TT: What has changed in the nonwovens world since the last INDEX was held in 2017? Do you look at existing markets as well as the future the same way that you did then?
There is still a certain amount of uncertainty on the global economic stage and the diversity of our industry in turn means diverse supply chains and very competitive environments. So, while the outlook remains positive in terms of growth in volume, companies at each stage of the supply chain must remain agile. We’ve seen a big change on the regulatory front with the growing focus on sustainability and circularity within the supply chain, as promoted by the EU’s Green Deal and the directive on single use plastics. Both will bring new considerations to how nonwoven products are designed, produced, marketed, used, disposed of, and potentially collected for recycling.
TT: In an interview with us in 2017, you had said that EDANA / INDA expected “that in the period from 2014 through 2020 the industry will expand at an annual average rate of 5.7 per cent and reach a volume of at least 12.4 million tonnes.” Has the growth met your expectations?
As observed in our Worldwide Outlook 2018–23, the global production of nonwovens, all technologies combined, showed an annual average growth rate of 5.7 per cent over the period 2008–18. This indeed confirmed our 2015 expectations. In 2018, the world production was 14.8 million tonnes. Although the 2019 output will be disclosed at INDEX20, we estimate that the world production will continue to increase even if at a lower speed (+4.8 per cent) over the next period 2018–23 to be close to 19 million tonnes in 2023.
TT: Asia, during the last INDEX, was the largest nonwoven producing region. Is manufacturing still dominated by China? Surely, China’s realities are not the same as in 2017.
In 2018, nearly half of the global production was Asian roll goods and one-third was Chinese materials. Over the period 2008–18, Chinese nonwovens production grew by more than 10 per cent every year and has been partially absorbed by the local demand but also by the development of the Chinese export of roll goods (which were closed to 1 million tonnes in 2018).
TT: What about consumption? In which regions is nonwoven consumption increasing faster compared to the world average? And if we were to narrow this down, which country (or countries) is showing faster than average growth in terms of consumption?
Over the last decade, the exponential increase of trade flows of roll goods between countries / regions has made the calculation of the local consumption difficult. Moreover, flows of finished products including nonwovens must also be taken into account. The only accurate number therefore is the consumption per capita on a worldwide basis, which was 1.25 kg in 2008 and 1.95 kg ten years later. Based on our expectations on both population and nonwovens production, it should reach 2.35 kg in 2023.
TT: I quote once again: “The strength of the economy and demographic trends are the significant drivers of demand within the nonwovens industry.” The global economy has not been growing that fast in the last 2–3 years. Would you say that the growth now is more dependent on country-specific economies?
We should not underestimate how innovative our industry is. The ability of those within the sector to continue to find ingenious new applications for nonwovens never ceases to surprise. Innovations in nonwovens continue to be at the forefront of a cross-section of sectors spanning filtration, transportation, hygiene and cleaning, geotextiles and civil engineering. This is driving much of the growth as well as overall or country specific growth trends.
TT: What are the overall factors that you now see as driving growth? But then, each nonwovens sector would have its own contributing factors too, is it not?
World production of nonwovens has clearly increased faster than the global GDP. While in developing regions an improved accessibility of the population to finished products using nonwovens can justify it, as I touched upon above innovation, substitution for other products and new regulations (e.g. batteries in E-cars, lower weight and recycled products in transportation, improved filtration media, building insulation standards) have probably driven the growth in other regions. Nevertheless, the impact of unpredictable and sporadic demands for specific products (e.g. face masks / wipes in infection prevention) should not be underestimated.
At INDEX this year to further highlight the range of nonwoven applications we will again feature the ‘Big Picture Seminars’- breakout sessions featuring expert insight on transportation, filtration, infection prevention, smart nonwovens and geosynthetics. Each seminar will open with an expert introducing a “big picture” look at the global forces impacting each area. A separate seminar is devoted to sustainability as an overarching theme in all nonwoven sectors.