Trends of nonwoven products in Europe

According to authoritative Nonwoven Production Statistics, issued by EDANA on an annual basis, nonwovens production in Europe grew by 3.7% in terms of weight in 2004. The statistics confirm that on the end-use side, hygiene remains the largest application for nonwovens: 32.6% by weight of all production.


The statistics also show substantial growth in household and industrial wipes. And, echoing the visitor results from INDEX 05 in Geneva in April, 2004, saw very satisfactory growth in nonwovens for automotive and filtration applications. New and innovative uses of nonwovens are increasingly being developed for a diversity of industries as they provide an efficient and cost-effective response to numerous challenges.

When looking at all the benefits nonwovens can provide, it is easy to understand why products made of nonwovens become part of our daily lives and the material of choice for many end-uses and applications. Nonwovens are uniquely engineered and flexible materials that can be used both for durable or disposable applications. They provide a wealth of advantages ranging from softness, elasticity and absorption to flame resistance, water repellence and durability. The ability to add innumerable characteristics means that nonwovens are becoming more versatile and multipurpose.

The trends in a selected number of nonwoven products, as outlined, provide an indication of the ongoing innovation in the sector.

PERSONAL CARE. The personal care and hygiene industries have seen a dramatic growth in the number of new and innovative nonwoven product applications.

The development of new properties and applications of nonwovens has been triggered by the changing marketplace. The constant search for convenience and instant solutions to the always “on-the-go” lifestyles, have generated many new business opportunities within the nonwovens sector.

BABY DIAPERS. Around 60 years ago the first disposable baby diapers started a new development that dramatically facilitated the lives of European mothers and their babies. Decades later, nonwovens, which allowed researchers to develop a whole new generation of convenience products, such as single use disposable diapers, have revolutionised parents’ lives.

Since the first baby diaper made of nonwovens was launched, a wealth of new categories has been introduced. The most recent are pull-ups and training pants for toddlers and older children, which increase the child’s comfort and mobility with thinner components and drier nonwoven surface materials. Soft nonwoven barriers with elastic leg-cuffs stop leakage effectively and the breathable textile-like plastic and nonwoven backing gives the child the feeling of wearing real underwear. Other innovative applications such as hydrophobic swimming pants and other diapers, which can even be printed with cartoon characters, stimulate the use of diapers until the baby – and mother – feels ready to stop using them.

FEMININE HYGIENE PRODUCTS. In the feminine hygiene category, products are becoming more and more technologically advanced with added cosmetic and convenience features to ease every day use. New products are now more discreet or even invisible giving women a secure feeling and preventing any kind of leakage. The broad variation of products available includes everything from mini tampons and panty-liners to thin and thick sanitary towels, all products in which nonwovens play a major role in providing the desired properties and functions.

Changing lifestyles set the pace for new product development in this category, with recent trends including white or black panty-liners to match lingerie, full-size thick sanitary towels for the mature woman and fully absorbent string pads for the younger generation. Some products are perfumed or treated with Aloe Vera, either shaped or straight and sometimes with soft nonwoven wings for comfortable use.

INCONTINENCE PRODUCTS. Another area which is rapidly growing in terms of nonwoven applications is the adult incontinence product category. Although nobody wants to accept age as a concern, age-related problems occur despite new and advanced methods to stay healthy. Adult incontinence is one of these issues. According to the WHO, more than 200 million people worldwide currently suffer from some kind of incontinence.

Incontinence means major lifestyle changes but the inconvenience it can cause has been substantially reduced by the latest in absorbent product design and nonwoven development, capturing and transferring the lessons learned from the baby diapers and feminine hygiene categories.

As a result, sales in adult incontinence products have steadily increased over recent years. Nonwovens, such as spunbonded or thermobonded polypropylene or bi-component polyethylene/polypropylene, guarantee the softest possible surface and allow the user to always feel dry and comfortable. Whether it is the very thin products with airlaid cores or the bigger products filled with superabsorbent polymers and pulp, all are designed to meet the needs of today’s consumers. Combined with a plastic backing for better comfort – at times breathable and nonwoven coated – incontinence products have been developed to feel like new underwear to provide wearers with the comfort and peace of mind they need to enjoy life to the full.

With an estimated one in every four persons in Europe to be over the age of 60 by the year 2020, the incontinence products category has a healthy growth potential within the coming years.

MEDICAL. Nonwovens are extensively used in the medical field. They can be designed to deliver critical safety properties, such as protection against infections and diseases. New nonwoven materials with improved finishes including self-cleaning, electrostatic and anti-microbial properties are also being developed for applications such as operating theatre face masks and protective clothing. Nonwovens are also increasingly a major component in the design of "smart" wound care products, providing such functions as the creation of a moist wound healing environment, with controlled vapour transmission, absorbency and low skin adhesion. Most recent nonwoven innovations include the design of new scaffolds for 3D biological tissue engineering, implantable fabrics that can reinforce natural tissues, and nanofibre nonwoven filtration media offering enhanced particle capture properties.

Many of these themes will be addressed at IN CONTROL!, EDANA’s brand new conference on infection prevention and the critical role of the nonwovens industry. This conference will take place on 20-21 March 2006 in Prague, further details on which are available on www.edana.org.

CLEANING & HYGIENE. Nonwovens are extensively used in domestic and industrial cleaning and polishing applications, as well as in hygiene and personal care for durable or disposable applications. They provide a wealth of advantages ranging from easy, effective and uniform cleaning of a multitude of surfaces, to softness, elasticity, absorbency and convenience, whilst being breathable. Speciality wipes for example, for cleaning, polishing and even medical applications, which can provide controlled delivery of functional chemicals for specific applications, are taking the use of nonwovens into new fields. Other innovations include nonwoven clothing to protect products from dust and germs in high purity environments such as laboratories and clean rooms.

TRANSPORT. Nonwovens are used in an increasing number of automotive, aircraft and boat components, such as door panels, headliners and carpets. They provide a wealth of benefits ranging from improved acoustic insulation, odour and volatile organic compound (VOC) reduction, anti-static properties, and air and oil filtration, to abrasion resistance, flame retardancy and mouldability, offering increased design opportunities. Recent developments include the use of sustainable nonwoven composites because of their low density, improved recyclability options and comparatively low cost. 3D engineered nonwovens are also playing an increasingly important role as an alternative to foams in specific applications.

FILTRATION. Nonwovens are extensively used for a myriad of gas and liquid filtration applications, ranging from pharmaceuticals to food and drinks, and from domestic vacuums to heavy industrial filtration applications. They are designed to deliver a wealth of functional benefits, such as permeability or high pressure and temperature resistance, whilst minimising pressure drop. They can also offer viral and bacterial protection, pollution reduction and odour neutralisation properties in domestic and automotive environments.

Recent innovations in the filtration market include the use of nonwoven nanofibre filter media offering enhanced particle capture properties or the use of electrostatically charged filter media, providing an anti-bacterial barrier whilst remaining breathable. Nonwoven filtration media also offer high performance functions in critical installations, such as air conditioning equipment in operating theatres and bag house and water treatment systems.

BUILDING & CIVIL ENGINEERING. Nonwovens are frequently used in house wrap, roofing and insulation materials and geosynthetics for civil engineering projects, such as roads, railways, dams and canal construction. The use of nonwovens provides a wealth of advantages ranging from waste containment, protecting land from chemical contamination, to erosion control and soil reinforcement and stabilisation.

Other benefits include thermal and acoustic insulation, improved energy efficiency through heat loss reduction and resistance to degradation by insects or temperature variation. Most recent nonwoven innovations in the building and civil engineering industries include the development of materials delivering a host of physical qualities such as permeability, liquid transmission within the material and barrier properties, as well as puncture resistance and resistance to chemical degradation.

HOME FURNISHING. To be found mainly in upholstery, floor coverings and underlay, blinds, mattress components and blankets, nonwovens are increasingly used for bed and table linen, lamp shades, and napkins. They can be engineered or finished to possess added value functions, such as flame retardancy and anti-microbial properties, and can be printed, coloured, embossed and flocked as well. In response to consumer demand for greater convenience in the application and removal of decorative coverings within acceptable cost levels, new applications of nonwovens, such as in wallpaper, are being developed.

PACKAGING. Nonwovens are used for a broad range of applications in the packaging industry, in particular for luxury goods, pharmaceutical and horticultural packaging, bulk transportation, wrapping of white goods, furniture and electronic appliances, as well as in liquid absorption pads for fresh and frozen foods.

Most recent innovations include nonwoven materials designed to be absorbent, to resist U.V. degradation and bacteria, to ensure moisture stability whilst remaining inherently hydrophobic. They can also include in-built scavenging properties whilst being aesthetically pleasing at a comparatively favourable cost.

COMPOSITES. Combined with a variety of other materials, nonwoven composites can be used in an almost infinite number of tailored applications in a wide range of industries. They provide a wealth of functional benefits ranging from thermal and acoustic insulation and high tensile strength, to puncture resistance and excellent shape stability. The use of nonwoven composites made from plant materials and other natural fibres, is currently attracting much interest, particularly for applications in the automotive industry.

A constant flow of new product innovations, materials and designs has made it possible to maintain healthy growth in the nonwovens industry. •

For further information please contact: Catherine Lennon, Communications Director, Edana

Phone: +32 2 734 93 10 / Fax: +32 2 733 35 18

E-mail: catherine.lennon@edana.org / Website: www.edana.org

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