This market diversification, caused by a combination of industry consolidation and expansion into new product categories—is not only creating the need for sophisticated raw materials but also for products that foster flexibility that allows hygiene manufacturers to quickly adjust their production lines without significant loss of time, or money. New products in adult incontinence, where the users have more of a voice than in its closest relative baby diapers, have changed the way the entire supply chain is looking at the market.
“As seen in the last decade, the exponential growth of the adult incontinence category has shifted product innovation priorities,” says Ivan Soltero, strategic marketing manager, Conwed Plastics. “When the main priority was baby diapers, for example, creating the next-generation stretch laminates was not necessarily a key challenge on anybody’s board. Absorption, nonwoven innovation and product design were all features focused on performance and as long as babies did not have allergic reactions, or unfit designs, a product was considered efficient and cost-effective.”
A whole new game presented itself when adult incontinence users started giving their opinion about the performance, fit and comfort of the products available in the market, Soltero adds. “The hygiene industry is slowly evolving, similarly to the apparel industry, where consumer feedback can impact the direction of design and innovation,” he says. “Listening to users complain about briefs and underwear that work, but are not comfortable or discreet has pushed suppliers, manufacturers and OEMs to include comfort as an imperative variable into their design efforts.”
Generally speaking, hygiene manufacturers regularly incorporate new features or improvements in their hygiene products without much fanfare. However, normally closed-mouth First Quality Consumer Products, a manufacturer of private label and branded baby diapers, feminine hygiene items and adult incontinence products that also has a significant nonwovens operation, announced last month that it was bringing a new standard of performance to absorbent hygiene products through its ingredient brand, Dri-Fit.
Dri-Fit, which has been incorporated into First Quality’s Prevail incontinence products as well as store brand feminine care and incontinence products, helps promote skin health by managing consumers’ microclimates – the small layer of air between skin and whatever consumers are wearing. Dri-Fit provides features that reduce pressure, moisture and temperature to ultimately help keep skin more dry, comfortable and healthy.
“While millennials are leading the demand for store brand products, we’ve also seen a growing interest across older demographics and want to help consumers of all generations feel more natural when experiencing periods or incontinence,” say First Quality executives. “As an industry leader in the manufacturing and supply of store brand feminine care and incontinence products, we want products featuring the Dri-Fit logo to be known as innovative, accessible, and affordable options for consumers.”
First Quality is so bullish about this innovation that it has also launched its first ever national campaign for the technology, saying that the technology helps consumers “Feel More Natural.”
Fabrizio D’Amico, commercial director of film and laminate supplier Poligof, reports that global demand of single-use hygiene absorbent products continues to grow, driven by areas where current product penetration is very low. The result is investment, by the company’s customers, in these areas with new production sites or increasing their existing capacity.
“North America is a market dominated by a few big players, where loyalty, quality, service and consistency overall are key factors,” explains D’Amico. “Asia has a high quality level—softness is more important than in other countries and pants are more popular than open diapers. Price is very important, competition is very high (more than in America), but quality is a must, as growing export of finished products from Japan to China is proving.”
The difference between the developed world and developing countries is the focus on sustainability in developed areas. Poligof meets these demands by producing breathable films and laminates, allowing manufacturers to create a more comfortable and healthy product, with less plastic and more renewable materials. This also creates a balance between low specific weight and product softness, a contrast in terms, to be achieved through innovation on raw materials and converting process and offering high definition printing in as many as six to eight colors for a growing demand of product differentiation.
Streamlining processes for customers is also a focus for suppliers. Italian films manufacturer Texsus has launched B-Dri, a combination of a topsheet and acquisition and distribution layer for feminine hygiene products. “This has allowed us to obtain a level of drynesss we have not seen before without sacrificing softness or affordability,” says sales and marketing director Barbara Bulleri. The company is also working on a combination air-through bonded/superabsorbent polymer core for an ultrathin diaper or napkin but that has not yet been commercialized, she adds.
“We are seeing a lot of movement into thinner diapers but not entirely fluffless. The thinness is instead being achieved through a higher tech acquisition distribution layer.”
Stretching the Limits
Procter & Gamble’s Pampers recently launched its new and improved Pampers Easy Ups Training Underwear with a 360° stretchy waistband and Pampers exclusive Extra Absorb Channels, allowing the training underwear to look, fit and feel more like real underwear while providing outstanding leak protection.
“At Pampers we understand the transition into underwear is a major developmental milestone for toddlers and parents,” says E. Yuri Hermida, vice president, North America Baby Care, P&G. “After years of research and development, our new Pampers Easy Ups training underwear will help make potty training easy because they look and feel more like underwear for little ones while parents can have the confidence of Pampers comfort and protection.”
This level of comfort and protection could not be achieved without the help of suppliers of laminates, films and other stretchable materials that are helping manufacturers meet the need for better fitting, stretchable products. Conwed manufactures the leading elastomeric netting for waistbands and side panels used in adult incontinence briefs and underwear and baby training pants. While early generations of Conwed’s Rebound were designed to be a stretch engine in baby training pants nearly two decades ago, more recently, the softer and more breathable designs of baby and adult diapers have created a need for lighter netting technology with flat joints to improve stretch, recovery, breathability and overall comfort.
One of Conwed’s latest improvements has been the development of elastomeric netting with flat joints for a smooth, elastic composites in need of a specific look and feel. “We’ve seen how the adult incontinence category has grown due to the collaborative efforts to demystify this condition, educate consumers and offer a wider range of products for people who’d like to improve their lives without necessarily sacrificing their active lifestyle,” says Soltero. “Therefore, our Flat Rebound was conceived to create superior stretchable composites that mimic apparel products.
In Conwed’s nonwoven stretch laminate, the mesh configuration with multiple holes provides a highly breathable surface that improves air permeability, water vapor transmission and heat transfer performance of the final nonwoven composite. This design, which can be modified to meet customer demands, impacts user comfort.
Referring to the next-generation elastic components as the “holy grail” of the hygiene market, Soltero reports that waistband tightness is a key concern in the adult incontinence market. To remedy this, “Conwed’s elastomeric netting offers superior recovery after being stretched and hysteresis performance that can be customized to deliver precise targets,” he says. “We believe our elastic netting offers customized hysteresis performance and superior heat and moisture management features.”
Allowing their customers to have a flexible manufacturing process is a key challenge of suppliers in the hygiene space. Adhesives supplier Bostik is addressing this with the Brilliance line, a high-performance olefin elastic attachment adhesive.
Calling Brilliance a major technological leap forward in the use of polyolefins in high-stress hot melt adhesive applications such as holding elastic strands in place in diapers and adult incontinence articles, a critical application in the function and fit of the products, Bostik executives say that Brilliance eliminates the former trade-offs between product performance and operational efficiencies that limits traditional olefin technology in the disposable hygiene industry.
“People need flexibility in what they are doing,” says global director of strategic marketing Diane Toonen. “Customers have consolidated, been acquired and gone through other changes, leaving them with a lot of different platform technologies. They need to be able to make changes to their materials quickly. If they are changing elastics or nonwovens, they need everything else to work. The adhesive is the last thing they look at and they need that to work.”
Brilliance allows for this flexibility while remaining robust. It also delivers improved fit, leakage protection and bond strength, lower product odor and reduction of bleedthrough.
Also driving demand for flexibility is the increasing importance of adult incontinence. As the fastest growing hygiene market in the world, the demands of adult incontinence are plentiful and Bostik offers adhesive solutions for these challenges. The company’s stretch adhesives are as soft as they are smart, allowing the product to discretely maintain its shape and keep customers dry and comfortable. Meanwhile, Bostik adhesives are able to form a strong bond between the elastic attachment of the product or within its general construction.
Within the baby diaper business, Bostik has addressed the challenges of producing thinner diapers with adhesives proven to maintain core integrity for better comfort and reliability. These smart adhesives are also compatible with all application methods and flexible enough to adhere to an expanded variety of substrates.
One trend being clearly seen in the diaper market is softness as manufacturers in some regions are using ultrasoft carded nonwovens on their diaper topsheets to improve baby’s comfort. According to Toonen, the adhesives must enable the use of those soft substrates, rather than inhibiting them. “There are many different ways to make soft substrates—fibers, additives—through all of these changes and the adhesive needs to bond well,” she says,. The same can be said for stretch. “We see people using more and more kinds of stretch—the stretchable side panels and belly elastics and even more fully stretchable pant product and the adhesives need to handle them.”
Mattia Revelli, nwi business manager for adhesives supplier Savare agrees that hygiene producers look for simplification and the ability to the same high quality adhesive formulation through a range of applications across their products like diapers, incontinence and feminine care. For example, the company’s high yield sprayable olefin construction adhesives provide such flexibility through new olefin technology.
“Hygiene Producers are more and more engaged to optimize the ‘cost-in-use” of each single adhesive application to achieve structural savings,” he says. “Therefore high yield Savare adhesives are extremely appreciated in the different applications.”
Like, Savare, H.B. Fuller’s Full-Care adhesives line offers a solution for every type of adhesive application in an absorbent product. The company recently extended this line with its latest Full-Care 9500 series of wetness indicators, and Conforma adhesive, a new adhesive technology that will stretch and retract.
Kirstin Hedin, global marketing director for H.B. Fuller’s Nonwovens Hygiene business, says the new products respond to the rising demands the adult incontinence market is placing on Fuller customers. “Consumers of incontinence products include a wide range of ages, body types and activity levels,” she says. “This range of users is driving new demands on absorbent products, which forces manufacturers to think differently about the next generation of product designs. Traditional briefs and underwear need to be thinner, softer, better fitting and more discreet, enabling the creation and manufacture of new categories of incontinence products.”
Conforma adhesive enables the look and feel of cotton underwear, allowing for control and flexibility in line while offering unique stretch and retraction features. When paired with an extensible nonwoven, it creates a soft, conformable fabric that hugs the curves of the body. This product achieves all this while offering flexibility in product design and manufacturing. “Elastomeric film and strand-based designs must be produced in a stretched state, requiring larger equipment and copious amounts of nonwoven,” Hedin says. “Conforma adhesive can be applied to extensible substrates in a relaxed state and with typical hot melt adhesive dispensing equipment. As with other adhesives, you can spray or slot coat Conforma adhesive, and adjust the coat weight depending on where and how much stretch is needed. Coupling with an extensible nonwoven can reduce the amount of nonwoven used and prevent the “puckered” look many adults associate with diaper-like designs.”
Fuller has also extended its product line outside of adhesives for the first time. In May 2016, the company acquired a global, exclusive license to an odor elimination technology called ODOGard. This technology is applied to the core of an absorbent product and will seek out odor molecules common in urine and feces, and change their physical structure so the malodor is no longer detectable. ODOGard is currently available to absorbent product manufacturers in the Americas and will be available in elsewhere in 2017
Colquimica also offers a full solution of adhesives to work with a wide range of end products, according to executive manager Sofia Koehler. “The complexity of the hygiene market is related to several aspects,” she says. “One of the aspects is the different requirements of each end-product for this industry. For example, adult incontinence disposable products must fulfill a full spectrum of special circumstances, going all the way from light to full incontinence.”
Following these market trends can also mean reformulating a range completely. For example, during the past decade diapers have gone from thick and bulky devices loaded with fluff pulp to products that are thinner yet more absorbent than ever.
These differences have inspired Colquimica to work on new formulations to be able to develop very soft and flexible hot-melts to achieve this goal. These formulations consider market trends like softness and stretch, allowing the company to offer tailor-made solutions to its hygiene customers.
Recent products from Colquimica include W201LM and W3034 adhesives. W210LM is a low melt adhesive for hygiene positioning that requires less activation temperature thus enabling the direct application of the adhesive on the PE film feasible, while W3034 is a huge improvement to Colquimica’s elastic range, having a 30% reduction on creep compared to standard market grades.
Meanwhile, Spraycare is a portfolio of Amorphous Polyolefin (APAO) based hot melts, sprayable at low temperatures, for the construction of diapers, developed to respond to the challenging needs of the market when it comes to odor, yield and cost.“The adhesive’s producer challenge recently has been mainly to offer solutions to cover add-on, odor and cost reduction whilst maintaining the same technical properties,” she says. “Colquimica’s experience, knowledge and developed partnerships assessment with the market leaders results on specific needs that are then passed to the R+D department which then continuously works to improve Colquimica’s current portfolio.
“The hygiene market is a sensitive being that it is in close contact to the final customer and thus it is subject to constant innovation and challenges from the hygiene manufacturers in order to get their customers fully satisfied,” Koehler adds. “For that matter each component producer is continuously challenged to improve, to be better.”