Nick Carter, director of Business Intelligence at spunbond specialist Avgol reports strong, consistent growth for nonwovens in the automotive market, along with increased opportunity to add value to the automotive manufacturing process. Reflecting the strong development, intelligence firm McKinsey projects that global profits for OEM businesses are expected to rise by 50%t by the close of 2020, he says. Currently, over 40 individual components in the production of domestic vehicles use nonwoven materials from trunk lining to tyre strengthening layers, and as designs become more complex, costs become ever more critical for commercial success. SKUs also continue to proliferate within the process ensuring demand for non-wovens within the automotive industry is only set to increase. Likewise, the burgeoning automotive sector offers opportunities to develop the nonwovens market, heightening the need for manufacturers to develop new product sustainability, functionality and performance attributes.
Carter discussed his thoughts on how nonwoven are helping change the way automotives designers do business with Nonwovens Industry.
How do conditions in the automotives market differ by region?
NC: One of the core differences we are finding is the value-centric nature of how material decisions are made in the long term and how different geographic regions prefer to tackle the same challenges.
Sustainability is a great example. Across the North American automotive market we see a drive toward naturally derived resins from the outset, where European businesses seem to prefer material that can be repurposed at the end of its life. Asia-Pacific, the market experiencing some of the fastest growth, puts a priority on material that can be recycled into the same or alternative products.
In terms of functionality, markets globally are becoming more price driven than ever before, galvanized by a need to drive margins in the wake of an expanding customer base. Manufacturers across all geographies are seeking to bolster and support the inherent value proposition. The aesthetic value of non-wovens seems less important in North America, where non-wovens tend to be used in more ‘behind the scenes’ applications. Manufacturers in Asia-Pacific regions – India in particular - tend to view the look of non-wovens more as an added value factor to the application when compared to North American manufacturers, whereas European businesses tend to lie somewhere in-between. All regions attach a large amount of customer-focused value to the other strong benefits of non-wovens, including odor absorption, antimicrobial qualities combined with easy cleaning, as well as the benefits of the ‘softness’ of non-wovens.
All regions have commonality in performance demands, evaluating function against weight. A common theme across all global markets is also a growing drive to reduce weight and ‘downgauge’ without reducing functionality, which leads a lot of the sector’s innovations.
Is the role of nonwovens expanding in automotive applications? If so, what is causing this?
NC: Absolutely, we’re seeing not only a growth in the use of non-wovens in automotive manufacturing, but it’s also core to a number of material developments. More businesses are seeing the weight reduction over solid plastics to be a real benefit. This is part of the automotive industry’s push for greater sustainability; vehicles and components need to be lighter and more efficient than ever before, which means non-wovens are finding a surge in new applications that make use of its performance characteristics while also reducing total plastic consumption.
Non-woven materials are also very simple to convert to automobile components, requiring only ultrasonic welding. Manufacturers have begun to compare this to the complex, time-intensive and expensive plastic moulding dies that have been common for so long and are finding real supply chain value by investigating non-woven solutions. On top of this, non-woven fabric is a highly adaptable material format, which means it’s easier and more cost-efficient to develop and introduce new functionality, which today's innovation-led manufacturers really appreciate.
What advantages can nonwovens offer to car designers? Are you seeing more opportunities for spun melt nonwovens in this area?
NC: It’s a very exciting time for the non-wovens sector. The material is highly versatile, bringing bottom line value to a wide spectrum of components and functions. The opportunities are abundant and growing each year. The ease of variation is a real advantage to OEM and production businesses, particularly as customers increasingly demand choice and SKUs are proliferating as a result of this. A major advantage to automotive manufacturers is that non-wovens are highly conformable to space and dimension constraints.
Can you comment on competition in the automotive market? Is this a difficult one to do business in?
NC: The automotive market is a unique sector that demands an equally unique approach to business and product development. Historically, the market and its use of non-wovens could use older non-woven production equipment to fulfil its requirements, predominantly equipment and lines that had previously produced material for hygiene applications. However, due to the growing demand for non-wovens in automotive manufacturing and the wider variety of roles the material plays, it requires more significant investment in prime equipment that can fully deliver the full scope of benefits that the format offers.
Is Avgol currently offering any new products or technologies for the automotives market?
NC: Our FIT™ (Forward Innovative Thinking) technology development strategy is perfectly aligned to the automotive market. In the complex world of automotive design, where every component is there for a reason, the FIT family of technologies brings additional benefits and qualities into the substrate from the very outset. A unique blend of functionality, design and chemistries imbues the material with real customer-led benefits. In market spaces such as vehicles and transport, where we spend so much of our time, this has real implications on supporting a great purchase and use experience.
EnhanceFIT™ Breathe, for example, enhances the elasticity, breathability and barrier performance of the material, making it ideal for use in automotive interior applications. Another part of the FIT strategy, beneFIT™ Care, adds beneficial nutrient oils and minerals into the material, reducing friction while also enhancing the skin wellness and odor absorption qualities of the fabric.
The most recent addition to the portfolio, natureFIT™ Gentle brings even greater sustainability into the process by reducing polymer consumption while boosting conformability.
As lightweight components continue to be in high demand, conscientious businesses understand that this must never come at the expense of quality or performance, which is where the intensive strategy and development at Avgol really shines. The combination of our continuous development and investment, particularly in the growing Asia-Pacific market, makes Avgol perfectly placed to help drive inherent supply chain value for automotive manufacturers.