Airlaid: The Beginning

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Airlaid: The Beginning

Nonwovens «Airlaid» (airlade - aerodynamic styling)

Compared to other nonwovens production technologies, Airlaid has a unique ability to stack short fibers, whether 100% cellulose fiber or a mixture of cellulose and short synthetic fibers, to form a homogeneous and continuous web. It is possible to add superabsorbent powders (SAP) or fibers (SAF) between layers of non-woven material or into primary raw materials, thereby creating webs with high absorbent capacity.

The canvas "Airlaid" can be fastened in several ways. During latex bonding (LBAL – latex bonded airlaid), a liquid binder is applied to both sides of the web, which is then dried and cured to achieve the necessary strength in dry and wet conditions. Typical applications are table tablecloths, dry and wet wipes, industrial napkins and household goods. Thermal bonding of canvases «Airlaid» (TBAL – thermally bonded airlaid) usually involves thermal bonding of two-component fibers of the "shell-core" type, in which the shell is made of a polymer having a lower melting point (softening) compared to the core, which is mainly responsible for strength. During the formation of the web, heating occurs in order to activate the easily melting components of synthetic fibers for binding the web. For absorbent layers of various medical, hygienic and household products, superabsorbent powder (SAP) is added to the process, which is fixed in the fabric structure with synthetic fibers.

Bonding in several ways at the same time (MBAL – multi-bonded airlaid) is a process in which latex and thermal bonding are combined. Usually, the inner part of the product is thermally glued, and a small layer of binder is applied to the surface to eliminate dust and lint. These materials, commonly used for absorbent fillers, household goods, dry and wet wipes, may also contain SAP.

Hydrogen bonding (XBAL) The bonding of the web is achieved by combining pressure, humidity and temperature to create so-called hydrogen bonds, which eliminates the need for other bonding methods. It is usually used for absorbent layers.

Airlaid in 2021

Compared to competing technologies, Airlaid's aerodynamic fiber stacking technology still accounts for a small fraction of the world's manufacturing capacity as manufacturers continue to recover from a period of excessive overcapacity in the early 2000s.

For example, currently Turkey alone installs more Spunlace material production capacity per year than Airlaid capacity is installed worldwide.

After a period of minor expansion beginning in 2001, when the industry invested too much in new Airlaid lines, investments have been moderate in recent years, including new lines from Domtar and Glatfelter, USA and a new line from Magic, Italy. Overall, Glatfelter remains the clear leader in the Airlaid market with a 30% market share. The second largest manufacturer, McAirlaid's, has 9% of the market.

Domtar

Domtar recently announced that it is expanding its production of engineered absorbent materials (EAM) in Jesup, Georgia, to strengthen its position as the world's leading manufacturer of absorbent materials and technologies, offering consumers fluffed cellulose and non-woven Airlaid materials produced using aerodynamic stacking technology.

Domtar EAM has been developing and producing innovative high-quality absorbent materials since 1998. The new high-performance Airlaid Dan-Web materials production line will be fully operational in 2022, which will increase Domtar's ability to supply both domestic and international customers with unique absorbent materials.

The combination of Domtar fluffed pulp supplies combined with individual EAM solutions in the field of absorbent technologies will significantly strengthen the company's position in the market. EAM/Domtar will be in a unique position to offer a complete portfolio of hygiene products, including Airlaid, absorbent laminated products and cellulose.

Magic Srl

Meanwhile, in Italy, Magic Srl invested in the Airlaid line supplied by Campen, capable of producing several types of Airlaid products thermally bonded with fabrics and non-woven materials as a substrate, or without them.

A few years ago, Magic developed Spongel, a superabsorbent biodegradable powder, after which it became necessary to develop and manufacture its own Airlaid material. Mauro Giani, owner and CEO of Magic Srl, states: "Our task was to create a new type of Airlaid material with high absorbent properties containing Spongel. After the development of Spongel, we focused our efforts on the application of absorbent powder in the Airlaid material and realized that we needed to be able to control the entire production process.

Together with Campen, Magic tested the product at the Campen test stand and was convinced of the results and the competence of the equipment supplier.

Magic has commissioned the Airlaid line from Campen in the second half of 2021. The line consists of the following equipment: hammer crushers, fiber leavening agent, drum forming heads, superabsorbent powder dispenser (SAP), compactor, thermal bonding furnace, calender with cooling zone, process air filter and humidification system. The line also includes an unwinding device for the substrate and a winding machine for winding the finished product, as well as a metal detector and an integrated scanning system for measuring and controlling the density of the web.

Dan-Web

The equipment supplier Dan-Web believes that the Airlaid market is ready for significant growth. The balance of supply and demand is being restored. As restaurants and offices reopen, the demand for disposable tablecloths and napkins produced by the aerodynamic method begins to grow, and, in the near future, will surpass the level of demand that existed before Covid-19. During the pandemic, nonwovens produced using other technologies were present on the market in very limited quantities, which led, in some cases, to the use of Airlaid materials instead of them (for example, instead of spanlace). At the same time, the current trend of sustainable development is aimed at finding materials and technologies that limit the use of plastics, so packaging materials, disposable trays, lids, plates and even spoons that replace plastic are on the verge of mass distribution, which will significantly expand the markets for Airlaid in the next three years.

Dan-Web is currently working with PulPac to develop standardized equipment for dry forming fibers into webs to replace these existing plastics for disposable products with affordable fiber-based alternatives. The partnership will combine Dan-Web's extensive know-how, engineering capabilities and technologies in the field of aerodynamic styling with the fiber dry forming process. Dry Molded PulPac Fiber — This is a patented production technology that uses renewable cellulose to produce inexpensive packaging and other disposable products. Dry molded fiber produces 80-90% less CO2 emissions at the same or lower cost as plastic.

Anpap Oy

Meanwhile, Airlaid machines manufactured by Anpap Oy can process both cellulose and chemical fibers, which allows customers to produce a wide range of products. Anpap machines offer advantages such as flexibility in performance and in the raw materials used. This allows the company to really meet the needs of its customers by offering customized solutions. Although the executives could not go into details, the company said it is currently installing two new production lines for customers in Europe.

Glatfelter

The ascent of Glatfelter to a leading position in the Airlaid market took a decade. The company, which has its roots in the paper industry, acquired the business from Concert Industries, including sites in Quebec and Germany, in 2010 for $ 235 million. The company has since acquired Georgia-Pacific's European facility in 2018 and its North American Airlaid business in 2020, and in 2018 added a 20,000-ton line to Fort Smith, Arkansas.

In North America, the acquisition from Georgia-Pacific included a high-performance production line in North Carolina, which in 2001 was considered the world's largest Airlaid machine, as well as a research and development center in Memphis, Tennessee.

In 2020, Glatfelter sales reached record sales of $392 million, despite a downturn in the Airlaid disposable tablecloths and napkins business caused by the closure of restaurants during the pandemic. The feminine hygiene segment accounted for the majority of Airlaid's sales, accounting for 52% of production. There was increased demand in this market, as consumers tended to accumulate basic necessities. While women's hygiene continues to dominate, the growth of the production of wipes using Airlaid technology for Glatfelter is still a priority.

Currently, Glatfelter continues to expand its role in the napkins and hygiene products markets. This is reflected in its recent acquisition of Jacob Holm Industries. The deal includes four production sites in France, Germany and the USA and will expand the company's range of technologies to the production of nonwovens such as "spanlace" and flushable wipes. The combination of high-quality spanlace and advanced Jacob Holm reinforced and composite fiber products, as well as industry-leading Glatfelter products, will provide a best-in-class set of nonwoven technologies, applications and expertise to meet the growing global demand for similar nonwovens.

Food packaging

Airlaid is the main technology used to make absorbent liners to absorb liquids from perishable foods such as meat and fruit to keep them fresh, prolong shelf life, and reduce food waste.

The total percentage of Airlaid materials that goes to food liners is about 7% globally. From the point of view of nonwovens production, the European business for the production of absorbent liners for food products is much larger than in North America. Novipax, USA is by far the largest manufacturer of food liners in North America. The current utilization rate of Airlaid d equipment in the USA is 95%. In Europe, there is some excess capacity. The coefficient of their use is about 80%.

According to INDA, Airlaid is ideally suited for the production of food liners, since it has the same requirements as the absorbent layers of hygienic products: high absorption rate, no or low re-wetting rate and high absorbency. Humidity control inside food packages, which is provided by Airlaid liners, increases the shelf life of products and reduces the amount of food waste.

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