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Ten questions for.... Investkonsult Print
Monday, 01 October 2012

ik "The drive for eco-friendly materials will influence machinery designs and manufacturers will request lines that are able to handle new raw materials.”

Please tell us a little about Investkonsult’s background and services?

jo Johan Berlin: We started as traders of conventional second-hand textile machinery, for spinning and weaving and dyeing and finishing,  in the early 70s. In the early 80s we then began working with Suominen in Finland and a few Swedish companies who were off-setting their old nonwoven equipment. During the past decade we have left conventional textiles and are almost entirely focused on offering our services to producers within the nonwovens and disposable hygiene industries. We are one of few companies in the world solely specialised in these two fields and as such, we have developed extensive knowledge in these sectors. Around 70% of our work comprises the selling, buying and brokering of idle equipment and the balance is in financial and technical consulting for either newcomers to the business or already established producers. We work quite differently from other brokers, since we only take on equipment on an exclusive basis by direct order from the owner, in order to eliminate all the usual confusion which is present within the trade of second-hand equipment.
On the consulting side, we are appointed to do valuations of existing equipment for insurance purposes, establishing correct book values or during intra-transfers – the transfer of equipment from one facility to another within the same company – of equipment.
We value building long and trustful relationships with our customers, always with a high degree of discretion and confidentiality and our clients include most of the nonwovens and personal care producers worldwide.

You have quite a unique overview of the entire supply chain then, from raw materials through to the finished hygiene products?

Johan Berlin: Well, I wouldn’t say the entire supply chain, since we do  limited work with the raw material suppliers of fibres or polymer producers. From time to time we do some work with fibre lines, but it is usually when nonwovens producers have their own. However, we do see the part of the chain where the nonwoven producers make material for the disposable hygiene producers and I believe we are the only company in the world working with both of these categories. This is, however, of course only for nonwovens used in hygiene applications. We never work with the making-up or finishing of industrial nonwovens, or at least very seldom. This means that our work usually stops when the mother roll leaves the nonwovens producer. If it then goes to a company who cuts and tailors it and sends it off to the construction industry or puts frames around it to make a filter – that’s something that we don’t see much of. But in general, I think we have a better overview than most people of at least 70% of the supply chain.

So what are the current key trends you observe in the manufacturing of nonwoven roll-goods and disposable hygiene products?

jo2 Joakim Blomqvist: One major trend is of course the separation between hygiene and industrial businesses, as we have seen most recently when Fitesa purchased the hygiene facilities of Fiberweb and Fiberweb opted to concentrate on the production of industrial applications. We believe this is a development that will continue. We also see an increased level of specialisation – especially among small and medium sized enterprises, developing niche products for very specific applications.
In addition, we see a growing interest in the production of geotextiles – especially from India and the Pacific Rim countries, with the growth in this sector mainly driven by government-sponsored infrastructure improvement projects. The automotive and construction sectors also have strong growth potential in Asia.
A fars as new investments as concerned, there are major investments being made in spunlace technology, and especially in Turkey. The extended spunlace capacity is primarily intended for the growing wipes market in Asia, the Middle East and Eastern Europe, but spunlace producers will probably also strive to find new application areas.

What are the growing regions and where do you see the new entrants in nonwovens manufacturing?

Johan Berlin: The Indian and Indonesian markets are both growing rapidly. Both countries have had strong economic growth during the last decade and the current levels of nonwovens production don’t match the domestic demand. When visiting our clients in these countries we have noticed a strong and serious interest among existing producers to expand production and also new entrepreneurs venturing into nonwovens production. We also see a huge interest from other industrial fields, such as companies that are currently producing or distributing medical devices interested in entering into the field of disposable hygiene since they see synergy possibilities. Or fibre producers in India who would like to start the production of nonwoven rollgoods where they can utilise their own fibre.

Joakim Blomqvist: In the longer run, we believe that the demand for nonwovens will grow significantly in many regions of Africa. The economic growth is exceptionally high in many countries and the use of nonwovens today is near non-existent.

How significant are energy and raw material costs in terms of machine selection and processing routes?

Joakim Blomqvist: Energy consumption is an important parameter in the selection of new equipment. Newer machines are much more energy efficient, but not for all processes. This is mainly noticed in the hydroentanglement and spunbond processes. For the production of conventional needlepunch fabric, this is of minor importance. However, for emerging markets where new machines are too costly, second-hand is often the only alternative and most older lines can be upgraded to be almost as efficient as new ones.

Johan Berlin: In respect of raw material, we cannot see that the cost is really affecting the choice of machines and process. The choice is almost always based on the type of product to be manufactured.

Is there much of a drive towards natural fibres and/or biopolymers evident?

Joakim Blomqvist: I can’t say we have noticed any such drive. You hear quite a lot about companies who highlight their environmental concerns and express aspirations to switch from synthetic fibres to natural and/or biopolymers. Our opinion is that many define themselves as environmentally friendly, but from our vantage point, it’s hard to judge how large the actual changes are in this area.
However, since the prices of polypropylene and polyester are volatile and dependent on the price of crude oil, many nonwoven producers are considering alternative raw materials, in order to both reduce economic risk and to reduce environmental impact. Oil is, as we know, a finite resource and that fact will probably affect the nonwoven producer’s raw materials preferences in the future.

Johan Berlin
: Cotton, especially in recycled form will be an attractive alternative for companies who care about sustainable development. Recycled cotton has a status as being renewable and biodegradable and can be used as raw materials for nonwoven products ranging from wipes to building insulation.
In the coming years, the use of biopolymers like PLA is likely to increase, primarily in the hygiene sector. This development will mainly be due to an increased market demand for environmentally friendly products.  We are convinced that nonwoven manufacturers in general will be more aware of sustainability issues in the future and that this will influence them to choose naturally derived materials.

What measures are hygienic disposables manufacturers adopting to increase efficiencies and what impact do you see the sustainability initiatives of the consumer brands having on them?

Joakim Blomqvist: During the past decade, disposable hygiene machinery has undergone rapid changes. The major difference relates to the production rate, which has doubled in 10 years. Since the production rates on new lines are already so high today, manufacturers are now focused on optimising and streamlining the logistics. The producers are also striving to cut  costs by reducing waste levels. Through the development of manufacturing processes that minimise waste and the use of raw materials, the level of sustainability will increase. Growing environmental awareness will continue to affect the production of disposable hygiene products in the coming years.  For instance, the use of PLA will increase. The drive for eco-friendly materials will probably influence machinery designs and manufacturers will request lines that are able to handle new raw materials. And we predict that in future developments, goodwill will involve creating flexible and modular production lines for the changeover and reduced environmental impact.

What changes are occurring in respect of packaging?

Joakim Blomqvist: In respect of disposable hygiene, the new packaging lines are more versatile and able to pack smaller series products. A good recent initiative is that made by P&G in forming a global pledge with other brands to invest resources into the development of plant-based PET for use in the packaging of  personal care products and other consumer goods. The Plant PET technology Collaborative (PTC) will focus on accelerating the development and use of 100% plant based PET materials and fibres. They have commited to research and to develop commercial solutions for PET plastic made entirely from plants. We think that this is a commendable and interesting initiative and a sign that environmental responsibility and an ecological profile providesan important and strong competitive advantage.

In what key ways do you think the nonwovens and hygienic disposables industries will have changed in ten years’ time?

Johan Berlin: Many new applications will be developed on the industrial side. Through research and technological development, nonwovens will find new areas of applications. There will also be a great degree of forward integration, with, for example, filter media manufacturers expanding their business by converting roll-goods into finished filters. The big difference in the disposable hygiene industry in ten years’ time will be that the number of users of products like baby diapers, sanitary napkins and adult incontinence will have increased significantly in the growth areas, primarily in Asia but also in South America and Africa. In countries like India and Kenya, the governmental subsidies of sanitary pads will boost the establishment of disposable sanitary protection products in these countries, in addition to improving the lives of girls and women in poor areas.

Joakim Blomqvist: The biggest growth will happen in India and Southeast Asia, where the awareness of the benefits of using disposable hygiene products and nonwovens will increase rapidly in the coming years. We can also not forget about China, since that will still be a huge market – although in percentage increase not  as big as India, since China is already the biggest producer of nonwovens and disposable hygiene items, and its domestic market is already substantial.
But in India, the disposable hygiene market will grow significantly, mainly triggered by population growth and increased disposable income.

Johan Berlin: In these regions, the demand for durable nonwovens will of course also increase. The greatest growth is likely to occur in the geotextile and construction sectors. Initiatives like the Centres of Excellence which have been established in India to create awareness of technical textile and nonwovens will reap rewards in more players daring to venture into this industry within the next ten years.

Joakim Blomqvis
t: We believe that the big change over the coming decade is that both demand and production will increase rapidly in regions that currently have very low degree of market penetration. And India will become a significant manufacturing base.

Finally, since the brokering of pre-owned equipment is part of your core business, what are the pros and cons of giving older lines and machines a prolonged life?

Johan Berlin: Basically, our philosophy is that it’s better that machines which are regarded as obsolete in one factory are passed on to another producer. Through an extensive network of current and potential manufacturers we can ensure that the equipment comes to use instead of being scrapped. New machines are expensive, and for many new players in the nonwovens industry, used equipment is the only affordable alternative.

Joakim Blomqvist: From an environmental and sustainability perspective, it is encouraging that the life cycle of a line or machine can be extended. But in the comparison between new and used equipment it is of vital importance to consider the level of energy consumption and this can be quite easily regulated through upgrades of I&C systems where most of the savings can be made.

Johan Berlin: We should also highlight the need for letting older machinery undergo efficiency improvements, which are quite simple and not so costly. Some older systems employ inefficient motor control, when installing new AC drives, for example, will make the line run only at the required power output. For a dryer or an oven it’s advisable – both economically and environmentally – to install a heat exchanger, which makes it possible to recycle the used energy.


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