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What's Going on in Nonwovens?

Author: Dave Rousse, President, INDA 

Posted: February 2, 2017

Dave Rousse, INDA

As it’s the beginning of the New Year, I’d like to share what is going on in nonwovens... basically growth and innovation. In this article, I will discuss the growth, and next month, what’s at the forefront of nonwovens innovation.


Nonwovens are growing in North America through continued investments, investments in capacity and through mergers and acquisitions. INDA has noticed an acceleration of capacity investments. Capacity investments slowed between 2012 through 2014, as the decision to make those investments occurred during the Great Recession.

Nonwovens normally outpace real GDP; in the twenty-five-year period from 1990 through 2015, nonwoven capacity in North America expanded 5.4% annually, compared to U.S. real GDP of 2.4% a year. During 2012 through 2014, however, capacity growth slowed to 1.3% annually. In 2015 the post-recession growth began to rebound, increasing 2.7%. Last year, though, it expanded 5.1%, a growth of 153,000 tonnes. This year, INDA is aware of at least another 112,000 tonnes coming online, a growth of 3.6%. This number will undoubtedly rise as we go through the year.


The growth is interesting: there are companies that currently have production assets in North America adding more; then we have companies that currently do have a footprint in North America investing in production assets, from companies in countries such as Germany, Turkey and China; and then we have companies that were not in nonwovens investing in nonwoven production, such as Carver Nonwoven Technologies and U.S. Cotton. The growth is also occurring across a range of production processes and towards a variety of end-use categories; it is not all one process going to one end use. There is a wide range of processes being added to meet growth in a wide range of end-uses. The majority of these production facilities are in the U.S. Southeast (Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina), with 10 of the 17 new lines from 2016 and 2017 located there.


Three Specific Markets for Nonwoven Growth Opportunities


You may wonder what is driving all this growth. Nonwoven growth has been occurring through existing end-use market growth taking share from other materials, and in entirely new uses. Three specific end-uses of notable growth I would like to address are wipes, absorbent hygiene, and transportation.


Wipes, so many wipes, it seems every day I see a new wipe introduction in North America. There currently is no end in sight for wipes growth, as anything that is a product that is a liquid, cream, or gel can be applied by a wipe. Both household wipes – as there now is a wipe for every corner of the household, including the sink – and personal care wipes are experiencing significant growth through increased usage in existing categories to the growth in new categories within those segments.


The largest nonwoven end use is the absorbent hygiene category. The main drivers are demographics, an aging population with increased life expectancy, and in the U.S. the forecasted Echo Boom, that is the Boomers’ children having children. A few years ago, one had very few choices in incontinence products, especially for light incontinence, which impacts 4 out of 10 women ages 18 through 64 in the United States. Now when one walks down the personal hygiene aisle, there are numerous products available to fit the consumer’s needs, including gender-specific items.


In transportation, primarily light vehicles, nonwovens have proven themselves extremely versatile, saving resources and making vehicles quieter and more comfortable. Automakers are under pressure to lower weights and take out heavy metal parts, replacing them with lighter-weight products such as composite material in door paneling, wheel wells, engine compartments, and underbody shields. Not only is this end-use growing through nonwovens taking share away from other materials in vehicles, but more vehicles are being sold in North America – 7 years of expanding sales.


A greater percentage of those vehicles are being produced in North America at an ever-increasing size. In the United States the 2016 sales ratio of light trucks (including cross-overs, minivans, and SUV’s) to automobiles was 60:40; as recently as 2013 it was 50:50.




All of this growth and attractiveness in the nonwovens sector is generating a significant amount of M&A activity, mostly acquisitions. There are adjacent companies acquiring nonwoven companies, such as Berry Plastics acquisition of Avintiv, which raised the awareness of the sector in the investment banker community. Adjacent companies are also acquiring nonwoven related companies, such as Parker Hannifin purchase of Clarcor. CPG companies have also shown an interest in nonwoven relation companies with Unilever’s acquisition of Seventh Generation and S.C. Johnson’s purchase of Babyganics.


There are also paper companies investing in and acquiring nonwoven companies, such as Schweitzer-Mauduit International’s acquisitions of DelStar and Domtar’s acquisitions of EAM Corporation, Associated Hygienic Products (AHP), Attends Healthcare Limited (Attends Europe), Laboratorios Indas, SAU (Indas), Butterfly Health, and Home Delivery Incontinent Supplies. Then there are nonwoven companies acquiring other nonwoven companies, such as Lydall acquiring Texel.


The North American nonwovens are a successful, growing, continuously evolving, dynamic and diverse industry. The outlook for the North American nonwovens industry is very encouraging, not only with the positives of improving economic outlook and demographic trends that are positive for nonwoven usage, but also growth by the inherent nature of nonwoven being an engineered fabric. 


As nonwovens can be engineered to meet specific performance attributes for a specific end use, the gaining of share from other materials in existing end uses and the ability to enter entirely new end uses will continue to be catalysts for nonwovens’ growth. Further, as nonwoven material tends to stay where it is produced, and as the demand for nonwovens increases, further capacity investments will be needed in North America.


Dave Rousse became INDA's President in late 2012 following over 15 years' experience in nonwoven producing companies and an entire career in engineered materials since graduating from Dartmouth and its associated Engineering and Business schools. Rousse was President, Hygiene/Medical Americas at Fiberweb in Simpsonville, SC before being promoted in 2007 to President of all of Fiberweb Americas and basing in Nashville. Recently, he served as CEO of HydroLogex LLC, a young Nashville-based designer/supplier of proprietary decentralized wastewater treatment systems in the CleanTech sector. Prior to Fiberweb, Rousse was a Vice President at Monadnock Paper Mills, a manufacturer of nonwovens and specialty papers. He was also a Vice President & General Manager at FiberMark Inc., another specialty paper/nonwovens producer. Prior to that he held a series of marketing/sales leadership positions at International Paper.


For more information or to contact Mr. Rousse, please contact him at

Steady Growth Prospects for Expanding Specialty Geosynthetics Segment


Report Author: Stephen Metzger

Research Company: Smithers Apex

Date Published: October 31, 2016

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Specialty geosynthetics are forming a cornerstone of the evolving trend for more environmentally sustainable infrastructure and construction.


Exclusive data in the new Smithers Apex report – The Future of Specialty Geosynthetics to 2021 – tracks how this market will grow steadily across the next five years driven by greater acceptance of such terrain stabilizing materials, especially in key developing markets like China and India.


Global consumption of these plastic products – geotextile, geomembranes, geogrids, geosynthetic clay liners, geowalls and geocomposites – exceeded 8 million tons in 2016 for the first time. This figure will climb above 9 million tons in 2021. A market Smithers values at $16 billion in 2013, is now worth well over $18 billion. This expansion will continue at a year-on-year rate of 2.7% across the next five years to touch $21 billion in 2021; a 15% real terms increase.


The advance of specialty geosynthetics can be seen to rest on dual foundations:

     * Expansion of infrastructure building projects

     * Technical advancement, offering the prospect of new better performing                             geosynthetics.


The advantage of geosynthetics


Expanding demand for geosynthetics is posited on their superior performance compared to accepted, naturally occurring soil stabilizing materials, like cotton, straw or coconut fiber (coir). Using bespoke solutions made from plastics – such as polyurethane (PUR), polypropylene (PP) and various grades of polyethylene – give more durable solutions. This translates into reduced maintenance cycles for site operators and greater safety, by for example better retaining toxic materials, like heavy metals from coal ash deposits.

Smithers comprehensive analysis tracks how a growing body of regulatory requirements directed toward sustainable infrastructure investment, is supporting wider use of these specialist materials.


The cost of any specialty manufactured geosynthetic is directly linked to that of its hydrocarbon feedstocks, which are its basic raw material. As these are forecasted to remain fairly constant, or even see slight decline through to the end of decade. Thus, from a supply side perspective the market is favorable with fewer bottlenecks expected.


Product types


Demand for geosynthetic materials is linked to the applications in which they are used. In 2016, geotextiles represent 47% of world consumption 3.8 billion meters, and 37% of global value. Nearly 87% of these are used in road building or similar transportation applications.


Geomembranes account for over 24% of the 2016 world market by value, but slightly less by volume. It principal use (58%) is in roofing for buildings.


Waterways, like canals, meanwhile account for the majority of consumption of geocomposites (65%) and geosynthetic clay liner (72%).


Geomembranes for all applications will slightly increase market share across 2016-2021, with geotextiles and geowalls declining slightly. Geogrid, geocomposites, and clay liners will maintain their relative market shares against a backdrop of steady expansion for the wider market.


This is because market segments for specialty geosynthetics all now have a significant base upon which to build, even as superior products, new regulations and wider use push total demand.

End-use applications


Smithers divides the end-uses for specialty geosynthetics into four key applications:


    * Transportation – roads and highways, tunnels, and bridges

    * Industrial – Municipal solid waste (MSW) landfills and construction debris and                  demolition (CCD)

    * Liquid retention – Coal ash containment ponds and waterways

    * Construction – Principally roofing and building substructures.


A brief survey of these shows that specialty geosynthetics use is closely linked to regional and national markets for construction and, in particular, infrastructure projects.

This is, of course, dependent on wider GDP expansion. Any further slowing of the Chinese economy would negatively affect demand, while if the incoming Trump administration’s election pledge of $1 trillion [ politics/donald-trump-infrastructure-plan-congress/ ] for infrastructure development is realized it would boost US consumption.


Geographic demand


Use of specialty geosynthetics today is most common in Western Europe and North America. These represent 32% and 17% respectively of the 8 billion square metres used worldwide in 2016. Asia Pacific is the second largest regional market with a 30% market share in 2016. Asia’s transition economies the fastest growth prospects for 2016-2021 – giving a 3.4% CAGR region wide across this period.


China is the key national market in Asia and already accounts for over 60% of specialty geosynthetics consumption. Demand is forecast to remain high, due to initiatives like the 13th Five-Year Plan, which promises to build:


     * 10,000km of inter-city rail connections

     *   3,000km of urban rail lines

     * 30,000km of expressways

     * 20,000km of rural roads

     * 50 more civilian airports


India is also investing in upgrading its infrastructure – mainly its road network – which will see annual increases of nearly 7% across the Smithers study period. It will remain a market dwarfed by China however, eight times smaller in 2021, despite strong growth.


Both India and China will both see a rapid increase in use for liquid containment in MSWs – addressing a long neglected environmental hazard. Their relative growth rates in this application for the five years to 2021 are 12% and 8% respectively.


Technical developments

Technical R&D and product evolution in the next five years are likely to focus on five key areas:


Metallocene PP

The use of metallocene catalysts used in the production of PP non-wovens is advancing and producing a new generation lighter weight geotextiles. This allows new geosynthetic grades – like Total’s Lumicene MR2001 and MR2002 launched in 2015 – that can deliver the same performance as heavier conventional PP products. Furthermore, they are inert once buried and will not alter the chemical balance of the soil into which they are placed.


For manufacturers, there are advantages too in processing metallocene catalyzed PP geosynthetics. These include:


     * Increased production throughput,

     * The elimination of the need for peroxides to obtain narrow molecular weight                      distribution and high melt flow indices

     * Less extractables and fumes generated in the factory.


Smithers forecasts that innovation on metallocene chemistry will advance across 2016-2021. This will expand the current limited range of lighter weight materials available for a range of geosynthetic applications.




Graphene has been hailed as a pivot for a future materials revolution in a wider range of industries – though scaling production of a material first produced with adhesive tape and pencil graphite has been a major barrier.


In April 2016, a small, research-oriented company based in Australia, Imagine Intelligent Materials (IIM), announced the commercial application of graphene coating on geotextiles. It is working with Geofabrics Australasia – Australia's largest geotextile company – to develop a ‘game-changing’ graphene-coated geotextile with advanced leak-detection capabilities. IIM also notes that the improved structural properties of graphene would add considerable strength, with little additional weight, which will help future geosynthetic products meet more robust strength requirements in regulations.


The geosynthetics segment is thus likely to devote more money to evolving graphene technology, though the principal hurdle remains achieving volume production at a reasonable price.




A more immediate and allied trend for the geosynthetics industry is the evolution of nanofiber non-wovens. Due of their inherently low density and large surface area to mass, nanofiber structure can deliver a nonwoven fabric that is extremely light, adding little weight to applications involving geocomposite structures. These simultaneously promise superior filtration properties – to both liquid and gases.


As with graphene the challenge is to transition laboratory grade nanofiber manufacturing to commercial scale. Current platforms rely on conventional, coaxial, melt or emulsion electrospinning technology; though one new approach needleless electrospinning – first described in an academic paper in 2012 – holds more promise for volume manufacturing.


Thus, there is every reason to expect commercial-scale nanofiber production during the next 5-10 years, with geosynthetics one of the non-woven segments where this will lead to new more valuable products.


Leak detection


Two other nanomaterials – nanoparticulate carbon black and carbon nanotubes – are being developed for geosynthetic applications. This proposition relies on their electrical conductivity to enable enhanced geosynthetics that could detect leakages in landfills and coal ash containment structures – a significant environmental issue.


Current flowing through – for example, a PP nanotube enhanced sheet – would alter in areas of a geosynthetic subject to additional mechanical stress. This would give an early warning of those areas that are prone to breaking and leakage in liquid containment structures. This in situ real-time monitoring would allow remedial action to be taken more quickly and effectively.


As graphene is also highly conductive, it, too, could carry out this function once supply issues are resolved.


Production improvements


Current processes for producing geosynthetic rely on needlepunch manufacturing processes. Though familiar these have the drawback that they place stress on the fibers as they are manufactured, which diminishes tensile strength (tenacity) during use. New technologies that enable better tenacity via a higher draw ratio, would decrease elongation are under investigation.


A similar focus is taking place in geomembranes, with R&D at the likes of US-based Raven Industries aiming to make larger multi-layer blown films. These would offer faster production, stronger films, and hence greater and flexibility in application.


The Future of Specialty Geosynthetics to 2021 presents volume and value forecasts by end-use sector and geographic region for this dynamic segment. Following several stages of primary and secondary research, it examines key drivers and trends, which include economic, social and demographic, trends within decorative and the different industrial coatings segments and key new technologies for future innovative high-performance coatings.


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  • December 6-8: International Conference on Technical Textiles and Nonwovens, New Delhi, India

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Final Analysis of IFAI Expo 2018 and CAMX18

IFAI President S. Schiffman

IFAI Expo 2018 was the first show under IFAI's new CEO/President Steve Schiffman. In a quick conversation on the first day, Mr. Schiffman thought event attendance was on target with the expectation of a 500 increase over the 4500 total participants (counting both exhibitors and visitors) they had in 2017 in New Orleans. Similarly, a conversation with one of the managers of ACMA, a partner in CAMX, said their pre-registration had already topped the 6500 they had last year in Orlando. (Keep in mind, though, the 2017 CAMX show had to be rescheduled from September to December because of Hurricane Irma.) Click here to read more about the shows. Posted October 19, 2018

NCTO Neglects Automotive Textiles as Organizations Testify          on Proposed USMCA Impact

Positive Reviews but Still Uncertainty. On November 16, 2018, two of the US textile industry associations testified before the US International Trade Commission (ITC) in a special hearing to determine the economic impact of the proposed United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA).  The leaders of the American Apparel & Footwear Association (AAFA) and the National Council of Textile Organizations (NCTO) provided statements on how they feel the new agreement will affect their member companies. 


The two organizations clearly have different biases; however, in looking over the AAFA and NCTO statements, it appears to me that while the organizations both clearly said they were not offering an endorsement yet of the agreement, they gave general overall approval for USMCA, acknowledging the 1992 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) needed updating. Both organizations are taking a wait-and-see attitude to more fully look at how the agreement impacts the complex supply chain of textiles and apparel. [Click here to continue.]


Steve Warner


Posted November 21, 2018

NAFTA Replacement Agreement Negotiated. On October 1, President Donald Trump announced the US, Mexico and Canada had reached an agreement whichreplaces the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that went into effect in 1994. The new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) contains provisions and language that has an impact on the technical textiles industry; the most important are 1) a special section covering textiles and apparel and 2) rules of origin that will require 75% of automotive content (under NAFTA 62.5%) be made in North America. Mexico and Canada are the two largest importers of US made technical textiles and the automotive industry is the largest intended end market of these technical textiles. Click here to go to the United States Trade Representative's website and read the "Textiles and Apparel Goods" chapter. Posted October 3, 2018

Fiber Publication Acquired. INDA, the Association of the Nonwoven Fabrics Industry, today announced the acquisition of two leading industry publications: International Filtration News and International Fiber News.  The association purchased the publications from International Media Group, Inc., based in Tempe, Az., USA. The purchase price and terms were not disclosed. The publications each have circulations of 8,000-plus domestic and international readers and have served their readers for over three decades. Both are published six times a year in print and digital formats. The acquisitions will expand INDA’s reach and relevance in the key markets the print and digital publications serve with a particular emphasis on the filtration and separation segment as INDA launches its new FiltXpo event to be held in Chicago every 18 months starting February 26-28, 2020.  Click here to read the INDA press release on the purchase. Posted October 2, 2018

State of the Chinese Technical Textiles Markets in 2017

Are you looking for a quick understanding of the China technical textiles industry? Through our special relationship with China Nonwovens & Industrial Textiles Association (CNITA) and their China Textile publication, BeaverLake6 Report is pleased to post the English-translation of the recently issued "Status Quo of China's Nonwovens and Industrial Textiles Industry, 2017." The report covers the different levels of the industry, geographic export demographics, and forecast the needs in the major end market applications. Click here to read the report in our China Textile website section. Posted June 18, 2018

Report Published on the US Technical Textiles Industry

I am pleased to announce the second part of my report 2018 State of the U.S.Technical Textiles Industry has been published by Textile World magazine. 


This first part features a general industry overview, plus an evaluation of the status and impact of US trade positions.


The second part, featured in the April/May issue will cover major end markets for technical textiles such as automotive and military.


Click here to go to the Textile World website to download a copy. 


Steve Warner, Publisher

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