One of nonwovens’ oldest manufacturing processes and, some say, its most turbulent, meltblown nonwovens has been overshadowed by its more popular relative—spunmelt nonwovens—which has grown to become the world’s largest nonwovens technology. However, meltblown continues to be valued for its fine fiber profile, its ability to offer high absorbency and its compatibility with other nonwovens processes to form composite structures and open new doors for nonwovens.
While many associate meltblown with filtration, manufacturers report opportunities across many other markets like sorbents, wipes, geotextiles and more. This has led to somewhat of a resurgence of the technology which can offer more flexibility and higher profits than many competing technologies.
Don & Low Starts Up New Line
A newcomer to meltblown technology, Don & Low has been manufacturing spunbond since 1989 and sees the diversification into meltblown as a means to expanding its offerings in nonwovens. The company had already been using externally sourced meltblown nonwovens in some of its high performance composite materials, so the step into the production and development of meltblown materials was a natural one. The new line has allowed Don & Low to expand into a number of new markets including; filtration, automotive, absorbents and advanced composites. “Active R&D prior to installation meant that upon installation, we literally hit the ground running,” says Will Campbell, sales executive, nonwovens. “The TPU has some unique properties and has had significant interest in industrial, apparel and medical applications.” Don & Low’s focus is to continue to be an innovative manufacturer of composite and laminate nonwovens and the addition of this line strengthens its group product offerings. The line has the ability to utilize a range of polymers including polypropylene, polyethylene and a more innovative thermoplastic polyurethane. Other key features include; online air permeability testing, gap control calendars, the ability to laminate multiple materials inline and multi-width slitting. “Meltblown systems are unique in that the process generates a fine fiber not available in other nonwoven processes,” Campbell adds. “It is these micro- fibers that have opened up new opportunities in terms of products and applications where a high filtration efficiency or microbiological barrier are required. The addition of TPU also brings new nonwoven capabilities for Don & Low like multidirectional stretch materials with excellent memory.” In addition to offering the possibility for new markets, the addition of meltblown provides Don & Low with a nice business opportunity. The meltblown sector is in essence not an overcrowded market and is still deemed to be a relatively new technology. As such, new applications remain to be discovered. While some other manufacturers focus on high volume sorbent markets, Don & Low will continue its focus on high performance, innovative nonwovens, often developed in partnership with its customers.
Wipes For meltblown manufacturer FiberDynamics, 85% of its output targets the absorbent wipes market where the material is favored for its high absorbency. While this company has been in the wipes market for 40 years, meltblown’s share of the category is small, probably about 10-15%, according to executives. “It is a very specialized application,” explains Patrick Heery, meltblown manager. “It offers high absorption characteristics and good release profile. We see a lot of interest in the material as a medical wipe or a dental wipe.” Because FiberDynamics participates in smaller markets for wipes, it offers more fiexibility in its product line. Heery says his company does small runs, offers color specs and other things that manufacturers of spunmelt—its main competitive technology,—won’t “We survive by offering smaller companies what they want when they want it while our competition is looking at bigger runs, like in hygiene. We try to cater to the higher end of the market,” he says. However, being small is not without its disadvantages. New advancements in spunmelt have made the product softer and lighter and this is driving prices way down, meaning FiberDynamics has to work hard to keep its customers happy. “We turn things around quickly,” Heery adds. “We can run trials in a couple of weeks. We can get feedback quickly and that is what separates us from the others.”
Southern Meltblown Offers Spill Control Solutions
The primary focus of Southern Meltblown Nonwovens business is sorbents or, more specifically the spill control market. Polypropylene meltblown nonwovens offer some unique characteristics, compared to other absorbents, according to president Derek Yurgaitis. “It absorbs oil and repels water in its natural state and it can be treated to allow it to pick up things without a chemical reaction,” Yurgaitis explains. Meanwhile competitors to meltblown, like cotton rags, pose potential risks. While cotton will initially repel water, over time it will allow some of the water to stick to it. This will make it heavier or “water logged,” he explains. Within sorbents, most of Meltblown Technologies’ products are active in the industrial hygiene space. “We make products that go in or around machines where there may be leaks and drips,” Yurgaitis says. The number one purpose would be to stop that oil from running into the walkway where someone would slip and fall and the secondary purpose is to protect the outside of the facility, where there may be a leak or drip and you don’t want it getting into the environment.” Recently, Meltblown Technologies expanded this protective role with the development of a yellow floor mat that not only absorbs spills and leaks but also warns walkersby of the potential for an accident. This can be used both in the manufacturing space but also in any public place—a grocery store or an office lobby— to prevent accidents.
Irema Offers Face Masks, Respirators
At Ireland’s Irema, the majority of meltblown goes into internally made respirators or face masks or is outsourced to the heating, ventilation and air conditioning market. “As far as development our main concentration has been on fine fiber and nanofiber products and adding different characteristics to make (our products) UV compliant so we put it into different products like geotextiles,” says managing director John Rice who has also seen improvements in mafibersterbatch technology. On the filtration side, this is allowing Irema’s materials to meet new international standards. “Meltblown is ideal for filtration because all of its properties—lower pressure drop, fine fibers, high efficiency—benefit filtration,” Rice says. “You can even add a charge to the fibers.” These properties have helped meltblown expand its share in the filtration market, particularly against microglass type of media, which have raised concerns during the past 15 years. “Synthetics has been steadily developing marketshare,” Rice says.
Mogul’s Meltblown Offers
Value For Turkish nonwovens producer Mogul, the majority of meltblown nonwovens are targeting the spill control market but other areas of interest include wipes, medical, vacuum cleaner bags, roofing underlays and filtration applications. “We really want to focus more on high efficiency filters, wipes and medical applications,” says commercial director Serkan Gogus. Meltblown is not a major part of Mogul’s business in terms of turnover but its potential, a specialty area that helps with niche market development and higher margins, makes it an important one for the company, which also makes spunbond and spunlace nonwovens. Other advantages include the barrier features for medical and low pressure drop for filtration as well as the diversity of polymers that can be used. “The biggest challenge with technology is throughput compared to other technologies, which is fairly low but we see more composites and specialty polymers being made as well as some changes in the technology itself,” Gogus adds.
Sandler Focuses on Filtration and Beyond
The primary application for German nonwovens producer Sandler’s meltblown nonwovens is the filtration industry. The company manufactures pocket as well as pleatable filter media that is applied in HVAC, automotive filtration, synthetic vacuum cleaner bags and various specialty applications. In these fields, Sandler harnesses the unique advantages offered by the meltblown technology—very fine fibres, uniform nonwovens featuring a homogeneous distribution of fibers and high productivity. Sandler’s latest development in this segment, enAIRsave is a new pocket filter medium for HVAC applications comprising several filter layers and allowing for the deposition of dust particles even in the coarser layers. This allows air to still flow through the filter at a relatively low pressure and, consequently, at reduced energy consumption. “In this way, the medium combines excellent depth filter properties and dust holding capacity with energy efficiency,” says Ulrich Hornfeck, board member and chief commercial officer. “While the meltblown fine filter layer is essentially the heart of the filter medium and determines its efficiency, Sandler combines different technologies in the production of our filter media.” Outside of filtration, Sandler’s meltblown nonwovens are increasingly being applied to other technical applications including medical uses, industrial cleaning applications, insulation and support layers, and even the food industry. “In all of these markets, the singular properties of meltblown media have opened up new applications for this technology,” Hornfeck says. All in all, the advantages offered by meltblown media also helped expand the range of applications for this technology – both within the filtration market and in other sectors, he continues. “Filter media, for example, tap into areas of use with more stringent requirements on air quality, such as medical institutions. In other technical applications and even the food sector, meltblown nonwovens make inroads into entirely new markets