Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Spunmelt Polypropylene Supply and Demand

More from INDA's Vision Conference in Dallas, Jan 2014

David Allan, Nonwoven Markets Editor at RISI Inc. foresaw the demand for spunbond PP fabrics growing by 2-4% per annum over the next 5 years.  Demand for use in diapers would be flat in tonnes, but increase slightly in area.  Inco and medical uses would grow about 5%.  The slight over-capacity would be tamed, with less new capacity coming on stream and older lines failing to compete in diapers.  The market should be in balance by 2016. Other figures of interest:

  • ·         Global nonwoven production would hit 10 million tpa by 2016.  3.6 million of this would be spunmelt PP.
  • ·         North American demand would reach 1.8 million tonnes by 2016, 600,000 tonnes being SMPP.
  • ·         About 80% of the SMPP use has been in disposables and of this about 65% has been used in diapers and pull-ups.
  • ·         Within the coverstock category, 26% is topsheet, 21% is leg-cuff, 31% is backsheet and the other 23% is mainly core-wrap.
  • ·         US Birth-rate is recovering from the recession low of 3.95 million and will reach 4.37 million in 2020.
  • ·         Nonwovens R&D spend in 2012 focused mainly on “improvements” (42%) and “new benefits” (28.5%)
  • ·         US production capacity would increase by ~100,000 tonnes from the 4 new lines now scheduled.
  • ·         PP resin costs have been on a slight upward trend since 2009 and 14gsm spunbond prices have been roughly level.  The NW producers are being gently squeezed in the diminishing gap.
  • ·         Future demand growth would be driven by the incontinence market.

Monday, 14 April 2014

US Manufacturing Update

More from INDA's Vision Conference in Dallas, Jan 2014

Chad Moutray, Chief Economist at the National Association of Manufacturers observed that US manufacturing sector growth had been accelerating since July 2013, but January 2014 was slower than expected due to the weather.  

In 2013 as a whole, manufacturing grew 2%, compared with 0.1% in the EU, and 3% was expected for 2014.  This would be the highest growth since 2005. Consumer spending is up, inflation down, housing starts are increasing, energy production is high and productivity gains are expected.  Vehicle sales have increased steadily from the 2009 low of 9.5 million to 16 million in 2013. 

A survey of INDA members at the end of 2013 suggested that the main nonwoven growth drivers would be:
·         New product development (71%)
·         Stronger domestic sales (47%)
·         Increased process efficiency (35%)
·         Increased exports (35%)
·         Mergers and acquisitions. (12%)

Russia, India, Argentina and Turkey were currently growing less than expected.

A huge boom in chemicals was underway in the US due to the renewed availability of gas and oil.  $91bn  investment was underway in 130+ new plants including much foreign direct investment.  Labour force increases of a million would result by 2020 and petrochemicals would again be exported to the EU and Asia.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Vision 2014: INDA Report

David Rousse, President of INDA saw the increases in US gas and oil production attracting foreign investment, especially in petrochemical industries.  The result would be high availability of ethylene and propylene and low PP and PE prices.  This would favour spunbond nonwoven production.  Other positive factors would be the increasing importance of “quality of life” issues leading to higher demand for cleaner air and water (filters), convenience products, sustainable goods, and improved healthcare where nonwovens had a role to play in reducing infections in general and from superbugs in particular.

Between 1987 and 2012, US Durable nonwovens had grown at 7.4% p.a., faster than Disposables (3.8%) and now amounted to one-third of the tonnage sold in the USA.  Growth from 2012 through 2017 would be 4.3% for disposables and 6% for durables.  US Production capacity was now 2.1 million tonnes, comprising 0.75 million tonnes of spunlaid and 0.7 million tonnes of dry-laid, the latter being mainly needlepunched/stitchbonded.  Dry laid capacity was now growing at 3.4% p.a. (up from 2.9%) compared with 3.9% for spunlaid (down from 5.3%).

The visible “game changers” were similar to last year’s:
  • ·         China’s relaxation of the 1 child policy would create a demand for diapering for 9.5million extra babies per year.  Demand for cleaner air and water would result in a rapidly growing demand for filtration products. China’s nonwoven capacity exceeds the USA and will pass through 3 million tonnes p.a. in 2017 according to ANFA.  (According to CNITA it reached 3.12 million tonnes in 2012!)
  • ·         The US Patient Protection and Care Act will encourage hospitals to use more disposables to reduce the frequency of hospital acquired infections.  Medical nonwovens amount to 9.4% of the total or 177,000 tonnes in 2012.
  • ·         Fracking  to extract shale gas had reduced US gas prices to a third of the EU’s and a fifth of Asia’s.  The lower ethane and energy costs would increase the competitiveness of US spunbond nonwovens.
  • ·         US Oil production is up 60% since 2008 due to shale oil extraction.  Major refinery investments will be coming on line between 2016 and 2020.
  • ·         The “Boomer Echo” – when the baby-boomers children have children – will increase the US birth rate, despite the fact that the marriage rate is low.  This is no more than a delay in reproducing.  The so-called Millenials (78 million of them) have a more cautious approach to starting a family, but 70% say they want to get married and 74% want to have children.  The Echo should start in a few years from now.
  • ·         The EPA Wiper Rule should result in an 6.1% p.a. growth in industrial wipes, with nonwovens being the main benefactor.  The current US nonwoven market for industrial wipes is 37600 tonnes/a and worth $600million.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Splittable Bico Fibres in Decorative Nonwovens

The final summaries from Roubaix...

Ralf Taubner of STFI (Germany) promoted STFI’s facilities mentioning their Reicofil spunbond, Hergerth carding, Fleissner hydroentanglement, Danweb air-laying and Küsters calendering.  He provided a wealth of data on nonwovens which could be made from the kit before concentrating on a current project for Duni (Sweden) intended to improve the lustre and colour intensity of their majority-pulp tableware range.  All composites where the pulp was sandwiched between spunbond and/or carded webs looked and felt better than those with a pulp surface, and surfaces of splittable PLA/PE fibres which had been hydroentangled were best of all.

Modelling Nonwoven Compression Behaviour

Amit Rawal of the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi (India) has developed a two-step model to describe the uniaxial compression behaviour of thermally bonded nonwovens.  The results from this model have been compared with experimental data on the thickness under various pressures of parallel and random laid structures.  Good agreement was obtained.  It was concluded that fibre modulus, fibre volume fraction, Poissons ratio and the alignment of fibres are the key determinants of compression behaviour. The model could be applied to other porous networks such as those made from multiwalled carbon nanotubes.

Modelling the Spun-laid Nonwoven Process

Christian Leithäuser of the Fraunhofer Institute of Industrial Mathematics (Germany) described the modelling of melt-flow in the spin pack, of extrusion and drawdown, of turbulence in the drawing air and of fibre laydown.   By combining these models developed within 8 different doctoral theses undertaken between 2009 and 2013 the Fraunhofer ITWM has, in essence, created a virtual spunbond line.  The models are now being used to optimise or even completely redesign the spinning process and to evaluate and compare virtual nonwovens prior to their production.

A Viscose/Bico Air Laying Expert System

Tobias Maschler of DITF Denkenorf (Germany) presented an expert system for the development of air-laid nonwovens which is being constructed with funding from the Allianz Industrie Forschung programme.  It is a Web 2.0 client server application which can be accessed via a browser.  It contains all the important facts about the process, and how they relate to the Oerlikon Neumag air-layer and the Fleissner through-air bonder at STFI.  It also contains data on the fibres which might be used, allows input of the desired nonwoven properties (e.g basis weight, density, thickness, absorbency) and calculates the fibre blend and process parameters to obtain those properties.  It also calculates an initial estimate of the likely nonwoven production costs.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Recycling Carbon Fibre Composites

More from the EDANA NIA 2013 Conference in Roubaix...

Bernd Gulich of STFI (Germany) reminded us that all commercial carbon fibre composites use filament yarns or tows often in woven structures for maximum strength and stiffness.  Production of these structures results in short carbon fibre waste which can be converted into nonwovens with different but useful properties.  Furthermore, post-consumer carbon composites are now becoming available and these can be pyrolysed to release pure carbon fabrics which can be shredded and also converted to nonwovens.  Unlike the rigid woven structures these nonwovens can be moulded into complicated shapes.  While the composite strengths are low compared with virgin fibre products, the resulting mouldings are very lightweight compared with glass reinforced plastics and therefore suitable for use in non-structural components of cars and planes.  At present, long reclaimed carbon fibres are chopped to about 60mm length and carded into waddings for stitch-bonding or needling.  The technology is difficult because the dust created may well be harmful and is certainly capable of shorting out any unprotected electrical circuits.

Air-Laid Carbon fibre nonwovens

Mario Löhrer of RWTH Aachen University (Germany) was also using rejects from carbon fibre composite production but only in the form of staple fibre or rovings which could be short-cut and air-laid into nonwovens.  These would be used to produce back rests for the front seats of cars in order to demonstrate the usefulness of the technology.
So far, discontinuous air-laying of the output of a Trützschler fine-opener had been used to make isotropic waddings for impregnation and this was now being scaled up into a continuous process.  The system appeared to do little damage to the fibres and little dust was produced outside the air-layer. An in-situ polymerisation impregnation system was also being developed.  Here the carbon fibre nonwoven was coated with lauro-lactame monomer, an activator and a catalyst, and this was polymerised and cured with UV and heat to form the composite in one continuous operation.

Saturday, 8 March 2014

New Glass Nonwovens

More from the EDANA NIA 2013 Conference in Roubaix...

Marjo Peeters of Owens Corning (Holland) reviewed the current uses of glass nonwovens.  High performance glass fibre with diameters of 6.5 to 23 microns and lengths from 6 to 18mm were wet-laid in very large quantities and bonded with thermoset or thermoplastic resins.  This nonwoven was used as a primary backing for tufted carpets where its dimensional stability, heat resistance and wet strength were second to none.  Unfortunately, the cheap and effective thermoset bonding  systems used for carpet backing  out-gassed traces of formaldehyde and this was becoming unacceptable indoors.

Sustaina™ formaldehyde-free glass nonwovens had therefore been developed and these were now being commercialised:

  • ·         Tensile strengths of Sustaina™ were better than the Urea-Formaldehyde bonded glass nonwovens (dry) and the same when wet.
  • ·         Hot-dry strength retention was triple that of UF.
  • ·         Sustaina™ was the only product with a USDA certified-biobased bonding system.
·         It cost less than UF or competitive acrylic-based formaldehyde-free systems.
In response to questions, Ms Peeters could not reveal the chemistry used in Sustaina™ but said the USDA certificate was awarded because 49% of the organic component of the nonwoven was bio-based.  The resin itself is inherently flame retardant.