Beyond wipes, spunlace is finding a place in other markets like baby diapers and feminine hygiene products as lighter grammages and more efficient manufacturing processes have made the technology a more affordable choice for hygiene manufacturers seeking the softness and absorbency that spunlace delivers. While many of the manufacturers interviewed by Nonwovens Industry continue to cite the wipes market as its largest user, new capacity is fueling not only growth in wipes but also expansion into these other new markets for spunlace.
“The market outlook seems to vary from end use application to another,” says Saara Söderburg, vice president marketing and product development, Suominen. “For example, we have for some time already witnessed additional capacity resulting in tightening supply/demand situation and competition, coupled with decreasing market growth for nonwovens for baby wipes, while more value-adding end uses, such as workplace or institutional use for example, are showing attractive growth figures.”
As spunlace investment continues in the western world with new lines being added by Mogul, Suominen and Norafin in the U.S., expansion in developed markets has been making more headlines in recent months.
Leading the way on expansion is China. In October 2016, machinery supplier Truetzschler announced it would supply Chinese nonwovens producer Zhejiang Wang Jin with two new spunlace lines.
One of the lines is a high speed carding line featuring Truetzschler’s well-known random roller technology. This line will fulfill the demand for outstanding web quality at high speeds. Meanwhile, the second investment is a crosslapper line designed to produce high quality products with low MD/CD ratios. Once running it will be the most advanced crosslapper line worldwide.
Zhejiang Wang Jin Nonwoven Company Ltd. was founded in December 2015 by a strong technical team with well experienced management. The company has a strong financial background and is ready to compete in the spunlace nonwovens products market with plans to ultimately invest RMB 660 million, or nearly $100 million, in eight advanced technology spunlace lines, all from Truetzschler. This will allow Zhejiang Wang Jin to explore opportunities in new markets and fulfill customer demands around the world, according to executives. The company expects to ultimately make 75,000 tons of material with sales of about RMB 1.85 billion or $275 million per year.
The initial two lines will begin production sometime in 2017 and will mainly target wet wipes, face masks and other hygiene products.
Another Chinese company with aggressive spunlace plans is Hangzhou Pengtu, which has already purchased a 3.6-meter line from Andritz and has plans to ultimately invest in as many as six new lines within the next three years. The initial investment, which is on track to start up later this year, includes an Andritz neXline spunlace eXcelle line with two TT cards, which is now a new standard in China for the high-capacity production of wipes. The new nonwovens line will have an annual capacity of 20,000 tons for the production of spunlace fabrics from 30-80 gsm. A Jetlace Essentiel hydroentanglement unit and a neXdry through-air dryer are also part of the order.
Hangzhou Pengtu began operation in 1998 and has developed very quickly in the field of artificial leather coatings. The company is now looking to enter the nonwovens industry with the spunlace process—hoping to become one of the leading Chinese spunlace producers.
“After the decision by the Chinese government to stop the single-child policy at the end of 2015, Chinese spunlace producers decided to anticipate the future market demand and make new investments,” says Andritz sales director A. Michalon. “They invested in a new generation of spunlace lines, not only for the local market but also for worldwide demand. New lines are coming onstream to offer top-quality spunlace fabrics complying with international standards.”
In addition to Chinese investment, Michalon has seen increased investment in the Middle East and Turkey, which are largely supplying the European market, and in Germany, which is focusing more on technical applications. Meanwhile, in North America, the market is oriented toward high capacity and sophisticated lines.
“We can see there is now globalization of the key players, as was the case some years ago in the spunbond market,” he adds. “Indeed, the trend for major producers is to reinforce their position and serve their local markets better.”
Mogul Heads to the U.S.
Serving markets locally was the key motivation behind Mogul’s recent expansion into the U.S. After successfully entering the spunlace market with investments at its Turkish headquarters over the past decade, Mogul announced last year it would add a parallel laid spunlace line offering the newest technologies in web formation, slitting and packaging at a new site in Gray Court, SC to better serve its customers in the Americas.
“North America is Mogul’s largest market and our customers have been asking for the U.S. supply of parallel laid spunlace to shorten their lead times and drive cost out of the supply chain,” says U.S. sales manager Jonathan Layer. “The U.S. market also represents significant long-term growth opportunities and is also well positioned as a point of entry into Central and South America, China, and Asian Pacific markets.”
Meanwhile, in Turkey, Mogul produces parallel laid spunlace products that serve domestic and export markets in North America, Europe and the Middle East, primarily with wipes and other technical applications. Output from this line will be relieved, to some extent, by a transition to the new line in South Carolina, so Mogul plans to expand its customer base in other areas to maintain capacity utilization.
Mogul’s other recent investment, a new line in a new facility near Istanbul, Turkey, makes a crosslap spunlace technology, sold under the Durell brand name. This technology allows Mogul to target wet and dry wipes, automotive, artificial leather, medical, depilation pads, coating substrates and more and features an impregnation system to add technical treatments such as fire retardants, water repellents, stiffness and other value-add finishes.
“With these capabilities we will target applications in wipes, hygiene, filtration, automotive and other technical markets where our materials can add unique performance and cost benefits,” Layer says.
Akinal Nonwovens, another Turkish spunlace manufacturer, also continues to invest in its integrated virgin polyester staple fiber and nonwoven production line operations. “With the help of this technology and state-of-art production lines we will be able to serve mainly wipes market (wet and dry) and all other hygiene markets,” says foreign trade manager Onder Karadag.
As Akinal, along with its fellow spunlace manufacturers, continue to add capacity globally, Karadag says he thinks an oversupply situation will ensue that will lead to a period of intense competition and innovation, which will lead to new opportunities for the technology.
Elsewhere in the world, Welspun has been successfully growing is spunlace business from its Indian location, serving markets worldwide.
“With India’s economy growing at 6-8%, increasing healthcare expenditures and consumer awareness about health and hygiene indicates tremendous opportunity ahead,” says Pranay Sahu, Welspun general manager. “Wipes as a product category is popular mainly in the metro cities—rural India is still to accept such products.”
Welspun has always focused in developing innovative products—currently 40-45% of volume is its own brand products—and believes that working transparently with its customers as partners, offering solutions and stellar customer service has helped it to stay ahead in any competition.
Also benefitting Welspun is its fully customized spunlace technology, which was developed over a 10-year period with its German supplier. The company currently operates two lines and is currently modifying these lines to increase capacity 25-30% in the next few months.
Life Beyond Wipes
As traditional markets for wipes continues to increase their penetration levels, manufacturers of spunlaced nonwovens are diversifying their product portfolio—not just to target new wipes areas but also to enter new markets. For Suominen, diversification outside of wipes has been a big part of its growth plan, which was announced in 2012. The company’s non-wipes businesses, which mainly include hygiene and medical applications, are grouped into its Care division, which, while considerably smaller than its Convenience, or wipes, business, is valued for its strong growth potential.
“The features of spunlaced nonwoven make it ideal for absorbent hygiene products, since spunlaced nonwoven is typically very soft, skin-friendly and absorbent,” Söderburg says. “Suominen has had a small hygiene business in the past—so we have the knowhow—and now our aim is to grow it into proportionally more significant business.”
Currently, hygiene and medical sales represent 8% of Suominen’s sales, while baby wipes contribute 38%, personal care wipes 25%, household wipes 18% and workplace wipes 10%. Investments in lines in Alicante, Spain, and Paulina, Brazil, have helped Suominen expand its product line for medical applications with new products like Fibrella Zorb and Fibrella Zorb+, absorbent materials, which can be used in operating rooms and other critical surgical environments.
Also, Suominen’s large wetlaid line, which will begin commercialization this spring in Bethune, SC, represents the largest single investment in the company’s history, and will also help expand sales in the medical market while expanding the company’s technology in flushable substrates.
Within the hygiene segment, Suominen’s award winning Fibrella Lite technology is able to meet the exacting requirements for a light yet stretchable material with strength and elongation properties required in laminates for absorbent hygiene products in baby care and adult incontinence applications. Offering versatility for a combination of materials using hot melt, extrusion, heat and ultrasonic lamination, Fibrella’s cloth-like, extremely soft feel, breathability and skin-friendliness make it an ideal element in laminates for hygiene products.
Of course, as Suominen has upped its focus on markets like hygiene, wipes continues to be an important strategic market for the company. In January, Suominen launched Airlace for Workplace, a new nonwoven substrate for professional wiping that performs in the most demanding work environments and offers the best cost-in-use. This novel nonwoven product was made possible by Suominen’s recent investments in production technology and research and development issues.
Airlace for Workplace was designed to answer the need for better performing workplace wipes, which is being driven by business’ need to create a safe and healthy environment for customers and employees while improving the overall efficiency. Airlace does this with its strength, durability and absorption capabilities.
“We have been able to make Airlace for Workplace unbeatable in absorbency. When combined with exceptional dry and wet strength, both superior to those of current market leading products, we are confident to say that Airlace for Workplace offers the best performance and value in the market,” says Eileen Calder, product manager for Workplace segment at Suominen.
With three spunlace lines in Germany, Sandler Nonwovens continues to focus on new product areas both within and beyond the wipes market to grow its spunlace business. “Diversification is a main driver of growth,” says Carolin Weber, sales director hygiene and wipes. “We are targeting a broad range of applications outside the baby wipes market and will continue to do so in the future. Innovations developed in cooperation with our customers continue to advance nonwovens as well as the wipes market as a whole.”
At INDEX 2017 next month, Sandler plans to showcase wipes substrates that can “add that certain something” to cosmetics applications and baby care products. Sawatex classy silk features excellent cleaning efficiency and above all an extraordinarily silky touch, rendering every use into a wellness-treatment. Sawatex lace-o-paque offers softness and high bulk, offering gentle care for little explorers. The new embossing design “square” captures the attention of another market segment: Small squares render the substrate bulkier and increase its surface—for even better results in cleaning applications.
With a “double action” substrate for cleaning wipes Sandler gets to grips with dirt. The multi-layer nonwoven features a coarse side for efficient cleaning and a smooth side for gentle polishing and grooming the cleaned surface. Within the disinfectant wipes category, Sandler nonwovens now come in different color variants in various pastel shades, enabling a visual differentiation of various application areas.
Outside of wipes, Sandler is looking on hygiene and technical applications that hold a high potential for spunlaced technology. “As we are active in a variety of markets, we are also aware of the increasing range of applications for spunlaced nonwovens in industries other than wipes,” Weber says. “Our objective is to offer a wide product range to all our customers and therefore, we are expanding the use of spunlaced nonwovens to new applications.”
As the move toward added value products helps expand the role of spunlace into new areas outside of wipes, experts agree that spunlace technology will continue its dominance in wipes.
“For wipes, spunlaced nonwovens are a perfect choice thanks to their outstanding features: softness, skin-friendliness and ability to absorb,” Suominen’s Söderburg adds. “As it is possible to manufacture them to be fully biodegradable, they are able to answer the consumer’s desire to buy products that are less harmful to the environment. We see no reason why spunlace would not retain its position as a primary technology for wipe applications, but obviously the healthy growth of wiping makes space for other technologies, such as wetlaid, to step up too.”
Autefa Solutions, a key supplier for carded and crosslapped nonwovens production lines, is expanding its offerings to include spunlace lines. Autefa Solutions Switzerland (formerly Strahm) is introducing the new modular square drum dryer SQ-V for spunlace with proven energy savings up to 40%. The square drum dryer SQ-V concept combines the best of both worlds—the low space requirement of a drum dryer with the best drying efficiency and controllable airflow sections of a nozzle system. Square drum dryers have replaced already existing spunlace drum dryers in Europe because of their ability to off an energy savings advantage.
Autefa Solutions leads the way in innovation—the company’s credo—and this included a commitment to provide new technology along with customer benefits. Extensive research and development work and trials on the Autefa Solutions lab line have paid off and a new energy efficient jet design is the result. Energy savings of more than 30% compared with existing spunlace systems could be achieved through the new patented hydroentangeling unit.
In August, Autefa announced it had sold its first spunlace line to Hangzhou Xiaoshan Phoenix Textile Company in China. The line consists of fiber preparation, two cards, a crosslapper, V-Jet hydroentanglement, a square drum jet dryer and end-of-line equipment and will make materials for the medical/sanitary and artificial leather segments.
“We are always looking for possibilities to improve the economic performance of our machinery and the new spunlace solutions from Autefa have shown a high potential in this aspect,” explains Jack Shi, CEO of Hangzhou Xiaoshan Phoenix.