Wednesday 4 November 2009

Insight – Memphis 12-15th October 2009

Keynote: European View

Kris Malowaniec of Paul Hartmann AG (Germany) opened on an optimistic note – for the medical disposables industry at least – by observing that in Europe, the threat of a pandemic was leading to a boom for masks, barrier fabrics and disinfecting wipes. Personal and occupational hygiene standards had tightened and could be expected to remain at an elevated level after the immediate pandemic concerns subside. Demographics (e.g. population ageing) also favoured increased use of disposables in future, and the recession-induced moves to cheaper private label products was coming to an end.
Between 1997 and 2007, spunmelt production increased by a factor of 3.5, especially in the emerging regions. Fabric quality improved dramatically giving better processability and performance in use. Production efficiencies had increased and the environmental impacts had been reduced by the move to ever-lighter fabrics and absorbent products.
Diaper design changes such as textile-like backsheets had driven much of the volume growth, but some problems were now emerging:

  • How much lighter could products get?
  • Overcapacity was evident: high growth expectations among the producers had not been co-ordinated with the converters.
  • Sustainability requirements were by definition hard to meet with disposables.
  • Innovation was limited and there were fewer pioneers with radical new products.
  • Commoditization continued, supported by standardisation of production technology.
  • Raw material, energy and converting costs were increasing.
  • Return on increasingly high capital requirement was limited.
Compared with NAFTA's 5 nonwoven producers, the EU had 21 and some consolidation was likely longer-term.
Asked about the EU demand for sustainability...

 Mr Malwaniec said it was real, but consumers had been unwilling to pay for it in a recession. The same was true of products with reduced C-footprint. The medical nonwovens market had grown by 40% per annum, mainly in risk prevention products, pandemic-related.

Greener Spunbonds

Detlef Frey of Reicofil GmbH (Germany) identified the need to use renewable raw materials, to minimize energy consumption, and to recycle after use as the key ingredients of a sustainability strategy. Renewable feedstocks were a must, but “food should not replace crude”. Renewable resins should be made from agricultural waste products or other non-food vegetation. Recycling of post consumer waste appeared preferable to composting, but biodegradable products which decomposed in the environment could help to reduce the litter problem. So much for the theory. Reicofil had the pilot lines to develop more sustainable products by any route. Their Reicofil 4 system had successfully converted both PLA and PBS (polybutylene succinate – the monomers for which were potentially makeable from renewable material by fermentation) at economic rates without undue difficulty. PLA had proved poor in thermal bonding but PBS was good. However their high densities (c.f. PP) would restrict their ability to make ultra-lightweights.
Topsheets were greener having been reduced in weight by 40-45% since 1990, but how much lighter could they get? Fibre deniers had to be reduced if further losses of opacity were intolerable, and this meant reducing productivity per hole. Reicofil's experiments in this area suggested that R4 should be capable of moving from 13 gsm to 11 gsm without loss of opacity. Strength losses could be mitigated using new embossing patterns and with the best of these a 9gsm topsheet (8gsm spunbond+1gsm meltblown) would meet the CD strength specifications.
Energy consumption had fallen as R3 replaced R2 and was now down to ~0.9 kw/kg according to customer measurements on R4 SSS lines. R4 SSMMMS needed about 50% more energy. Further energy (and
C-footprint) savings could be made by maximizing the use of power from natural gas. One way was to operate R4 in Saudi Arabia where electricity costs were a fifth of those in Germany, and natural gas costs were less than a twentieth of Germany's natural gas cost. Gas could be burned directly to heat MB air, dryer air and calender oil. Even in Germany, switching from electricity to gas for such heating would save about 10% on energy cost and 14% of CO2 emissions.
With regard to recycling polymers, early trials with bottle PET looked encouraging, but as with PLA, the density meant that this would be uncompetitive to replace PP.

Hybrid Nonwovens

Rick Jezzi of A.D.Jezzi and Associates Inc. (USA) thought hybrid nonwovens were exemplified by SMS, Spun-laced/Air-laid, Spunlaced/spunbond, and melt blown with air-laid short fibre (i.e. Coform)
In the technology life-cycle, Coform was static or declining thanks to being trapped within 2 large companies, 3M and Kimberly-Clark, despite the patents having expired long ago. Mr Jezzi thought Coform had potential which remained to be exploited and was therefore evaluating using it with short-fibres other than pulp, using polymers other than PP, making multilayer laminates on a single conveyor, making distribution layers and non-babywipes.
His new, patented J-former (no details provided) was one of 4 options for incorporating pulp or short fibres into meltblown. Fed from a Hammermill, several of these could be arranged side by side to make widths up to 5.4m. Alternatively the patent-expired K-C or 3M processes could be used or you could use the old Rando-webber system to feed staple, pulp or short-cut. Of these the J-former had the advantage of being the low-cost option and the only one to work with untreated woodpulp.
He thought his J-former could be added to existing Meltblown lines, but if all new kit was required, a line would cost between $6m and $9m for 2,300 to 4,000 tonnes/year of Coform output. This was about the same as an air-laid line of the same throughput. Unlike airlaid, it did not need any latex bonding to kill dust, and could use finer or longer man-made fibres to achieve better textures.
Asked if his J-former could be viewed anywhere, Mr Jezzi said it was installed with a client who might be willing to run trials. Of the $9m line cost, only about $1m was for the fibre feed, the rest being the meltblown line and its services.

Chinese Nonwovens

Warren Collier of John R Starr Inc. (USA) estimated the 2008 Global nonwovens market to be around US$25 billion, or about 7 million tonnes, growing at 6-7% pa at constant currency.
Chinese nonwovens production for the same year would be 1.35 million tonnes, having grown at 17-20% per year for the last 30 years. Domestic consumption is increasing to make up for lower exports.

  • Spunmelt production overtook dry-laid in 2008, reaching 650,000 tonnes, or about 50% of total nonwovens, according to CNTA.
  • Airlaid and wetlaid combined are only 5% of the total.
  • Industrials (39%) is still the largest Chinese nonwoven market but this will soon be overtaken by Medical, Health care and Hygiene (29%, but growing at 26% p.a. compared with Industrials growing at 8%)
The growth of spunmelt between 2007 and 2008 (135,000 tonnes) far exceeded the new installations of Reicofil 4 (32,000 tonnes), so who is supplying the machinery now fuelling the growth? Possibilities include Anfu Plastic Machinery, Changlong Machinery, Hongda Research Institute, Shuangwu NW Machinery and Wenzhou CL Import/Export.
Chinese made installations cost about 30% of Reicofil 4 lines at the same width, but operate at lower speeds with lower uptimes and so achieve only about 35-40% of the output of R4’s at present. However this is up from ~25% a few years ago and they will continue to improve. The best current estimates suggest that the “normalized for output” costs of the state-of-the-art Chinese lines are now 75% of R4 for an SS configuration, and 87% of R4 for an SMMS configuration. This takes no account of fabric quality or basis weight flexibility. The best Chinese equipment claims an ~11 gsm minimum c.f. R4’s ~9 gsm, and 3.5 to 5% basis weight variability compared with R4’s <3%. Furthermore, equipment reliability, maintenance costs and depreciation remain to be considered and when all is accounted for, Mr Collier concludes that at the very best, Chinese machinery achieves comparable total manufacturing costs to R4 when in SS configuration and is about 5% more expensive than R4 in SMMS configuration. Cash costs of Chinese kit would be 5% higher again, and anyone installing one of these lines in the West would have to consider patent issues very carefully.
In response to questions, Mr Collier said:

  • It would take another 5-10 years before Chinese Spunmelt lines would be fully competitive with Reicofil.
  • There are already one or two Chinese lines operating outside China.
  • CNTA do not reveal how they obtain their market data.
  • Some Chinese lines are copies of Reicofil, and some are original.
  • The high growth in Medical/Health nonwovens is related to health scares.
  • China is making progress in protecting Western intellectual property.

New Finishes

Stefan Sulzmaier of Zschimmer and Schwarz GmbH (Germany) described traditional spin-finishes as fibre processing aids which did their job without detriment to the finished product. The new spin-finishes of his paper were intended to facilitate processing and give the finished product a competitive edge. For example, wet-wipe producers were maximizing the use of cheaper non-absorbent fibres in blend with rayon, but were limited by losses of absorbency. Here spin-finishes were removed by the hydroentanglement, so Z&S had developed finishes which could be applied to the fabric after bonding and before drying to boost its wettability.
In one example, 100% polyester wipe-substrate could be finished with an emulsion of Lertisan HD 23 to give acceptable absorbency in a wet-wipe. In another, neat Lertisan HD 102 was applied on a spunlaid production line to give improved strike-through times. Being neat and self curing, the HD 102 did not need drying. Air-laid nonwovens could be treated, and application of different finishes to different layers on-line could achieve multilayer properties. Furthermore, additives such as aloe, tea-tree oil and vitamins can be added to the Lertisan to make added-value nonwovens on any process.
Z&S has other finishes suitable for carding and needling flameproof fibres for hot-gas filtration and fluorocarbon treatments for water, oil and alcohol repellency, the latter being applicable on-line at speeds up to 200m/min. The greener Ecoline range of finishes were FDA approved, free of mineral oils and heavy metals, biodegradable and presented no hazard to water courses being in class FRG 1. They were now working on “fully integrated ecologically sound value-chain systems”.
Asked how the finishes were applied, Mr Sulzmaier mentioned spraying for HE. The fluorocarbon finish was approved by the FDA. They were working on finishes for odour control. Could Z&S develop a finish to improve the thermal bonding of PLA? Maybe.

Effects of Recession

Pricie Hanna of John R Starr Inc. (USA) said disposable hygiene products had once again appeared recession-proof, but the nonwoven producers were feeling the effects of sharp worldwide inventory adjustments commencing in Q4 2008. Emerging market inventories stabilized early in 2009, but in mature markets they remain low as retailers strive to maintain low working capital. She thought the broader consumer market was now at bottom, but it would be another 1-2 years before it recovers.

  • In developing markets, further hygiene growth would be deferred for 1-2 years.
  • In developed markets, further growth will be deferred until consumer income increases, probably in “several” years’ time.
  • Globally, normal hygiene growth will not return before 2011.
  • For the 2008-13 period, JRS growth rates had been revised down by about 1% across the hygiene category. (Diapers now 2.8% pa, Femcare 4.1% pa and Inco 5.9% pa)
  • Consumers were downtrading from premium brands to value brands, and from undiscounted brands to private label.
  • Brand leaders were maintaining list prices but use promotions to reduce the upcharge over private label.
  • The overall gain by private label has been held to 0.5 to 1.0% share points.
  • Training pants are suffering due to earlier potty-training, and parents using the cheaper large-size diapers.
  • In Femcare, Always “Infinity” retains its 5% share despite super-premium pricing. (It had a 6% share 3 months after launch. Why? The foam core makes it feel better and consumers really like it.)
  • “Whisper” is now a second-tier premium product. “Naturella”, a low-cost pad from P&G now sells in 30 countries: sales having passed the $200million mark.
  • Light inco pads and protective underwear continue to sell strongly in the US; Wal-Mart, Club stores and the Internet being the preferred outlets. Private label shows strong gains here. Institutional inco shows little growth.
  • In Europe, private label has eroded the brands, but P&G’s new “Simply Dry” diaper, (15% cheaper) increased P&G’s share in Germany by 5% (to 62%) and by 0.5% in Europe as a whole as distribution expands into France, UK, Spain, Austria and Switzerland.
  • Innovation is still the key for long-term growth and profitability, the latter being likely to suffer as the economy improves and raw material prices recover.
  • P&G, SCA and others are still encouraging some capacity expansions in emerging markets.
In the Q&A session, Ms Hanna said P&G has recently announced new more sustainable Cruisers and Swaddlers with 20% volume reductions (freight cost, shelf space and landfill benefit) arising from the use of an adhesive bonded 100% SAP core. Will they promote sustainability on the pack? How? Has performance been sacrificed? What about the switch from pulp to SAP? (from sustainable to fossil origins) The test-marketing will decide. P&G appear to be on solid ground in the US where landfill issues are stronger and there is no composting infrastructure. They are scheduled for EU testing in Q1 2010.
Asked how JRS defined a “Developed” market, Ms Hanna said it was a qualitative judgment where diaper penetrations above 25% were regarded as developed, and those less than 15% were regarded as undeveloped. Has “Infinity” grown by cannibalizing “Whisper”? Probably. We need to see how it maintains share with a more normal level of promotion after the launch period.

Meltblowing Cellulose and PLA

Vince Friemark of Biax Fiberfilm Corp. (USA) claimed that the Biax meltblow process has been rediscovered recently because it is proving ideal for processing cellulose, PLA and elastomers. This paper was ostensibly about their work on low MFR Ingeo PLA, but the introduction to the company mentioned their 25 cm cellulose pilot line, their plans for a 38cm line similar to that now used for thermoplastic polymers (PLA included) and their ideas for a 4 metre wide commercial line. Unlike the conventional monolithic melt blown dies now widely used on SMS lines, the Biax head has 12 rows of individually replaceable nozzles, and achieves 1500 holes in a single 38cm wide head. This gives at least double the throughput for normal MB fibre sizes and excellent uniformity. Energy consumption is about 75% of that needed for a conventional head, and when cellulose is used, fibre sizes of 3-5 microns are obtained.
The heads for a proposed commercial line would be 4 metres wide and use 16 x 0.5 m spinnerets arranged in 2 x 4m wide banks. These would be connected to a coagulation water system and an air supply, and would be fed by 8 dope pumps.
Asked how the Biax work related to the Lenzing/Weyerhaeuser joint venture, Mr Friemark would not comment, adding he had no idea what they were up to. Asked if Biax were using lyocell technology, he said they were not
With regard to PLA he claimed their MB route would make PLA wipes substrate at 30-50% lower cost than the staple fibre, carding and spunlacing route, and have a lower environmental footprint. Several grades of Ingeo resin had been processed:

  • 6251D spunbond grade
  • 6201D and 6204D fibre grades (15-30 MFI)
  • 6252D Injection moulding grade (70-80 MFI)
  • plus 80/20 blends of fibre and IM grades.
A 12 row, 2500 hole spinneret with water mist quenching was among those used. The strongest webs were produced from the 80/20 blend of 6204D and 6252D. Water absorbencies ranged from 1.9 to 2.6 gms/gm and may be better with wet-wipe lotion. If not some pulp could be added, presumably Co-form style. For filtration, 1-2 micron fibres were produced easily at “relatively high throughput”. The webs could be electretted to the same level as PP, but the charge may decay faster. Work continues.

What’s New in Nano

Laura Frazier of SNS Nano Fiber Technology (University of Akron - USA) used the definition of nano generally accepted in the textile industry – fibers below a micron in diameter. Using “electrospin” as a keyword, she found 12 nanofiber patents in the 1990’s, and 941 to date in the 2000’s; the USA leading the field with 650 patents. In addition to electro-spinning either needle-less (Elmarco) or from needles, melt-spinning or –blowing is used to get below 1 micron, although these webs are not as strong as electrospun webs. Disk and cylinder methods were separately mentioned, presumably being examples of centrifugal spinning.
The slides shown at EDANA Stockholm in June 2009 were recycled, the main message being that when a 1mm pastry-cone replaced a hypodermic as a nozzle, large particles (e.g.100 micron SAP) could be mixed into the dope and trapped in the nanofiber web. This time a sample of polyurethane elastomer nanofiber web having impressive texture and strength was shown. Asked about productivity, Dr Frazier said they were making 150 gsm web, one metre wide at 4 metres/hour. She would not reveal the number of nozzles required for this. Only medical applications could justify the price: coated stents and mimics for extra cellular matrices for stem cell culture being among several medical applications mentioned.

Fine Denier Spunbond

Matthias Schemken R&D VP of Oerlikon-Neumag (Germany) reviewed the influences of SMS structure on its repellency (hydrohead). The key factors are basis weight of the meltblown layer, the diameter of the meltblown fibre, the number of meltblown layers, and the coverage of both the spunbond and the meltblown layer. 2 meltblown layers give a higher hydrohead than 1 layer of the same total basis weight, so there’s an interface effect which favours multiple layers. SMMS is a normal configuration for hygiene, but SMMMMMS has been specified to get top performance in medical barrier fabrics. These big machines are costly in capital, energy and space required. The spunbond contribution to hydrohead is minor for traditional fibre sizes, but as the spunbond denier reduces it begins to make a significant contribution. Going from 1.5 denier down to 0.8 denier for the S layers of an SMS increases the hydrohead from 600mm to 800 mms.
So moving to fine denier spunbond layers could further improve hydrohead or allow fewer of the more costly meltblown layers to be used. Asked how much throughput was lost by the S denier reduction, Mr Schemken said that a 240 kg/m beam at 2 denier could produce 150 kg/m at 0.6 denier. How light could an Oerlikon Neumag machine go? 7-8 gsm ought to be possible for an SMMS line on PP.

New Developments in Entangling

Alexander El Helw of Fleissner GmbH (Germany) reported an increasing demand for small hydroentangling lines to meet the needs of emerging markets and to allow cotton yarn spinning mills to convert their waste cotton fibre into higher value cosmetic pads. The resulting “Minijet” lines were sized to take the output from 1 metre wide cotton cards running at about 50 m/min. “Minijet” was based on their earlier laboratory lines and could be shipped, assembled and ready to start, in a single shipping container. Because the cotton cards make ~15gsm webs, many are needed to reach cosmetic pad weights, so Fleissner are offering their Trützschler TC07H with “shoving unit” as a single unit fibre former for the “Minijet”.
Steam-jet bonding uses superheated steam at about 20 bar instead of high pressure water and this provides sufficient energy to lightly bond a cosmetic pad. It can also emboss patterns, especially if some thermoplastic fibres are included in the blend. It gives a sterile product which needs no drying and for the ultimate in simplicity a steam jet can be used on the doffer cylinder of a card to give a more coherent web without need for an entanglement stage. Steam-jet bonded cosmetic pads are bulkier and softer than the equivalent water-jet bonded pads and may be more suitable for the US market. Steam-jet has also been used to bond PET/CoPET webs containing 15% of the Oasis superabsorbent fibre, again without the need for any drying stage. PVA webs should also be steam-bondable.
Asked how wet the steam-bonded SAP-containing fabrics would be, Mr El Helw thought they felt dry but maybe held about 10% water.

Slitting: On or Off-line

Jesus Lopez Marin of Edelmann Technology GmbH (Germany) compared on-line with off-line slitting and proposed a new hybrid system giving the best of both. Off-line slitter-rewinders have a high productivity due to their higher operating speeds, give less waste, allow buffering and give a high quality cut. They are however costly in investment, energy and space. On-line slitter-winders reduce process-related abrasion of the nonwoven, avoid master-roll remnants, allow faults to be detected sooner and give higher quality rolls. They also cost less, require fewer operators and reduce downtime for maintenance. Cons of the on-line system include reduced productivity compared with off-line and they create finished roll remnants.
Edelmann’s new M640 in-line slitter/winder has the same high capacity as the off-line version (1000m/min), gives better rolls due to better web control and has a frame to allow roll diameters up to 2.2 metres. Knife positioning is automatic and accurate using electrical devices and the absence of a hydraulic system avoids any problems with oil-leaks. Their Siemens SINAMICS drives cut power consumption by 30% compared with the earlier in-line systems, and they are designed to integrate with Küsters NEXDETECT zone detector. “Hybrid winding” appeared to be the in-line slitter configured with mother-roll buffering to allow in-line or off-line operation in either non-stop or start-stop modes.
Asked if the new system could do 50gsm at 1000m/min the answer was no, but it would slit 10-14gsm at these speeds and higher. Slit width changes were automatic, but waste would be generated while the knives changed position. Yes, it really would work at 1000m/min and 10 gsm, but defects could not be removed in in-line mode.

The AI market in Europe

Gabriele and Massimiliano Bertocchi of Arendi Service s.a.s. (Italy) observed that the institutional nature of the European incontinence market meant market data was harder to obtain than for diapers or femcare. Arendi have nevertheless established that in 2007:

  • 7.5 billion pieces worth €1.8 billion were sold.
  • The market is growing at 5% pa on average: 4.5% in Western EU and 11% in Eastern EU.
  • Overall market penetration is 22%, being 45% in WEU and 8% in EEU.
  • For the EU 25, 17% of the population were over 65 in 2005, and 30% would be by 2050.
  • In most EU countries the costs of incontinence care can be reimbursed (France, Portugal, Greece and partly Belgium being the exceptions).
  • Reimbursement requires a doctor’s prescription and doctors generally are poorly trained in incontinence, often prescribing unsuitable products.
  • Criteria for product selection by the Health Authorities have retarded the development of improved incontinence products. In particular, the ISO 11948-1 standard (Rothwell “Dunk and Drain”) favours thick products with high levels of absorbent.
  • Cost constraints force manufacturers to make low quality products which are unlikely to work well.
  • This has led to other ways of treating incontinence such as reusable pads, alternative treatments and the need for biodegradables receiving attention.
This is not an attractive scene for anyone thinking of developing new disposable incontinence products.
There are nevertheless many new ideas for disposable incontinence products:

  • P&G’s USPA 2008/0234649 was quoted “prices…have risen to levels that many potential purchasers around the world cannot afford. Thus there exists a need for a simple disposable absorbent article.”
  • Simple 3-piece pant-like undergarments made from a rectangular absorbent pad with front and back elastic panels are described in USPA’s 2009/0071600 and 2009/0048573 and WO 2008/041888 teaches an efficient high speed manufacturing route.
  • WO 2004/030477 teaches a zero waste process for 3 piece pants.
  • WO 2008/018920 covers making cores from recycled production waste
  • WO 2007/078361 covers cheap absorbent foam cores and WO 2009/094506 covers cheaper elastic films.
  • WO 2009/016570 covers a natural gel forming polymer from hagfish!
Asked what the unnecessary “bells and whistles” on today’s disposables were Mr Bertocchi said, textile backsheets, breathable backsheets and flashy tape fasteners. Simpler 2-piece products with reusable pants were capable of giving good performance with low costs. There was a risk that politicians would ban disposables in healthcare. This had already happened in 6 authorities in Italy. However the market share held by reusables was still very small and not increasing.

Cradle to Grave Eco-Efficiency

Jim Robinson of BASF Corporation (USA) made a case for abandoning Carbon Footprint as a measure of ecological impact because it only addresses global warming potential and ignores the majority of other environmental impacts and sustainability. Sustainability assessment requires at least a full cradle-grave life cycle analysis. This should then be combined with all life-cycle costs to arrive at an “Eco-Efficiency Analysis”. However Eco-Efficiency ignores the social aspects of sustainable development which are implicit in today’s accepted definition: “Meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. So, a complete sustainability assessment should include social aspects such as quality of life, improving society, workers welfare etc. BASF calls the complete assessment a SEEBALANCE®.
Eco-efficiency analysis at BASF involves studying 6 factors: emissions, raw materials, toxicities, energy use, risk potential and land use. Carbon footprint is part of the emissions to air assessment. Individual impacts in each of the 6 categories is given a numerical value for each product, process or service. Current and future costs are calculated over the entire lifecycle and eco-efficiency graphs are drawn to compare alternative approaches.
As an example, graphs of the results of calculations for diapers with conventional SAP, BASF’s energy efficient SAP, and a reduced fluff diaper with energy efficient SAP were presented:

  • Conventional SAP diapers had a Normalised Environmental Burden of 1.15 at a Normalised Cost of 1.0.
  • Diapers with the EE SAP gave both NEB and NC of just under 1.0 and hence were a bit cheaper to make and a bit less impactful.
  • Diapers with reduced fluff pulp and the EE SAP were even cheaper (NC ~0.95) and even less impactful (NEB ~0.90)
For diapers, the most important environmental improvements could be shown to arise from total weight reduction.
In questions, Mr Robinson admitted that a comparison of competitive products is very difficult. The technique is most useful for comparing product design changes. With regard to biofuels and biopolymers he thought that food use of the agricultural land had to be assessed and offset against any benefits arising from replacing fossil materials.

European Nonwovens Downturn

Jean Michel Anspach, Technical Director of EDANA (Belgium) reviewed the EU27 macroeconomic forecasts for 2009:

  • GDP down by 4%, Domestic Demand down by 3.3%, imports down 11% and exports down 12.6%.
  • Actual manufacturing production was down 20% (year on year to March 09)
  • The industrial production forecast for the year 2009 (done in May) was down 14% with Spain at-17%, Germany at -16%, France at -11%, and UK at -10%.
  • The year on year Economic Sentiment Indicator which had averaged 104 between 1997 and 2007 collapsed to 60 by March 09, but was now recovering.
In 2008 oil price had averaged US$97/barrel, gas and electricity prices were double those of 2004. Polyester, polypropylene (both resin and fibre), and cotton prices had risen through 2008 before collapsing at the year end. PP Price was particularly volatile with a €600/tonne range over the year closing at a year-end low of €700/tonne. Viscose price fell in the first half and rose in the second and was the only fibre to close the year above (by 20%) its price in Jan 2006.
Nonwovens production data was limited. EU nonwovens imports (tonnes) were down 5% in 2008, the biggest fall c.f. 2007 being in imports from the USA – down 14% to 38,000 tonnes. EU nonwovens exports maintained their 2007 levels in total but exports to the USA were down by 33% to 33000 tonnes. Exports to most other regions increased. The construction and automotive markets had fallen dramatically during 2008 and the sales of durable nonwovens had declined as a consequence. Hygiene had suffered much less and would be the first nonwoven sector to recover.

Paper or Plastic Absorbent Cores?

Philip Mango of Philip Mango Consulting (USA) observed that 10-20 years ago shoppers preferred plastic to paper bags at the checkouts because paper-making killed trees. Now the opposite is true, so what is the appeal of all-synthetic foam cores for absorbent products? To answer this a comparison of the synthetic-cored “Always Infinity” pad with pulp-SAP airlaid “Always Ultrathin” is required:

  • “Infinity” costs 50-100% more than “Ultrathin”.
  • Heavy couponing/discounting has allowed “Infinity” to reach a 5% market share with no sign of further increase.
  • “Infinity” does not compete with Private Label and may be less challenged by it than “Ultra-Thin”.
  • “Infinity” absorbs 20-35% less than “Ultrathin”, and absorbs the fluid more slowly. However rewets from “Infinity” are significantly improved.
  • The synthetic foam is made as a high internal phase emulsion, with divinyl benzene, ethyl styrene and 2-ethyl hexyl acrylate in the oil phase and calcium chloride in the water phase. The polymerisation occurs in the emulsion, the water particles forming the pores. Drying is the rate determining step. The estimated capacity of P&G’s line in Belleville Ontario is about 9-11% of North American Ultra-thin production.
  • The polystyrene-acrylic foam costs about the same as polyacrylate SAP.
  • The “Infinity” core is a laminate of 2 different pore-size foams.
  • “Infinity” process speed is 60-70% that of “Ultra-thins” process speed, so manufacturing cost will be about double.
  • The cores could be pre-formed and fed to the pad line or polymerised on-line from liquid feeds.
  • Fluffpulp is sustainable for well known reasons; the synthetic core is petroleum-based and not sustainable for well-known reasons.
“Infinity” appears to have been developed at a time when oil was cheaper, air-laid pulp was high in price, air-laid companies were unstable, and the green issues were less important. Can it survive today? Yes, if oil price stays at current levels or falls, if the process costs can be reduced, if consumers find its performance worth the premium and the sustainability issue remains minor.
Other foams have been developed by K-C, SCA, and others and P&G does not appear to have the technology locked-up. (Cellulosic and bio-based foams are among them)
In response to questions, Mr Mango said the “Infinity” core is the same weight as the “Ultra-thins” core and appears to have no leakage or odour control benefits. Comfort and softness appeared to be the main consumer perceived benefits.

Pulp Demand and Dynamics

Kurt Schaeffer of RISI (USA) observed that fluff pulp price now correlates closely with paper pulp price. 89% of world fluff pulp capacity is now in the southern USA and production has grown from 3 to 4.5 million tonnes/year since 2002 due mainly to growing demand in China (8 - 10% p.a.), the weaker US dollar and the suitability of the southern loblolly pine for absorbent applications. US demand is growing at 2% p.a., EU production has declined from 600,000 tonnes to 400,000 tonnes in the same period. Bleached chemi-thermo mechanical fluffs (BCTMP) have disappeared from the market and the small fraction of bleached sulphite is getting even smaller. The southern bleached softwood kraft process (SBSK) now produces over 95% of the world’s fluff pulp.
Prices have become less transparent of late, and the premium for fluff over paper-grade pulp is lower than it appears in published in RISI lists because discounting is much higher than in the past (up to 20% off list price). Fluff and paper prices will continue to be close because some absorbent producers can use sheet pulp and some pulp mills can swing easily between rolls and sheets.
One potential problem arises from the growing tendency to link contract prices to the RISI price index. If too many pulp sales are done on this basis, the RISI index, which is based on a survey of pulp selling prices, becomes subject to a circularity error!
How much does SBSK cost to make? About $400/ton so margins are currently excellent on fluff pulp. Could closed mills restart? Yes, especially Canadian mills, but none of the closures of 2009 were of fluff mills. Does any recycled paper get into fluff pulp? No.

Spunlaced Wipes

Frederik Noelle of Rieter Perfojet (France) provided an update on the market and some pointers to future directions.

  • Of the 800,000 tonne world production of wipes in 2009, 50% would be spunlaced, 30% would be airlaid and 20% would be “other processes”.
  • In addition to the 400,000 tonnes of spunlaced used in wipes in 2009, a further 400,000 tonnes is in other markets, 28% being Industrial, 24% being Medical/hygiene, 20% being coating substrates, 14% being cotton pads, and 6% surgical swabs.
  • 85% of spunlaced wipes start with dry-lay carding of fibres.
  • Output per spunlace line has grown from 4000 tpy in 1995 to 10,000 tpy in 2005 and is expected to reach 14,000 tpy in 2010.
  • 20,000 tpy lines operating at 92% efficiency are now possible.
  • Average basis weight has fallen from 65 gsm in 1990 to 50 gsm in 2005 and is expected to be 45 gsm in 2010.
  • New lines would operate with lower compaction of the card web to generate bulkier wipes. In fact the first nozzle would impact the web from under the conveyor in a pre-set gap between conveyor and suction drum to deliberately increase the web bulk. The drum would rotate more slowly than the conveyor to reorient the web and increase CD strength.
  • This ISOjet® system would enable a 50/50 viscose/polyester with an MD:CD ratio of 1.6:1 to be produced from a card-web of 4:1 ratio. MD strengths would decline by 25% but CD strengths would nearly double.
  • New injectors with improved water distribution behind the nozzles would save energy (740,000 kwh/year claimed), reduce turbulence at the web surface and yield cleaner looking webs.
  • New drums with a special surface would allow better control of water at up to 1000m/min line speed and at basis weights below 45 gsm.
  • A jet-track erasing device would allow totally smooth fabrics to be obtained, but only on heavier weights at lower speeds (up to 250 m/min). This would allow better hydro-embossing and cleaner, more precise designs.

Global Diaper Market

Phil Park of Euromonitor International (USA) reviewed the global diaper scene.

  • The total market (nappies/diapers/pants) reached US$30 billion in 2008, with the highest growth rate coming from Eastern Europe (27% CAGR since 2003)
  • Of the 4 largest markets geographically (all worth about $6billion), Latin America grew most (~14% CAGR) with Asia Pacific at 10%, Western Europe at 5% and North America at 3%.
  • By country, the 5 biggest markets in 2008 were USA followed by China (with 42% CAGR) , Brazil, Mexico and Russia (with 38% CAGR).
  • Main growth drivers were low penetration (17% for China in 2007), more women working and the modernisation of retailing, all mainly in emerging markets.
  • By company, P&G were global leaders with 35% in 2008, K-C had 25% and private label 9%. The next biggest were Unicharm (5%) and SCA (3%).
  • By brand, Pampers led with 32.6% followed by Huggies (20.1%), Moony (3.2%) and Kleen Bebe (2.9%)
  • Private label had penetrated Western Europe most, and had increased its share from 17 to 21% since 2003. In North America, the PL share had been level at ~15% over the same period.
  • Value brands such as P&G’s “Simply Dry” diapers and “Simply Clean” wipes were slowing the PL share growth.
  • For the 08-13 period the CAGR in value forecasts were
    • Global 4.5%, Asia-Pacific 10%, Eastern Europe 7.5%, Latin America 5%, North America 2% and Western Europe 0%.
    • By country, China would grow most at 22% CAGR, followed by South Africa (21%), India, Rumania and Russia all at 9%.
    • By Category, Newborn CAGR would be 7%, Standard 5%, Junior 3.5% and training pants 1.7%.
  • Cloth diapers showed a growth of 30% between 2000 and 2008 based on perceptions of greenness, cost savings and the growth of diaper cleaning services.
  • Diaperless babies, prevalent in parts of Asia and Africa were being promoted by US organisations such as DiaperFreeBaby.
  • Greener disposables such as slimmer Pampers, Huggies “Pure and Natural”, “Seventh Generation” and “Naty” were getting attention.
  • K-C was in partnership with a composter in New Zealand, and diaper recycling schemes such as Knowaste in Belgium and the UK were attracting the interest of waste management authorities.

Reinventing the Obvious

David Jackson of K-C (USA) gave UK Consultant Edmund Carus’s paper on the development of a nonwoven surgical gauze from cellulose acetate cigarette filter-tip tow. Since the Courtaulds developments in the 1970’s Celanese have developed the Celaire™ route and Lohmann GmbH developed ABACUS. All processes use the air-box “blooming” of cig-tow straight from the carton followed by pneumatic web forming and bonding with triacetin (as used to make cigarette filters), or hydroentanglement or both. The quick and simple low-cost process gives a one-ply lint-free nonwoven with higher absorbent capacity than multi-ply cotton gauze while maintaining the necessary slight abrasiveness along with softness and conformability. Alginate filaments can be added to the wound side of a dressing to add value. In 2002 a large trial in Germany showed a 77% preference for the new dressings over traditional cotton gauze. Mr Jackson suggested that any questions were addressed to Dr Carus by email.

Diaper Testing Revisited

Mark Bolyen of MTS Inc (USA) reviewed the comparisons of laboratory tests and mannekin tests with wearer trials:

  • The ISO dunk & drain method was described as embarrassingly simple and chosen because the better methods then available might, in Mr Bolyen’s view, have revealed too much. It took no account of anything but pad size and absorbency.
  • Wearer trials are very imprecise and dependent on the choice of subjects and their degree of incontinence. It proves difficult to get participants using pads in a standardised way and the end point is usually just the detection of first leakage. These trials take a lot of time, are expensive, and fail to detect small changes in diaper design.
  • Lab tests are fast, inexpensive and good for design screening, but require experienced technicians, need to be repeated many times and don’t give any assessment of comfort or “mother appeal” in the case of baby diapers.
  • Mannekin tests are very operative dependent and assume a rarely-achieved perfect fit between the diaper and the mannekin.
Clearly there was no one test which could characterise any diaper, and a hierarchy of tests was recommended:

  • Absorbency under load, retention and acquisition rate.
  • Multiple insult strikethrough and rewet.
  • Then mannekin testing but only to check for fitting characteristics
  • Finally wearer trials for realistic final evaluation.

However, the AUL method was questionable because in real life the point of insult was never under load regardless of sex or body position. Assessing retention when a wet diaper comes under pressure was the only logical reason for applying pressure in testing.

3D Adult Diapers Revisited

Christoph Schmitz of Concepts for Success (Germany) recycled the paper given last month at Outlook in Malta. On this occasion he had a hand-made prototype on a mannekin and notwithstanding the claim made last month, this appeared to make extensive use of elastic yarns in the side-panels. He had also added a new feature, “Faeces encapsulation and separation”, essentially an additional topsheet with a hole in the appropriate position arranged so that any faeces should drop into the void between this and the normal topsheet. Patents remained to be published, machinery remained to be developed and testing remained to be done.

Diaper testing

Carlos Richer of Richer Investments (Mexico) had planned to talk on “Who’s who in diapers” with an emphasis on emerging markets. In the event, the paper covered diaper sampling inspection and testing; exhaustively. His objective was to help the new manufacturers and to provide a few tips for experienced diaper producers.
Mr Richer concluded by suggesting that if the procedures seemed too complex Richer Investments could do it for you. There were no questions.

Baby Diaper Dont’s

Yoav Nir of Yoav Nir Consulting (Israel) will help companies wishing to enter disposable diaper production and provided advice based on his experience. Stick to your inner values; your weaknesses are your only obstacles; don’t repeat other people’s mistakes; do what you do best; understand what is really important; get help from experts; hire the best people; etc.
A diaper cost breakdown showed 65% raw materials, 8% labour, 7% marketing, 6% profit, 4% manufacturing. An investment-output graph showed an investment of $4million giving an output over 3 shifts of $18million.
Asked what mistakes he’d made and hence what we should avoid: “Don’t start for the wrong reason”.

Calvin Woodings

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