While many news stories were important to the global nonwovens industry this year, the following headlines stood out as having the most lasting impact on the shape of the future of nonwovens.
Adult Incontinence Innovation
Adult incontinence continues to offer significant opportunity for hygiene manufacturers, and in 2017 several new products reflected the rapid rate of innovation in this category.
In May 2017, Procter & Gamble introduced Always Discreet Boutique, a line of beautiful bladder leak underwear offering maximum protection.
Sion Agami, a research fellow in P&G’s feminine care business and a key collaborator on the creation of the underwear, said the company connected with incontinence sufferers and considered thousands of design combinations in developing this product, which bridges the gap between incontinence protection and fashionable underwear.
“We had the opportunity to help people regain their self esteem and help them feel beautiful again, he says. “By doing the right research at the right time, we were able to come up with the right strategy. We are replacing grandmama’s diapers with mama’s sexy underwear,” Agami explains.
To develop the product and find out exactly what incontinence sufferers want, P&G formed an online community where women were able to interact with other women with similar conditions.
About 77% of bladder leak underwear users say that, while effective, current products make them feel older than they would like to feel and erode their confidence and femininity. Two in three women who have tried bladder leak underwear say they avoid wearing them even when they know they need them.
P&G hopes this is about to change. Made with silky-soft fabric and curve-hugging contours and available in a rosé color with delicate lace prints, the design was inspired by fashion industry trends with the help of lingerie experts and fashion designers.
Alyne protective underwear, developed by newcomer Advanced Absorbent Technologies, manages fluid absorption differently by using multiple layers of different superabsorbent polymers (SAPs) that absorb at different rates, from quick absorption to complete absorption without bulkiness. The SAP layers are diamond quilted in a pocketed structure, sandwiched between layers of polypropylene spunbond and then ultrasonically bonded together.
This design can provide stability, excellent SAP absorbency management, thinness, dryness for more comfort and discretion that provides the wearer confidence through protection. Alyne received the 2017 Hygienix Innovation Award at INDA’s Hygienix conference in Austin, TX, last month.
While AAT is a newcomer to hygiene, its founders are not. Partners Joe Howard, Din Sheldon and Bill Terenzoni were executives at Covidien’s Retail Group until the division was sold to First Quality. A few years later, they came together to address what they saw as a lack in innovation in the adult incontinence category.
“We decided to focus on the key need for users in this category by designing a product that would be more dignified to wear,” Howard says. “To do that, we came up with the concept of eliminating all the thick wood pulp used by traditional products. In addition, we decided to use colored fit threads to provide unique aesthetics, and opted to establish our own product sizes to better fit all consumers.”
After many trials, the team decided to focus on a pulpless design. Developing a comparable or better speed of absorbency without pulp is not an easy task. “That’s why we developed the four-layer diamond quilt embossing system which uses multiple absorbents, each completing a specific task,” Howard adds. “We think this concept will completely change the way pull-on underwear is manufactured, over time, significantly reducing the cost of converting equipment.”
According to Euromonitor, India, with its 1.3 billion population and booming economy, has become a hot investment destination for global investors in many markets. From international giants to Chinese manufacturers, industrial players from a wide range of markets have expanded their footprints there, and the disposable hygiene market is no exception. All the big international hygiene product brands like Procter & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson, Kimberly-Clark and Unicharm have established facilities or operated branches in India.
According to estimates from market research company Euromonitor, the India tissue paper and hygiene product market will grow significantly until 2020. During this time, the market size will increase from current 57.8 billion Rupee ($870 million) to 100 billion Rupee ($1.5 billion). Euromonitor points out that the strong demand mainly comes from the increasing income of countryside consumers and their pursuing of more comfortable and convenient lives.
The continuous improvement of literacy rates, the enhancement of consumers’ safety and sanitary consciousness, and extended lifespan, plus improvements in conditions in rural areas, have all created opportunities for expansion of the hygiene market. The Indian people want to improve their living standard and incomes. They have increased the percentage of working females and upgraded consumers’ consumption habits. These factors will help to fuel the development of disposable hygiene markets. The Indian disposable hygiene market is consumer dependent, quite similar to that of China, where people there also hope to use necessary products to improve their quality of life.
Japanese hygiene products company Unicharm announced in November it would add a third disposable diaper plant in the country, aiming to boost its output capacity in the growing market by 50%. The new facility, valued at up to ¥20 billion ($176 million), will be located in Ahmedabad, in the state of Gujarat.
Unicharm entered the Indian diaper market with its Mamy Poko brand eight years ago and is already in the No. 2 position, behind only Procter & Gamble’s Pampers brand.
Meanwhile, on the nonwovens side, Avgol and Toray have both announced plans to add lines in the country.
Diaper Recycling Gains Ground
Interest in creating a second life for disposable baby diapers continues to grow. At the lead in these efforts is Procter & Gamble, which announced this year that it is moving ahead with a diaper recycling operation in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. The company has partnered with AEB Amsterdam to launch a diaper recycling program, similar to one already underway in Italy through P&G subsidiary Fater. The operation should be fully operational sometime next year, giving new life to about 10,000 tons of disposable diaper material each year.
According to Ioannis Hatzopoulos, who manages global baby care sustainability communications at P&G, increasing the recyclability of its diapers is part of P&G’s four point sustainability vision which includes powering its plants solely through renewable power, using 100% recycled materials, conserving resources and contributing to zero landfill waste. The limited life span of disposable diapers and their impact on the environment has been a source of negativity since these products first became available several decades ago.
“The percentage that diapers contribute to household waste is growing—it’s now between 5-10%—and it’s a very visible part of household waste that is not recycled,” he adds. “Our customers have been plaguing us to do something about disposable products.”
P&G has been involved in diaper recycling in Italy since 2015 through Fater, its joint venture company with Gruppo Angelini. In August, Fater replaced its pilot scale recycling operation with an industrial scale operation. Like the one planned for Amsterdam, the new operation can recycle 10,000 tons of absorbent hygiene products per year, affecting roughly one million people.
According to Hatzopoulos, the recycling process removes human waste from the product and then separates the diaper material into three waste streams—supersabsorbent materials, mixed plastics and pulp. These materials then find life in new applications and create a new revenue stream for the company.
Unicharm has also stepped up its recycling efforts this year. In June,the company’s Vietnamese arm Diana Unicharm announced it would install new recycling operations from Diaper Recycling Technology to process factory waste and reduce the amount of its waste stream that ends up in landfills.
Nguyen Ha Long, plant manager of Unicharm, describes the systems to be installed as “by far the most advanced recycling technology available on the market today.”
Martin Scaife, CTO of Diaper Recycling Technology, adds: “After an extensive R&D period our R&D and engineering teams are proud to roll out the latest generation of low energy recycling technology. The newly developed airless technology is capable of recovering the clean, contaminant-free quality control reject waste stream using just one tenth of the energy of conventional air assisted technology with a process requiring only one-twentieth the floor space of traditional technologies.
Amazon’s Return to Diapers
Already the largest online seller of diapers in the U.S., Amazon is looking to delve further into the diaper business with the launch of a private label diaper brand, Mama Bear, which was launched quietly in November.
The diapers, which are currently available by invite only, are reportedly made by Huggies diaper manufacturer Kimberly-Clark and are available in sizes one through six.
This is not the first time Amazon offered private label baby diapers. The online retailer briefly sold diapers under its Elements brand name in 2014, but removed them from the website after negative consumer feedback. Amazon Elements were made by Canadian diaper manufacturer Irving Personal Care.
It is too soon to tell if Amazon’s second foray into diapers will be more successful than its first, but the retailer’s might in the online diaper business cannot be denied.
The Flushable Wipes Fight Continues
The wipes industry continues to wage its battle in defense of flushable wipes. More than a decade after industry stakeholders began formally addressing negative attention surrounding wipes that are designed to be flushed, it continues to grapple with things like false claims and negative press saying that flushable wipes have caused millions of dollars of damage to sewer systems around the world.
“The battle is being waged on four fronts—legislation, regulation, litigation and publicity,” says INDA president Dave Rousse. “We have seen some wins in all of these areas but we continue to face challenges.”
The wipes industry continues to make strides fighting legislative battles. The Federal Trade Commission has thrown out two inquiries related to the advertising of flushable wipes without finding or alleging that the manufacturers have violated any federal standards.
From a regulations standpoint, the wipes industry continues to work with Washington, D.C., in finalizing the language and rulemaking surrounding a bill, passed last year, requiring that wipes pass certain standards before they can be advertised as flushable. At the same time, a similar measure up for debate before the New York City Council seems to have been deprioritized after its sponsors saw an updated code of practices labeling requirement developed by the industry.
In litigation terms, the flushable wipes industry scored a win in August when a judge in Iowa threw out a class action lawsuit brought by the City of Perry, IA, in which Perry alleged damages from flushable wipes manufactured by a number of flushable wipes producers. In dropping its lawsuit, Perry admitted that since the inception of its lawsuit, filed in 2015, it had not experienced any clogs or increased maintenance costs attributable to flushable wipes and that none of its personnel were able to identify any flushable wipes manufactured by select companies in the city’s plumbing or wastewater systems.
However, challenges continue amidst these victories. In August, the wastewater community formed the International Waste Services Flushability Group (IWSFG), an organization comprised of stakeholders in the wastewater services industry, which is dedicated to the inappropriate disposal of consumer products down the toilet. This organization has proposed its own standards, which are based on three main criteria: The wipes must break into small pieces quickly; not be buoyant and not contain plastic or regenerated cellulose but only contain materials which will readily degrade in a range of natural environments.
For a while, it looked as if a truce was underway when wastewater executives agreed to team up with INDA and wipes manufacturers in the development of the fourth edition of the flushability guidelines (GD4), but that relationship deteriorated in January 2017 when the wastewater industry exited the conversations. The wastewater industry wrote to INDA saying they were ending these efforts because no meaningful progress had been made since May 2016.
According to INDA, the wastewater community was insisting on testing requirements that were far more rigorous than necessary.
However, the collaboration did yield an updated code of practices that will update labeling requirements for non-flushable wipes. “We have successfully developed, in conjunction with the four major wastewater associations, a new code of practice that takes care of the labeling of 93% of wipes sold—the other 7% are the percentage of wipes sold that are designed to be flushable,” Rousse says. “This demonstrates the progress that can be made when both sides take a rational and reasonable approach to change.”
“Without the wastewater industry, the finalization of GD4 has stalled but INDA and its allies continue to work on its passage so that the industry can move on to focusing on an awareness program that toilets are not trash cans (TANT),” Rousse adds.
In fact, INDA admits the improper flushing of baby wipes is a growing problem. A recent analysis of clogs in the New York City subway showed that 38% of the material was non-flushable baby wipes, up from an analysis taken seven years ago.
“Too many people are flushing baby wipes and the assault on flushable wipes is not going to fix this problem,” says Richard Palmer, president of Nehemiah Manufacturing and a representative of the flushability communications committee. In fact, limiting the consumer’s supply of flushable materials will only encourage the use—and flushing—of baby wipes.
To help address this, INDA and its partners have developed the Responsible Flushing Alliance to promote consumer awareness about what should and should not be flushed. “Individual companies should use their marketing resources and their public relations resources to share this information because it is something that we as an industry has done a poor job of doing,” he adds.
New Machinery Technology
In April, Reifenhäuser, the maker of spunbond and spunmelt nonwovens machinery, introduced the next generation of Reicofil spunmelt technology. Reifenhäuser launched Reicofil 5 more than 15 years after introducing its Reicofil 4 line technology, and more than three decades after first developing Reicofil technology for the nonwovens industry.
According to the company, RF5 represents a big step forward with new performance data and new and fascinating possibilities that arise from digitalization.
One of the highlights of RF5 is the significant reduction of failures within nonwovens. When running standard raw materials, hard pieces will be reduced by up to 90% in comparison to RF4 technology. With this Reicofil provides a solution for one of the major issues of contamination that exists in the industry. Producers running an RF4 line will be able to make use of this advantage by upgrading the line to RF4.5.
According to Markus Müller, sales director at Reicofil, RF5 technology also fulfills the market demand for finer and finer filaments: the technology can produce up to 20% smaller fiber diameters. Thereby titers lower than one denier are producible for the first time. Compared to the RF4 technology, the same titers can be achieved with higher outputs or finer titers are feasible with the same outputs, but can provide for better uniformity, strength and softness.
In terms of productivity the RF5 technology also raises the bar significantly: the output increases by up to 35%—to up to 270 kg/h per meter beam width for spunbond and to up to 70 kg/h per meter beam for meltblown. So, producers can run their lines at maximum speeds even for higher grammages.
The meltblown technology benefits from the increased output by a much wider process window, which raises the flexibility. Producers can now decide depending on their requirements whether to use the maximum output capacity and increase productivity by up to 35% or to produce 20% higher meltblown quality at the present throughput levels.
Looking at the line speed, the new RF5 technology reaches the new peak value of 1200 meter per minute. As this value is the actual speed on the conveyor belt and not, as before, the speed at the winder, it can be fully utilized in production. Effectively producers can run their lines 30% faster than they could on RF4 lines.
And, it did not take long for the nonwovens industry to respond to the launch of new Reicofil technology. Gulsan Group, a Turkish nonwovens producer, announced in April it would add a 35,000 ton line in Turkey to support growth in the region. Gulsan already operates several Reicofil 4 and Reicofil 4+ lines at its sites in Egypt and Turkey.
Also committed to the new R5 technology is the world’s largest nonwovens producer Berry Global Inc., which said it would add a new line featuring the technology at an unnamed location in China.
New Airlaid in North America
The North American airlaid market is bracing itself for the start up of Glatfelter’s new airlaid line, the first significant investment the market has seen in more than a decade. Glatfelter will start running the line this month and is expected to start supplying the market during the second half of the first quarter of 2018.
Glatfelter, one of the world’s largest airlaid producers, announced in early 2015 it would add a new lightweight production line in Fort Smith, AR, increasing its global capacity by 22,000 tons.
“There is a lot of unhappiness and concern in the North American airlaid market as to where that 22,000 tons of capacity is going to go,” says Phil Mango, industry consultant.
In announcing the new line, Glatfelter indicated that it was the result of a major industry order, and the plant’s Arkansas location, near existing plants of wipes manufacturers Rockline Industries and Kimberly-Clark, have left many speculating who those customers are.
Last month, Chris Astley, vice president of the company’s Advanced Airlaid business unit, told local stakeholders his company has hired about 20 employees at the site in the past few weeks. Some of these employees have been visiting existing Glatfelter airlaid facilities in Gatineau, Quebec, Canada, and Falkenhagen, Germany, to familiarize themselves with the technology.
The investment is expected to bring 80 high tech manufacturing jobs to the Fort Smith, AR, area. The site beat out about a dozen other locations to become Glatfelter’s next North American facility.
And, Glatfelter has been open about the technology planned behind the new line, saying that it will help it grow in lighter weight hygiene and disposable wipes products—a market already in growth mode, increasing 12% last year—which was a priority.
In 2015, feminine hygiene applications dominated Glatfelter’s sales, representing 74%, while wipes comprised less than 10% of sales. CFO John Jacunski recently told analysts that the investment in Arkansas, which will also include a center of excellence, will allow Glatfelter to target wipes without compromising the needs of its feminine hygiene efficiencies.
“(The new line) will bring additional balance to the portfolio which is a good thing and at the same time sends a message to all of our customers that we are willing and able to support their growth,” he says.
North America has not seen significant airlaid investment since the early 2000s when Buckeye (which is now a part of Georgia-Pacific) added a 50,000-ton line in North Carolina around the same time that Concert Industries (a business now owned by Glatfelter) added its two side-by-side lines in Gatineau, Quebec.
What this new line will mean for the rest of the airlaid industry, particularly within North America, remains to be seen. As Glatfelter’s role in the wipes market expands, its main competitor Georgia-Pacific will likely be forced to look for new markets—like feminine hygiene or tabletop—to fill its capacity, much of which is made in Gaston, NC, on a line built by Buckeye Technologies in 2001. This line is now the best quality airlaid line for wipes in the world. It’s said to be the fastest, most cost efficient and offers a lot of advantages, Mango says.
“The newer line, which was added in 2001, is really optimized for making wipes and they have been very successful here,” he adds. “Glatfelter will really have to prove themselves, which they will. It is just a matter of how long that takes.”
What hangs in the balance, Mango feels, is older airlaid lines, like G-P’s Green Bay line which is several decades old. G-P could choose to idle this line but it offers a lot of advantages for industrial wipes applications. “Its probably more likely that G-P will focus on developing new applications,” Mango says.
Investment Continues to Be Global
New lines for nonwovens continued to be announced in 2017, continuing an expansion trend that has been ongoing for several years. During the past 12 months, new lines have been announced by Avgol (India), Berry Global (China), Gulsan (Turkey) and Toray Advanced Materials (China) in the spunmelt arena. Like in years past, these investments respond to growth in hygiene, led by increased use of adult incontinence products, as well as the expanded use of nonwovens in existing hygiene applications like baby diapers.
Spunmelt is not the only technology in expansion mode. The spunlace market continues to grow thanks to new investments by Mogul in the U.S. and Turkey and newcomer Zhejiang Wang Jin in China. These new lines are not only looking to target growth in the wipes market, but also in new application areas in hygiene and industrial areas.
Chinese Create Demand for Soft Diapers
Calls for softer diapers, originating first in China, but soon spreading around the globe, has led to the creation of new technologies among suppliers. As many Chinese producers are using thermal bonded nonwovens—which is significantly more expensive than more commonly used spunmelt nonwovens—Western producers are offering their own set of alternatives.
Nonwovens machinery specialist Reicofil has introduced new developments in highloft spunbond technology that creates thick, soft nonwovens, according Michael Maas, operations director research and development at Reicofil.
While voluminous nonwovens generally consist of self-crimping fibers, the Reicofil technology uses filaments from two different raw materials produced in a side-by-side structure and bonded using hot air or a special embossing calender. The result is a premium nonwoven that can be used as a top and backsheet in premium diapers.
Maas comments: “In the future, our customers will have to offer soft nonwoven products all over the world. It is critical to their businesses to adopt developments early and to be innovative. We already started years ago to develop the technology basis for softer products. Today we are able to offer various solutions for different customer needs.”
On the nonwovens front, Berry Plastics announced this year it would expanding its portfolio of soft products, bringing new capabilities and innovations to its European product portfolio. These developments have been made possible through multiple acquisitions and development initiatives. These new air through bonded nonwovens, that offer softness, opacity, uniformity and bulk, will be launched over the next six to 12 months.
“Consumers are expecting more and more from their hygiene products today. The requirements put on our customers to meet these high expectations in unique and value added ways are a constant challenge,” says Sean Imlay, vice president, global hygiene, Berry Plastics Health, Hygiene and Specialties Division. “The global portfolio assembled by Berry Plastics is unmatched in the industry in its variety and truly offers something for every need.”
Avgol is another nonwovens producer offering a soft solution for baby diapers. In 2016, the Israeli producer launched the Avgol Lux family of nonwoven fabrics which was designed to provide hygiene product manufacturers with a new visually distinct soft touch fabric solution.
Based on spunmelt technology, these products are suitable for topsheet, backsheet and leg cuff applications, as well as ear and landing zone substrates, meeting the needs of the latest hygiene product design trends around the world, according to the company.