Thursday, 4 October 2001

SINCE Shanghai: 26-28th Sept. 2001


  • China ’s total nonwoven production now exceeds Japan’s. The spunlace sector in China grew by 45% in the last year to exceed Japan’s spunlace output.
  • European wipes production, mainly spunlaced, mainly from Italy, grew 50% last year.
  • Chinese machinery makers now have a full range of nonwovens equipment, which while not up to Western standards requires much less capital.
  • Exalt ( Taiwan) is offering a 2.5m, 3000tpy turnkey spunlace plant for $3.5 million for installation in Europe or the USA.
  • PGI’s presentation coupled with comments from their stand personnel suggest that PGI is trying to sell or licence the Miratec® process to the Chinese.
  • Miratec® “Levi’s Engineered Jeans” and jackets on the stand were said to be concepts only and not currently available for sale in stores. Apparent marketing successes are in mattress, pillow (The Pillow Factory) and garden furniture covers (Arden Paradise) where the Apex technology appears to outperform stitchbonded nonwovens.
The curious Japanese market is becoming curiouser. The value of nonwoven shipments declined after 1997, the 2000 figure of 194 billion yen being the same as the 1996 figure. Tonnage produced is up from 272,000 tonnes in 1996 to 314,000 last year, but the value per kilo has fallen from 714 to 618 yen/kg.
Mr Tadayoshi Yamada, Chairman of ANNA said needlepunched nonwovens were still the biggest sector with 28% share, spun-melt next with 23% followed by latex bonding (20%), thermal (13%), wet-laid (7%) and spun-laced (6%).
• By application, Industrials (28%) were ahead of Hygiene/medical (23%), Household (21%), and geotextiles (13%).
• Of the raw materials used, polyester lead with 34%, followed by Others (25%), PP (22%), Wood pulp (7%) and Viscose (6%). Polyester (+5%), viscose (+5%) and “others” useage had grown since 1999, PP had declined.
• Of the technologies, wet-laid and latex bonded had grown most (7% & 6%) since 1998, with spun-lace static, and needling and spun-melt declining (-2% and –1%).
• China has now overtaken Japan as the lead producer in the region, and the rapid growth in China is doubtless contributing to the poor showing from Japan .
Mr Yamada concluded with a call for stronger links with China and a more intensive drive to create new products and businesses in Japan .

INDA data for 2000

The numbers produced by Ted Wirtz (President of Inda) at Mainz earlier this year were reproduced here, complete with the apparently erroneous capacity increase and investment figures. New information:
• P&G's “Swiffer” business is, to their surprise, worth $400million. Next years growth of this category will add 1% to the total US industry growth.
• Increased nonwovens use in diapers and wipes will add a further 1% to the total, so a prediction of 6% CAGR for 2001 over 2000 seems realistic.
• This implies the need for another 700 million lbs production (The 2000 production was 2166 million lbs) OR
• 9 billion more sq yds (the 2000 figure was 25 billion sq yds) AND
• New capital investment of $1 billion. (No timeframe evident. Assumes no overcapacity at present?)
• Market value growth would be increased further by Miratec®, Nova (sic, presumably Inova® from Dupont) and Evolon® going after high value textile markets. (but see later)

EDANA data for 2000

European production grew by a massive 12.7% (by weight) to reach just over 1 million tonnes. The main reasons according to last year's Secretary General Guy Massenaux were:
• A surge in wipes production (tonnage up by 50% over 1999, to 152,000 tonnes in 2000) especially hydroentangled wipes and especially from Italy .
• Within wipes, Personal Care (i.e. wet-wipes) now consume 78,000 tonnes of nonwoven, with Household at 32,000 and Industrial at 42,000 tpy)
• A 22% increase in short-fibre airlaid to 94000 tonnes.
• A 5.2% increase in hygiene with incontinence pad coverstock growing at 12.6% within this sector.
Guy Massenaux - Edana Secretary General
EDANA forecast 6-8% growth for 2001 and 4-5% growth for 2002. Some concerns:
• Overcapacity in spun-lace and air-lay.
• Increases in imports of cheap spun-lace from Israel .
• General economic slowdown
• Raw material price increases
• Further consolidation resulting in some plant closures.
Nevertheless, the European industry has faced similar problems before and adversity has always spawned innovation and moves into unexpected new markets.

Progress in China

In a paper bristling with interesting statistics, Mr Ji Guobiao of the Chinese Academy of Engineering reviewed the fibre, textile and nonwoven industry. Since making man-made fibre production a strategic target in the early 1950's, Chinese share of the world man-made fibre market has grown from 0.3% in 1960 to 24% last year, or almost 7 million tonnes. The population doubled to 1.32 billion over this period. While their overall synthetic/cellulosic ratio at 92/8 is comparable with the rest of the world, they are disproportionately strong in polyester filament and weak in polypropylene and nylon. (Viscose production is primitive and based mainly on cotton linter pulp.) They are now concentrating on:
• Scaling up lyocell production to 1000 tpy.
• Increasing carbon fibre capacity and quality.
• Scaling up Ultra High Molecular Weight polyethylene production.
• Commencing both meta- and para- aramid production.
• Upgrading PVA production to higher modulus varieties.
• Developing chitin fibre applications.
• Seeking partners for PLA and PTT production.
• Trebling spandex production (to 30,000 tonnes) by 2005
• Expanding the 1500tpy soya protein fibre production.
From an output of 10,000 tonnes in 1980, China 's nonwoven production reached 350,000 tonnes last year and targets 800,000 tonnes by 2010. (Similar to the European achievement.)

Macro-economic trends in China

Neither Mr Wang Yizhi's paper nor slides were available in English. The following points were gleaned from the patchy interpretation of the Shanghai Social Academy of Science study:
• GDP growth slumped from 9.5% to 7% in mid-98 and end-99. It's now stable at about 8% c.f. about 1% in the USA and negative in Japan .
• A deflation problem has been controlled by the government's active currency policy.
• A 5000 business “confidence index” slumped from +15 in 1993 to –15 in 1998 but has now recovered to zero.
• Two thirds of the population (800m) live in the country and are “very poor”.
• Rich Chinese have 47% disposable income, compared with 20% for the middle class and 1% for the poor.
• The gap between rich and poor is growing.
• Those with the spending power decline to spend, so savings are now increasing past $7trillion despite reduced interest levels and new taxes on savings interest. This is having a negative effect on the economy.
• The government is now stimulating industrialisation of mid- and west-China. This has a long lead time but should preserve the 8% p.a. growth.

Chinese Spunlace Production

Xiang-Yu Jin of Donghua University reviewed the current situation:
• 18 lines were in production. 7 of these were European, 6 Taiwanese and 5 Chinese.
• Capacity was 29,450 tpy in 2000, but production would be 18,510 tpy. This was ahead of the Japanese 17,000 tpy production.
• 3 new lines had been brought into production last year. (In 1999 production was only 10,100 tonnes.)
• Japanese spunlace was much more expensive: US$180 versus $76 for Chinese (basis unclear)
• China nevertheless imported 4000 tpy of spunlace, a situation it was keen to rectify.
• The 5 Chinese lines were copies of foreign lines but had much lower investment costs. They lacked the process control software.
• China now needed to develop its own high-speed web formers.
• The forward plan included increased efforts on marketing the fabrics and increased co-operation with multi-national companies.
• A comparison of energy usage put the requirements of a spun-lace line at 2 to 2.5 MwH compared with 0.7-1 MwH for spunbond, 0.3-0.35 MwH for needling and 0.15 0.2 MwH for Calender bonding.
With regard to the markets for Chinese production, locally-used medical fabrics were the main outlet, followed by PVC coating bases for the local leather goods producers. They were now targeting T-shirt and sportswear fabrics (cue for PGI?)
Further R&D was needed on hydroentanglement of spunlaid and airlaid structures, and on filtration systems where there were still problems on the Chinese machines. Mr Xiang-Yu thought the Chinese nonwovens associations should work to tighten and harmonise test methods used for quality control.
(Unfortunately there was no English version of this paper.)

Air-Laid Comes to China

Gert Olefs of BBA Nonwovens Asia-Pacific, fresh from the official opening of their new 16,000 tpy multi-bond air-lay plant in Tianjin , reviewed the market potential.
• With 340million women of menstrual age China expected to use 30 billion pieces of fem care in 2001. 8 billion pieces would be Western-style and quality for the middle and upper classes. (no mention of tampons)
• 6-7000 tpy of air laid from two or three small producers is already used in fem care.
To sell-out the additional 16,000 tonnes of capacity, Mr Olefs was looking to:
• Introduce airlaid to the wing-fold sanitary napkins
• Grow the panty-liner segment
• Grow the wing-fold segment at the expense of the low-end products
• Develop air-laid distribution layers and topsheets for baby diapers.
• Develop pre-formed diaper cores and AI cores.
He observed that this was going to be tough and now would not be a good time for anyone else to invest in air-laid in China .

Nonwovens Technology Trends

Peter Tsai of TANDEC listed the following developments as being of interest to the nonwovens industry, especially in the USA :
• Elastic polyolefins from homogeneously branched linear ethylene polymers made using specific metallocene catalysts. (Dow USP 6,248,851)
• CDP Natureworks®, Dupont Sorona® - especially the version using bacterially produce 1,3 propane diol, Eastman Eastar Bio®
• Melt-blown polyphenylene sulphide for high temperature filters (Toray)
• Thermoplastic polyurethane breathable films. (B F Goodrich)
• Evolon® spun-laced microfibre spunbonds for textile replacement. (Freudenberg)
• The Reifenhauser/Hills alliance for multi-component spunbonds.
• Kimberly-Clark's splittable melt-blown route to nanofibres (USP 5,935,883).
• Fiberweb's spunbonded hollow fibre route to nanofibres (USP 5,783,503)
• TANDEC's electrospinning route to nanofibres
• 3D forming at NC State.

Trends in Hygiene Product Technology

Jim Cree of Tredegar (USA) pointed to three fundamentals influencing developments in hygiene product technology:
• Increasing their value to end-users
• Innovation in absorbent cores
• Mass-merchandiser own-brands
His “golden rule”: Innovation must never increase the price of the product: the consumer will never accept an upcharge.
Backsheet trends:• Cloth-like backsheets are worthwhile, but breathable films with <5000 MVTR is probably not (can't make skin-care claims below this level). Breathability combined with clothlike feel seems the way forward
• On-line CaCO 3 addition could lower the cost of breathable films
• Breathable nonwoven backsheet could use SMMS with SAP addition to give a self-sealing-on-wetting effect. However there's an odour leakage problem with these very permeable materials
• Breathability is becoming essential in femcare. However menses shows multiple surface tensions and films that can retain water can leak with menses.
• 3000+ MVTR is essential in femcare, but current filler-loaded films do not have the leakage resistance.
• One company is using an inverted conulated film between the core and the microporous backsheet giving a tenting effect to reduce leakage. It also acts as an additional fluid distribution layer as the product nears saturation.
Elastication trends
Breathable high-stretch as exemplified by
• P&G's Japanese pull-on pants with elastic net.
• “MD/CD fluted strand base laminates” as used in own-brand trainers, “Huggies® Pull-ups” and Unicharm “Moony®”
• “Perforated zero-strain laminate” as in P&G's Pampers® and Playtime®
• “Perforated and oriented fabric laminate” as in US and European store brands.
Diaper Topsheet trendsAfter no real changes for 15 years, apertured topsheets (which could be perceived as less “dry”?) have appeared on a P&G infant faecal management diaper in the UK . This has a perforated PP/Bico topsheet with a corrugated and pressed sub-layer made of nylon 6 as well as the usual curly fibre layer. ADL's are allowing smaller, thinner crotch areas with savings in total cost, transportation and shelf space.
Femcare Topsheets tend to have patterns unique to each brand, 55% being plain or perforated nonwovens, 27% apertured films and 18% being vacuum perforated films. Consumers are divided between feeling films to be hot and sticky or clean and dry. Now laminates of film and nonwoven give improved softness, rewet and stain-hiding. Conulated films have appeared as a sub-layer under a nonwoven. High opacity products give better aesthetcics.
AI Topsheets tend to be nonwoven for retail, or film for institutional use, the film giving better core support when heavily loaded. A total of 12.3 billion pads are sold worldwide, the sector having grown at about 12% recently, and expected to grow at about 8.5% through to 2004. Europe (41%) has the largest share with US (34%) followed by Japan (19%).
Pre-formed Cores will replace in-situ core forming. Panty liners are already converted, larger pads and AI products are now changing over. Diapers will follow, hour-glass cores being replaced by rectangular cores.
Mr Cree thought the “White-Cloud”diaper from Walmart, now having 6% of the US market after a 1999 launch had better features than the national brands while being 7% cheaper. The features were cloth-like breathable back, elastic tabs, hook & loop fasteners, a transfer layer, and printed characters.

Apex Technology

Jian Wang, Vice General Manager of PGI Asia gave a comprehensive promotion of the “astonishing process for design and performance from PGI”. Using slides marked “confidential” and of a quality usually reserved for presentations to stock market analysts, he compared the Miratec process (“proprietary multiaxial laser imaging system”) to spinning and weaving, and the Miratec fabrics to conventional textiles. It was hard to resist the impression that he was selling the process rather than the fabrics. (see later for one-on-one conversations).
Applications illustrated were in:
• Shoe-linings
• Madison pants waist bands
• Apertured sports shirts for Nike
• Mattress protectors
• Mattress tops – with spunbond PP backing
• Institutional pillow covers (antimicrobial, flame retardant and laminated to breathable film) for The Pillow Factory
• Garden furniture-covers for Arden Paradise (also the film laminate)
One table compared the main physicals of the film-laminate with a stitchbonded outdoor furniture cover. It looked good in comparison. Maybe this is where it really fits.

Spunlace Micro-fibre Nonwovens

Mr Zhang Yun of Hangzhou Advanced Nonwoven Co. Ltd considered the uses of splittable bicomponent fibres in spunlace processes in China . There were some interesting insights:
• Different lubricants on the splittables cause plenty of static in carding and difficult hydroentanglement due to foaming.
• Low-foam fibres with a specific resistance of 10 7 are preferred.
• Fibres splitting prematurely further complicate carding, so slow-speed carding is required.
• Setting of pressures on the first 3 injectors is critical. Too low a pressure is no good, and too high a pressure splits the fibres before they have properly entangled. (The prematurely released microfibres render the web impermeable and the final product is just like half-cooked rice.)
• Some fibres split at 50 bar water pressure, others at 100 bar. In the case of 100bar fibres, the first nozzle should be at 70-80 bar, the second at 90 and the third at 100 for best results.
Applications under development were artificial suede and leather and high-end wipes, the latter being defined as wipes for spectacles, TV screens, electronic clean-rooms, quality furniture, electrical appliances, cars and jewellery.
Locally produced splittable bicomponent fibres can't yet match the quality of imported fibre, but Mr Zhang implored the Chinese fibre and nonwoven makers to unite and break through the difficulties.

Rieter-Perfojet Spunlacing

Xiaoyu Kang promoted the market-leading hydroentanglement system. The claims to note were:
• R-P have 400 injectors in operation around the world.
• The world has 130 spunlace machines working at speeds up to 300 m/min.
• R-P's patented random micro-perforated sleeves on which the Jetlace 3000 system entangles the web allow the required strength to be achieved with one-third of the energy needed on woven mesh sleeves.
• The new manifolds allow faster changing of the jet-strips and internal filter cartridges (called “police filters”).
• Backwashable sand-filters are used.
• The computer control system is tele-linked to R-P to allow maintenance advice to be given.

Flame-retardant Spunlace

Mr Chen Zhe of Hainan Xinlong Nonwovens Co. Ltd reviewed the technologies available for flameproofing textiles, the markets that required them, and the standards of flammability needed in each market. There was however no mention of the treatments usable on spunlace fabrics, nor the difficulties of getting good results on such airy materials.
Asked if Hainan Xinlong were now successfully making and selling such products he revealed successes in:
• Japanese market babywear
• US market incontinence pad covers
• Airline headrests
He would not say what treatment was being used.

Study of Water Repellency and Permeability

Prof. Ke Qinfei of Donghua University had worked on repellent finishing of spunlace fabrics for OR use. Again there was no English version in the proceedings but she was happy to provide a copy. The three ways to change repellency were:
• Alter the contact angle of the fibres.
• Alter the surface roughness. (Increasing roughness improves the repellency of a repellent fabric but improves the wettability of a wettable fabric)
• Alter the pore size between the fibres.
She had measured the contact angle, hydrostatic head, permeability, stiffness and strength of a Hainan Xinlong spunlaced pulp/polyester nonwoven treated with a 3M repellent finish at 5 concentrations and 5 application times. The optimum result gave a contact angle of 123 o and a hydrostatic head of 20.5 cms. Treatment method, concentration of repellent and time of application were not revealed. There were minor variations in the other parameters tested.

Spunlaid Trends

Michael Baumeister of Reifenhauser ( Germany ) presented some up-to-date statistics and some forward projections:
• Spunmelt demand has grown 11% pa since 1994, with 7% p.a. expected through 2005.
• Spunmelt has 25% of global nonwovens and is now the biggest technology.
• Hygiene product components (covers, backs, distribution layers, leg-cuffs) account for 62%, or 495,000 tonnes of spunmelt production in 2000.
• Spunmelt accounts for 65% of hygiene product components, and this will rise to 72% by 2005, when 704,400 tonnes will be used in this sector.
• SSS lines dedicated to topsheet and backsheet produce 540kgs/hr/metre at speeds up to 600m/min.
• SSMMSS lines will do 800m/min and 840 kg/hr/metre.
• Reicofil MF lines produce 1 denier/fil, the change from 1.5 denier doubling the MD and CD strengths and cutting the permeability from 4533 to 1360 l/m 2 /sec. (Mr Baumeister commented that productivity and resin choices were limited for this process, as was the demand for this process.)
• Reicofil Bico lines use Hills Inc. spinnerets to give the maximum product versatility. However there are still some patent issues surrounding bico products, productivity is reduced, and recycling is difficult.
• Overcapacity in spunbond is encouraging producers to upgrade old lines rather than buy new.

Lightweight PET Spunbonds

Fu Min Lu of Ason Engineering Inc (USA) described a study of the relationship between process conditions and fabric properties. 20 gsm fabrics were made from a pre-crystallised polyester resin (Eastman F61HC – 0.61 IV, 255 o C MP). The fabrics differed in filament velocity, calendering temperature and line speed, and were tested for filament structure, fabric softness and filament/fabric tensiles.
• Birefringence and crystallinity increase with spinning speed. Velocities above 4500 m/min give acceptable results
• Fabric strength and softness both increase with spinning speed.
• Fabric strength decreases with line-speed, but increases in calendering temperature (180-240 o C) compensated for it.
• At 5600 m/min spinning speed, boiling water shrinkage was negligible.
Main conclusion: Ason equipment can make high quality PET spunbonds at 20 gsm at production rates varying from 80 kg/hr/m at 0.4 denier to 300kg/hr/m at 2 denier.

Bicomponent Melt Blown Study

Christine Sun of TANDEC claimed to have used surface response methodology to investigate the melt blowing of 5 polymers, 5 bico combinations, 5 melt throughputs, 5 air temperatures, 5 air flow rates, 5 die to collector distances and three different ratios of polymers. SRM experimental design enabled her to do this with 27 trials per polymer. No details of the actual trials carried out were given though, and there were no response surfaces to be seen. The conclusions presented were:
• 2 micron fibres were produced for most webs.
• Side-by-side bico fibres were not round and had a twisted or crimped structure. 75/25 fibres were less round than 50/50.
• PP, PP/PBT and PE/PBT gave excellent barrier properties.
• Bico webs had good water repellency and filtration efficiency.
This was just a trailer. If more information is required, Ms Sun suggested attending the TANDEC Conference in November.

Electrostatic Spinning

Peter Tsai of TANDEC has electro-sprayed four polymer solutions and compared the resulting webs for charge potential and decay rate. The solutions were:
• 10% polyethylene oxide in both water and 80% isopropyl alcohol
• 15% of polycarbonate, polycaprolactone, and polystyrene in both 42.5% tetrahydrofuran and 42.5% dimethylformamide.
A syringe and needle acted as a one-hole spinneret, 30kV being applied to the needle. Mr Tsai described the fibre-forming as “electric charges leaving the syringe tip and dragging polymer solution which dries and forms fibre”. These fibres were also said to split longitudinally due to “higher repelling force” before hitting the metal collector.
• Fibre sizes were 0.4 to 0.7 microns (referred to as nanofibres)
• PC and PEO did not retain any charge.
• PS and PCL were still charged after 35 hours
• A table compared the filtration efficiency of various charged and uncharged spunmelt and needlepunched products with one sample of uncharged electrospun polyethylene oxide. The ES PEO gave an efficiency of 97% compared with 42% for the best conventional product (corona treated meltblown PP)
No data on fibre or web properties was offered, but the production rate was said to be a few micrograms/minute/hole.

Study of spunbond drafting mechanisms

Xu Shugang of the Dalian Engineering University presented a long and inscrutable study. There was no English print-out in the proceedings and the interpretation was unable to cope with the technicalities. In essence he had studied the western systems, and prepared a computer model to help design an optimal Chinese copy.

Multicomponent Spunbonds

John Hagewood of Hills Inc. took us through the technology of bicomponent production again. They now claim their spinnerets make 90% of the 250,000 tonnes of bico fibre produced in USA and Europe . A graph of spunbond production put bico at about 150,000 tonnes in a market ( USA +E) of 800,000 tonnes spunbonds in 2000.

SINCE Exhibition Floor

Calvin Woodings 1/10/01