top sheets. Its low tack properties result in the retention of the three-dimensional profile of the perforated top sheets for improved rewet performance and increased comfort.
According to Andrews, new products need to really prove themselves to be well received by hygiene manufacturers.
“Our experience is that the hygiene article producer is reluctant to change adhesives for this application unless there is a noticeable consumer benefit,” he says. “This isn’t to say that the fem care producer is not looking to bring new innovations to the market. Far from it. What is critical, however, is that the product continues to do what it is essential, which is to stay in place but be able to be removed cleanly and easily, and not leak. Producers continue to look for improvement in areas such as improved fluid management, comfort, discretion and skin protection.”
And of course, cost reduction opportunities will always catch the interest of hygiene companies. “Any ways of reducing overall cost of production of the article are always very welcome,” Andrews says. “We see adhesives as enablers. Yes, we do work to help the producer to use less adhesive, offer more supply secure solutions and reduce the overall cost of the adhesive, but what we see as critical is bringing the right products to allow the producer to use the latest material innovations to help them with the improvement areas mentioned above.
“When considering the future needs for pad positioning adhesives, we need to not only consider the pad or liner back sheet material, but also the underwear material that the pad adheres to,” Andrews says.
Bostik recently undertook a feminine care market study with a focus on the positioning of adhesive application. Speaking with underwear producers it is clear that not only the design of underwear materials is changing but also the types of fabrics used.  “When innovating with adhesive technology in this area, these factors have to be taken into account along with cost in use and also adhesive application technologies,” Andrews concludes.
H.B. Fuller responds to thinner cores
For adhesive maker H.B. Fuller, maintaining the integrity of the core amidst the drive toward thinner diapers with lower fluff percentages has been a key goal in supplying customers in today’s hygiene market. As consumers demand thinner diapers to improve the fit and comfort for the baby or adult wearer, while at the same time creating less landfill waste and more shelf space, adhesives need to perform to hold the wet core in place.
“Thinness may not be achieved by simply removing the fluff pulp or lessening the amount of fluff used; it may also be achieved by changing the core design,” says Lynne Purvis, global nonwovens hygiene marketing manager. “H.B. Fuller has created a product line that can enhance core integrity performance dependant on the final core design.”
According to Purvis, much of H.B. Fuller’s core adhesive developments are targeted towards supporting the aforementioned reduction in the amount of fluff used in absorbent cores. The trend for thinner core design first started about three years ago. Since then, there have been a number of new thin diaper styles launched in Europe and around the world.
While there have been few examples of a completely fluff-free diaper, more diaper manufacturers are focusing on making cores thinner by reducing fluff in an effort to better manage waste streams and transportation costs. Purvis says, “There is a real drive to eliminate cost and waste, as well as  a heightened awareness of sustainability so the less material in use, the better for the environment.”
Even outside of the core, the nonwovens being used in the topsheet and backsheet of the diaper are thinner—in other efforts to reduce waste and cost—and adhesive technology has had to evolve with these changes.
To also support customers wanting to improve total cost in use, H.B. Fuller has been developing new generation olefin-based adhesive technology, replacing rubber-based technologies, which are more price volatile. Other benefits of olefins include low odor levels, increased thermal stability leading to reduced downtime and a potential usage reduction due to lower density.
H.B. Fuller’s latest award winning high performing, high cohesive, olefin construction solutions are part of the company’s Full-Care family. The bond strengths in these adhesive products are higher than standard polyolefin technologies and are similar or better than typical rubber-based technology says the company. Formulated for flexibility during supply-chain constraints, this third generation polyolefin technology enhances supply security, optimises cost in use to enable lower add-ons, combined with  ease of use to enhance line efficiencies.
RKW offers a whole portfolio to hygiene makers
RKW offers a whole portfolio of film and nonwovens to the hygiene market, ranging from multi-colored printed breathable films to specially engineered complexes of film and nonwoven. Over the years, the company’s product mix has expanded in order to serve the various categories offered to consumers, whether via the brands or private label. Global expansion is driving these changes, as is the need for product differentiation, whether on the ‘top’ shelf or ‘lower’ shelves in the product outlet, according to Patricia Featherstone, director marketing and communications, RKW GBA Hygiene & Medical, commercial director, RKW ACE. “New innovation will be rewarded in the marketplace it the benefits can trickle down the supply chain,” she explains. “Brands will pay for product innovation if the end result offers a real benefit, either to gross sales or to the consumer. The consumer is less willing to pay for innovation unless there is real benefit to the ultimate user in terms of health and hygiene.”
In September, RKW opened a new hygiene film plant  in Franklin, KY. The new site will allow RKW to make and market its Hyfol backsheet film in North America, according to executives, and this will be just the beginning of developments in this area.
“RKW’s business is certainly extending its global footprint as it supports its global customers,” Featherstone says. “The need to offer the highest quality with locally relevant costs is important to the overall health of the industry.”
Savare responds to changes
Savare offers a full range of hot-melt adhesives for the hygiene industry with products including positioning, stretch, single strand elastic attachment adhesives as well high yield olefin and rubber based construction hot melts.
According to Mattia Revelli, industry manager, in recent years the adhesive portfolio has continuously changed as a result of new customer design and their process requirements. These new designs have been born from a number of trends including thinner cores, higher line speeds and availability of certain feedstocks.
“I think our customers are open to hearing about new adhesives formulas that help them to decrease the final total cost,” Revelli says. “This does not mean necessarily a low cost formulation. The challenge is to optimize each single adhesive application as a bonding system, optimize add-ons and use thinner materials while all taking advantage of new hot-melt application technologies.”
The biggest challenge, Revelli has seen is meeting the demand of higher line speeds and other new design features. To do this, Savare has recently expanded its global research and development center in Milan.
“At Savare Specialty Adhesives we implemented plastic reusable totes to deliver our Safemelt cakes eliminating completely carton boxes waste,” says Revelli. “More and more customers value this new packaging and extended to all their production sites.
Today there is an extremely high focus in optimizing each adhesive applications using as low add on as possible, Revelli adds. “We have been working together with our customers with new adhesives technologies with second to none yield to drive this optimization,” he says. “Our strategy is to stay focused on hot-melt technologies for the hygiene industry, a large part of our sales are in this market. Our aim is to become a global player but always focused in our industry.”
Texsus offers sophisticated ADL technology
A maker of acquisition of distribution layers (ADL) and topsheet for hygiene products, Texsus offers advanced air through bonding technology to improve  the fluid management of the absorbent core within the hygiene product. This layer goes between the topsheet and the absorbent core.
According to sales and marketing director, Barbara Bulleri, the company is seeing, in its core markets of Europe, the Middle East and Africa, a trend to increase the grammage of the ADL in response to thinner cores and less fluff. “We are accommodating the absence of fluff with higher basis weights and better performing ADL materials,” she says.  ”This trend is seen particularly in the European market whereas the Middle East and Africa are still on standard diaper structure even if the quality level is improving.”
This has meant good things for Texsus. As the grammage and complexity of the material has gone up a better quality is requested from the market . “The ADL is becoming more technical and less of a commodity so the final cost of it is slightly more, but at the end what our customers are trying to do is balance cost,” Bulleri says.
To be able to give its customers in the hygiene market the complexity they are requiring, Texsus recently completed a new production line for through air bonded nonwovens in Italy. Currently in the start-up phase, the new line is specifically designed to produce high grammage, technical ADL material at high speeds. “We made this investment to increase our efficiencies to increase grammages,” Bulleri says .
Also in the works is an upgrade to an existing air through bonding line  to enable it to make high quality soft topsheet, technical materials as well as an additional spooling line to handle the high grammage material. These new investments will target Europe,  Africa and the Middle East. As part of its strategic plan, Texsus is looking at follow up investments in places like Latin America and the Far East to capitalize on growth in those areas but no plan has been finalized yet.
All of these expansion efforts come in spite of a highly competitive marketplace.
“For sure, the competition is growing in the nonwovens market. The global market depends on which type of product and I believe it’s very important to ensure good quality, service and innovative  products,” Bulleri says. “Size is a driver because you need to have a competitive position but you still need quality and service. This is one of our policies.”
With a dedicated research and development team in place and a new pilot line to insure innovation and quality continues, Texsus is currently working on an absorbent core materials  laminated between two layers of tissue, which allows for a very high concentration of superabsorbent polymer. “This construction can range from 30-700 grams of superabsorbent polymer per square meter,” Bulleri says. “This is not possible with standard airlaid technology.”
Tredegar responds to lower fluff cores
A global leader in the plastic films industry and manufacturing apertured films and topsheets for feminine hygiene applications and elastics and laminate materials for baby diaper and adult incontinence, Tredegar has focused on increasing its offerings for acquisition-distribution layers, soft, plush topsheets and elastic solutions for a garment-like fit. In recent years, Tredegar has transitioned away from offering backsheet materials in the North American market but has retained a strong presence in Latin America.
Like most of the hygiene product supply chain, Tredegar has been focused on responding to lower fluff cores in recent years.
“Advances in reduced fluff absorbent cores have driven a need for higher performance acquisition components for use as part of integrated absorbent systems,” says Matt O’Sickey, director of research and development, consumer care. “With basic fluid handling needs adequately met, consumer focus has increasingly turned to enhanced comfort and slim-profile fit absorbent articles and garments.
“Tredegar’s customers always wish to provide the best value to the end consumer. When the innovation provides either an end consumer value and/or when the innovation provides a total, in-use, cost benefit to the construction of the absorbent article our customers will pay for innovation. For example, an acquisition layer, such as our AquiDry, that facilitates reduction of absorbent core materials will be attractive to hygiene converters.”
Meanwhile, the demand for breathability and stretch is particularly significant in the areas of adult incontinence and emerging economies. In these regions, there is also a demand for cooler, dryer topsheets such as Tredegar’s ComfortFeel laminate topsheet. Overall, with basic sanitary needs having been addressed, elements of comfort are becoming increasingly important.
According to O’Sickey, there is a strong desire among consumers in emerging economies to have access to world class absorbent products at a competitive market price. This has presented the challenge of how to provide desired features while achieving cost targets that will allow the products to be accessible to a broad group of consumers.
“The importance tends to vary by region and/or market segment,” says O’Sickey. “It is still difficult to sell sustainability innovations at a higher cost. There has been greater success in promoting source reduction initiatives such as down-gauging, raw material localization and improved performance that allows reduction in component size or flatwidth.
Tredegar, already having a global presence, continues to expand capabilities in the emerging economies.  Recent additions complementing the company’s manufacturing footprint have been made in Brazil, China and India. Tredegar says it will continue to monitor market dynamics and evaluate future growth opportunities.
Some of these growth opportunities will benefit from the introduction of new portfolio of products in the second quarter of 2014, which will correspond some major trade expositions. “Specifically, we will be presenting new solutions for acquisition-distribution layers, soft film and laminate topsheets and comfort enhancing stretch solutions for babycare and adult incontinence,” O’Sickey says.

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