Nonwovens will continue to be favored by the medical industry as a substrate that outperforms textiles in terms of comfort, barrier and contamination resistance. This is coupled with a reduction in the cost of using nonwoven medical products in the highly cost-sensitive healthcare environment.
With the new crown epidemic sweeping the world, demand for medical materials and personal protective equipment (PPE) has soared, undoubtedly further witnessing the value of nonwovens across the industry. Despite the decline in the peak demand triggered by the New Crown outbreak, industry experts expect inventories of medical nonwovens and PPE to continue to increase compared to pre-epidemic levels.
Medical nonwovens are used in the production of surgical gowns, surgical drapes, table covers, isolation gowns, surgical caps, shoe covers, bedding, sterile packaging and wound care products. Surgical drapes and gowns are the largest application of nonwovens in healthcare, and they account for more than 50% of historical nonwovens consumption, although this figure does decline in 2020.
Surgical procedures are unlikely to decline as the global population ages and life expectancy increases
In fact, such procedures are projected to increase by 5-7% per year through 2027, with the new crown epidemic providing the basis for strategic regional stockpiles of key medical products and increased levels of their inventory. Medical nonwovens end uses will continue to grow. Masks were and still are a smaller end use and will likely not be a determining factor in the long-term growth of this market.
Global spunmelt capacity has expanded rapidly over the past few years, not only to capitalize on the growth of the global hygiene market, but also to meet the growing demand in the healthcare market, with many nonwovens producers shifting production to meet localized demand.
In North America, about five spunbond/spunmelt lines will be started up this year and six more will be added by 2023, according to INDA. To put this in perspective, eight spunbond/spunmelt lines were added in the region between 2014 and 2016, and five were closed in the following three years. New lines coming on stream may be replacing older, less efficient lines, and some may close to keep the market balanced.
These new investments include PFNonwovens' $75 million expansion of its North American headquarters in Pennsylvania. A 3.2-meter width Reicofil 5 line was completed earlier this year. The new line occupies half of the expansion plan, or approximately 75,000 square feet, with another 75,000 square feet of space available for subsequent growth.
PFNonwovens announced an expansion of the Hazleton plant in late 2020. The new line is the first of a two-line investment that will enable the company to produce revolutionary cotton-soft sanitary materials for the North American market, as well as dual-component capabilities to produce other specialty products and expand the Hazleton plant's medical nonwovens production capacity. The company also added Reicofil 5 technology to its plant in Cape Town, South Africa, with a $40 million investment. The new capacity is scheduled for the end of this year.