Today, innovations in nonwovens are growing as quickly as global demand. From housewraps to laundry aids, nonwovens open up a large and ever-increasing number of possibilities for a range of industries.
This insight refers to all industrial nonwovens which are sold business to business and are used mostly in commercial operations. Applications are diverse, and include automobile body degreasing, hard surface cleaning and skin preparation. In 2012, the global consumption of industrial non-wovens was 3.30 million tonnes, and this is forecast to reach 4.95 million tonnes by 2017.
In this insight, we examine: what are the main drivers behind this impressive growth of industrial nonwovens?
1.) Low raw material supply and cost
Industrial nonwovens are less expensive to produce than most alternative products. This low cost is measured not only in currency but in consumption of raw materials. Nonwovens use a significant percentage of European and American wood pulp, which is not petroleum based, and is also renewable and relatively inexpensive. As oil is expected to increase in both demand and price until 2017, use of natural fiber for nonwovens in the place of petroleum based material is favourable.
Water is also becoming a scarce resource as industries and populations compete for supplies. Woven cotton textiles require a great deal of freshwater irrigation, as well as chemical fertilizers and pesticides. The replacement of woven cotton textiles with wood pulp and/or rayon-based nonwovens therefore not only saves money, but valuable resources.
2.) Advantageous manufacturing processes
Nonwovens are usually made using relatively new technologies and use less energy, produce minimum effluent and require fewer raw materials than older methods of production. For example, the now common spunbonding process is only around 50-60 years old, whereas textile spinning and paper-making have been around for a few thousand years.
There are also fewer resources required during the nonwoven production process. Spunlaid, needlepunch, carded and airlaid nonwovens use little or no water, while spunlace uses almost no chemicals and recycles 99% of the water it uses. Nonwoven processes are typically very flexible. This has meant that many industrial processes can rapidly and inexpensively change to produce multiple different products, allowing a much greater degree of product diversification than is possible with wovens or other materials.
3.) Regulation and sustainability concerns
Environmental responsibility influences the manufacturing methods of most industrial products, and nonwovens are no exception. Regulatory pressures and retailer proactivity have meant that movement towards sustainability is now common in this market.
Those in the nonwovens industry feel that sustainability is a need driven by both consumers and governments, and the time to act is now rather than later. For example, while packaging has been the main area of emphasis, Walmart has acknowledged that other areas, such as nonwovens, are also important.
This impacts both the consumer nonwovens market and the industrial nonwovens sector, and the suggestion that the world’s largest retailer might judge and select nonwovens based on the environmental performance of the suppliers has had an immense effect. A wide variety of products have begun changing for environmental reasons: airlace, with woodpulp replacing rayon in traditional spunlace for wet wipes, airlaid pulp replacing highloft polyester in automotive insulation, and a new ‘repurposed cotton’ fiber for use in spunlace are now marketed.
4.) High performance
In some cases, industrial nonwovens materials deliver properties unattainable by other materials, leading to their increased popularity. Exemplary materials include clean-room wipes, which provide a highly entangled web with high strength and abrasion resistance. The large quantity of water used at high pressure tends to remove all loose fibers or particles all at high speed and relatively light basis weights. There are no woven products comparable.
There are dozens of other instances where nonwovens just perform better than equivalent products, from industrial wipes to automotive insulation, from packaging to battery separators. Sometimes the pure performance of a product rather than cost or convenience drives this market.
5.) New and competitive materials
The nonwovens market continues to evolve and adapt in order to best serve the needs of various industries, especially in terms of cost and performance. In spunlace, a precursor web containing segmented bicomponent fibers makes it possible to produce both a cost-effective and high performance microfiber substrate, useful in filtration and industrial wipes.
Airlaid is already 80-90% wood pulp, one of the most sustainable raw materials in nonwovens. Low-density versions are a suitable replacement for foam plastic packaging, and combined with a dispersible binder, airlaid is perfect for repulpable packaging or flushable wipes. This constant adaptation to keep up with a fast-moving industry has meant that the global market for nonwovens shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
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