Pursuit of sustainability is driving innovations in nowovens

Pursuit of sustainability is driving innovations in nowovens

In this interview with Rakesh Rao, Dave Rousse, President, INDA, highlights the effects of Covid pandemic on the demand of nonwoven fabric.

Association of the Nonwoven Fabrics Industry (INDA) serves hundreds of member companies in the nonwovens/engineered fabrics industry doing business globally. In this interview with Rakesh Rao, Dave Rousse, President, INDA, highlights the effects of Covid pandemic on the demand of nonwoven fabric.

How is Covid pandemic changing the demand patterns for nonwovens?
Disposable end-uses were significantly impacted by the pandemic, both negative (a couple years of slow growth in baby diapers as births decline in difficult times), and positive (filtration for cleaner indoor air and facemask material, disinfecting and flushable wipes, and medical/surgical gowns).

Infection prevention is the first step in the fight against the pandemic, and nonwovens play a major role in numerous medical protective apparel products, disinfecting wipes, and in providing clean air.

On the durable side, the pandemic caused a shift in consumer spending away from activities that consumers perceive as risky – entertainment venues, dining out, staying at hotels – and toward consumption that can take place in a socially distanced way, such as home improvements. Many of the nonwoven durable end-use markets are impacted by the ‘housing markets’. The housing sector has outperformed the broader economy in the wake of the pandemic and is forecast to continue to do so. This has led to positive demand in the building construction, home & office furnishings, and to a lesser extent, the geosynthetics end-use markets. The vehicle construction market was temporarily halted as a result of the pandemic. However, consumer demand has returned.

How do you see the potential of the auto sector for nonwovens?
Demand for nonwovens in the automotive industry continues to be very strong. However, it is not only automotive, but also heavy trucks/commercial freight vehicles, motor buses, recreational vehicles, commercial transport aircraft, general aviation, helicopters, recreational powerboats/sail boats, passenger rail cars, light rail cars, and streetcars/trolleys, which is why INDA refers to the category as Vehicle Construction.

Nonwovens have proven themselves versatile in the transportation sector as they have a high strength-to-weight ratio making vehicles quieter, lighter and more comfortable. Nonwoven composites, with their light weight, can also be molded to fit contours of various car areas.

What are key emerging trends in nonwoven fabrics space?
The big driver of innovation in nonwovens today is the pursuit of “sustainability” in all of its forms. There is significant material science development activity to develop responsibly sourced inputs (i.e., non-fossil fuel based) and to incorporate materials with responsible end-of-life behaviors. INDA will be hosting a two-day conference – RISE: Research, Innovation & Science for Engineered Fabrics Conference from September 28-30, 2021 – that focuses on that specific topic.

What is your outlook for nonwoven fabrics?
This is a great time to be in nonwovens as the industry is performing well and providing products that solve today’s problems. The North American nonwovens business is expanding faster than the economy, and nonwovens are a healthy, non-polluting business that attracts investment. More importantly, our business is one that protects and improves peoples’ lives. This has been brought to the forefront recently with the benefits of protective medical apparel, face masks, and disinfecting wipes, now known by all.

Nonwovens also protect the air we breathe and the water we drink. They protect our babies, and make life more comfortable for our elderly. They protect landfills from leeching into our drinking water, protect our beaches from oil spills, protect workers in dirty environments, and help provide the clean-room environments needed for sophisticated electronics. Nonwovens improve the comfort of our vehicles while improving their performance. Nonwovens improve the environment of our homes with housewrap and roofing materials, carpeting, and bedding materials. Nonwovens are an integral part that protect and improve our lives.

It is a great time to be in nonwovens and will continue to be so as demand and the corresponding supply to meet that demand continue to grow because nonwovens continue to protect and improve our lives.

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