According to recent figures from market researcher Smithers Pira, the industrial wipes market is expected to generate $3 billion in sales and consume around 302,000 tons of nonwovens by the end of this year. These numbers are predicted to increase to just over $4 billion in sales and 427,6000 tons of consumed nonwovens by the year 2021.
When the EPA published its wiper rule in 2013, it conditionally excluded solvent-contaminated wipes from hazardous waste regulations as long as businesses disposed of them properly. The EPA determined that wipes contaminated with certain hazardous solvents do not pose significant risk to human health and the environment when managed properly. Because of the rule, disposable, nonlaundered wipers have become more competitive with laundered shop towels.
It’s been up to each state in the U.S. to adopt the rule, and INDA, the Association of the Nonwoven Fabrics Industry, has weighed in with more than 15 states to encourage their adoption of it, while keeping its members in the know. “A chunk of the states were moving forward with the rule regardless, but some of the states were undecided and we’ve provided written submissions and information to them to encourage their adoption,” says Jessica Franken, INDA’s director of Government Affairs.
So far, 28 states spanning the country have adopted the ruling, Arizona being the most recent, while six states, California, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Minnesota and Rhode Island, have refused to adopt the rule. One state, New Hampshire, adopted the rule but modified its provisions by only allowing these wipers to be disposed of in municipal waste combustors—not in landfills.
INDA is continuing to track the remaining 15 states and is encouraged that some of them will implement the rule in the coming years.
“We’ve always suspected that the number of states that would adopt would be in the range of 38-42 states, and the remaining states that don’t are states that generally don’t pick up rules that are left regulatory—they are states that tend to prefer more regulation,” Franken says. “So we think that we’ll have a critical mass of states when this process is all said and done. But 38-42 states adopting the rule are certainly better than what we were looking at prior to the rule being adopted. That’s a meaningful impact.”
Berry Plastics, which attained the Chicopee brands Durawipe and Veraclean when it acquired Avintiv in 2015, reports that some of the growth for Chicopee wipes can be attributed to the wiper rule. “The wiper rule has given facilities options that may not have been there before, so we’re seeing more nonwovens used,” says Dawn Huston, director of Product Marketing, Wipes – Americas, Health, Hygiene, and Specialties Division, Berry Plastics. “While launderers are still supplying many locations within a facility, where end users may want the bulkiness of a shop towel, the ruling has opened up opportunities for nonwoven wipers in different places within a manufacturing facility, especially when you look at the needs of different manufacturing processes.”
While the wiper rule was certainly good news for the industry, it hasn’t been driving the market as much as expected.
From a converter’s perspective, Jeff Slosman, founder and president of National Wiper Alliance, hasn’t seen much of a change since the wiper rule was published. “Though many thought the EPA rule would be a windfall for the industry, we have not seen a drastic increase in requests to displace rental towels or traditional textiles used in the market,” he says.
Even without a staggering increase in this sector since the rule was published, National Wiper, which produces a full range of wipes from single use disposables to washable and multi-use reusable wipes, continues to invest in its technology to meet its customers’ demands. In the last year, the company added six folders with two more being installed in early 2017. National Wiper also added new packaging lines to complement additional converting lines.
Wipers with a Purpose
In the works for some time now, Berry Plastics is ready to launch its newest line of general purpose wipers for the industrial market. Later this month at ISSA/INTERCLEAN Chicago, the company will be introducing a series of heavy, medium and light duty general purpose wipers that are designed to have high oil absorbency, high water absorbency, low linting and abrasion resistance using its Spinlace nonwovens technology, which Huston describes as being kind to the skin.
“When you use a general purpose wiper within a manufacturing facility, you’re not only wiping the surfaces of your parts or your assembly line, but you’re also wiping your hands and your face,” she says. “In these facilities, there can be a lot of issues with dermatitis because they can be wet or harsh environments, the hands could be scratched up or abraded through the harshness of some of the chemicals, soaps and sanitizers. So the nice thing about our new general purpose industrial wipers under our Durawipe brand is that it’s strong enough for the job but soft enough for your skin.”
Berry’s customers are looking to improve the health and safety of their employees, and the skin-friendly Spinlace nonwovens are up to the task. The technology utilizes a highly efficient process that incorporates almost limitless material inputs, including pulp, with high-speed hydroentanglement. The process also uses its proprietary Apex technology to impart customizable three-dimensional images directly into the fabric to impart both functional and aesthetic attributes.
A second line producing Spinlace at Berry’s Benson, NC, facility went into full production just over a year ago. In addition to the much-needed additional capacity, new capabilities added to the line have helped with the company’s latest Durawipe launch, Huston says. “It’s enabled us to add colors and different unwinds for our specialized wiping categories. If we want to have a different construct based upon desired performance attributes, we can do designer engineered wipes now with the Spinlace line. These added capabilities allow us to work more closely with our partners on designing a wipe to their specific needs,” she explains.
The new Durawipe general purpose wipes will be available in pop up boxes, perforated jumbo rolls and quarter fold, with wall mount or floor stand dispensers available. The quarter fold wipers will also be available in vend packs that go into vending machines, an area that is becoming more popular at manufacturing facilities, Huston points out. “Businesses want to measure usage, the same way they do some of the other supplies that employees are getting when they don’t have a tool crib,” she says. “A lot of businesses, especially the smaller operations, are trying to control their costs and manage their inventory levels, so vending is replacing tool cribs at some of these locations.”
Meanwhile, following its 2014 acquisition of DuPont’s Sontara spunlace technology, wipes industry veteran the Jacob Holm Group has continued to transform its spunlace nonwovens business, most recently investing in a $65 million line in North America that features proprietary technology. Industrial wipe substrates are being developed on the new line, in addition to nonwovens for flushable wipes and certain healthcare applications.
In fact, earlier this year the group launched its Sontara General Industrial Wipers line designed to clean up nearly everything safely and efficiently, the company says. “In contrast to competing offerings, we have simplified the end-users’ selection of the right wiper through offering it in three categories only; heavy, medium and light duty,” says Martin Mikkelsen, CEO of Jacob Holm Group. Sontara’s new Light Duty wipers feature a brand-new patent-protected substrate, which gives the ease-of use and high absorption.
“None of our wipes contain binder glues as an effort to meet the demand for low lint,” Mikkelsen says. “We are recognized for wipes with minimal defects and no contamination.”
The versatility of the brand’s wipes range is also something customers value, he adds. “Our new Sontara General Industrial Wipers cater to this previously unmet need as they can be used to clean glass, clean up oil and grease and more.”
Sontara’s complete line of industrial wiping products can be used in specialty markets such as aerospace, automotive, cleanroom and others.
With its recent investments in a new wetlaid line at its plant in Bethune, SC, and upgrading an existing line Alicante, Spain, Suominen has strengthened its production capabilities in the workplace segment. These investments resulted in the May 2016 launch of Suominen@work, a line of substrates serving manufacturers of workplace wipes. End-use applications of these nonwovens include wipes used in fast food restaurants, healthcare facilities and factories.
Eileen Calder, product manager, Workplace, says a lack of superior nonwoven substrates in the industrial wipes market motivated the company to launch the new line. “The Suominen@work product line is different from conventional industrial wipes substrates because Suominen@work products are specifically designed for wipes that must perform in the most demanding work environments,” she says. “We know that a conventional, low-cost, ‘all-purpose’ industrial wipe won’t do the job and that’s why we introduced Suominen@work nonwovens for wipes that will. Different workplace, different wipe, different nonwoven substrate.”
The substrates under the line are specifically engineered for each individual workplace application, and Suominen can “co-innovate” with its customers to develop specific nonwovens for new workplace applications.
The final product is meant to make workplaces safer for everyone. “Consumers want to be absolutely certain that they don’t pick up germs when, for example, being treated in a hospital or visiting a restaurant,” Calder says. “The same goes for professionals that use wipes at work: Personnel in restaurants and hospitals want to minimize the risk of an unclean environment causing harm or infecting customers or patients, or themselves.”
She adds that it’s essential for business owners to keep its employees and customers healthy and safe, but to do it effectively in terms of time and money. “Wipes made of nonwovens designed for that specific workplace application may not be the least expensive option here but undisputedly the best option because they actually perform. There is no room for a trade-off between costs and customer safety,” she says.
A Substrate Evolves
Also making a push in the industrial wipes market is Freudenberg Performance Materials. The Weinheim, Germany-based nonwovens producer is continuing to develop new uses for its Evolon microfilament nonwoven material. While the material has been used for heavyweight high-tech cleaning cloths enduring hundreds of wash cycles at constant performance, Freudenberg sought to combine the benefits of microfilaments and the convenience of disposability to develop a new range of lightweight wipe substrates under the Evolon brand.
Evolon lightweight wipes can be used for highly demanding applications requiring the best surface preservation in industries such as automotives and aerospace, according to Freudenberg Performance Materials. Endless microfilaments make Evolon lint-free, strong, mechanically stable and isotropic, providing extended durability and stability-in-use for dry or wet disposable and semi-disposable lightweight wipes.
The substrate can absorb up to four times its weight in water and eight times its weight in oil. Design and patterning flexibility include flat, mesh or the new three-dimensional structures, offering product differentiation. “The pattern was originally a more stringent subject in consumer markets, but we are more and more required by the industrial market to provide unique-looking products with superior cleaning performance,” says Jean-François Kerhault, business segment manager Evolon.
Pre-impregnated Evolon substrates provide task-specific light wet wipes required by a more and more segmented industrial market, the company says. Due to Evolon’s microfilament structure, impregnation remains stable over the product’s lifetime, ensuring constant liquid release.
Available in 30gsm to 240gsm fabrics, Evolon lightweight substrates can be converted into flat wipes, perforated rolls, pull-ups and interfolds.
Blue Thunder Technologies, a distributor and manufacturer of cleanroom consumables and electronics assembly supplies for controlled environments and industrial settings, recently launched a nonwoven wipe for cleanrooms.
Thunder 1 Wipes are ISO 6 (Class 1000) cleanroom compatible. These nonwoven poly-cellulose blend wipes are suitable for a variety of surfaces and wiping applications. They are durable, abrasion resistant, absorbent and virtually free of particle generation. The wipes are comprised of a synergistic blend of virgin polyester and cellulose that is hydroentangled into a uniform, super-tough fabric.
Packaged with 360 wipes per bag, Thunder 1 Wipes offer 20% more wipes than traditional packaging of comparable wipes, according to Matt Hatfield, marketing manager, Blue Thunder Technologies. “We found that offering more wipes per bag saves end-users time and money, especially over long periods of time. Experimenting with a variety of different packaging offerings ultimately led us to 360 wipes per bag because of the positive feedback from our trial users,” he adds.
Thunder 1 Wipes are made in the U.S. at the company’s Enfield, CT manufacturing facility. “We have full control of the production process, something that really sets us apart from quality control standpoint,” Hatfield says.
In the near future, Blue Thunder Technologies will diversify its wipes portfolio with the launch of two industrial shop wipe options, Hatfield says. n