Published November 2013
The performance of nonwoven fabrics has tended to be limited in comparison with woven and knit products. However, in the effort to compete with wovens and knits, the nonwovens industry continues to change. For instance, a general transition is occurring with the "engineering" of nonwovens for specific uses. Processes, products and materials are being chosen on the basis of end-use requirements, rather than fitting fabrics into end uses, as has been done in the past. The new nonwovens will utilize two to four different fibers/resins to achieve desired properties and a combination of processes to produce the highest property and cost advantage.
The traditional nonwoven product categories are disposables and durables:
- Disposable Applications. These are usually consumer items—baby diapers, adult incontinence products, feminine hygiene products, disposable wipes, medical/surgical products, linens, disposable garments, filters and fabric softener substrates.
- Durable Applications. These are usually industrial items—apparel interlinings, coating substrates, wall coverings, home furnishings, geotextiles and roofing products.
Consumption growth is higher in disposable (short-life) applications; increasing birth rates and aging populations will lead to increased use in hygiene applications, and continued strong demand for disposable medical/surgical products and wipes, especially in developing markets.
The following pie chart shows world consumption of nonwoven fabrics:
Consumption of nonwoven fabrics rebounded during 2010–2012 after declining in several markets during the recession of 2008–2009. Consumption growth in developing markets is obviously higher, largely because of the lower per capita consumption and market penetration of nonwoven products such as hygiene products and wipes. In developed markets, the growing aging population is one of the most important factors fueling demand growth.
The market is concentrated in three regions; Asia, Europe and North America accounted for approximately 84% of world consumption in 2012, down from 85% in 2010. Demand growth during 2012–2018 will be highest in the Middle East/Africa and Latin America, albeit from smaller bases.
China is the largest single participant in the global nonwoven fabrics market, accounting for nearly 26% of consumption, 30% of production and 28% of exports in 2012. This trend is expected to continue during 2012–2018, as significant growth in Chinese consumption will result in the commissioning of additional capacity and increased production. China is forecast to experience the largest volume increases in nonwoven fabrics consumption during 2012–2018.
Europe and North America are the second- and third-largest nonwoven fabrics markets, accounting for 23% and 21%, respectively, of world consumption in 2012. During 2012–2018, nonwoven fabrics consumption in Europe is forecast to grow at an average annual rate of 1.6%; higher growth is expected in Russia and Central and Eastern European countries than in Western European countries. In North America, nonwoven fabrics consumption during 2012–2018 is forecast to grow at an average annual rate of 3.0%; this moderate growth is largely due to product maturation. By 2018, North America is expected to surpass Europe to become the second-largest market.
Significant-to-rapid growth is expected in nearly all other Asian countries except Japan, where weak demand is forecast to result in moderate average annual growth of 1.2% during 2012–2018. Demand growth in Latin America is forecast at 8.1% during 2012–2018, mainly as a result of increased demand in hygiene, wipes, medical, geotextiles/construction and filtration applications. Consumption growth in the Middle East and Africa is driven by hygiene, medical, wipes and geotextiles/construction applications.
Robust growth in the consumption of nonwovens during 2010–2012 in developing markets such as China, Africa, the Middle East, Asia (excluding Japan) and Latin America was tempered by moderate growth in Europe, North America and Japan, largely due to market saturation, product maturation and weak economic recovery.