According to industry estimates, the global spunlace market is growing between 4-6.5% due to gains both in the technology’s core market, wipes, and in new applications both in hygiene and industrial markets. While the wipes market growth has leveled in recent years as many subsegments have reached maturity, executives still report gains in many areas, although eroding margins and other macroeconomic factors have presented problems in the area.
This has led to an increased interest in examining new markets for spunlace, a path that is also not without challenges as often competition both from fellow spunlace manufacturers and competing technologies can be just as severe. Still the benefits for spunlace, including absorbency, textile-like feel and appearance and the ability to incorporate different raw materials make it a prime contender in many markets.
“The global spunlace market is still a very interesting, growing market,” says Carolin Weber, sales director hygiene and wipes for Sandler. “Spunlace technology offers to meet the requirements of a variety of end product applications.”
While the lion’s share of material made on Sandler’s three spunlace lines continues to feed the global wipes market, new areas like absorbent hygiene, tabletop and technical applications continue to pose new opportunities.
Suominen Nonwovens is the world’s largest producer of spunlace nonwovens with assets in South Carolina, Wisconsin, Connecticut, Brazil, Spain, Italy and Finland and offers the world’s most diverse range of technologies for wipes including wetlaid, thermal bond, airlace, hydroentangled, SPC, carded and composite substrates. As the company’s business continues to change and evolve beyond wipes, Suominen is easing the transition with a new operating model. Earlier this year, the company split its nonwovens business into two categories—convenience and care. The care business focuses on customers in medical and hygiene, while convenience, which is considerably larger, focuses on wipes, catering and travel.
“Reshaping the structure and operating model is an essential and at the same time logical step in the strategic path we have chosen. To implement our strategy, and particularly the ‘In the Lead’ cornerstone, a significant change in our way of working is required,” says Nina Kopola, president and CEO of Suominen Corporation. “Among other important objectives, we seek to speed up our capability to create new business and launch new products with higher value add to the market. With the more focused and customer derived operating model, we further enhance our ability to cater to specific customer needs and thereby accelerate both our own and our customers’ business; and ultimately improve our profitability.”
Last month Suominen continued to expand its non-wipes business with the launch of Novolino, a range of nonwoven products for tabletop applications in the hotel, restaurant and catering markets globally. These substrates feature a number of unique attributes and have already seen commercial success in both Europe and the Americas.
Executives says the launch is in line with Suominen’s stated strategic objective of increasing the share of value added products in its portfolio and is a great example Suominen’s expansion of its nonwovens business beyond wipes.
“Novolino nonwovens bring a new dimension to the tabletop market while adding value beyond the traditional offerings in this segment,” says Eileen Calder, product manager for travel and catering at Suominen. “With its soft and silky touch, Novolino nonwovens offer users a disposable alternative to traditional linen or other textile napkins, table covers or guest towels.”
While Suominen has not made a significant investment in spunlace for several years, it is in the process of updating its technology for the flushable wipes segment, which is seen as an important growth sector within wipes. “Further investment in production of flushable substrates for wipes does reflect the importance of this technology and those market segments it serves to Suominen,” says Brown.
Going for it
Whether spurred by growth in wipes or opportunities in new markets, the spunlace market is on the cusp of significant expansion as new investments come onstream in North Carolina.
Spuntech, an Israeli-based nonwovens producer announced in May it would double its North American capacity with a new line set to come onstream in 2015. Spuntech operates one spunlace line in Roxboro, NC, which was started in 2006, as well as two lines Galilee, Israel.
According to John Rank, director of sales and marketing, the company continues to focus on growth in specialty engineered and value-added spunlace fabrics with more emphasis on sustainable products. While a high percentage of sales are certainly wipes-related, the company has been successfully developing new products outside of wipes in markets such as medical, technical and filtration.
Also in North Carolina, Jacob Holm is investing more than $60 million at its site in Candler over the next three years. The Swiss company established this North American hub in 2005 with a large-scale spunlace line. While this site has reportedly been operating at near or full capacity for several years, the company has focused on improving its processing capabilities beyond lightweight hygiene applications to deliver solutions for industrial applications like automotives, apparel and furniture. Meanwhile, in wipes Jacob Holm, which also has sites in France and Germany, has developed 100% synthetic wipes with apertured or smooth surfaces for disinfectant applications. Currently about 65% of its output targets wipes.
Jacob Holm’s decision to add a second line came after several years marked by economic ups and downs, but executives are confident the new line will help it expand its reach.
“Jacob Holm Industries is pleased to announce this new technology investment at our existing operation in Candler,” says Jacob Holm president, Steve Landon in announcing the new line. “Since opening our doors in Western North Carolina back in 2005, the company has been impressed with the local community, the availability of a quality workforce and the willingness of state and local officials to support our goal of becoming the premiere nonwovens manufacturer in North America.”
This new production line is planned to start commercial production in the first quarter of 2015.
The project was made possible in part by a performance-based grant from the One North Carolina Fund of up to $100,000. The grant is contingent upon proof of job creation and receipt of a local funding match, which will be approved in a public hearing in Candler. The One NC Fund provides financial assistance, through local governments, to attract business projects that will stimulate economic activity and create new jobs in the state. Companies receive no money up front and must meet job creation and investment performance standards to qualify for grant funds.
As the North American markets prepares for expansion, the spunlace market continues to thrive globally. In China alone, there are at least 160 lines, representing 250,000 tons of spunlace, largely serving the Chinese wipes market, which is estimated at about $250 million, as consumers gain the disposable income necessary to make disposable items a part of their every day lives. In greater Asia, there are another 100,000 tons of spunlaced nonwovens being made globally.
Also seeing a great deal of activity is Turkey, whose central location and roots in the textile market, have made it a hotbed for many nonwovens technologies. In spunlace, Mogul entered the market three years ago and added a second line two years later. These two lines have largely targeted the wipes market but new application areas are constantly under review, according to Serkan Gogus, commercial director.
Meanwhile, spunlace activity in Europe is largely dominated by Sandler, Suominen and Jacob Holm but investment there has not been aggressive in recent years. Sandler added the most recent large-scale line there in 2011. This latest line allowed the company to add a lot of new technologies to make its production process more flexible with more processes, raw materials and finishing techniques.
According to Sandler executives, its sees the market for wipes as stable but is getting its business opportunities from other areas like hygiene and technical applications where the many attributes of spunlace can offer solutions to customers’ needs.
“All new technologies and projects of nonwovens are always being proven to be considered with the most suitable technology,” Weber says. “If spunlace is meeting all requirements or offers features giving it an advantage over other technologies, it is always worthwhile to look into using spunlace technology.
While Weber would not comment specifically about projects outside of wipes, she did comment on the many solutions her company offers to wipes, a market where it conducts a large percentage of its sales. One product that has been particularly successful is bio textile, a substrate for baby, cosmetics and cleaning wipes made from 100% viscose. Proving Sandler’s commitment to being green, this substrate is completely biodegradable.
As new lines come onstream, Weber is confident that both old and new lines will have a place in the industry.
“To a certain extent, the supply vs. demand picture might shift,” she says. “However, there is never any warranty in any kind of investment in the nonwovens industry, whichever technology you are looking at.”
Norafin continues to focus on technical applications
At the forefront of these efforts is Norafin. This company spun itself off from Jacob Holm about five years ago to focus on more technical applications, leaving Holm, at the time, to focus on wipes.
“The spunlace technology offers various benefits for technical markets,” says Norafin spokesperson Eveline Salem. “Just as an example, we were able to place our products in the composite market thanks to product features such as tear-resistance, durability, homogeneity of the material as well as surface weight and drapability. These are characteristics, which are needed in that segment.”
Within protective apparel Norafin now offers a durable, lightweight spunlace nonwoven that it says provides significantly increased arc protection performance compared to leading competitive materials.
Boasting that this material achieves equivalent (or improved) performance at approximately 45% lower basis weights than competing materials, Salem says that Norafin’s unique production process creates a three-dimensional web as opposed to a two-dimensional web via traditional cross lapping. “This leads to products with excellent uniformity, loft and strength,” she says. “We offer a full range of flame retardant spunlace products created in this manner of various fiber types and structures which are used in protective apparel today. In filtration, our spunlace nonwovens show a constant filter surface characterized by a higher number of finer pores and homogeneous cross-sections, which leads to an increased filter performance. These examples illustrate that spunlace nonwovens can be adapted to various market segments due to their wide-ranging product characteristics.”
In July 2013, Norafin began production on a new spunlace line in Mildenau, Germany. The new line can make multilayered technical nonwovens in widths up to 2.4 meters and weights between 20-800 gsm. Both chemically produced high performance and natural fibers can be processed on the unit, which has allowed Norafin to be more responsive to market demands, to expand the selection of specialized nonwovens even further and to introduce new products on the market. The line has also guaranteed a secure supply of goods in the long term.
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