Not for long. Maybe.
In the last few months, it seems everyone is getting into the mask game. Consumer companies across many industries like sportswear, automotives, vacuums, filters and more have announced plans to make masks. Because absorbent products use similar components—adhesives, bonding, elastics, nonwovens—as masks, diaper producers have been at the forefront of these efforts. Procter & Gamble has said it will add face mask converting at 12 of its global sites. Smaller producers like Essity, Wemy Industries, CPMC and Daio Paper have also said they will start making masks.
In the next few months, millions of masks will be rolling off of production lines around the world, making an industry that has been centered in Asia for the past decade, a truly global one.
Unsurprisingly, the nonwovens industry is vital to these efforts. Surging mask production requires investment in meltblown nonwovens, which are proven to be an extremely effective mask material thanks to its combination of efficiency and comfort. In the past few weeks, several major nonwovens producers have announced new line investments or upgrades to existing lines to increase output.
Providing the public with the masks they need in the weeks and months to come will be a joint effort between public and private entities, it seems, as governments in many countries have announced plans to distribute these products during the crisis and stockpile them after the threat of the Coronavirus is over.
The localization of face mask production is just part of a new trend in manufacturing that some are calling “near sourcing” where companies are shortening their supply chains and lessening their dependence on offshore companies. Face mask production had largely left the U.S. and Europe during the past decade, relocating to China and other parts of Asia. As demand shot up quickly in the western world, supply shortages became a major problem.
As this changes, it will be interesting to see how the dynamics of nonwovens production and converting—not just for masks but for all types of products—will be impacted. Will this new normal change the way we do business as an industry?
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