In addition to investment, new products led to growth in nonwovens. Within the hygiene market, new products in baby care and feminine care demonstrate how the entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well in nonwovens.
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.
Mergers and Acquisitions
2018 can certainly be considered a period of consolidation as nonwovens producers have joined forces with other nonwovens or nonwovens-related companies to either improve their financial position, expand their product offerings or help them reach new geographies.
Perhaps the most interesting example of M&A activity was the acquisition of Avgol Nonwovens by Thai chemical conglomerate Indorama Ventures. The move puts Indorama, the owners of polyester and polypropylene companies like FiberVisions, Wellman International and Trevira, further down the hygiene industry supply chain allowing it to be well-positioned to generate future growth in adjacent segments through its strong innovation pipeline, enabling the company to continue to provide compelling value and service to its customers worldwide.
Also joining forces this year are Czech-based Pegas Nonwovens and U.S.-based First Quality Nonwovens who are both now owned by a private equity firm and are doing business under the PFNonwovens name. The merger of these two companies creates a multinational spunbond and spunmelt producer with plants in the Czech Republic, the U.S., Egypt, South Africa and China.
Other acquisitions of note this year include Glatfelter’s purchase of Georgia-Pacific’s European airlaid business, Fitesa’s acquisition of CNC International, a Thai-based spunmelt producer, and Lydall’s purchase of Precision Filtration, a NJ-based needlepuncher.
Nonwovens producers continue to grow through investment. DuPont is investing $400 million to expand its Tyvek capacity in Luxembourg. The production expansion, which will add a new building and third operating line at the site, is scheduled to start up in 2021.
“Global demand for DuPont Tyvek continues to grow worldwide in all of our key end-use markets,” says Rose Lee, president – DuPont Safety & Construction. “This capacity expansion plan is a critical step in growing the Tyvek business, maintaining our leadership in nonwoven materials, and delivering the innovation customers expect from DuPont.”
Another major nonwovens producer in expansion mode is Kimberly-Clark. The company has approved $30 million for expansion and improvements to its nonwovens manufacturing facility in Hendersonville, NC. The plant produces nonwoven materials for Kimberly-Clark’s North American adult and feminine care brands including Depend, Poise and U by Kotex.
The two-year project will focus on expanding the plant’s production capacity and efficiency and is expected to add 14 new jobs at the site, while maintaining current employment.
Spunbond and spunmelt investment, while slower than years past, continues to expand. Berry Global is adding a state-of-the-art R5 spunmelt line in China to serve markets in Asia while Toray Advanced Materials and Avgol Nonwovens have both added lines in India. Other spunmelt makers like Fibertex Nonwovens (Malaysia), Fitesa and Union Industries have recently added new lines and are holding off on any announcements, for now.
Flushable Wipes Guidelines Updated
The industry’s efforts to win the battle waged against flushable wipes scored several wins this year as new testing and labeling standards were released and legal challenges were rebuked.
In May, INDA and EDANA jointly published an update to their strict guidelines for labeling of non-flushable wipes and for assessing the flushability of disposable nonwoven wipes. The new labeling code of practices requires that all non-flushable wipes display the “Do Not Flush” symbol in a way that it is visible both at the point of purchase and during use. Pilot programs conducted by wastewater organizations in cooperation with INDA have demonstrated that focused consumer awareness campaigns can reduce the improper flushing of baby wipes by ~50%.
The new standards also change the way flushable wipes can be defined with both updated testing methods and new criteria for passing. These tests are grounded in significant research and testing carried out by INDA members and technical experts with extensive input from wastewater professionals.
On the legal front, the wipes industry received a coup in August when the city of Wyoming, MN, dismissed its suit against several flushable wipes manufacturers in which the city alleged damages to the municipal infrastructure from flushable wipes. According to court documents filed in the lawsuit, it appears that the city had not experienced damage caused by any clogs, increased maintenance costs, operational issues or incurred any costs associated with the repair and/or replacement of any equipment caused by flushable wipes. Notably, Wyoming agreed to drop its lawsuit without receiving any compensation.
This action follows a similar situation in 2017 when the city of Perry, IA, settled a similar suit against flushable wipes manufacturers without receiving any compensation for any alleged damages. In 2016, two of the defendants in the Perry case were able to resolve another flushable wipes class action lawsuit in Florida (Sweeney v. Kimberly-Clark, et al.), where the consumer plaintiffs also agreed to drop the class action lawsuit without compensation.
However, the flushable wipes industry continues to face challenges as several cities and municipalities across the country continue to explore their ban on store shelves, and negative press reports continue to falsely blame them for sewage problems around the globe.
Diaper Recycling Expands
Interest in creating a second life for disposable baby diapers continues to grow. At the lead of these efforts is Procter & Gamble, who is looking to expand its diaper recycling program, which is already targeting Italy and the Netherlands, into new geographies. This year, the company partnered with AEB Amsterdam to launch a diaper recycling program, similar to one already underway in Italy through P&G subsidiary Fater. Both operations are 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.
And, P&G has included its diaper recycling efforts within its Ambition 2030 plan, which is a new set of goals to reduce its impact on the environment. According to Hatzopoulos, the company has a clear goal to establish as least 10 diaper facilities globally by 2030. “We are committed to taking it further,” he says. “We are exploring every market that we are in and we are absolutely open to any type of partnership.”
P&G has already begun focusing on India as the next potential spot for diaper recycling because of its huge waste problem. In fact, P&G CEO David Taylor has met with government officials to discuss the company’s manufacturing initiatives and offering to assist in the Clean India Initiative (Swachh Bharat Abhiyan) by using technology to reduce waste to landfill that will up-cycle sanitary waste.
Unicharm has also stepped up its recycling efforts. The Japanese diaper maker is partnering with Shibushi City to develop a pilot diaper recycling operation that could ultimately form the base of a Japan-wide program to reduce the impact of disposable diapers on the environment.
Unicharm first began a disposable diaper recycling program in 2015. Before that the company had been extracting plastic pulp and low-grade pulp from some used disposable diapers and the pulp was repurposed Refuse Paper and Plastic Fuel (RPF). In creating a recycling process, Unicharm faced the challenge of developing a process that is cheaper than incineration and creates a recycled pulp material that is as high quality as virgin pulp.
Some of the key features of Unicharm’s recycling process is the reusability of water, which makes the process more efficient, and the development of a process along with a research partner to repurpose superabsorbent polymers.
“One of our goals for the future is to start working with a larger number of local authorities that share Shibushi City’s vision of valuing materials resources and valuing people,” says Junichi Nishikawa, director, department of environment Shibushi City Government. “In order to further expand the impact of Unicharm’s environmentally-friendly business activities, we hope Unicharm to function as a pathfinder that can act as a model for other business enterprises to emulate.”
For its part, Unicharm is continuing to undertake development work aimed at returning materials to their original constituent elements as far as possible.
“In our verification testing in Shibushi City, we have been working together with the officials of the local government authority to take on the challenge of getting this technology established as rapidly as possible, with the aim of developing a cyclical resource use model that supports the utilization of recycled products,” says Noritoma Kameda, director, new platform center, global research and development division at Unicharm. “As part of our goal to be a sustainable business, it is important that we switch over to an emphasis on recycling and resource recovery. Through resource recovery, the mountains of waste that would otherwise be disposed of by incineration can be transformed into mountains of treasure.”
In June 2017, 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.
Indian Investment Continues
According to Euromonitor India, with its 1.3 billion population and booming economy, India 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 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 standards 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 is adding 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, spunmelt manufacturers Avgol and Toray have both announced plans to add lines in the country.
In February, diaper industry giant Procter & Gamble added a natural-based baby range to its Pampers megabrand. The launch of Pampers Pure Protection diapers, and their subsequent success, proves an interesting trend in the diaper market.
The diapers, said to be free of fragrance, lotion and chlorine and allow only natural fibers to make contact with babies’ skin, is being marketed as the first-ever diaper and wipe collection made with premium cotton and other thoughtfully selected materials and stylish prints. Pampers Pure was developed by a P&G scientist and mother of twin girls, who couldn’t find an option that had everything she was looking for in baby care products.
Since the launch, the diapers have not only been a market success, according to P&G, they were also the first of several similar launches globally as companies line Ontex and Amazon.com, with the help of First Quality Nonwovens, introduced diapers with similar claims.
Ontex’s Little Big Change diapers are made without toxic or irritating substances, and are certified Dermatest five stars, Oeko-tex 100 and FSC. They are hypoallergenic and provide up to 12 hours of protection. The fluff (in the absorbent pad) is only made with cellulose originating from trees and is bleached with oxygen and guaranteed T.C.F. (totally chlorine free). Its SAP (super absorbent powder) is a synthetic component found in all disposable nappies. It is perfectly safe and ensures effective absorption. The inner layer is made of polypropylene, a very soft material and is danger-free. It is this part that will directly touch the baby’s skin, and there are no additives or harmful products in this layer. Its outer layer is made of polyethylene, woven very lightly to allow the skin to breathe to the fullest.
Meanwhile, Amazon has added an exclusive, premium diaper brand Earth + Eden to its site in partnership with First Quality Baby Products.
Natural-based diapers are not necessarily new to the baby care world, however. Jessica Alba’s Honest Company has been extremely successful with a subscription-based sales model of their transparent, natural diapers. While hard data on Honest diaper sales are not available, many industry experts credit their success to creating a natural diaper category and encouraging national brands to follow suit.
Feminine Hygiene Disrupters
In recent years, feminine hygiene brands have developed strategies aimed at attracting the attention of women of all ages—not just from their first period, but also through pregnancy (or the prevention of it) to stages later in life. The result is a wave of new product forms and brands in the marketplace.
“[Brands are] looking to the incontinence market and more specifically, the areas of overlap between the use of products for menstruation and light bladder leakage. The incidence of light bladder leakage is growing among pre-menopausal women (obesity is a contributor),” says Jamie Rosenberg, global personal care analyst at global market research provider Mintel.
Some examples of new entries in the market are OneSqin, which has bundled sanitary protection with skincare products, Lola, a manufacturer of 100% cotton tampons, pads and liners through an online subscription, and The Honey Pot, a company which started off with a line of plant-based feminine washes, but recently expanded its line-up to include herbal sanitary pads, pantyliners and wipes.
“We were the first company in mass market to do feminine washes, wipes and pads on the shelf at the same time,” claims Bea Feliu-Espada, founder/CEO, The Honey Pot. “Typically companies in the feminine hygiene category pick a lane—either they’ll just do menstrual products or they’ll do body care products like washes and wipes.”
Later this year, the company plans to launch tampons made with 100% non-GMO cotton.
This year at the Hygienix conference, a new innovation in feminine hygiene protection was honored with the Hygienix innovation award. The Tampliner, which was developed by a U.K.-based gynecologist, combines a tampon with a panty liner in one product to help prevent leaks.
“We’re honored and excited that our Tampliner won this year’s Hygienix Innovation Award. It’s a real achievement for a start-up working to improve product choice in the femcare industry,” says Thang Vo-Ta, co-founder and CEO of Callaly.
New Airlaid in North America
The North American airlaid market saw the first significant investment in new technology in more than a decade when Glatfelter started up its latest investment earlier this year. 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.
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.
The investment was expected to bring 80 high tech manufacturing jobs to the Fort Smith 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.
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 year, German machinery supplier Oerlikon formed an agreement with China’s Shaoyang Textile Machinery to engineer and supply spunmelt nonwovens line for the global hygiene industry. The first product being offered by the two companies is the SMS QSR (Quality Sized Right) line, which is capable of making 12,000 tons of high quality nonwovens in widths of 3.2 meters and basis weights as low as 8 gsm per year. The technology will allow customers to manufacturer SMS featuring global quality standards with a faster return on investment than competing technologies, according to vice president of sales and marketing Ingo Mählmann.
Oerlikon’s business unit Nonwoven will be responsible for the sales, preengineering, commissioning and after sales of Shaoyang’s lines, allowing potential customers to benefit from its advanced engineering expertise, process know-how and worldwide service network. Additionally, Oerlikon acquires the CE certifications of all Shaoyang spunmelt lines sold outside of China. Oerlikon will also be responsible for product and process guarantees and will provide worldwide customer services outside China. Shaoyang Textile Machinery, on the other hand, supplies the spunmelt plant technologies.
“With Shaoyang Textile Machinery, we have found a renowned Chinese plant manufacturer with extensive know-how in the construction of spunmelt plants for hygiene applications, which achieves international standards with its nonwoven qualities,” explains Oerlikon Manmade Fiber Segment CEO Georg Stausberg.
Rainer Straub, head of Oerlikon’s Nonwoven Business Unit, adds: “The partnership with Shaoyang Textile Machinery enables us to gain a foothold in the highly competitive hygiene market. Our many years of engineering experience guarantee our customers production lines according to international standards for high-quality nonwovens.”
As Oerlikon continues to target customers in the hygiene market, technology specialist Reifenhäuser, the maker of spunbond and spunmelt nonwovens machinery, continues to improve upon its Reicofil spunmelt technology. In 2017, the company introduced the next generation of Reicofil spunmelt technology, 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.
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.