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.
INDA is working with EDANA and several nonwoven fabric manufacturers and several wipes sellers on trying to advance to the next step on the issue of the flushability of various nonwoven fabrics converted into various wiper products. Many local wastewater utilities have expressed concern about products entering the waste stream that claim to be flushable but do not disperse or disintegrate appropriately and clog up the sewer piping and pumps. They blame the clogs on wiper products and are pressuring the nonwovens industry to do something to address the problem, as some products do not address the flushability issue in their labelling. INDA has instituted a “non-flushable” logo for the industry to prominently display on their label, which is a step in the right direction, but we need to add a stronger, more acceptable “flushable” designation as well. The two organisations have already co-operated on two editions of the Flushability Guidelines and hope to have the third available next year. This is an important issue for those in the field, and an issue where a neutral body like INDA and EDANA can play a constructive role developing industry consensus.
Paper manufacturers venturing into nonwovens manufacturing is a natural development. Nonwovens grew early on by replacing paper in many uses as nonwovens provide greater strength and durability per unit than paper. Both are manufactured as roll goods using similar kinds of equipment, and the manufacturing is managed with similar metrics, so paper makers looking at a market not growing robustly, such as printing papers, would look to higher growth opportunities that utilize their core competencies. Thus nonwovens. It’s a healthy development for both industries.
The issue of sustainability has become quite important to the nonwovens industry. We at INDA are spearheading two major initiatives in this area that should be helpful to the industry and to the issue. First, we are in the processes of developing a common method of evaluating the life cycle impacts of particular nonwoven products so that a customer or user downstream can evaluate various nonwovens suppliers using a rating system that is common to all. We are working with a number of companies closer to the retail end of the pipeline to spearhead this initiative and convince their nonwoven fabric suppliers of the merits of adopting this common life cycle analysis approach. It is something that you should see more of in 2013. We are also seeing more research and activity in non-olefinic resins to address the sustainability issue, specifically biobased resins. This is an active area with much market interest, and was an area of high interest at our recent RISE conference.
There is a great deal of planning and management that will go into making IDEA a successful event in April, 2013. We are doing a lot of work right now in that regard. IDEA 2013 is poised to have a more international flavour than ever before, with over 60% of exhibitors expected to travel from outside the Americas.There is always a significant contingent from Europe, which has had close links with the US industry for decades, but the increase in participation comes from Asian companies in the supply chain. We also expect to see a record number of attendees, as booth space has been selling rapidly, and we may need to consider an additional pavilion given the response thus far. It will be another memorable event for the industry, and the Miami Beach location remains very popular with all attendees.
Going forward, I hope to build on the strong base INDA already has. I would like to see us develop stronger partnerships and alliances with other associations that are in the engineered materials spectrum, such as fibers, textiles, some chemical areas, so that our programs and events can serve a broader audience. I would like to see us, be of service to the many nonwovens companies who have expanded to Asia by helping organizations in Asia conduct valuable events. I would also like to see us enhance our value proposition and thereby increase membership, which would also increase event participation. So it’s really building on a strong base. We have a great team and great support from our members. I would also like to see the benefits we provide, be helpful to more companies in the industry or to those wanting to grow in our industry.
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