Five key trends in the future of global nonwovens

The global nonwovens market will grow to be worth $50.8 billion in 2020, up from a value of $37.4 billion in 2015 according to the latest exclusive research from Smithers Pira.

In the new report The Future of Global Nonwovens Markets to 2020, Smithers Pira's exclusive data shows how this 6.3% average year-on-year increase will be reflected in rising demand. Global consumption in 2015 will be 9.0 million tonnes, or 234.8 billion square metres (m2). This will increase at annual rates of 6.2% and 7.2%, respectively over the next five years – with consumption scheduled to reach 12.1 million tonnes, or 332.4 billion m2 in 2020.

In its new report Smithers Pira identifies and analyses five key trends that are underpinning this boom.

Spunlaid will remain the leading web forming process

Today spunlaid is the leading web forming process, accounting for 48.7% of all nonwovens consumed in 2015 – 4.4 million tonnes.

Spunlaid, also called spunmelt or meltspun nonwovens, includes:

  • Spunbond (polypropylene, polyester, polyethylene, nylon and bicomponent fibres),
  • Meltblown (polypropylene),
  • SMS (spunbond/meltblown/spunbond polypropylene),
  • Other miscellaneous materials.

Since 2010, spunlaid has had the highest growth rate of any process, with an annual growth of 8.5% in 2010-2015. This has allowed spunlaid to widen its lead over the second largest process drylaid. Consumption of drylaid nonwovens has grown from 2.9 million tonnes in 2010 to 3.4 million tonnes in 2015.

Spunlaid is projected to grow at the highest rate of all processes (except the “other” category) through 2020 as well, with an annual growth rate of 7.3% from 2015-2020. This high rate reflects the final recovery of consumption depressed by the 2008 economic crisis –especially in Western Europe. World demand will be back on track under a healthy global economy in 2020, with Smithers projecting total consumption of spunlaid nonwovens reaching 6.2 million tonnes in that year.

Disposable nonwovens are predicted slightly higher growth

Between 2010 and 2015, disposable nonwovens essentially matched durables in relative value growth. The disposables segment rose from $10.0 billion in 2010 to $14.1 billion in 2015, at an annual rate of 7.1%; the growth rate for durable nonwovens was slightly less (7.0%) with a market worth $16.6 billion in 2010 reaching $23.3 billion in 2015.

This trend is not expected to change over the next five years. Disposable nonwovens value will exhibit a 6.4% growth rate, pushing the world market to $19.2 billion in 2020. Durable nonwovens will grow at 6.2%, with sales reaching $31.5 billion. For the total study period (2010-2020), the growth rate for disposable nonwovens projects at 6.7%, while durable nonwovens projects at 6.6%.

The value for disposable nonwovens is growing slightly faster than the value for durables, as the growing upper and middle classes in the central Asian markets demand higher performance, higher-value consumer goods (like diapers, feminine hygiene products and medical materials), and move away from lower cost, lower quality entry-level products.

Hygiene applications are the largest consumer segment of disposable nonwovens, due mainly to the large baby diaper, toddler training pants, and feminine hygiene markets. These prodcuts have some common nonwoven requirements, notably:

  • Coverstock,
  • Absorbent core,
  • Acquisition/distribution layer components.

Wipes are another important, large and booming disposable nonwovens market.Asia will be the largest and highest growth regional market - Asia is the largest consumer of nonwovens in the world, having overtaken Europe and North America over the last ten years.

In 2015, this is manifest in a market share of 43.1% for Asia, with consumption of 3.9 million tonnes (up from 2.3 million tonnes in 2010). Growth between 2010 and 2015 was stellar at 10.7%. Asia will continue to grow in terms of both tonnage and market share between 2015 and 2020, with Smithers forecasting a global market share of 47.1% and volume of 5.7 million tonnes in 2020.

Within Asia China, India and Japan are the key national markets, together representing about 77.0% of nonwovens consumption (by tonnage). Each of these countries presents a different proposition for the next five years:

Japan is a mature market, with growth in many segments low or even flat.

China is the current power in the region, alone accounting for about 56.8% of this region’s nonwovens consumption in 2015.

India is the future of nonwovens consumption in the region, with a huge potential consumer base for the nonwovens. In 2015 it overtook a plateauing Japan to become the second largest national consumer in Asia ith a 10.5% share  by tonnage of the regional market.

Basis weights for nonwovens will continue to drop

Another important trend that is being felt across the ten-year study period is the ongoing push towards reducing basis weights across all nonwovens. This reduces raw material cost, shipping and warehouse charges, and waste disposal. For disposable nonwovens, the overall decrease in basis weight in 2010-2015 was about 5.2%. For 2015-2020, this will continue at a slower rate, with a further reduction in basis weight 3.7% projected.

This change in average basis weight can either be the result of newer equipment within a process being capable of delivering lighter weight products. For example, newer generation spunbond lines are capable of producing 8-10gsm hygiene nonwovens, instead of the historical norm of 10-12gsm.

The same effect can be achieved as the result of substituting a completely different type of nonwoven; for example, spunlace for wipes as low as 35gsm are replacing airlaid nonwovens that have a feasible minimum of around 55gsm.

Durable nonwovens also have trended towards lighter basis weights, reducing by 3.6% in 2010-2015, and projected to lose a further 5.9% in 2015-2020.

Some of this basis weight drop can be attributed to substitution of lightweight spunbonds, meltblowns, and SMSs for spunlace, carded, needlepunch and other nonwovens.

In spunlaids, the drop from 22gsm spunbonded polypropylene to as low as 9gsm spunbonded polypropylene or lower is now becoming commonplace, following technology improvements in the spunlaid process.

Raw material prices will remain low and stabilise

The use of raw materials for nonwovens is once more in a state of uncertainty. Petroleum – upon which polypropylene polymer and fibre, polyester polymer and fibre, bicomponent fibres, polyethylene polymer, and most binders depend upon directly – is now at a much lower price and higher supply than it has been for several years. Additionally, new recovery technology has shifted petroleum production towards North America. This has made it the leading natural gas producer region in the world and it is near the top in petroleum production as well.

In theory, polymers and fibres used in nonwovens should be stable and lower in price. In reality, issues like refinery and spinning capacity, oil well and facility shutdowns (prompted by the low world prices), will continue to make nonwoven pricing and supply less certain. Still Smithers notes the trend over the next five years appears to be lower and more stable pricing and supply for nonwoven raw materials.

There are many factors affecting the selection of raw materials for nonwovens, including process efficiency, product performance, and consumer demand; but in some cases, price is a determining factor. For example, in spunlace wipes, the raw material mix is often composed of around 50% absorbent fibre (rayon, cotton or wood pulp) and around 50% petroleum based non-absorbent fibre (polyester or polypropylene). The price of polyester versus polypropylene can lead to producers switching from one to another.

Equally the price of either polyester or polypropylene versus rayon or cotton may change a 50%/50% composition ratio to 60%/40% to reflect these price changes. In the fibre market, this can change the estimated future consumption patterns, or at least add uncertainty. In the polymer market for spunlaids, other variables make switching based solely on price much more difficult, and so projections there can be made more reliably.

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