The challenges for the mid-term future lie in unexpected cost increases in raw materials and the level of economic growth in both developed and emerging markets. As the industry is primarily petrochemical based, any price spikes in the oil arena can be very disruptive to the nonwoven supply chain. Also, everyone is still looking very cautiously at the various economies around the world, from some of the problems in Europe to the slowdown in growth in Asia to the almost stagnant US economy. Various monetary approaches to addressing these growth issues may result in the kind of cost volatility that is challenging for nonwovens producers and users. We would all like to see modest and steady economic growth in all economies, not rapid rises and sudden downturns.
Nonwoven fabric usage tracks closely to a nation’s GDP. Emerging countries will utilize durable nonwoven products in many necessities, and will grow into disposable nonwoven products as GDP per person increases, such as in the hygiene area where disposable diapers, femcare products, and continence products increase in acceptance and usage with rising incomes. Nonwovens producers must follow the sellers of these end products and where these end products are manufactured. As end product manufacturing develops in emerging markets, nonwovens suppliers will evaluate and invest accordingly. There remain great pockets of opportunity to help countries emerge and provide growth to our industry.
This question was pretty well addressed at our recent conference on Research, Innovation and Science for Engineered Fabrics, our RISE conference, which is dedicated to connecting technical innovations with practical product applications. We saw an analysis of the North American natural gas market having a potential game changing effect on propylene and ethylene costs here and the resulting investment in these nonwoven raw materials. We saw new bioresin possibilities from starch. We saw nanotechnology still showing promise in several market areas. And we saw new materials for nonwovens use in wound care and surgery. We also know of new thrusts in battery technology using nonwovens as separator materials, and in composites for windmill blades. Because nonwoven fabrics can be engineered to provide high levels of strength, durability, toughness, and many other properties per unit of weight or calliper, the potential for new applications of nonwovens in emerging technologies is robust. That’s why we put together the RISE conference. Anyone really vested in this important question should put that on their list, as seeking these new ideas/concepts/opportunities and connecting them with the technology scouts companies use to find them is the focus of the RISE conference.
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