2015 Nonwovens Sales: $1.3 billion (estimated)
K-C Professional and Partnership Products
Thomas Falk, chairman and CEO; Elane Stock, president, K-C Professional; Richard Thorne, vice president, K-C Professional North America; Bob Stargel, vice president, K-C Global Nonwovens; Tony Fedel, business leader, K-C Professional Partnership Products
Corinth, MS; Balfour and Hendersonville, NC; Berkeley, NC, Lexington, NC; LaGrange, GA; Neenah, WI; Barton-upon-Humber, U.K.; Jaromer, Czech Republic
Certification achieved in Berkeley, NC; Lexington, NC; LaGrange, GA; and Barton (U.K.); other facilities in progress
Spunbond, meltblown, SMS, BCW, hydroentangled, film lamination, elastic lamination and Coform
Kimberly-Clark Professional; Protective Fabrics: Block-It, Dustop, Evolution, and Noah; Filtration Media: Intrepid, Powerloft, Cyclean
Filtration, construction, acoustics, consumer hygiene, industrial, medical, packaging, protective, sorbents, textile linings and wet wipes
Kimberly-Clark Corporation continues to focus on its nonwovens business both as a means to feed its giant consumer products business, which includes Huggies diapers, Kotex feminine hygiene products and Depend and Poise adult incontinence items, and as an important supplier of nonwovens technologies to many important end use markets.
A manufacturer of spunbond, meltblown and its own proprietary Coform technologies, K-C makes hundreds of thousands of tons of nonwovens at plants around the world. While about 85% of this output is consumed internally, K-C continues to market nonwovens in a number of market areas like filtration, construction, acoustics and delivery systems (wipes) where it works in partnership with its customers.
While some might think that Kimberly-Clark’s massive consumer products business dwarfs its nonwovens sales, executives insist that this is not the case. “External nonwovens sales are key to K-C’s overall business strategy,” says Robert Martin, associate category manager, Kimberly-Clark Professional. “We call this business our Partnership Products business, and it leverages various nonwovens technologies manufactured by Kimberly-Clark. We partner with outside companies that purchase these materials and convert them into end-use products that make people’s lives healthier, safer and more productive. For example, in filtration, our nonwovens are used in HVAC air filters to capture harmful particles.”
K-C’s leadership in external nonwovens is based on three elements: partnerships, value and scale. The company works as a true partner with its customers to help them create exceptional products, leveraging its vast experience and innovative nonwovens that have the same performance and quality as K-C’s own billion-dollar brands.
“We work with our customers in an enduring, collaborative and cross-functional manner that includes sales, marketing, research and engineering, planning and customer support professionals,” Martin says. “And our manufacturing capabilities enable us to meet our customers’ needs, including regulatory compliance. Our ability to use different and unique fibers and proprietary fabric constructions can help our customers achieve their desired product properties and differentiate them in the market.”
Kimberly-Clark’s global leadership position in many consumer markets surely helps its case in winning customers across a number of categories. “Our external nonwovens business supplies the same, proven nonwovens technologies that people know and trust from our consumer brands,” Martin adds. “This makes our offering ideal for other branded product marketers, because they understand that they can depend on our materials to deliver on their promise to customers.”
As a whole, Kimberly-Clark invests more than $300 million a year in research and development. Throughout its history, these efforts have contributed to pioneering roles in five of the company’s eight major consumer product categories, including bath tissue, roll towels, feminine hygiene, facial tissue and training pants. Additionally, K-C holds leadership roles in other consumer product categories like baby diapers, adult incontinence and baby wipes.
In recent months, the company has focused on growing its wipes business outside of baby care. On the consumer products side, in December 2015, K-C introduced several wipes products in its first facial cleansing line, which is an extension of its Kleenex tissue brand. The line includes dual-side exfoliating cushions that smooth and polish the skin; moist facial cleaning wipes; soft cotton pads; moist eye makeup removers and shine away sheets, which feature double-sided fabric technology that lifts and traps oil without smudging makeup.
“Kleenex has a strong heritage in making high-quality tissue fabrics, and we are extending that knowledge into new innovations for effective facial cleansing,” says Eniko Olah, senior brand manager.
Meanwhile, within the Partnership Products business, household cleaning applications have become a focus on its delivery systems, or wipes, business. K-C’s new Hydroknit technology features a basesheet that combines meltblown and Hydroknit technologies. The dual structure allows the material to overcome the limitations of single-attribute wipes by providing a scrubby side for extra cleaning power—thanks to KC’s dual-texture meltblown—and a strong, absorbent, cloth-like side—thanks to Hydroknit.
According to Martin, wet wipes made with this material can be used throughout the home, for a number of cleaning tasks. “Not only do they provide a convenient and easy way to clean, their strength means they dispense with less tearing,” he says.
“Plus, the meltblown component provides metered release of cleaning chemistry, which means it releases fluid more evenly. As a result, less liquid is wasted when the wipe is thrown away. It also means that users can clean more space with each wipe, because the cleaning chemistry is not dumped on the first surface it touches. In general, our base sheets offer our product manufacturer customers the opportunity to add value to their offering and maintain their brand image in the marketplace by extending their product lines with innovative performance.”
Beyond Hydroknit, the delivery systems business offer a variety of substrates that deliver chemical formulations in a wet wipe format allowing its customers—wipes manufacturers—to enter a wide range of wet wipe applications. “One of the key advantages that our customers value most is the metered release of chemistry,” Martin says. “In many cleaning applications, the ability to dependably get the most out of each wipe is a great benefit and real differentiator for our customers.”
Moving to K-C’s filtration business, Martin says filter manufacturers responding to their customers’ desire for products that provide end users better cost-in use in all product categories. “We also see increasing demand for higher efficiency products driven by interest among facility owners and managers—as well as homeowners—in creating spaces free from airborne contaminants,” he adds. “Achieving these two goals is at the forefront of many filter manufacturers’ minds and we help them address both of these issues with our air filtration media’s excellent performance capturing the submicron airborne particles that can cause health issues while maintaining a low pressure drop for energy savings.”
On the consumer products front, K-C continues to invest in emerging markets to fuel growth of its diapers, feminine hygiene products and adult incontinence items. In China, K-C is adding a new diaper manufacturing facility in Tianjin. The 300,000 square-meter-plant will help grow K-C’s diaper business in China, where Huggies have been sold since 1997. The company, which has had assets in the country since 1994, also has facilities in Beijing, Nanjing and Shanghai, which produce several well-known brands such as Kotex, Huggies, Kleenex, and Depend.
Elsewhere in Asia, K-C is reportedly adding new manufacturing lines for Huggies baby wipes and diaper pants in Tuas, Singapore. This multi-million dollar investment brings Kimberly-Clark’s total investment in Singapore to nearly $300 million. The company first set up its Singapore office in 1998 and established its ASEAN office and Asia-Pacific headquarters there in 2012.
The new manufacturing lines reportedly feature advanced and automated technologies for the production of Huggies brand baby wipes and diaper pants, which will be exported to 11 other countries including China and Australia in the region. Asia-Pacific is Kimberly-Clark’s biggest international region by revenue.
On the nonwovens side, K-C is reportedly undergoing a major investment in its proprietary Coform technology, which largely serves the wipes market. Marking the first major expansion of this technology in about 10 years, new lines are being built in Korea, Colombia, Brazil and Singapore to support K-C’s growth in the global baby wipes market, which is being propelled by advancing sales of Huggies diapers in developing areas.