Tuesday 3 April 2001

IDEA 2001 – Miami Beach: March 27th to 29th IDEA 2001 – Miami Beach: March 27th to 29th

Miami Beach

This was a large conference with forty-five papers spread over three days each with three simultaneous sessions. The keynote speech and three of the nine sessions were attended and these are reported below.


Shop Towels

Ralph Solarski of Kimberly Clark reviewed the progress in allowing nonwovens to compete on an equal footing with laundered shop-towels in the industrial sector. If a wipe is contaminated with any amount of hazardous material, its disposal in the solid waste stream is governed by EPA regulations (RCRA). Disposal of wipes contaminated with a small amount of acetone for instance, whether nonwoven or woven, must be registered with the EPA, transport must be in sealed containers, specially labelled, in specially licensed vehicles and disposal must be at a licensed site subject to EPA audit. However if the wipe is laundered, the contaminant is deemed to be extracted and disposed of in the liquid waste stream and as such is free of such costly and time-consuming regulations. Because nonwovens are rarely laundered, they face a significant hurdle in competing with the laundered products despite being better suited to the job and cleaner than laundered products at the start. So, in the USA , 85-90% of solvent wiping applications use the laundered shop towel route. INDA is now working with the secondary materials and recycled textiles association (SMART) and with help from the wipe users is lobbying the EPA for change. The laundries on the other hand are fighting the proposed changes, which are broadly as follows:
• All wipes, nonwoven or woven should be subject to RCRA, laundries by implication becoming “disposal sites” to be registered.
• All wipes should be exempt from RCRA if they are stored in sealed containers at the generation site.
• Wipes containing <5gms solvent can be landfilled or incinerated in the normal household waste stream at municipal sites.
• Wipes containing >5gms solvent should be incinerated at municipal sites if sealed in containers for transport and incineration. They should only be landfilled at an EPA licensed site.
• Wipes “dripping” with solvent should not be laundered.

These proposed changes are now being reviewed by interested parties, any comments will be considered and if appropriate incorporated to allow a final set of rules to be published by the end of this year. However INDA now need the industry's support to mount a lobby equal in volume to that of the laundry lobby. Members are encouraged to communicate their support for this rule-change to their senators and congressmen. Nonwovens are in the right here but are running into very strong resistance. Peter Mayberry of INDA would like to hear from anyone who knows their elected representative personally. Disposables, currently a $600million sector, should be able to take a much bigger share of the $1.6 billion wiping market.

Lyocell Wipes

Nick Simpson stepped in to give Hilda Coulsey's paper on Tencel solvent spun rayon in wipes. Acordis has further developed the sled-test for comparing wiping materials and now uses image analysis to quantify any fibrous residues left on the surface. (See also the Dupont paper below). Wipes containing cellulose continue to leave more lint than synthetic fibres, but the synthetics leave more liquid residues. 100% Tencel is the best performing cellulosic and the lint shed can be further reduced by overbonding with 10% latex or by aperturing. Nonwoven applications for Tencel were listed as battery separators, footwear, filters and wipes. In the wipes category, microwavable patient bathing towels and kitchen wipes were the main Tencel applications with baby wet-wipes being at an advanced stage of development.

Air-Laid Wet Wipes

Susan Stansbury updated her Insight 2000 paper on air-laid in wet wipes this time under Georgia Pacific colours. Her breakdown of the air-laid market had 21% going into Femcare, 21% into dry wipes and 20% into wet-wipes. She noted that the arrival of several “just add water” products (e.g. P&G's “Olay” daily facials) would blur the boundary between the wet and dry sectors, because the new dry products contained lotion ingredients which were activated by dipping the dry wipe in water before use.

She continued to position air-laid between wet-laid/latex and card/HE products said they were “good enough” to occupy the middle ground in the wet-wipe market. It was cheaper to make than the premium carded products but had adequate strength, acceptable aesthetics and it could be embossed to create more surface interest and bulk to offset the aperturing advantage of hydroentanglement. Their consumer study showed GPs' air-laid wipes were preferred to wet-laid hydroentangled products. In a section on antimicrobials, she said they were needed to protect wet-wipes from mould-growth in storage, to help clean surfaces of germs and to fight germs on the human body. Ideally they should not cause the evolution of resistant strains of microorganisms.

Clean room wipes

Marshall Outhout of Dupont had, like Acordis, been using a sled-test with image analysis of the wiped surface to quantify wipe performance, in this case focussing on the extremely critical requirements of clean room wipes. He reminded us that the air we were breathing probably contained more than 50,000 particles per cubic foot, and for a class one electronic clean room this had to be reduced to less than one ppcf. Materials entering a clean room had to maintain this standard and had to wipe surfaces without shedding particles. Knitted continuous filament polyester fabrics were currently regarded as the “Cadillac” of clean-room wipes, but wovens, nonwovens and foams were all used. However wipes were currently selected on the basis of their cleanliness without regard to their ability to wipe up fluids cleanly. Typical specifications covered particle shedding, non-volatile residues, ionic content and static generation but did not consider their functionality i.e. absorbency. He had therefore adapted his test to measure particle removal efficiency (PRE), applying a test fluid containing 10 million particles to the surface ahead of the sled, and counting the particles in the residue left behind. Nine commercial clean-room wipes ranging across the entire range of possibilities had been tested. Not surprisingly, wipes that picked up most fluid had the best PRE in this test, and these were not the wipes which had the best rating against the current specifications. Knitted continuous filament polyester came out badly compared with HE lyocell, and wipes with the best “filtration” characteristics (finest fibres) always picked up (trapped) more particles. He concluded that PRE correlates directly with dynamic absorbency, the lyocell wipes being the best in this regard also. He also concluded that inherent cleanliness is less important than the ability to wipe dry: so-called dirty absorbent fabrics leaving far fewer particles behind than the ultra clean non-absorbent ones. In response to questions the particles used were polystyrene latex spheres used to calibrate particle counters, and the polyester wipes had a surface finish to make them hydrophilic. The unasked question of most significance: how relevant is the test fluid to a real clean-room environment?

Food Service Wipes

Bill Vogel of Atlantic Mills updated his INTC paper on food service wipes. In 2001 the National Restaurant Association expected $399bn in sales of 54 billion meals through 844,000 eateries in the USA . 45% of the food dollar would be spent away from home, contributing 4% of GDP and employing 11.3 million people. He said wipes were used in all parts of the restaurant, generally with a bucket of disinfectant and often with a harsh chemical like hypochlorite bleach. Disposables now have about 15 to 25% of the market according to various surveys. They were expected to last more than one day to be competitive with durables. In response to questions he said that the card/latex Handiwipe generally lasted for 1 to 3 days, whereas the newer spunlaced wipes could last 3 to 5 days.

Plenary Session

The INDA awards ceremony

Prizes were as follows:
Fibre and Raw Materials winner: Eastman with Eastar Bio degradable polyester.
Machinery and Equipment : Dilo with Hyperpunch elliptical needling. (Rieter-Perfojet Airlace and KT Stacpac were nominated.
Roll Goods : PTI Armour ballistic protection fabric. (Freudenberg Evolon and K-C's Intrepid bico spunmelt were nominated)
Short life product : P&G Swiffer. (K-C Little Swimmers and Clopay ? nominated
Long Life product : Colbond Enka-Grid soil reinforcement
Entrepreneur : Mogul, the Turkish spunlaid producer (3 lines)
The lifetime achievement award went to Wayne Hays.

Keynote: 3M Nonwovens

Dr Paul Guehler , 3M's VP of R&D gave the keynote speech on “Nonwovens based Businesses at 3M”. 15% of 3M's $17bn turnover uses nonwoven components, but they are a net buyer of nonwoven roll-goods. They concentrate on small specialised production units making high value niche products, but with an overall goal of converting these niches into “canyons”. Current nonwoven businesses were in tapes, gowns, masks, pharmaceuticals, electronics, light management, reflective signs, highway marking tapes, abrasives, filters and Thinsulate - a blend of melt-blown and staple fibres. One example of a niche that had developed into a major product was their multi-layer film with 50% reflectance and 50% light transmission now used in all laptop and phone displays. He said 3M had been in NW's for 50 years, commencing with a carded acetate product making a packaging ribbon, with respirators and abrasive pads being early products which were still made. More recently, developments of their melt-blowing process had yielded polyurethane dressings, charge-enhancing additives, and finer fibres for better filters. Their Nextel™ flamestop paper was in fact a ceramic nonwoven. They want to capture more of the predicted 7.3% annual growth in nonwovens and plan to create a completely new nonwoven “category” as well as developing more new processes and new products.

Hygiene I & II

Latin American Markets

Rolando Dominguez, Marketing Director of PGI Latin America reviewed opportunities for disposables in Latin America, defined initially as the 21 countries south of Mexico . The region's population had 65% under 35 and only 15% over 50: much younger than other regions. Data credited to John Starr showed the main players to be KC Lao, Grupo P I Mabe, P&G, CMPC, and Absorbmex. Units sold in the region, this time including Mexico were ~14bn diapers, 15bn femcare and 0.4bn AI. Growth in diaper sales of ~8% were expected through 2004, with AI growing at ~15% and Femcare at ~5%. The AI market was however small for both demographic and social reasons. Social change leading to better planning for old age and care of the elderly would be required before this market became really attractive. Mexico had the highest penetration of AI products (16%) followed by Chile (10%) and Argentina (8%). For femcare market penetration, Mexico and Argentina led with 60% each, Chile and Venezuela having 45% each and Brazil 35%. Chile led the diaper market penetration figures with 60% followed by Argentina (55%), and Venezuela and Mexico both on 35%. K-C led the diaper/training pant sector in 2000 in Mexico with a 49% market share, P&G coming third (11%) after PI Mabe (24%). (Absorbmex who created interest in their photo-degradable diaper at Insight 2000 had 7%.) For Latin America as defined, the diaper market shares were K-C (35%), P&G (25%), PI Mabe (18%) with a further 35 converters accounting for the remaining 22%. Recent activity included K-C Lao acquiring Mimo, and Mabe acquiring Drypers. New entrants in 2000 were listed as Papelera Maldonado and Papelera San Francisco in Mexico , Biopapel in Venezuela and CPMC in Chile . 10 new diaper machines, 6 new femcare machines and 3 new AI machines had been installed by independents. Interestingly only Mexico and the Andean Pact countries are using US technology, the rest adopting European. All are about 18 months technologically behind the leaders in US and Europe . In response to questions Mr Dominguez estimated 70% of the femcare market was external, and that the goal of a single Latin American trade bloc would not be reached in the next 10 years.

Internet scare-marketing

Peter Mayberry of INDA described the action being taken to deal with irresponsible Internet scare-marketing in the feminine hygiene sector. The asbestos and dioxin in tampons stories were put out as email gossip by small companies wishing to draw attention to their products – usually 100% cotton tampons with additional “GMO-free” and/or “dioxin-free” claims or implications. There were few if any legal options: no direct slander or libel had occurred, so the action involved working with the FDA and the EPA to make sure internet users had access to the real facts on these government sites. The asbestos story was of course totally and easily refuted. Dioxin was a little harder because judgements of safe exposure levels had to be made. However the EPA were pointing out the ubiquity of dioxin, and the fact that 95% of daily exposure came from eating animal fats. In fact a well known brand of “organic” ice-cream in the USA had been shown to have 2000 times the EPA recommended daily limit. Tampons in comparison, whether made from rayon, cotton or peroxide-bleached 100% GMO-free organic cotton all contained traces of dioxin at the threshold of detection - 0.1 to 1 part per trillion: well within the EPA guidelines. Furthermore numerous respected and independent medical professionals were giving public endorsement to the EPA position. For instance, one was pointing out that tampons are made to absorb not desorb, and the trace of dioxin was not capable of entering the body. Organicessentials.com, one of the three sites mentioned as pushing the “safer” tampons had now altered their site to reflect the EPA position. The other sites mentioned were TerreFemme.com and Naturecare.com. INDA and others now carefully monitored the Internet, and the FDA were carrying out their own dioxin tests on various tampon brands. Mr Mayberry alluded to the European “toxic tampon” scare perpetrated by Greenpeace on the basis of some dubious organo-tin analyses. Greenpeace had now apologised for getting it wrong. (The FDA response can be read at www.fda.gov/cdrh/ocd/tampons.html )

Fabio Zampollo of SSP & Technology ( Italy ) , while present at the exhibition, declined to give his paper on Technology and Future Developments in Hygiene. There were no copies available on the stand either.

Microporous Films

Rick Jezzi of Clopay described their microporous film technology and marketing after a review of the history of diaper development. He positioned microporous technology between melt-blown fabrics and monolithic films for breathability and barrier properties but claimed it was the cheapest. Like the monolithics, it could be laminated to nonwovens, and Clopay were now capable of producing zoned laminates, with a breathable strip down the centre or down the two outside edges of a diaper back. He said breathability had been established in femcare by J&J with “Assure” in 1984, first using hydrophobic tissue (leaked), then meltblown (leaked) and finally with breathable film which worked well. He thought the main opportunity for microporous films would be in AI products where a larger area of the body was subject to occlusion and where the wearer could assess the benefit and decide whether to pay the premium. Here retail would be the main outlet followed by institutional as the purchasing officers realised the benefits arising from improved skin health. Attempts to show the reduced temperature benefits of breathable adult diapers using IR photography had failed, but with sensors in the pad they could show that their films led to diapers being 3-5 o C cooler, and 15-30% RH less humid than standard products. They were clearly more comfortable and would cause less skin hydration. Breathable film use was expected to reach about 240,000 tonnes worldwide by 2004, up from about 140,000 tonnes in 1999. In response to questions, Mr Jezzi thought that breathable film backsheets might also contribute to the ability of the core to pull more fluid away from the skin, but the effect would be small. Diapers could be expected to evolve to become more like normal underwear, and their breathability would be tested by measurements of transepidermal water loss. Why laminate nonwoven to both sides of a microporous film? The inner nonwoven would promote distribution of the fluid over a bigger area of the film, the outer presumably just giving a textile-like character.

Baled Absorbent Core

Juan Carlos Zuhlsdorf of Gevas Packaging and Converting reviewed improvements being made to the baling (as opposed to reeling) of pre-formed absorbents. Using a perforator rather than a slitter to cut to width had solved early problems with low bale stability due to the lack of cohesion between the layers of slit sheets. The layers remained loosely connected until the final pull-off into the converting machinery, and the bales were therefore much more stable. Speeds of 350m/min were now achieved and this gave a run time of 50mins per bale. Up-time was increased because the baling system allowed layers and bales to be spliced together off-line. Tape widths down to half-inch could be handled in this way. His process was fully commercial in femcare and under extended testing for AI. Testing in diapers had commenced. The benefits of more efficient storage and shipping along with reduced materials handling labour c.f. reels were well established.

The Future of Nonwovens?

Fred Crowe, President of BBA's North American Hygiene division chose this, the first anniversary of his involvement in the nonwovens industry, to outline his views on the future of nonwovens in hygiene products. In what was really a business school review of a mature industry with particular emphasis on the merits of supply chain management, there were nevertheless some interesting insights. With reference to the last year he saw hygienic nonwovens as suffering from declining margins, escalating raw materials costs, overcapacity, cannibalisation of products, too many new entrants, reduced barriers to entry, currency fluctuations leading to supplier changes, reluctance to pay for differentiation and a lack of integration in the supply chain. The only redeeming feature was the steadily increasing amount of nonwovens used in each diaper, the 2004 use of nonwoven in backsheet likely to be 40% above the 1999 figure in North America . He observed:
• We can't rely on current markets, products and customers to get us out of the mess.
• The overcapacity will get worse because the lower entry barriers are still allowing new companies to start up with new equipment.
• Rapidly evolving turn-key plant innovations mean that the new equipment outperforms the old and readily takes market share.
• Established producers have to develop new outlets at low prices to survive with second-best kit, thereby depressing the whole market.
• Alternatively they exit hygiene and move into medical or industrial sectors, where the whole process repeats itself.
• Innovation alone won't be enough to balance the market.
• New markets need to be invented.
• Customers must become partners.

He saw a future that was market-driven rather than technology driven, where extremely lean nonwoven manufacturing units with lower-than-ever costs were linked on-line to customers and suppliers allowing instantaneous sharing of all data relevant to increasing the efficiency of the supply chain. This was clearly not good enough for the first questioner who led off with “What is the future for hygienic nonwovens?”

Diaper rash

Dr Bernice Krafchik of Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children outlined the causes of diaper rash and the ways of preventing it. Normal skin was defined by its moisture and fat content, and could be damaged by dehydration (e.g. alcohol in wipes), over-hydration (occlusion), harsh soaps, and perfumes. Damaged skin was prone to dermatitis or psoriasis, the former being caused by diapers, the latter being aggravated by them. Diaper dermatitis came in two forms, irritant where only skin in contact with coverstock becomes inflamed, and candidal where all the skin becomes inflamed by a yeast infection which thrives in the moist conditions. In both cases maceration follows occlusion and allows activated lipases and proteases in the faeces coupled with high pH to further damage the skin. Candida and staph invasion follows readily. The problems were worst for home diapering because cotton products were difficult to clean and rinse properly in the domestic environment. Users of diaper services fared better because the cloths were thoroughly washed and rinsed. Frequent changing of disposable diapers improves the situation further, and the latest superabsorbent diapers can almost completely eliminate the problem provided they are changed often enough. The use of petrolatum on coverstock to protect the skin, and the use of breathable backs to reduce the humidity are both beneficial. How could diapers be improved to further reduce the incidence of diaper rash? The most important next step according to Dr Krafchik was to make them cheaper, and hence more useable in poorer households and more frequently changeable elsewhere. She also mentioned a clinical study about to appear in a paediatric journal showing that Kimberly Clark's new breathable diapers reduced irritant rash by 50% and candidal rash by 60%.

Branding for Roll Goods Maggie Springer (Consultant) made a case for improving business to business marketing by paying more attention to roll-goods branding. A recognisable brand-name was a promise that a set of expectations would be met consistently and as such was as relevant in B2B transactions as in B2C. Her argument was somewhat undermined by her main examples of valuable B2B brands (e.g. Teflon and Pentium) being strong because they were also promoted heavily to consumers, a prohibitively expensive option for most nonwovens producers.

Pre-formed Cores

Kristopher Matula of Buckeye Technologies Inc. expected air-laid usage in femcare to grow by 10.6% (CAGR) to 2004 compared with a 4.5% growth in all femcare sales. Buckeye's offering, the Unicore™ air-laid core had attributes which would enable it to take a large share of this growth:
• It had increasing density and resilience from top to back, allowing rapid acquisition and distribution of fluid while leaving a small stain area on the surface, and better uptake of multiple insults.
• Its multi-bonding coupled with the Stac-Pac compressed bale packaging allowed efficient high-speed conversion.
• Third insult acquisition rate was about 8 times higher than current femcare brands (0.8 mls/sec at 255 gsm).
• Third insult retention (97% for the 255 gsm version) was significantly up on the best femcare competition tested (60% at 300+ gsm)

In diaper cores, a 500 gsm dual layer was giving higher acquisition rate (1.7 ml/sec c.f. 0.5 to 1.25) and similar retention (96%) to the global brand leaders. Fluid distributed through the Unicore™ more completely, covering ~2/3rds of the diaper after 100ml insult and ~9/10ths after 300mls. Much improved SAP retention and softness arose from a “powder gradient structure” obtained by running the SAP in two stripes, allowing the centre and edges of the core strip to be properly sealed. SAP loss of 0.07mgms for the powder gradient structure compared with 4.2mgms for the homogeneous core. Asked why airlaid was still not used in diapers, Mr Matula said that early products did not work as well as Unicore™, and that current products were still too expensive. They had to be made more cheaply and this was where the 50,000 tonne machine would help. Buckeye was also developing new wiping products using the new core technology. An “Engineered scrubber pad” had a surface layer with abrasive particles bonded to it, thereby allowing more efficient cleaning of hard surfaces. Asked if air-laid would be able to challenge HE in European baby-wipes he thought it would be possible to build spun-lace attributes into air-laid. (In private conversation he explained the failure of the air-laid cotton tampon header roll as being due to the fact that the tampon industry wanted to use rayon. Why not use rayon short-cut? It was too expensive compared with staple.)

On-Line Inspection

John Ricardi of Cognex described the development of vision systems to emulate human sight in nonwoven fabric on-line inspection. Their digital video system allowed defects to be photographed, counted, mapped, stored and redisplayed to order on a Windows NT system. Data would be instantly available to all, including customers if they were put on the network. The software recorded the co-ordinates of faults in each roll so that they could be removed on unwind. Nonwoven formation could also be quantified as the coefficient of variation of the shades of gray observed in each pixel. Print outs of the faults in pancakes slit from jumbo rolls could be obtained by entering knife positions. Cognis have installed 35 systems in the last year.

Points from the exhibition.

Ahlstrom had sample packs of dispersible wet-wipes said to be binder-free HE rayon. This looks close to the process I had envisaged for fibrillated lyocell but they declined to comment on whether or not the rayon was lyocell. Some of the pulp/viscose wet-laid HE fabrics are looking better – this in principle being the best way to incorporate cheaper cellulosics. There was no HE-Trinitex, but I was led to believe it would be coming.
American Nonwovens were showing latex bonded Tencel at about 60 gsm for a wet-wiping application. It was overall bonded but latex migration had left a soft centre that contributed to bulk and softness.
Camelot were showing a 200 gsm PET/Fibersorb needlefelt for AI cores and femcare. They also had literature on their fibre metering and dosing equipment, and their “chimney-former” for laying down short fibres.
Eastex ( China ) were showing their HE fabrics for wet-wipes and provided small travel packs of the wipes said to be made by a close associate.
Gordian Industries (HK) had bulky, coloured antimicrobial dry-wipes probably made by tack-needling followed by thermal bonding of a spun-dyed fibres.
Green Bay Nonwovens had a full range of HE fabrics on display including an 83 gsm rayon product reinforced with scrim.
Hainan Xinlong ( China ) had packs of their HE wet-wipes on display and commented that their $2/pack pricing was purely introductory. They also had absorbable HE Chitosan wound dressings on display.
Hangzhou Xinhua ( China ) “Double ring” range of HE nonwovens looks good. They claim a wet-wipe capability but had none on the display. They are testing Tencel.
High Point ( US division of Kao) was offering a chitosan finish to control odour and bacteria on fabrics. (“Be Fresh”)
Innovent (previously Eldim) were offering melt-blown pilot facilities including a 3D forming capability.
Micrex were demonstrating “stuffer-box crimping” of HE nonwovens to create bulk by a coarse creping operation.
Nan Liu Enterprise Co. ( China ) had good looking Fleissner process spun-lace for wipes. They had wet-wipes on display but would not give them away.
National Nonwovens were showing Suresorb® superabsorbent needlefelts, probably a blend of polyester and/or viscose and superabsorbent fibres. They were intended for morgue use and were in weights of 4 to 14 oz/yd 2 , said to absorb 60 times their own weight. They had a similar product for emergency cooling (just soak and freeze, not necessarily for morgue use!)
NCRC's new multipurpose nonwoven pilot line is for hire at ~$8000/day for the full spun-melt-HE system . HE only will cost ~$3000/day. The HE unit is from Fliessner.
Novita ( Poland ) “Specialists in hygiene and wiping” were promoting products from their 1.6m wide Perfojet line and their 4m wide needlepunch line.
Photon Formosa ( Taiwan ) were displaying perforated polybag ice-packs, not unlike a wet-wipe flow-pack, but containing superabsorbents. Intended use after soak and freeze – meat and fish packing .
Scimat (division of Crane base in the UK ) has a roll-to-roll grafting process making PP permanently hydrophilic by grafting acrylic acid. The process made separators for NiMH batteries, but could in principle be used for other chemistries and could also be used on tows.
Spuntech ( Israel ) is using 60-80 tonnes/month of Tencel in hydroentanglement for wet and dry wiping. Their third HE line, originally destined for Shalag Shamir who merged with Spuntech, is now operational.
Tencel were for the first time offering a truly dull fibre containing 1.2% titania. (Previous maximum, when textile fibres had top priority, was 0.6%). Dtex down to 1.25 was also a first at a nonwoven show.
Treco Fibematics displayed wiping materials based on most nonwoven technologies, mostly made from manufacturers second grade material, many with viscose. A creped air-laid, seen for the first time on this stand, looked good.
US Pacific (HK) showed a very coarsely apertured HE dishcloth-type wiping fabric reminiscent of PGI's product. They also had soft hydroentangled viscose cosmetic masks on display.
Versacore were demonstrating their honeycomb-making machine which produces a semi-rigid pocketed structure from thermoplastic nonwoven ribbons. It was intended for composites use.

©C R Woodings 2001