Thursday, 5 November 1998

Insight 98 Conference

  • Current spun-lace production worldwide was put at 150,000 tonnes from 97 lines (by Phillipe Coppin Consulting). Capacity is nearer 250,000. He mentioned CLY as a new fibre to watch and said it was now used commercially by Dupont and Nisshinbo. New players in HE include Albad (Israel), Norafin, Hildener Filz, +1 more (Germany), Novita, Graboplast,+1 more (Poland), Alpha, Nouva FNT (Italy), Fukuyo, Omikenshi, Kinsei Seishi, Ikeda Shigyo in Japan, Hangzhou Xinhua Paper, Henan Zhengzhou, and Hefei Sanitary in China, Sheng-Hung in Taiwan, DHJ in Malaysia, and Schweitzer Mauduit in the USA (K-C subsidiary).
  • Europe now has 10 low pressure HE lines dedicated to creating a bonded surface on bulky cosmetic wipes. Only 3 of the companies involved could be named, P&G (France), Rauscher ( Germany) and Sanitars ( Italy).
  • The new versatile air-laid line now being started up byAir-Formed Composites has product objectives including several with rayon-pulp blends. Burlap replacement for plant root protection was one of them. One wound dressing featured a calcium alginate fibre top layer over an active carbon/pulp blend.
  • Ason Engineering has now sold 3 fine denier bico spun bond lines . Akzo Nobel are taking delivery of one for polyester, American Nonwovens are taking another. The pilot scale roll goods on display were incredibly soft. Polylactic acid was among the polymers they were designing for (see below)
  • John Starr described the nonwovens business ($9billion global sales at roll goods level) as a medium sized industry with modest growth potential (3-6% pa in developed countries, 10-15% pa in developing countries). At the converted products level, the global value is $36billion dollars. These figures exclude waddings (250,000 tonnes USA) and wet-laid glass (300,000 tonnes in North America). Spun-Melt lines now make 400,000 tonnes of nonwoven in the USA and still grow at 6% pa. Spun lace and air-laid are growing at 7% pa. Industrial wipes at 6% were one of the highest growth end-uses.
  • 3M have developed melt additives which can permanently alter the wettability of polyolefins. The specially designed molecules feature a fluorocarbon head enabling them to migrate to the surface within 2 days of manufacture. The hydrocarbon tail acts as a bonded-in root. FC/hydrocarbon molecules give more hydrophobicity and stain repellance, but if the molecule is in three parts with a highly hydrophilic body between head and tail, the FC head drags this to the surface resulting in increased hydrophilicity. The molecular model illustrating this had a sulphur molecule under the FC head. The migration process does not occur in polyester or polyamide.
  • Jim Hanson (MTS)said there were now 2 air-lay lines under construction to make diaper core. Both were 80-100,000 tonne capacity and were expected to make products with more SAP than pulp. Rayonier is believed to be buying one, and Buckeye the other.
  • SAP can now be bought for 67c/lb on major contracts. Truckloads are available at 85c/lb.
  • Superabsorbent fibres are still expected to figure in the next generation of cores due to the simplicity of airlaying them at high concentrations.
  • Rayonier introduced NovaThin , a preformed diaper core made from a compressed blend of “special” pulp fibres and between 20 and 55% SAP. The density was between 0.3 and 0.45 gms/cc (i.e close to tampon density) and the final product was one-fifth of the thickness of current ultrathin diaper cores. The special pulp fibre had been developed for resilience and were said to be a mercerised high-purity chemical pulp. In private conversation they did not disagree with the suggestion that they were moistening the SAP prior to hot calendaring so that it could bond the structure in its compressed state. They also indicated that they would avoid working with P&G or KC because both had proved troublesome customers for their fluffing pulp.
  • The work on biodegradable plastics continues and “green” marketing issues are expected to return to centre-stage. The oil based routes to polycaprolactone (Solvay, Novamont and Union Carbide), and to biodegradable copolyesters (Dupont, Bayer and Eastman) are still being developed but are likely to prove too expensive. The smart money is on the annual-crop routes to polylactic acid (Now <$2/lb from Mitsui, and Dow-Cargill have a plant under construction) and polyhydroxybutyrate. Genetic engineering is now enabling lab. production of the polymers in the corn or soya seeds and industrial processes using this technology can be expected to be operational industrially within 5 years.
  • Trutona introduced a range of flushable sanpro using a water soluble PVOH backsheet, a lightly entangled viscose topsheet, and a CMC superabsorbent. It was a premium product targeting the new and growing environmentally responsible supermarket chains such as “Whole Foods” and “Wild Oats”. The products were said to be made in the UK by a (or the) Hospital Specialities Company. The same principle was being developed 10 years ago for flushable diapers – which apparently proved too large for the sewage system, and worked far less well than the market leaders. Their next introduction would be certified-organic cotton tampons because they felt there was a perception of greater TSS risks with rayon or rayon blends.
  • Cotton Incorporated gave a paper on the use of linters as an additive to pulp in diaper cores. It was a thorough piece of work with much data provided by MTS. At no point did any performance benefit likely to justify a premium price emerge. However a “Now contains cotton” label on a diaper pack might just attract custom.
  • USDA gave a paper on the use of fibre extracted from chicken feathers in nonwovens and composites. Apparently 2 billion kgs of feathers are produced annually in the USA, and half of this weight can be extracted in the form of surprisingly uniform 5 micron fibres about 1cm long. “Several” licencees are now working on hundredfold scale-up of the currently 50kg/hr extraction process.