Thursday 29 June 2006

EDANA Symposium – Vienna – 7/8 th June 2006

Some 250 delegates from the nonwovens and related industries gathered in Vienna to attend EDANA's 2006 International Symposium on 7th – 8th June.

The Symposium, one of seven EDANA events in 2006, featured an interesting mix of high-level and diverse presentations covering nonwovens business, market and technology trends and innovations.

The various papers demonstrated many of the key strengths of the nonwovens industry – a focus on innovation, successful partnerships within its supply chain and the exploration of new opportunities, whether in new geographical markets, new product developments, or the application of advanced hybrid technologies.

The uplifting cocktail party, arranged with EDANA's now trademark style in the foyer of the Vienna Fine Arts Museum , included a guided tour of some of the major works in this beautiful building.

Keynote - Emerging Markets

Nenad Pacek, Director of the Economist Intelligence Unit's Central and Eastern Europe, Middle East and Africa (CEEMEA) Division observed that CEEMEA, with 7.7% of global GDP was now bigger than China (4.2%) and India (1.5%) combined, and while small compared with the USA and Western Europe (29% each) was clearly the region most worthy of corporate investment attention. Furthermore it was more predictable (politically) than many other emerging markets.

Within CEEMEA, Russia was the top priority for expansion with sales growth higher than China . Its economic fundamentals were stronger than ever and looking sustainable. It should prove the fastest-growing market in the world for the average multinational corporation: 94% of companies in Russia were already showing double-digit growth. After Russia , Turkey was the second most important market for international companies, 40% of them showing double-digit growth. Capital investment here was rising at 28% per year and while Turkey is exposed to more currency volatility and temporary setbacks than Russia , the risks are diminishing. After Turkey , the Middle East and North Africa was the third most important region. Here, regional oil revenues were running at 5 times the 1998 level and with oil expected to remain above $55/barrel the best growth will be in Saudi, Algeria , Qatar , UAE, Libya and the Sudan . The risks are obvious: high oil price reduces incentives for structural reform and if the oil boom ends the economies in this area are likely to collapse as they did at the end of the 1970's. US Companies in particular are nervous about investing in the region.

Within Central Europe , Mr Pacek saw sales growth accelerating in the Czech Republic , Slovakia , Poland and Slovenia , but slowing in Serbia , Croatia , Romania and Bulgaria . The Baltic States and Albania were stable at very good levels, and a devaluation of the forint was expected in Hungary .

He felt the continuing obsession with China coupled with the multiple corporate mistakes made in emerging markets would lead to problems for the developed economies. The mistakes were as follows:

• Short-termism at board level.

• Lack of board level commitment to developing business in emerging markets.

• “We'll give you more resources when you prove there's more business” – Catch 22.

• Wrong corporate structures for the regions.

• Assumption of market leadership as of right.

• Lack of local presence – working mainly through distributors.

• Centralised decision making (no local office).

• Over-reacting to economic setbacks.

• Judging results by Western standards (Quarterly Profit Forecasting etc doesn't work).

• Aversion to risk taking. (Need to take risks and monitor them).

Asked where India fitted into the EIU's global picture, Mr Pacek said the Subcontinent is now central to their current strategy studies. Pakistan and Bangladesh are not a major priority other than as a possible source of low-cost labour-intensive manufacturing. Profitability of investments in China is improving, but there are still issues with intellectual property and counterfeiting. Domestic competition is now very fierce, but Western nonwoven machinery producers are thought still to be making good profits.

Cost Pressures

Barry Davies, Director of Fibers for CMAI Europe used the Chemical Markets Associates Inc cost model to investigate the impact of raw material price changes on the costs of the various nonwoven processes:

• In 2005 EU melt-spun PP was the cheapest product at ~$1300/ton. Melt spun PET was ~$1500/ton, and carded PET ~$2300/ton, the increase over melt-spun being labour, binder and high drying costs.

• Chinese melt-spun PP was cheaper mainly due to labour costs being about one third of the EU level. (Power costs were higher due to the need for more costly uninterruptible sources for spun-melt.) However the cheapest spunbond PP (~$1200/tonne) was found in the Middle East where the raw material, labour and power costs were all lower than the EU.

• For carded polyester, China was more expensive than the EU due to the high power costs, and once again the Middle East was significantly cheaper at ~$2000/ton.

• However China has 3 million tonnes of surplus polyester staple fiber capacity and its polymer production is only operating at 32% of capacity.

• Propylene is currently more costly than terephthalic acid or mono ethylene glycol so PP and PET polymers will cost about the same for the next 2-3 years.

• Coverstock, carpet backing, geotextiles and interlinings could switch from PP to PET to benefit from the current differential.

• In 2009 as new capacities come on stream, PP is expected to regain its advantage.

• As the PP price reduces again, the cost of the meltspun PP nonwovens in EU will fall to ~$1100/ton and the relative advantages of production in China or the Middle East will diminish.

• By analogy with the Chinese production of plastic bags (exports increased from 200,000 tonnes in 1996 tonnes to over 1 million tonnes by 2006) increasing amounts of Chinese PP spunbond will be exported.

Overall, the Middle East emerged as the most attractive region to site nonwovens production plants.

In response to the inevitable question about future oil price, Mr Davies guessed current prices would allow new sources to come on stream and were therefore unsustainable. $40-$50/barrel would be the level to plan for in future.

Polypropylene Future

Marc van der Elst, General Manager PP for Total Petrochemicals Research ( Belgium ) pointed out that proven conventional oil reserves at the end of 2004 amounted to 40 years supply at 2004 consumption levels. 67 years supply of gas remained on the same basis. Unfortunately the main reserves were in risky regions, OPEC having little spare capacity at current prices. With regard to propylene:

• Growth in demand will exceed that of gasoline and ethylene.

• There will be no new crackers in Western Europe or North America, and combined with propylene shortages in Asia , the supply will be tight through 2008.

• In 2009-10, major new “on-purpose” (as opposed to by-product) propylene production with come on stream in the Middle East to alleviate the situation.

• 5 major producers (Basell, Borealis, Ineos, Total and Sabic) make 82% of the world supply.

• World PP demand was 42.3 million tonnes in 2006 and demand growth is expected to remain at about 5% per year.

• About 29% of total polypropylene is converted into fiber.

• Polyethylene production is now moving to the Middle East .

Asked about the viability of bio-based plastics, Mr van der Elst thought they may prove to be an alternative to oil-based products if oil stayed above about $60/barrel. However he thought using corn as a feedstock may not be sustainable if good quality water becomes any scarcer.

Asia Pacific Outlook

Rory Holmes, President of Inda (USA) provided an update of world nonwovens market data and estimates from Inda's 2004 report on nonwovens in the Asia-Pacific region:

• Annual Global Growth will continue at 7.3% allowing nonwoven output to reach ~7million tonnes/year in 2010 c.f 4.8 million tonnes in 2005. Square metreage will grow at 8.3% reflecting the general move to lighter fabrics in hygiene.

• By 2010, Asia Pacific will have the largest share of production (>2.1 million tonnes, followed by EU (~1.8 million tonnes) and USA (~1.5 million tonnes). China alone will account for ~1.2 million tonnes of the AP figure.

• Between 1994 and 2004, Asia Pacific tonnage rose at ~8.5% per year to 1.4 million tonnes and is expected to reach 2.1 million tonnes by 2009.

• China 's nonwoven output was 650,000 tonnes in 2004, double that of Japan , and is expected to reach 1.1 million tonnes by 2009. By then Japan (350,000 tonnes), Taiwan and Korea (180,000 tonnes each) and other Asia-Pacific countries (300,000 tonnes) would be small in comparison.

• Carded nonwovens excluding fibrefill and stitchbond accounted for 59% of the nonwovens produced in the region in 2004, but this share will decrease to 49% by 2009

• Spunmelt nonwovens had a 36% share and had grown fastest (15%/year) to reach 500,000 tonnes in 2004. 12%/year growth was predicted through 2009. By then 82% of all spunmelt would be PP-based.

• Needlepunching is the main bonding system (404,000 tonnes in 2004) and will rise to 540,000 tonnes in 2009. China alone will make 245,000 tonnes of needlefelt in 2009.

• Hydroentanglement had been the fastest growing bonding system (28%/year to reach 98,000 tonnes in 2004). Ongoing growth at 18% year is expected to enable spunlace to reach 128,000 tonnes by 2009.

• Thermal and chemical bonding is declining and will fall further (from 314,000 tonnes in 2004) to be overtaken by spunlace ~2010.

• Air-laid production (39,000 tonnes in 2004) is expected to triple by 2009, mainly due to wipes, femcare and incontinence growth.

• PP staple is expected to reach 432,000 tonnes in 2009, but polyester staple will grow faster to reach 307,000 tonnes.

• Rayon usage in nonwovens is growing also, reaching 94,000 tonnes in 2004 and 118,000 tonnes by 2009.

New Absorbent Rayons

Josef Schmidtbauer, Director of Innovation for Nonwovens at Lenzing AG ( Austria ) reviewed the absorbency of rayon fibres using tests appropriate to the evaluation of hygienic disposables, with special emphasis on demonstrating the superiority of cellulosics over synthetics. Several fibers now under development were mentioned in passing. Conclusions were as follows:

• The absorbency of fibrous masses depends on the absorbtion of fluid into the fiber (Water Retention Value or WRV) and the ability of the mass to retain fluid in the spaces between fibres (Water holding capacity or WHC)

• WRV – centrifuge method – depends on the fibres molecular structure and the presence of any voids in the structure. Numerically, WRV is predicted by the reciprocal of the product of cellulosic fiber crystallinity and the square of its molecular orientation. 90% is a typical WRV for viscose, 60% is typical for lyocell while the synthetics tend to be less than 5%.

• Viscose has small voids in the core while lyocell has a more uniform dispersion of much smaller voids.

• Water holding capacity (WHC, otherwise known as Total Free Absorbency) depends on the structure of the fibrous mass and is typically measured on carded webs by methods standardised in the Pharmacopoeias. Values of 21 g/g for viscose and lyocell and 27 g/gm for cotton were presented.

• WRV can be increased by mixing other absorbent polymers into the spinning dope:

• Alginate Alloy (“Hydrofil A” fiber – 140% WRV)

• Guar Alloy (“Hydrofil G” – 120% WRV)

• Carboxymethyl cellulose Alloy (“Viscosorb” – 125% WRV)

• Superabsorbent Alloy (“Lyocell/SAP” – 155% WRV)

• WHC was hardly affected by these additions but the use of cellulose carbamate (“Hydrofil C” fiber) increased WHC to 32% while leaving the WRV the same. Here the carbamate regenerates to cellulose in spinning but the resulting fiber is very highly crimped – this being the structural feature which, after carding, increases WHC.

• “Visconova” (WHC = 26.5%) is another improved absorbency fiber where the viscose process is adjusted to maximise fiber crimp.

• Modifying the cross-sectional shape of rayon is another way of substantially altering absorbency but the changes to WRV and WHC are minor for the trilobal or flat section products currently on offer. Here the benefits appear in the Syngina test which mimics the absorbency of a tampon, giving values of 12 g/plug for cotton and 15 g/plug for viscose. In this test all the development fibers mentioned above give improved results, the most notable being:

• “Hydrofil A” (Alginate alloy) and “Viscosorb” (CMC alloy) both give 20 g/plug.

• “Lyocell/SAP” alloy gives 17 g/plug.

• The all-cellulose trilobal “Viscostar” and the more triangular shaped “Delta” fibers give 17.5 and 18 g/plug respectively.

• For wiping products the Demand Absorbency test is used to assess water uptake. In this test 50gsm viscose spunlaced nonwoven typically gives ~7 g/g water uptake compared with less than 2 g/g for synthetics. “Lyocell/SAP” gave 8 g/g.

• Demand Absorbency had also been used to evaluate blends of viscose and “Viscostar” (trilobal viscose) in 100gsm needlefelts. Moving from 100% viscose to 100% “Viscostar” increase the DA from 13.5% to 18%, with a value of 17.5% being possible for a 50/50 blend.

Asked how WRV and WHC were related, Mr Schmidtbauer explained that they were independent variables. How would the “Lyocell/SAP” fiber be dried after hydroentanglement? With difficulty: the fiber had yet to be commercialised.

EU Industrial Wipes Market

Sylvain d'Incau of DuPont ( Switzerland ) observed that the slow down in the hygiene market was leading consumer wipes producers to turn their attention to the industrial market, dumping fabrics designed for consumer use at very low prices. He was at pains to point out that the industrial wipes market was less attractive than might be imagined:

• Industrial wipes is a highly fragmented market with millions of end-users served by thousands of distributors.

• Industrial wipes are no more profitable than consumer wipes.

• The market size is difficult to measure but is probably between €1 and €3 billion at end-user level.

• Only 20% of this is nonwoven, so the nonwoven wipes market would be between €200 and €600 million or 20,000 - 50,000 tonnes.

• 70% of the nonwoven wipes come from very large backwards-integrated producers so the opportunity for roll-good suppliers is limited.

• In fact Dupont estimate the opportunity for roll-goods to be between 6000 and 15000 tpy, or about the output of one modern spunlace line.

• Average annual growth is between 4 and 5% per year, but the contamination control segment (~1000 tonnes/year) shows 8-10% while the basic wipes show 1-2% per year growth.

For future opportunities the nonwovens industry must challenge the dominance of textile rental towels by highlighting their hidden costs and the risk of contamination due to imperfect laundering. Industrial wet-wipes are taking off, growing 4-5 times faster than dry wipes, and now account for about 5-10% of the total nonwoven volume in industrials. Microfiber spunlaced nonwovens should grow at the expense of the costly woven and knitted microfiber wipes.

Asked what the biggest threat was, Mr d'Incau cited increasing raw material costs which are impacting the viability of the whole nonwovens industry. He also thought the industrial nonwovens industry was a threat to itself as the competitive dynamics were causing downward pressure on prices.

Opportunities for Biodegradable Nonwovens

Frederic Noelle, R&D Director of Rieter Perfojet SA (France) said the combination of biodegradable fibres from sustainable polymers at competitive cost with efficient hydroentanglement bonding allowed the production of hygienic nonwovens better suited to emerging European waste management strategy. Viscose and lyocell were now comparable in price to PP and PET, and HE nonwovens made from them were cheaper than the equivalent synthetic nonwovens. These nonwovens were easily and rapidly biodegraded, both aerobically (landfill or compost) and anaerobically (sewage treatment or landfill). If stronger products were required, polylactic acid (PLA) was now the most competitive of the synthetic biodegradables, the polymer price having declined to meet the rising cost of polyester resins. PLA could be spunlaid and hydroentangled and the more durable fabrics, whilst not truly biodegradable, could be hydrolysed and degraded in active composting where temperatures above 65 o C and humidities above 90% would destroy it in 60 days.

Wingformer Update

Alessandro Celli, Managing Director of Celli Nonwovens S.p.A ( Italy ) provided more information on the design of the new Wingformer air-lay head. Compared with the established systems from Neumag (M&J) and Danweb the most significant difference appeared to be

• The distribution of the pulp through a thin flexible screen rather like a paper machine forming wire, which travelled above and with the main conveyor and could be cleaned of any nits or undispersed pulp on the return run above the “headbox”. This guaranteed blockage-free running and presumably improved MD/CD ratios.

• The use of wing-like fiber distribution elements said to give uniquely uniform webs with very good MD/CD property ratios. These were attached to numerous independently driven rollers which spin in contact with the moving distribution screen and wipe the fibers through it.

The 50cm wide pilot former now installed at Rieter Perfojet allows air-laying onto a spunlaced web prior to further spunlacing and drying. Throughput exceeding those of the competitive systems is claimed, and the current maximum (650 kg/m/hr with treated pulp) is limited by hammermill throughput. Web profiles show weight variability below 2%, and most remarkably, this uniformity is maintained over air humidities ranging from 80% down to 30%. If confirmed on a production scale, this would allow the elimination of air conditioning with substantial savings in energy – estimated at €350,000 per year for a 3.6m wide machine.

Would the Wingformer work with synthetic fibers? Yes, but a new fiber opening system is needed to prove how well it could work. At present 6mm fibers have been processed, but the screen system can be made more open for longer fibers. The web onto which the pulp is laid must be very open in order to get the necessary air-flow.

Spunlaced spunlaid

Dr Ullrich Münstermann of Fleissner GmbH ( Germany ) put the maximum capacity of their Aquajet HE lines at 4.5 tonnes/hour for plain products and 3.2 tonnes/hour for structured products. Total annual production of HE fabrics was now running at 430,000 tonnes per year, but the combination of spunlaying with HE was expected to provide future growth. In particular, the SPS (Spunbond Pulp Spunbond) system could in future provide nonwovens of high quality, low cost and high profit for the wipes market. 48 gsm of woodpulp could be sandwiched between two 8 gsm layers of PP spunbond to give a highly absorbent fabric with good uniformity, strength, and a softness similar to an all-staple wipe. This had been made at speeds of 500 m/min in the Fleissner R&D centre, but offline processes would be possible. In this process coverstock spunbonds could be fed from an unwind stand to replace the card webs in an air-lace product.

Spunlaced-spunlaid could also replace needled and/or chemically bonded spunlaid products in geotextiles and roofing applications. Spunlacing would allow higher production speeds, higher strengths and savings of fiber and binder. It would also allow sea/island filaments to be split into microfibers. The novel characteristics of these new fabrics could also be expected to open up new durable markets.

Automotive Nonwovens

Tolga Görgün of Advansa GmbH reviewed the use of nonwovens in automotive construction and made the case for increased use of polyester. Averaged over all types and sizes of cars, about 30 kgs of textiles are used per car. Of this 20 kgs are nonwovens, and with 64 million cars being produced every year the market for nonwovens is about 1.3 million tonnes. The average annual growth rate is 5.8%. Approximately 55% of the fiber used is polyester, and the case for using more rests on its excellent economy (especially in China ), abrasion resistance, light fastness, thermoformability and anti-stain properties. 66% of the nonwovens used in cars are spunbonds, 27% needlepunched, and 6% spunlaced. 43% of the nonwovens are used in carpet-related applications, 23% in hood and trunk liners 17% in insulation and 6% in headliners. Asked how the consumer would benefit from increased use of polyester Mr Görgün said lower costs would be the main thing.

Fuel-Cell Nonwovens

In tomorrow's hydrogen economy, static solar-panel power stations will electrolyse water into hydrogen and oxygen, and these gases will be packaged and stored under pressure to be recombined in a stack of fuel cells to re-generate electricity at a high enough wattage to power a car or a home. Klaus-Dietmar Wagner of Freudenberg GmbH said 11,000 fuel cells were built in 2004, up from 1000 in 2000. Many of these still run on natural gas but as the fossil fuel runs out, fuel cells will become a major power source in the “hydrogen economy”; today's hybrid cars being seen as just a bridge to the use of fuel cells.

The most promising cells are the Polymer Electrolyte Membrane (PEM) varieties which rely on membranes to transport protons, insulate anode from cathode and separate the gases between anode and cathode.

• The PEM's, which pass protons from the anode to the cathode, are fluorocarbon polymers with sulphonic acid side groups e.g. Nafion® (DuPont) or Flemion® (Asahi Glass KK). The thinner the membrane the better, so nonwovens are used to reinforce them.

• Gas Diffusion Membranes either side of the PEM are wet- or dry-laid carbon fiber products coated with fluorocarbons and designed to transport the hydrogen and oxygen to the electrodes, conduct the protons to the PEM and on to the cathode, and to channel the water away from the cathode as it forms.

• Filter membranes tend to be paper based, but nonwovens could be better.

Asked about binders, Dr Wagner said they could be used but had to be very pure. Hydrogen was of course explosive, but modern handling techniques avoided the hazard.

Nonwovens in Construction

David Avril of Don and Low (UK) described their development of breathable nonwovens for non-ventilated pitched roofs. Conventional roofing “felt” is impervious bitumen coated scrim or paper which is totally water and vapour proof. Roofs using it, around 80% of UK homes, have to be ventilated to prevent condensation and this ventilated area is the typical cold loft space. If the roofing felt could be both waterproof and vapour permeable, the loft space could be insulated at roof-level rather than floor-level and become another usable warm area.

The solution is to use an SMS or SFS nonwoven (where F is a microporous film) to achieve a moisture vapour transmission rate of at least 870 g/sq.metre/day. Additional requirements are:

• High water hold-out to cope with wind-driven rain, especially in the short time before the tile cladding is added.

• Adequate strength.

• Low noise in windy conditions.

• Resistant to “tenting” (i.e. permeability to liquid water when touched on the dry side).

• Stable properties for the lifetime of the building.

The new fabric – similar to the US housewrap nonwovens - will allow homes to be built with non-ventilated roofs and will reduce heat loss from the roof structure from 25% down to 4%. These big energy savings are the driving force for the development, and use of the fabrics is expected to take-off as architects begin to specify the new construction method.

Nonwovens in Apparel?

Steve Russell, Director of the Nonwovens Research Group at Leeds University (UK) reviewed the numerous attempts to break into the apparel market since the first paper dress craze captured the headlines in a sixties summer. He thought the trend to “Fast Fashion” increased the chances of nonwovens finding application in novel apparel items. Fashion clothing was increasingly short-life so durability and washability requirements were easing in this sector. Key properties were isotropy, formability and fit, generally achieved in textiles through the ability of woven or knitted fabrics to shear. Nonwovens, especially hydroentangled spunbonds made from elastic polymers, were looking increasingly capable of providing the comfort and wearability needs for fashion clothing, so the NRG is investigating how these fabrics can be finished and made-up into garments using novel techniques which better exploit the inherent properties of nonwovens. Part of the justification for the work arises from the decline in EU textiles as China moves ahead to produce over half the world's clothing in 2007.

Eastern European Hygiene

Krystyna Boryk-Jozefowicz, Vice Director of the Foreign Trade Dept. of Poland's TZMO SA replaced Yana Danailova of Ficosota Syntez Ltd at short notice and returned to her April 2005 Geneva theme arguing that Eastern Europe was just a state of mind. 15 years ago, being part of a centrally planned economy, the market did not exist. Now it was mature and there was no need for any further investment or interest from multinational Western companies. Globalisation and Communization were very similar, both leading to uniformity and limited choice for the consumer. She remained concerned that European Integration was leaving out Russia , Ukraine , Kazakhstan and Belarus , and continued to predict that these countries would form a new economic block of 205 million people because they would not accept “EU waiting list” status.