TT: What is the current size of nonwoven fabric market worldwide? At what rate is it growing?
Numbers are not so clear, as the world of nonwovens comprises many different types of products. Still, the nonwovens fabric market is estimated at $43 billion in 2022, affected by the pandemic. Experts project the market to grow by around 50 per cent for the next five years to $70 billion. However, recession, which economic experts are predicting, may cool down this forecast.
TT: Are there various types of nonwoven fabrics? What are they? How are they differentiated?
Yes, there are different types of nonwoven fabrics. The main differences between them are based on web production, and how we bond this web. In terms of the web production, there are two main processes: wet and dry web forming. The wet process is similar to how paper is produced but using very short fibres and resins to bond them. The dry process, in most of the cases, uses a card machine or an air system (air laid) to produce the web, and then fibres can be bonded by needling, this is how we do it at Fytisa, by full impregnation in resins (chemical nonwovens), by fusing fibres – all or some of them – (thermal bonded nonwovens and spunbonded), by very thin water jets (hydroentangled or spun-laced), and other processes.
Naturally, the way that we produce the web and bond the fibres offers us differences between the type of nonwoven that we can obtain from a thin and light napkin to a heavy carpet, from a geotextile to a décor face in automotive interior trim—and all of them are nonwovens.
And then, the industry can apply the finishings to its nonwovens, and then it opens the opportunities to create and produce thousands of different products.
TT: How has nonwovens business transformed post-COVID?
Several companies took the opportunity to produce some nonwovens that had great demand during 2020-2021. After that period, however, there is not much progress in the kind of products produced by the nonwoven factories.
The other transformation is in the way raw materials are sourced, especially in the EU. Till today, it is hard to bring raw materials from East Asia, something that was usual before the pandemic. Many companies are trying to concentrate their raw material purchasing as close as possible to EU, or inside EU. The step is not a protective behaviour, but to secure the supplies on time and to keep a reasonable transport expense.
TT: Going forward, how do you envisage the future of nonwovens business?
Nonwovens may be the future in several applications that today we cannot imagine. Their sales will also keep growing in markets where they are present. Being light weight compared to other materials, and the great opportunity that they offer to bond fibres from different materials, with different chemical and physical properties, in such different ways open great opportunities. The result is the constant growth of the nonwovens market.
TT: Fytisa has been producing nonwoven fabrics for nearly 60 years now. How has the production technology changed over the years?
I am in nonwovens world from 2000. During this last 22 years, I have observed a great jump in technification, computing control and effectivity of the machines. And of course: production speed.
Nonwoven world is a world of machines, so we have seen the same transformations as seen in other industrial markets that make their products through the intensive using of machinery.
But the technologies are mainly the same. Perhaps the most different has been the huge growing of spun-laced (hydroentangled) and melt-blowing technologies.
TT: What are the various raw materials that go into making of nonwoven fabrics? Is wool also used?
Nowadays, nonwovens are produced with any kind of material that could be transformed into fibre: from petrol derivates (like PES, PP, PE, PA) to natural fibres (like kenaf, coconut, cotton, …) and synthetic fibres (like viscose, PLA, …) or glass-fibres, for example.
In theory, you can produce a nonwoven nearly from everything. You just need to choose the correct web forming technology and a suitable bonding technology that allows you to produce the desired nonwoven using the chosen fibres.
The wool is still used. In fact, wool was the first fibre to be used to produce nonwovens. Using wool, you can produce a kind of nonwoven that is a sub-world by themselves in the nonwovens market: Felts.
Many people use the word felt when they refer to a nonwoven, but in fact it is a language deviation. A felt is a nonwoven produced by felting the fibres, and it is only possible to felt the wool – by a special property that wool has.
The production of felts was the beginning of Fytisa in the nonwoven production. And still today, our sister company named Textil Olius, is producing wool felts with a great success in the market, being one of the references around the world as a wool felt producer.
TT: Medical nonwovens need to meet strong quality standards. What are these standards and how do you at Fytisa ensure that production meets those standards?
Fytisa is not present in the medical nonwovens.
TT: What is Texfel? Is it a separate nonwoven fabric brand by Fytisa?
Texfel is the brand that we developed in the 70s to define our colour nonwovens used in embroidery market, to split the marketing that we did for this kind of products towards the other B2B sales that was the main market where we used to work.
Later, we used it as identity of our different markets, specially where the colour and visual aspect and/or haptic is important, without taking care if the sales are B2B or B2M, using it as root brand for Texfel CarVel, Texfel Print, Texfel Play, etc.
Nowadays, Texfel brand is dedicated to Decoration and Acoustics markets, where it has become a well-known brand. For example, in the next Orgatech exhibition in Köln (Germany), we will present Texfel by Fytisa. Here, we have created next sub-brands:
Texfel Interiors: High abrasion and fine haptic colour nonwoven for acoustic, wall covering, etc.
Texfel Acoustics: Acoustic PET Panel with 60 per cent recycled fibres.
Texfel Form: Nonwovens with thermo-fusing fibres for thermoforming applications in various colours.