As existing markets for spunlace continue to grow and new uses are uncovered, the technology continues to attract new players, meaning that the competitive landscape is constantly changing.
“In this environment, innovation is vital for growth, as are long-term partnerships with customers and suppliers,” says Carolin Weber, sales director Hygiene & Wipes at Sandler. “To achieve these goals and continue advancing our customers’ products, Sandler operates state-of-the-art-technology as well innovates on new products.”
According to Gerald Alligros, marketing and communication project manager of spunlace machinery specialist Andritz Perfojet, growing demand for spunlaced nonwovens is largely tied to demand for wipes, which is linked to worldwide increases in living standards as more people globally have access to convenience and care end uses.
“From traditional baby wipes, spunlace has spread and diversified in new hygiene products, and other new applications are being found every day,” he says. “So, a lot of companies are investing in this technology. In addition, producers are delivering spunlace roll goods for other applications, such as face masks, hygiene top sheet or wall coverings.”
Among the recent projects commissioned by Andritz is a new spunlace line to Barcelona, Spain-based BCNonwovens which will come onstream sometime in 2021. “The choice of spunlace line supplier was based on a thorough evaluation of the technologies available on the market. The combination of Andritz process engineers’ expertise and our in-depth market knowledge has enabled us to define the appropriate line configuration for current and future market needs. The fully equipped Andritz spunlace pilot line and expertise have played a key role in the order being awarded to Andritz,” says Marko Rajamaa, general manager of BCNonwovens.
The line features the best-in-class technologies available on the market and will be installed in a dedicated new building, meeting the highest hygiene and environmental standards. Due to its versatility, it will enable BCNonwovens to widen its product portfolio and process a broad range of raw materials, including sustainable fibers.
This line will also be equipped with Andritz’s self-developed Metris UX platform, enabling predictive maintenance based on Andritz’s new Vibe sensors and the risk-based maintenance app. It will improve the line’s efficiency by reducing downtime and thus help BCNonwovens to achieve its strategic objectives in terms of quality and sustainability. “With its wide range of applications, Metris will assist us in our operating activities, and we can already envisage a wide range of new possible developments with this extremely powerful Andritz tool,” says Rafael Dufour, strategy and business development director of BCNonwovens.
In other spunlace investment news, Novita, a Zielona Gora, Poland-based nonwovens manufacturer, completed a line capable of making spunlace fabrics ranging from 25 to 100 gsm which has reportedly allowed the company to enter the hygiene and medical markets.
The investment is Novita’s the first spunlace line with in-line configuration, allowing the company to access new markets. Radosław Muzioł, CEO, says,“With the new Andritz spunlace line, Novita is able to offer first-class spunlace roll goods with high-quality fabric characteristics and a customized product perfectly suited to hygiene end-uses.”
Other hot spots for spunlace investment include China, which has seen an uptick in wipes demand and facial mask applications in recent years, and India, where Chinese supplier Nan Liu has recently announced plans to invest. Another Indian producer, Welspun has invested heavily in the technology in recent years.
“Within a short period of time, we have created around six spunlace nonwovens brands and these brands make 40% of our business, which is tailored for various applications like wipes, femcare, industrial, civil engineering and aerospace applications. We are adding capacities in spunlace and by next year (2021) our capacity will be tripled,” says Pranay Sahu, strategic business head, Welspun.
The world’s largest supplier of spunlaced nonwovens with lines in North America, South America and Europe, Suominen has recently launched a new strategy focused on growth and profitability.
“When we developed our newly launched strategy we spent time understanding \ where to play and decided to leverage our strong reputation as a market leader in wipes,” says Lynda Kelly, senior vice president, business development. “With our new strategy, we affirmed our commitment to this important market. We continue to see growth for new wipe applications in all our core markets. “
Like all nonwovens technologies, spunlace continues to face challenges when it comes to balancing supply versus demand, according to Kelly, noting that a veteran player like Suominen is leveraging its experience to stay ahead of the curve in this marketplace. Being more sustainable is a key component of this.
“Our goal is to offer carbon footprint calculations for all of our products in 2020. A longer-term goal is to add other responsibility indicators to the sustainability index of our products,” Kelly adds. “For us, sustainability does not just mean more environmentally friendly products and minimizing the environmental impacts of our own operations, we also stress responsible business practices throughout the value chain.”
Developing products and technologies that are in sync with the European Single Use Plastics legislation, which is expected to impact the wipes value chain, is a top strategy for most spunlace manufactures. At Suominen, sustainability is one of the cornerstones of its new strategy and its sustainability agenda consists of four themes which are the most important to its business and stakeholders. These themes are people and safety, sustainable nonwovens, low-impact manufacturing, and corporate citizenship.
“Sustainability is of ever growing importance to our customers and stakeholders,” Kelly says. “We help our customers to achieve their own environmental targets by offering them products made from e.g. renewable, recycled, compostable and plastic-free raw materials. “
Companies across the spunlace supply chain, from raw materials to end products, are examining how the EU Plastic Strategy and the limitations it sets for single-use plastic products will challenge businesses and influence consumer markets
At Suominen advances in new material development have yielded several new environmentally friendly products for its sustainable product portfolio. The company’s Biolace air, a special pulp-viscose, product with an ultra soft feel, excellent absorption capacity and quick absorption and moisture retention, making it a perfect substrate for baby and beauty wipes. Also, Bio Genesis is a truly sustainable nonwoven made on Suominen’s newest line in Bethune, SC. “What makes Bio Genesis special is that while being eco-friendly, it has great fluid management, it is strong with great dimensional stability and it has superior tactile performance (great to touch, great cleaning),” Kelly adds. “It is the first sustainable single layer wetlaid substrate that meets the toughest strength and superior cleanability requirements of household or professional wipes. Bio Genesis is three times stronger than paper towels, it is 100% plastic free and biodegradable.”
At German-based Sandler, sustainability has been a focus of its nonwovens business from the beginning, and the company already uses about 30% renewable and recycled raw materials, among them raw materials from renewable sources such as viscose, cotton or the lactic-acid-based polymer PLA for its spunlaced nonwovens. The company is continuously looking into short, mid and long-term possibilities to increase sustainability in its products as well as its business practices and it is searching for alternative raw materials that offer a higher level of sustainability while maintaining its established product functionality and quality, according to Weber.
“The spunlace technology offers the possibility to adapt the nonwoven’s raw material composition, while keeping the current quality standard, or with a view to bringing about desired properties,” she says. “This has enabled us to take account of sustainability even in disposable products such as wipes.
“Some years ago, we achieved a reduction in the basis weights of a new generation of wipes, substrates, lowering material input while maintaining the nonwovens’ properties. In terms of reducing the carbon footprint of our products, we strive to lower energy consumption throughout all areas of the company. In production, this is achieved in particular through an energy monitoring system at our production lines.”
Welspun feels that the nature of wipes means they should be sustainable. “Wipes are convenience, time-saving, single-use disposables products...considering the voluminous consumption, these products should be 100% bio-degradable,” he says.
This is why sustainability has always been of prime importance for Welspun, whose parent company, a global leader in home textiles, consumes more than 100,000 tons of cotton annually. “Cotton is our group’s strength, we have worked on our strength and developed cost-effective natural fiber-based spunlace nonwovens, we are offering same as PuroKott spunlace. Of our six brands of nonwovens, PuroKott was the quickest to get commercialized, within a few months of launch. We are expecting by next year, it would be our highest selling brand.”
PuroKott is developed using waste fibers from the company’s home textiles plant - it has a green story, it is chemical-free and unlike other 100% bio-degradable fiber spunlace, it has improved functional properties like higher wet strength and higher bulk, these are key features for wipes applications. These benefits have helped PuroKott earn quicker acceptance with consumers and brands.
World Beyond Wipes
While wipes continues to be the largest market for spunlace nonwovens, manufacturers have been diversifying into markets like hygiene and medical to bolster sales. “It is true that we usually mean wipes when we talk about spunlace materials. And the wipes market still accounts for the major part of end uses in spunlace nonwovens. But beyond this horizon, there is much more to discover about spunlace and what product worlds it can open up above and beyond wipes,” says Alligros.
“Spunlace is now present in household goods or technical uses in the automotive industry and is also spreading to added-value products and the commodities market,” he says. Some spunlace producers are trying to diversify their product range by purchasing a crosslapped spunlace line for technical end-uses or hydroentanglement units designed for the spunjet process. One of their targets is to enlarge their portfolio and bring added-value to their nonwoven fabrics for technical end-uses.
Technical applications as well as hygiene products, for example, hold a lot of opportunities. Having different technologies at our disposal also enables us to combine material properties in order to further enhance functionality. In the technical sector, spunlaced nonwovens are applied as processing aids or cover nonwovens. In automotives, the functionality of these materials has offered benefits. To advance innovation in these new fields of application as well as in the wipes markets, we cooperate closely with our customers and partners along the supply chain.
According to Sandler’s Weber, its wide breadth of nonwovens technologies allows it to apply lessons learned in other markets to its spunlace business.
“Wipes continue to be the largest segment among spunlace applications and growth in the wipes is market is one of several triggers of growth for spunlaced nonwovens in general,” she continues. “There are wipes for almost every discernible use in everyday life and they are readily available at any time, even on the go. In our fast-paced society, this is a major convenience factor. The versatility of applications constantly creates new opportunities for innovation and is therefore a driver for further growth.”
A maker of cellulose substrates since 1937, Aralar is a global leader in the supply of technical papers for the flexible packaging industry and was at the forefront in the introduction of cellulosic substrate for flushable wet wipes where it is a key global player.
While the use of cellulose is new in markets like spunlaced nonwovens and by extension wipes, Aralar’s long experience with the material in the flexible packaging industry has helped it apply knowledge to the wipes market.
“Our activity as a supplier of sustainable wipe substrates is therefore a natural extension of what we have been doing for many years in the wider packaging sector,” says Javier Falcon, regional manager. “We do not think that wipes, in the current plastic-based formulation that dominates the market, is still a healthy business. The ongoing tide of public opinion and regulatory changes against plastic is a direct threat to the very survival of the industry in its existing form. Only through a transition towards sustainable substrates can the wipes industry survive and thrive.”
Aralar’s latest flushable materials are the result of years of development. Improvements in production technology, fiber combinations and expertise have led to the availability of flushable wipes today that are far better than those from just a few years ago.
“We are optimistic about the flushable segment,” he says.
There are still geographical areas where flushability has not made much of a dent, like most of the Asian continent. Still, flushable wipes will continue to have a limited share of the overall wipes market.
Flushability standards are not currently based on government regulations but on guidelines issued by various stakeholder groups, the most common ones being those issued by INDA/EDANA.
“Litigation has had the positive impact of raising the bar for the quality of flushable substrates,” he says. “We in Aralar welcome that evolution in standards and work intensely to future-proof our product. It is through better flushability standards that we ensure the acceptance of flushable wipes by the public and the growth of the category.”