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Norbert Kytka, Headquarters PlattlingContact
Nonwovens represent the highest growth segment in the textiles industry. Over the last decade, nonwoven has surpassed fiber use for woven, knitted and other textile products.
The engineered fabrics produced directly from fibers are used for an extensive variety of products and applications. There are abundant end-uses of nonwovens for example in hygiene, medical, wipes, surgical fabrics, liquids and gas filtration, protective clothing, interlinings and clothing, leather like goods and coating substrates, shoes, upholstery, floor-covers, furniture and bedding, building and roofing, structural engineering and in geosynthetics.
Disposable nonwovens are growing at a slightly faster pace than durable nonwovens, which are used in the automotive industry as well as in building and construction. Hygiene materials are the biggest segment among disposable nonwovens, mostly due to the substantial markets for baby diapers, toddler training pants and feminine hygiene products. Disposable wipes are another important large and growing segment. The Covid-19 pandemic also served as a driver for the worldwide demand in facial masks and other medical goods.
The raw materials used for production of nonwovens mostly include synthetic polymers and fibers. They represent more than 90 % of the overall output. Currently, polypropylene (PP) is the major – and extremely versatile – raw material used for global nonwovens. It is in high demand, however. Availability and prices are volatile. Prices for nonwovens fluff pulp have spiked.
Regulations further add to the complexity of the nonwoven market. The 'European Union Single Use Plastics Directive' for example drives change in the wipes sector. Wipes made with cellulosic fibers need to be labelled with 'Contains Plastic' and manufacturers are obliged to contribute to the costs of collection and disposal of such wipes. Sustainability and the concept of a circular economy will increasingly become the core of business and production processes in the nonwovens industry.
The market for natural fibers—including cotton, viscose, flax and hemp—is set for rapid growth during the next decade. This development is jointly driven by the global plastics legislation, strong consumer preferences and sustainability goals put in place by major brands and retailers as well as their suppliers.
There are tremendous possibilities for growth in the nonwovens segment. Over the last few years, nonwovens have been one of the fastest growing segments of the textile industry. Like never before, innovation and investment are critical as the market continues to expand.
Profitability in nonwovens today relies on agility as much as capacity. Shifting consumer needs drive the market. There is an increased need for sustainable materials and for product variants – be it smaller sized packages or slightly different adjustments in the product itself, always in line with various brand requirements.
Throughout the pandemic companies responded to supply chain failures with onshoring, and producing with less cost-effective, but more secure, inventory levels. Slow-moving or obsolete stock creates a logistical bottleneck. But running out of important materials for production is risky since it lowers the ability to deliver.
Walking this fine line is possible, with excellence in forecasting and production planning as well as having a clear overview of all production data.
Although the industry produces a wide range of products, most of them are manufactured according to the same process. Enterprises in the nonwoven industry, just like producers of paper or plastic sheeting, produce reels from a flow of liquefied raw material and cut sheets of their reels according to demand and usage. Often the manufacturers of nonwovens combine various layers of material to produce highly sophisticated composite materials.
The key to an efficient production of reels, sheets and composites is for one based on excellence in production planning, where digital tools like SAP APO come into play. High quality requirements also factor in. Therefore traceability is a must, since it serves as a foundation for certification processes by regulators and administrators of all kinds. Thanks to its full integration in the SAP system, T.CONs manufacturing execution system MES CAT serves as the foundation for the analysis and control of the production process, the materials used and the goods that are produced and delivered.