As the hygiene market continues to expand globally, reaching customers in more areas of the world, spunmelt’s manufacturing footprint has also expanded in recent years with new lines going into Southeast Asia, South America, Africa and India. Meanwhile, investment in more developed regions like Europe and North America has slowed, for now, as the markets look to absorb a number of new lines constructed in the last decade.
In January, Berry Global, the world’s largest nonwovens producer, announced that it had commercialized and started shipping product from its Reicofil R5 asset in Nanhai, China. With bi-component and high-loft soft capabilities, Berry’s is only the third R5 start-up in the world.
“The Asia region, and China in particular, has historically set the global standard for high-loft, soft materials for the hygiene market,” says Berry’s chairman and CEO Tom Salmon. “Investing in a state-of-the-art Reicofil R5 asset in China allows us to maximize innovation and provide differentiated capabilities, to ultimately enhance performance and comfort for consumers.”
Berry’s investment in the R5 technology, first announced in 2017, in combination with its proprietary raw material blends, fiber configurations, and unique bond patterns, demonstrates the company’s commitment to the Asia region and to continuous innovation.
The first commercial samples were unveiled at SINCE, the Shanghai International Nonwovens Conference & Exhibition, in December 2019, followed by an official ribbon cutting ceremony at the Nanhai facility.
“Demand for the new materials has been very strong and we look forward to working closely with our customers to help them win in this exciting and competitive marketplace,” says Salmon.
Last month, Berry said it was ramping up production at its Asian sites to help in the fight against the Coronavirus (see page 14). In addition to the Nanhai site, which was built in 2014, Berry also has an operation in Suzhou.
Outside of Asia, Berry manufacturers spunmelt nonwovens in Mooresville, NC; San Luis, Potosi, Mexico; Cali, Colombia; Pouso Alegre, Brazil; Sao Jose dos Pinhais, Brazil; Pilar, Argentina; Tarragon, Spain; Neuville-en-Ferrain, France; and Terno d’Isola, Italy. Berry, and its predecessor company Avintiv/Polymer Group Inc. steadily built up this business over the past decade by investing in new lines and acquiring smaller companies like Companhia Providencia in Brazil and Dounor in France. Also a supplier of breathable films to the global hygiene market, Berry is providing more options to its customers and streamlining the purchasing process.
In October, Berry Global launched a portfolio of sustainable nonwovens, films, laminates and elastic films specifically engineered to meet the growing demand for less material usage and for more recyclable, natural, or bio-based content in the hygiene and personal care industries.
Sof-Flex Ultra is Berry’s disruptive patented downgauging technology of breathable films and laminates with up to 25% total resin usage reduction. Sof-Flex Ultra is a revolutionary lower cost-in-use solution that maintains superior breathability and performance in backsheet applications. Elastipro is a new generation of recyclable lightweight elastic films, optimized to deliver the same performance to standard elastic films with reduced material utilization; designed with both the consumer and environment in mind. Airten Enviro is a line of carded nonwoven solutions that contain materials made from cotton or PLA sources. The enhanced Airten Enviro Cotton offers maximum softness and bulkiness through the use of lofty multiple staple fibers with up to 15% cotton content.
Also included in the launch are Betel, discreet and soft, single wrap films for femcare applications with polymers made from renewable sources. Meanwhile, Viridee is a portfolio of breathable and non-breathable backsheet films with the same performance as standard breathable films produced with 100% bio-based non-petroleum formulation, and Norec diaper bags are made with 30% recycled content as well as other bio-based materials that meet environmental and sustainability targets by combining polymers from non-fossil sources with fossil-based feedstock.
As part of its commitment to its mission, ‘Always Advancing to Protect What’s Important,’ Berry collaborates with its hygiene partners to provide them with innovative sustainable solutions. As a leading producer of nonwovens, films and laminates, the company has defined three key sustainable product improvements areas in hygiene—lightweighting, sustainable materials and circularity or designing products that can be easily recyclable, reusable or compostable.
Brazil’s Fitesa has confirmed it is investing $70 million in a new spunbond line at its joint venture company CNCFitesa, based in Rayong, Thailand. The Brazilian nonwovens manufacturer acquired a 51% stake in CNC International in July, marking its first entry into the fast-growing Southeast Asian market. Prior to the acquisition, CNC operated two spunmelt sites in Rayong as well as a sales office in Tokyo, from which it largely supplies the hygiene market.
Fitesa did not release details on the investment but it is likely the investment will significantly increase capacity in the region. CNC’s last major investment was a 24,000-ton Reicofil 4 production line in 2013 and capacity at the time of the Fitesa purchase was thought to be about 40,000 tons per year.
Fitesa has recently completed work on a pilot line and innovation in Simpsonville, SC, which will allow it to run trials on new air through bonded spunbond technology, which was recently developed by Reicofil to create highloft nonwovens. The new line puts Fitesa ahead of the competition.
“Having pilot lines that reproduce our commercial lines capabilities is a part of our strategy to increase our speed to market with new products,” says Mariana Mynarski, global marketing. “Increasing our pilot capacity and serving our customers in the regions where they are located also contributes to accelerate trials and, ultimately new product introduction.”
In addition to the sites in South Carolina and Thailand, Fitesa also has spunmelt lines in Brazil, Peru, Sweden, Germany, Mexico and Italy, all of which have been improved and/or expanded in recent years. These efforts have brought the company’s global capacity 450,000 metric tons per year.
Israel’s largest nonwovens producer, Avgol, now majority owned by multinational chemical producer Indorama Ventures Group, continues to make spunmelt nonwovens primarily for hygiene applications. Indorama acquired a 65.72% stake in Avgol in July 2018.
Indorama Ventures is already the owner of a number of nonwovens industry raw material suppliers including FiberVisions, Wellman International and Trevira.
With manufacturing sites in North Carolina, Russia, China and Israel, Avgol’s latest frontier is India where it recently completed work on a spunmelt line for local hygiene markets. The investment is the first non-Reicofil line in operation by the company. It came onstream in 2018.
A combination of a strong birth rate—with 20 million babies being born annually—and government incentives for product development, India is rapidly becoming a strong growth market for baby diapers and other hygiene products.
Approximately 97% of Avgol’s business is in the hygiene market, where the company says it is very passionate about quality. This passion has guided Avgol in leading an industry-wide effort to decrease the weights of core wrapping materials to as low as seven gsm.
Throughout its entire business, Avgol has been seeking to develop new products and new technologies that respond to the changing needs of the hygiene market. Most recently, the company has focused on its Innovative Fit Strategy to create value, flexibility and sustainability for products and brands. At the core of this strategy is putting the user first and foremost, to deliver true consumer-led innovation.
As part of the strategy’s ongoing development, the company has developed a new roadmap that highlights the various elements comprising the FIT strategy, underlining the core consumer benefits that the technology platform unlocks.
Shachar Rachim, CEO at Avgol, comments: “No effective development model stays still, and we’re delighted to highlight the next natural evolution of our FIT strategy. At Avgol, we make the complex simple by always keeping a keen focus on the customer and the deliverable benefits for brands and designers alike.
“The next organic step in our strategy’s development lies in the latest additions to the line-up, natureFIT (reduced environmental impact) and formFIT (structures and resins). Our strategy revolves around significantly boosting product value by putting the consumer and their needs at the front and center of our innovation. That focus has brought Avgol to the table since the beginning of the business, and it’s what drives us still. The FIT strategy is the next logical step.”
In November, General Nonwovens announced it would add a Reicofil R5+ nonwovens line at a new site in Sakarya, Turkey. The 4.2 meter SSMMS line will primarily serve the hygiene industry and adds 26,000 tons of capacity to General Nonwovens’ operation. The line is set to start commercial production in mid-2020.
The new R5+ line will serve the hygiene industry under General Nonwovens’ HyGen brand, which has been under tight supply recently, limiting General Nonwovens’ ability to attract new customers. The addition of 26,000 tons of annual capacity will allow the company to supply more material to multi-national players while supporting its current customers with the new generation softer spunmelt products with improved quality, according to Nevra Yilankirkan, marketing manager.
“The Reicofil R5+ line has significant advantages compared to the previous generation. Mainly reduction of failures within the nonwoven eliminating hard spots on fabric formation, finer filaments as a response to market demand for softer products, higher productivity yet with better quality and doing this at a production speed of 1200m/min, which sets the new standard in the industry,” Yilankirkan says. “The line consisting of Industry 4.0 technology along with the anti-contamination package and energy efficiency package would, for sure, strengthen General Nonwovens’ position in the spunmelt market.”
General Nonwovens has been manufacturing spunmelt nonwovens for over 15 years and targets both local and international markets, she says. “Regular investments have allowed us to cope with the market requirements and to be in the market always with the right product and with right structure,” she says. “Hygiene application end uses covers the majority of business made. General Nonwovens has been supplying topsheet, legcuff, corewrap, nonwovens for backsheet, ATB soft fabrics and ADL nonwovens under HyGen brand name.”
According to Yilankirkan, during the last two decades the hygiene industry made a switch to use much more spunmelt products compared to the past. This spunmelt family provided cost advantage and allowed the hygienic articles’ producers to reduce weight and their product costs which led easier market penetration worldwide.
In recent years, softer products have gained more importance. Users would like to avoid plastic feel caused by the spunmelt technology while maintaining the cost advantage. Some brands started offering premium products that uses other technologies at higher costs. General Nonwovens offers carded air through bonded nonwovens for this requirement. When it comes to the spunmelt industry, its response to this trend is with new generation spunmelt lines offering even lower weights and much softer fabrics with much better coverage and still keeping the cost advantage due to increased productivity. General Nonwovens’ investment to this latest generation Reicofil 5+ line would allow its customers to use these new spunmelt products and be in the market with softer products at similar costs.
General Nonwovens is manufacturer and exporter of nonwoven fabric both spunmelt, SSMMS, technology as well as drylaid, carded air-through-bond, technology. Productions are made in its Gaziantep, Kilis and Sakarya factories in Turkey. The Sakarya plant is in the Marmara Region which is about an hour drive distance to Istanbul. The Reicofil 5+ line located in Sakarya will better serve the EU and surrounding markets.
The combination of two large spunmelt businesses—Pegas Nonwovens and First Quality Nonwovens—has created a truly global player with manufacturing sites in the U.S., China, Egypt, South Africa and the Czech Republic. The two businesses joined forces in late 2018.
Even though the businesses have a lot in common, starting from production technology to common customers, PF Nonwovens CEO Allan Bodford admits that integration has not been without its challenges.
“Integration of the two businesses is not an easy task and will certainly take some time,” he says. “Especially the first year is the most difficult. We have, however, made good progress and are already seeing results, in the R&D area, best practices in operations, and corporate services. We are working on a global strategy that will add more common goals and objectives and bring a stronger presence of innovation for our customers globally. We will also continue to bring our systems together to operate seamlessly across all sites.”
Recent investments include a new line in South Africa, which has started commercial deliveries to its clients, and the installation of the new semi-commercial line in the Czech Republic.
“South Africa provides us with the potential to supply not only our current global clients but also smaller ones, local producers of disposable hygiene products, and thereby to broaden our customer portfolio,” Bodford says. “The semi commercial line in Znojmo brings new innovative products. We are very optimistic for our semi commercial line to bring new innovative products to our customers.”
The new semi-commercial line is based on the Reicofil 5 platform. It uses proven bicomponent technologies, offers a wide range of fiber types and fiber profiles, while enabling the use of input raw materials different to those that it currently processes. A significant element of this technology is also the nonwoven textile bonding system, which is an alternative to the presently used conventional systems.
Italy’s Union Industries’ second Polish line came onstream as planned in the last quarter of 2017 and is delivering novelty soft grades of nonwovens for hygiene applications.
“We keep seeing innovation in our future,” president Matteo Moltrasio says. “We have consolidated the expertise and know-how in semi high loft technology and we see the product established as winning for specific applications.”
These developments in fact led Union, earlier this year, to decide to invest in a new line featuring carded air through bonded technology to expand Union’s offerings to the hygiene market.
“With this asset we believe we will be able to offer advanced and different range of products,” Moltrasio says.
The new line is expected to be operational by early 2020, delivering customized super soft premium grades and new eco-sustainable fabrics for the hygiene market.
In other news, in the second quarter of 2019, Union began producing printed nonwovens using state-of-the-art technology.
As in past years, Union Industries continues to source and use renewable energy for 100% of its consumption, partially produced within the group.
Gaziantep, Turkey-based Gulsan Group currently makes 85,000 tons of nonwovens in Turkey, and 40,000 tons in Cairo, Egypt. Additionally, the company’s second Turkish plant, in Corul, Istanbul, is nearing completion and will make 35,000 tons of spunmelt nonwovens based on Reicofil 5 technology.
Gulsan announced its latest investment in 2017 right after Reicofil announced the latest version of its spunmelt technology. The six-beam, 5.2 meter line will largely serve the hygiene and medical markets.