Earlier this year as demand for products like disinfectant wipes and face masks reached unprecedented levels, news stories about the surging demand for substrate materials—namely meltblown—hit the mainstream, and many people were hearing a new word—nonwovens—for the first time.
As one executive aptly put it, “For the first time, people want to talk about my business at cocktail parties, only there aren’t any cocktail parties.”
And, it wasn’t just news of technology that spread. Usage hit an all time high as companies as varied as Ford, Under Armour and Hanes began producing face masks, looking to fill a seemingly insatiable need. The problem was where to get the key ingredient in these masks—meltblown.
Until 2020, the majority of meltblown production—as well as face mask production—was centered in Asia, which became a big problem in Europe and North America when demand spiked earlier this year. However, eager to help, and benefit from, this situation, companies sprang into action. In March, meltblown specialist Reicofil said it was shortening lead times between ordering and installation for new lines to 3.5 months and soon the company reported sold-out status as scores of companies ordered new lines.
According to Brad Kalil, INDA’s director of market intelligence and the author of the recently published report, Meltblown Nonwovens Markets: Covid-19 Impact Analysis, at least 38 meltblown lines (from 22 companies) have started or will start up by the end of 2021 with capacities ranging from 100 tons per year up to the thousands in North America. Of these companies, eight received federal or state funding and seven have no experience in the nonwovens industry. If you look to the global picture, Kalil estimates there are at least another 100 lines recently started or about to start up outside of North America.
For now, much of this capacity will target one area—face masks—as the world continues to defend itself against the Coronavirus. However, as the threat of the virus wanes, will the demand for these products do the same? Or will consumers continue to want an extra level of protection from other people’s germs, meaning masks are here to stay?