Friday 5 October 2012

A Tale of Two Industries and their Sustainable Futures

Adrian Wilson, Editor of Sustainable Nonwovens Magazine (UK) compared the Hygiene and Industrial market for nonwovens and textiles  with the following observations:

  • ·         Hygiene nonwoven production was capital intensive with a few large customers each with many suppliers.  It needed very large volumes, long term supply agreements and there was little opportunity to find high value niches.  It was however relatively recession proof.
  • ·         Industrial markets are more diverse, need less investment, and production lines can feed many niche markets.
  • ·         Pegas (Czech Republic)was a successful hygiene producer who had grown rapidly to a 75,000 tpa capacity and selling 87.5% of this output to hygiene.  71% of its costs were raw materials and these now cost 20% more than last year.
  • ·         Fibertex Personal Care has invested $55 million in Malaysia, increasing capacity by 15,000 tonnes but now needs to fill its order books.
  • ·         Fiberweb on the other hand has pulled out of Hygiene (sold this division to Petropar for $286 million) and is concentrating on, and making acquisitions in, the industrial sector.
  • ·         Fiberweb also sold its Wipes business to Ahlstrom in 2007 and this along with Orlandi made Ahlstrom the worlds biggest wipe maker.  However Ahlstrom sold this wipes business to Suominen last year and is concentrating on higher value products.
·         Sustainability-wise, hygiene faces serious end-of-life issues.  Diapers and
sanitary protection are too complex to recycle and are becoming increasingly visible in the waste stream as recyclables and biodegradables are processed separately.  Furthermore, when disposed of they are bigger than when bought. Used diapers are 8 times heavier than when sold.

·         Wipes in contrast are a “jumbo niche”.  Simple, low capital production using potentially sustainable materials from a wide range of sources.

For the future Mr Wilson saw a possible intergration of Bluetooth 4.0 sensors in nonwoven patches, belts or straps linked to smartphones for monitoring health and wellness.  They could integrated into sports shoe insoles to monitor the performance of athletes and footballers in real time.  Mass customization was another major trend as evidenced by iPods and Kindles, no two devices containing the same tunes or books.  He also  thought the advent of cheap 3D printers would allow individuals to custom build a wide variety of products.

(from a paper given at the INDA WOW Conference, Chicago, June 2012)

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