FibersBy Elaine Gross, New York Correspondent Commodity No More, Polyester Leads With InnovationUse of manmade fiber continues steady growth as manufacturers invest in variety of new markets.
In recent years, polyester has taken the lead as one of the most innovative fibers around, relinquishing its traditional place in the market as a commodity fiber. Stretch, microfibers, recycled, antimicrobial and nonwovens are some of the banners waving polyester on its ever-upward path.While most other manmade fibers are close to drowning in the sea of economic and market woes, polyester swims against the tide, continuing to grow about 6-7% annually, probably making it the fastest growing man-made fiber. Shipments, however, were down significantly from year ago figures. The Fiber Economics Bureau reports that total polyester shipments declined from 2,315.8 million pounds in August 2000 to 1,963.8 million pounds in August 2001. According to the Dept. of Commerce, however, although imports also saw a decline, they were less dramatic. Polyester staple imports declined from 384.7 million pounds in July 2000 to 348.8 million pounds in July 2001. For the same time period, imports of textured polyester yarn, declined from 57.5 million pounds to 42.5 million pounds, while POY imports increased from 12 million pounds to 17.6 million pounds. Despite the debilitating effects of a slowing economy and high levels of imports, at least in certain market segments, polyester is holding onto most current business. But both filament and staple polyester producers are diversifying horizontally, investing in targeted, niche products to open new markets that they hope will allow them to buck the overall negative textile trend. Many of these developments are extensions from a single polymer base with variations engineered to meet the special needs of specific textile customers. Some developments are so different from the basic polyester we know that new generic fiber classifications are being sought. Offering perhaps more optimism than the market truly warrants, polyester fiber producers have a realistic view of the bad news but prefer to focus on the good. "On a global basis, polyester fiber has surpassed cotton, our principal competitor, and continues to grow overall," says Bill Jasper, global marketing manager for DuPont Dacron filament. "But demand has been somewhat depressed. Were seeing some slowdown since 3rd quarter last year, especially in apparel, which is 50-60% of our business. Our shipments are off 10-15% from last year. I expect that we will see an upturn during the 2nd quarter of next year, when business will be back to where it was last year. Home textiles have been pretty flat though were starting to see some downturn in that right now, too." "Overall shipments for polyester for the first half of the year were off somewhere between 15-20% from the prior year," confirms John Anderson, vice president, marketing for Wellman Fibers, "and thats after a lot of us said, Gee, were glad 2000 is over. It cant get any worse!"Resin for packaging is a market reportedly seeing double-digit growth, so as industry consolidations continue, many plants that are not closing completely are diverting production from polymers to resins. Much of that growth is due to its use in containers as a lighter and safer replacement for glass. "With the exception of spandex, all other fibers have been losing ground to polyester during the past few years," concurs Hector Camberos, president and managing director of DAK Americas. "Overall, the polyester market is growing about 7% per year on the fibers side. On the resin side in NAFTA territory, it is growing about 10% with some high peaks in Mexico reaching 20%." Low-price imports are the biggest issue facing the textile industry right now, say polyester fiber producers. Yet raw materials prices and the price of polyester fiber are projected to remain stable for the near future. "Part of the reason prices have stayed stable since the first of the year, at least domestically, is that they are as low as they can afford to go and still allow producers to stay in business," says Anderson. "Absent a big raw materials change, while demand is weak, prices will likely stay in this trough." "We made a few attempts to raise prices, but weve had limited success," says Jasper, "but in order for corporations to stay in business long term, certain prices will have to come up and I think they will." In reaction to the declining prices of imported apparel, fiber companies believe the counter solution is to create products that importers cannot make while simultaneously cutting costs through more efficient production and processing. "If you look at imports of polyester fiber today, the vast preponderance is in fiberfill type items," states Wellmans Anderson. "The issue for us is not importation of fiber, but the garment packages and the garment order never filled with U.S. fabric." DAK Americas competitive strategy is two pronged: to provide low-cost commodities that allow its customers to compete; and to bring a continuous stream of differentiated products that cant be found in Asia. "We see things long term. We need to be able to compete with those Asian imports, but the most effective method is to bring something unique to the market," states Camberos. Following the World Trade Center terrorist attacks, polyester producers said it was too soon to guess what will happen with supplies of oil from the Middle East, which is a crucial component of polyester production, or with downstream purchases."Weve been in touch with a number of our downstream customers during the past two weeks, and we are not seeing any major changes being planned as a result of the incident," reported Jean Hegedus, marketing manager, ready to wear, DuPont ApparelandTextile Sciences. The Global DefenseGoing global, or not putting all ones eggs in one basket, is what polyester producers unanimously believe is the best defense against a sluggish economy. They reason that when business lags in one area, the others will pick up the slack. Although many aspects of the law still need to be clarified, the favorable tariff incentives in the CBI region for producing garments made of U.S. fabrics are being touted as the potential salvation of the U.S. textile industry, at least on the garment side. One source states that only 15% of apparel sold in the U.S. is actually sewn here.While exports of textile products to the CBI region remained stable between 2000 and 2001, there was a shift in what was being exported, according to OTEXA statistics. Exports of filament and spun polyester yarns to the CBI region were up 243% between first quarter of 2000 and the first quarter of 2001, while apparel exports went down. Three years ago, Wellman deliberately set out to build an international customer base, not just have an export business. "A decade ago, about 97% of our business was done domestically," recalls Anderson. "Today it is probably more like 85% domestic and 15% going to strategic customers around the world. Thats helped us keep our business up. It will take time for all the (CBI) players to meet each other, to get the logistics down to working in that part of the world, but it is the single biggest opportunity to turn things around.""Countries in Central America and the Caribbean have a labor rate that is competitive with Asian garment manufacturers," says Camberos. "Their labor rates are even lower than Mexicos. But how quickly they can gain the expertise, sophistication and volume is yet to be seen." "Enriching our mix" is the buzzword at DuPont Dacron filament, which believes that North American mills can compete in commodity products when the CBI is added to the mix. "But I dont think any mills in North America can be successful just making commodities," says Jasper. "You have to combine them with new, value-added products that allow participation at both the higher and lower end. Especially in the U.S., retailers have already formed supply chains from Asia. I dont think they have yet figured out how to develop similar supply chains from CBI. I think that is what is driving continued strength in imports from Asia." "We firmly believe that textile production will remain in the North American and European zones, but it will be more specialty and response based," says Richard Ridwood, key account manager for Nylstars circular knits and hosiery. "You have to make sure those products are right for the consumer and that your supply chain is strong enough and resilient enough to bring it to the consumer." New Nonwoven OpportunitiesIf sales of polyester for apparel are less than stellar, and home textiles sales are flat, the brighter spots are in nonwoven and industrial markets for end uses such as medical, filtration, cleaning and food applications. "The strongest staple polyester part of our business is in nonwovens," says Wellmans Anderson. "We see some continued innovative products that are not necessarily advertised as polyester, such as the Swiffer and Grab-it cleaning products. On the nonwoven side, the labor component is small, but the science component is big, so theres no reason to take it off shore." "Theres a lot going on now in trying to get nonwovens to look and feel like typical knits and wovens," says Sonny Walker, sales and marketing manager for DAK Americas. "They have not made significant inroads at this point, but it is looking promising." Poly Cottons to InnovationAesthetically, the soft hand and appearance of cotton is still the fiber polyester producers strive not only to mimic but also to beat. As consumers open their minds and pocketbooks to manmade fibers in general, the belief that performance characteristics, especially those of polyester, will always compare favorably to cotton. "Its a question of special features engineered into our fibers to give our customers an element of differentiation," says Anderson. "Mills are now suddenly more open to new ideas and are making fabrics that werent made two or three years ago. Developing new products is a tremendous effort and an investment in technology to keep up the plants. The payoff is typically long and slow, but that is the way to survive long term." "No longer can we sit back in our labs and dream of products," agrees Tonya Farrow, apparel segment manager for Dacron/Micromattique. "We have real issues from the consumer standpoint that we need to address and we are doing that in conjunction with our customers strategic plans. Through our partnership efforts, were working to develop our capabilities from both the DuPont and customer standpoint. Were jointly developing products that may not be under the Micromattique brand, and we are not only developing microdenier product under the Micromattique brand." Under the Micromattique brand, this year DuPont introduced a new natural matte luster polyester with a cottony aesthetic but the functionality of a manmade. Targeted to bottomweights, Burlington Industries Savane label will offer it first in stores next Fathers Day. Milliken, another development partner, will have a Sensura line in 2002. "Our goal is to have new product offering every year," says Farrow, "meaningful products, not just tweaks here and there. Because of doing such a great job with advertising, the consumer thinks that cotton is the standard. We address our offerings so consumers feel satisfied, but were better than cotton."Is polyester by any other name still polyester Not according to Wellman, which has applied for generic fiber status for its new Sensura fiber. Although being marketed head-to-head with ring-spun cotton, "technically, Sensura is still polyester until the FCC says its something else," explains Anderson.
MillikenandCo. makes the 100% MicroMattiquefabric used in this woman's top and pants.
Launched this year, Sensura is just the first of a new group of products Wellman is layering upon the same technology base. The mens pants business was targeted for Sensuras debut with Dockers and Haggar the first to have product in stores. Champion Sportswear, best known for team sports apparel, is hoping to make its mark in high-tech activewear with a line of Sensura mens and womens active garments for spring 2002. "Two or three years ago, you wouldve been told that men wouldnt buy anything but cotton slacks. A year or two ago, Dockers and Haggar would have said they were only interested in cotton, not manmades. Today, all mens slacks manufacturers are making moves into high performance. The customer got tired of ironing and garments that shrank and [colors that] ran," says Anderson. "The dressing down of the workplace hit bottom. Men dont want to look like an unmade bed anymore. Also working in our favor is the crossover active lifestyle. Athletic clearly has been things other than cotton." Echoes of Eco Certain apparel customers are still attracted to the eco aspect of recycled PET polyester, but it is contract interiors and carpets that are using much of what is produced, and mainly the unbranded variety. "The people who specify have gotten very interested in the green aspects of office environments for upholstery, wall panels, draperies, wall coverings and window treatments. A lot of polyester carpets are made today from recycled bottles but they use the recipe of the day, so we dont make a lot of noise about it," says Wellmans Anderson. "Contract interiors dont change from year to year and a growing share of that is certified post-consumer recycled product." But the complexities of recycling have heightened as basic polymer recipes and bottle shapes change. "Different formulations of plastic make it trickier to make fiber into textile fiber that will dye," Anderson continues. "About 40% of Wellmans total fiber output is made from recycled feed stocks, and only about 5-10% of that is branded as EcoSpun. EcoSpun is always made from post-consumer bottles, but polyester chips and fabric cuttings can also be recycled. For fiberfill or carpets, what is used is less critical because it often isnt dyed."Within the last 12 months, DAK Americas has launched a list of new products under its Dacron and Delcron staple polyester brands, and its Melinar PET resin brand, spanning across apparel, homefurnishings and industrial uses. Dacron Plus is a softer polyester with better drape. Dacron Duracotton, primarily for apparel, offers improved compatibility with cotton to create more durable fabrics that still have the look and hand of cotton but is enhanced by Dacron. DAK Americas Delcron brand, carried over from the Akra side of the business, is offering a new moisture management product called Delcron Hydrotec with superior wicking properties and improved finished fabric costs. Delcron SteriPur is a fiber approved by the FDA for contact with food. Delcron Colorbrite is a cationic dyeable fiber that achieves more brilliant colorations than typical polyester. Delcron High Trek is a blend of almost equal parts of wool, acrylic and hollow polyester, created to be washable for such garments as school uniforms and outdoor jackets. "In the past, blend levels were dictated as 65/35 or 55/45, but were getting away from that old paradigm," says Sonny Miller, vice president, sales and marketing for DAK Americas. "Depending upon the end use, we vary the blend levels, so you may have only 30 or 40% Dacron content, or even reverse blends."Along the same lines, KoSa recently introduced Accepta polyester yarns, which are dyeable at lower temperatures than regular polyester, offering excellent printing and dyeing effects when blended with other heat-sensitive fibers such as spandex, wool and acetate.
Kosa's recently introduced Accepta polyester yarns which are used in these seamless tops. Accepta is dyeable at lower temperatures than regular polyester.
Stretched to the LimitsIf innovation is the industrys battle cry, then stretch polyester is its motto. But producers do not see stretch polyester as merely a less costly, easier to process spandex replacement. Unlike spandex, it can be used as 100% of a fabric, not just a few percentage points, and provides a softer kind of comfort stretch. KoSas Stretch-Aire is one of a bevy of new stretch filament polyester yarns introduced this year. It is a single polyester yarn engineered with a cotton-like hand and appearance that also stretches. It is atmospherically dyeable and can be combined with other yarns for circular and seamless knitting, making it suitable for use in sports and thermal wear, intimate apparel T-shirts and loungewear. DuPont offers several stretch polyester derivatives based on its 3GT technology, thought of within DuPont as a product platform that over time will go into a number of different areas. The first 3GT product is brand named Sorona. "We dont like to think of Sorona as polyester. It is a totally different animal, although it is made on polyester equipment," explains Ray Miller, technology and business development manager for Sorona for DuPont ApparelandTextile Science.Three carbon glycol is used to make these new fibers, unlike regular polyester which is made with two carbon glycol, hence the name 3GT. 3GT polymers have unique properties that DuPont has been aware of since the 1940s, but that could not be commercialized until recently due to the lack of available low-cost, fiber-grade polymers. What has changed, Miller explains, is that DuPont has developed a bio source process that uses a fermentable sugar as a feed stock. Like a winery, it ferments sugar using a biocatalyst that converts the sugar into 1,3 propanediol (also called PDO or 3G), which is isolated, refined and purified to fiber grade. "Today, we actually make Sorona from a petrochemical source which is operated exclusively for DuPont by Degussa, the German chemical company," says Miller. "Eventually, probably in 2003, we will replace the petro-chemical sources with those that are bio sourced." Working with licensees around the world, Sorona fabrics will be commercially available by the end of the year. Current licensees include: Toray and Teijin in Japan; Saehan and Huvis in Korea; Far Eastern Textile in Taiwan; a joint venture with DuPont SA in Europe; as well as companies working through DuPont U.S.Soronas stretch and recovery properties are better than nylon and much better than regular polyester, says Miller. He compared the soft stretch of textured polyester yarn, which has about 50% stretch with recovery, to Lycra which might have 40% or more. Fully drawn, the stretch with recovery of a Sorona yarn would be 2 to 3 times that of nylon 6,6. The result is that fleece fabrics of Sorona will stay bulked up, while knit and woven garments will retain their shape and have enough stretch with recovery for comfortable movement. Unlike regular polyester, which is relatively stiff and has a high modulus, Sorona, like nylon, has a lower modulus and so is much softer. Sorona will also be easy to dye, using the same dyestuffs as polyester, but can be dyed in boiling water without using the chemical carriers needed for nylon. Soronas price will also be in the range of type 6 textile nylon.T400 is another polyester-based DuPont fiber developed with 3GT technology but it contains other components that produce low-to-moderate wovens, or true elastic stretch and recovery. Type 400 is the variation for wovens, with Type 403 for socks. "Chemically it isnt spandex and it doesnt perform like a classic polyester in the way it delivers stretch and recovery," explains Bob Kirkwood of DuPonts ApparelandTextile Science Div. "There are other components that make that fiber so different that the FTC has granted it temporary generic status." T400 does not have as much stretch and recovery as Lycra elastane but it has more than traditional textured polyester yarn. Kirkwood describes it as "filling in the white space between elastane and textured yarns. In stretch wovens, we can produce a fabric or garment with Type 400 that meets Lycra quality certification guidelines so they may be eligible for Lycra branding."In the U.S., commercial fabrics made with T400 are now available from Burlington Denim, Burlington Performancewear and Milliken. In Europe, SAIC, UCO Sportswear and Parkland have also developed T400 fabrics. "We believe that Type 400 will open new opportunities where using spandex has sometimes been difficult because of some processing and dyeability issues, especially in lightweight woven fabrics," says Kirkwood. "It provides our customers with a different way of elastifying fabrics and garments. Where the customer desires a high natural fiber component, elastane is still the way to go. T400 targets more 100% manmade and blended fabrics for ready-to-wear, not intimate apparel, typically with 20-30% Type 400 content.
These little girls are wearign garments by Flapdoodles, which include Wellman's Fortrel polyester. Wellman's customer base is 85% U.S. companies.
Although nylon comprises 98% of Nylstars business, when it inherited Elittretch polyester from Schneer, the company felt it was compatible with its general strategy to build a portfolio of specialty fibers. In Europe, Elitas been visibly marketed to the trade and consumers for about five years, but the U.S. has only begun hearing about it during the past 12 months. During the next 18 months, Nylstar will focus on promoting the fiber to the North American supply chain, up to and including retail. Consumer promotions will not be considered until 2003 or 2004."Our goal is that, within three years, the whole NAFTA zone will represent 25% of global sales of Elit44;" says Richard Ridwood, key account manager for circular knit and hosiery for Nylstar. That is not an unlikely goal considering that Elitales have increased 1000% during the past three years, and Ridwood assures that increase was compounded on already significant volume figures. While the fiber is currently manufactured in Germany and France, eventually the company will introduce production on this continent.Elits a modified polyester with permanent stretch properties and 98% recovery. Initially the 3-dpf yarns were used as a component in fancy and heavyweight sweater yarns for 5-, 7-, 10- and 12-gauge knitwear. "The beauty of Elits the ease with which it can bring stretch to staple spun yarns. Because of that we have large markets in Turkey, the Indian subcontinent, Mexico and the Caribbean," says Ridwood.Elitas since evolved into use as a plated yarn for circular and warp knits and wovens, often used as every alternate weft course. Its chlorine resistance has made it especially good for use in swimwear. The newest version of Elitntroduced last June at Expofil is a microfiber, which is expected to be used as 100% of a fabric and for activewear. Depending upon the deniers, Ridwood says that Elit price is about 25-40% more expensive than standard polyester, but he qualifies that it is considered a premium product.There is no question that the basic aesthetics of polyester fibers and fabrics has changed incredibly since the days of the "bullet-proof" fabrics made infamous in mens leisure suits. Now, there is a new generation of consumers who think polyester is modern and cool simply because it looks good. "Were seeing the baby boomers who have the negative connotation from leisure suits starting to recognize the easy care aspects of polyester, especially vis-a-vis cotton," says DuPonts Jasper. "Both younger and older consumers alike recognize that. Those aging baby boomers now understand and get the fact that polyester can change form and is more relevant to their lifestyle." "I think that there is a generational viewpoint. Those buyers that were around in the 60s and 70s have an image of polyester," says Farrow. "The designers using it now have a different image; overall it is a positive image. Consumers understand that microfiber polyester is softer, finer and high quality. Younger consumers see polyester as trendy."
What Is DAK AmericasIn 1999, DuPont and Alfa, the parent company of Alpal, formed a 50-50 joint partnership called DuPont Akra, combining both of their polyester staple fiber assets. Last July, DuPont decided that staple polyester no longer fit into its long-term strategy, and sold its interest in that business to Alpek S.A. de C.V., including its TPA polyester resin production facilities. The resulting company, now known as DAK Americas, represents more than $650 million in sales. The combined company integrated TPA fibers and resins into one business, making DAK Americas the only fully integrated fiber producer in the NAFTA region. It produces staple polyester fibers (700 million pounds capacity), monomers (1.3 billion pounds of TPA capacity) and resins (350 million pounds capacity). DAK Americas Alpek division is the second largest TPA (terephthalic acid) producer in the world, after BP Amoco, with $1.8 billion in sales. Its Alfa division, with $4.6 billion in sales, is the third largest company in Mexico, including automotive, telecommunications, steel and food businesses as well as petrochemicals and fibers. From DuPont, DAK Americas inherited the Dacron staple polyester brand. From Alpek, it inherited the Delcron staple polyester brand and the Melinar PET resin brand. Although headquartered in Charlotte, DAK Americas produces fibers in plants in Wilmington, N.C., Charleston, S.C. and Monterrey, Mexico. It produces monomers in Wilmington and resins in Fayetteville, N.C. Sales offices are in Charlotte, Wilmington, Del., and Mexico City, Mexico. DAK Americas employs 1,200, half in the Cape Fear Plant in Wilmington, N.C, a bit more than one-fourth in the Cooper River facilities in Charleston, S.C., about 100 employees in Fayetteville, N.C., and more than 200 in Monterrey, Mexico. Most of the companys executives were previously employed at Akra or DuPont, but outside hires have filled in some of the gaps. Hector Camberos, president and managing director of DAK Americas, is a 30-yr veteran of DuPont, holding numerous positions in Latin America and the U.S. Most of his career has focused on nylon and Lycra business in Argentina and Brazil. He led the DuPont-Akra Polyester joint venture. Basil (Sonny) Walker, vice president of sales and marketing for DAK Americas, was with DuPont for 26 years holding marketing and management positions in various fiber businesses. Most recently, he was COO of DuPont ESNet, a subsidiary aimed at modernizing the apparel and home furnishings industries through the use of new digital technology and e-commerce. "Being integrated places DAK Americas as a major player in the polyester arena," says Camberos. "There are times when the business may be more attractive in only some of the distribution channels, but we will always be positioned to provide value along the value chain. By having this balanced approach, we are better able to invest and to be a viable supplier for the long term." "We need to have a regional focus to take advantage of CBI and NAFTA legislations," says Camberos. "In the past, you could just do business in the U.S. or Mexico. Now you have to think more broadly. DAK Americas is focusing on renewal and introducing new products to market that our customers cant bring in from Asia." November 2001