Lighter basis weights driving industrial nonwovens market

A new report from Smithers Pira, The Future of Nonwovens for Industrial Applications to 2020 identifies the key drivers for industrial nonwoven consumption and technology developments over the next five years.

Nonwovens used for industrial applications account for about 52.5% of the total sales for all nonwovens in 2015. Global sales of industrial nonwovens in 2015 is $19.7 billion. By 2020, the value of industrial nonwovens consumed will total $27.5 billion, for a projected growth rate (2015–20) of 6.9%. Industrial nonwovens will use 89.1 billion square metres (m2) in 2020, for a projected growth (2015–20) of 7.7%.

There are some global, or overall, drivers for technology development within industrial nonwovens. One common driver is basis weight reduction; another is sustainability. In spunlaid, it is reduced basis weight, raw material use and waste, coupled with some initiatives in replacing petroleum based polypropylene with corn based polylactic acid (PLA). In spunlace, virgin cotton is being replaced with recycled cotton and some polyester is being replaced with recycled polyester.

Cost/performance has become an even stronger driver than in the past. Raw material costs have increased and are projected to continue to rise; some, like petroleum, are non-renewable and could have supply issues as well. Limited resources are part of a global trend that will not vary soon. Concurrently, the global economy today is extremely fragile and most likely will require a ‘correction’ over the next five years in many regions, which will result in reduced consumer income.

The solution, according to Philip Mango, author of the report, is to engineer into the industrial nonwoven product increased performance per dollar of cost, providing equivalent performance at a lower price.

“Reducing product basis weight will reduce cost, but improving sustainability typically increases it. So, the nonwovens producers have had to innovate,” he said.

Airlaid, needlepunch and carded nonwovens have all increased throughputs: within the last five years, large producers have increased commercial running speed and are trialling ever higher speeds. Spunlaid and spunlace have both seen significant reductions in waste.

“For industrial nonwovens to maintain high growth rates, the cost to the ultimate consumer must decrease, or at least stay constant, at least through 2017,” said Mango.

The report explores the major end-use sectors, showing that overall the largest end uses are building/construction, filtration, geotextiles/agriculture, automotive and filtration. Some of the fastest growing end uses for industrial nonwovens are graphic arts, coating substrates and conveyor belts/wires and coating substrates.

Even in 2010, Asia was the largest global consumer of industrial nonwovens tonnes, with a market share of 38.2%. Europe was second at 28.1%, and North America third at 26.8%. This lead position will not change through 2020, with Europe and North America actually losing share to Asia, though North American should take second place due to Europe’s slow economic growth. Interestingly, the ‘rest of the world’ category will grow rapidly from a small base, as industrial capacity for some commodities moves to the Middle East and Africa.

Based on an extensive programme of primary and secondary research, The Future of Nonwovens for Industrial Applications to 2020 examines the key market forces shaping the future of the industrial nonwovens market and provides quantitative market sizes and forecasts to 2020 segmented by end use, technology and region.