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Nonwovens / Technical Textiles

Nonwovens Industry: Promising Future

DiloGroup's Johann-Philipp Dilo discusses his company, nonwoven product trends and ITMA 2011.

Jürg Rupp, Executive Editor

D iloGroup, Germany, is a global leader in the manufacture of complete nonwovens production lines. In an exclusive interview with Textile World , Owner and Chairman Johann-Philipp Dilo explains the company's situation after the industry's slump in 2008 and 2009. He also reflects on some trends in nonwovens products for the near future and offers his thoughts on ITMA 2011 in Barcelona, Spain.

As the former chairman of The German Engineering Federation (VDMA) Textile Machinery Association, which hosted ITMA 2007 in Munich, Germany, Dilo is the right person to talk about ITMA's future in Europe or in Asia. As a European textile machinery manufacturer, and a true entrepreneur with his own company, he is a man with a clear view. He is also the right person to talk to about the future of nonwovens.

TW : How do you judge the general economic situation compared to 2009?
Dilo: At least since the second quarter of 2010, the general economic development at DiloGroup has been positive, with a steep rise in incoming orders and turnovers.

TW : How do you see the current economic situation for nonwovens?
Dilo: The positive development is also valid for the nonwovens sector. However, in any case, it makes sense to consider the different sectors one by one.

Johann-Philipp Dilo, owner and chairman, DiloGroup, notes there has been a steep increase in incoming orders and turnovers since the second quarter of 2010, both in the general economy and in the nonwovens sector.

Increased Incoming Orders
TW : Has the economic situation for DiloGroup changed compared to 2009?
Dilo: For DiloGroup, for some six months, a quick increase of incoming orders has been recorded, with the consequence that the turnover will increase considerably this year.

TW : Which world regions are in the forefront in terms of Dilo's turnover?
Dilo: By all means, Asia, with strong emphasis on China. Nevertheless, the recovery is taking place worldwide. This also applies to nonwovens in the United States. The main market in South America — Brazil — was less influenced by the financial crisis.

TW : Are there regions that have not recovered yet?
Dilo: Yes, in Western Europe, the investment situation is still held up by the financial crisis, which is not yet over completely. Fortunately, Germany is showing very strong recovery.

TW : Which of Dilo's machinery products are in greatest demand today?
Dilo: In a nutshell, one can notice high demand for staple-fiber web formation by needlepunching and hydroentanglement. As one knows, there was an annual growth of some 6 to 7 percent for needlepunched products before the crisis started in the fourth quarter of 2008. This positive trend is now seen again, particularly for technical products in the automotive, geotextiles and filtration areas.

For hydroentanglement, there are cards with a wide working width of more than 5 meters and high-speed throughput of more than 300 meters per minute. For this sector, DiloGroup is enjoying a particularly high number of incoming orders -which are not just concentrated in Asia — including systems starting at fiber preparation with opening and blending, high-value card-feeding and carding systems for maximum throughput and fabric evenness.

TW : What are the main reasons for this positive trend?
Dilo: At present, there are state programs for infrastructure provision in many countries, so the geotextiles sector also profits from these programs. And in China, the importance of sufficient environmental protection is recognized favorably, so the filtration sector has become very important. A strong upswing also has occurred in the automotive sector.

In numerous fast-developing nations, economic development is indicated by the increasing spending power of the so-called middle class. This strongly influences the hygiene, cosmetics and medicine sectors, where bonding by hydroentanglement has its domain and where we think DiloGroup is technically and technologically in a leading position with its preparation and web-formation processes.

Service Above All
TW : DiloGroup maintains a large and well-equipped application technology facility. How important is this for your customer relations?
Dilo: This is very important. Any textile enterprise that is faced with a decision to make a large production plant investment tries to minimize its investment risk. Our technology center can help to define the throughput performance, nonwovens quality and machine efficiency. So in this respect, our application trials are the foundation for the quality of customer relations; and, therefore, they are continuously being conducted as we are mainly working in the investment business.

Dilo's large and well-equipped application technology facility underlies the quality of its customer relations.

Dynamic Chinese Market
TW : How satisfied were you with the outcome of ITMA Asia 2010?
Dilo: ITMA Asia in Shanghai is very well-established and appreciated as an important event for Asia. Dilo can also support very well its project-related work by participation in this exhibition. In this respect, we are very satisfied with the results of the ITMA Asia 2010.

TW : Can you protect your products in Asia?
Dilo: There is a main emphasis within DiloGroup in the field of research and development works, which frequently lead in inventions and are accompanied by patent applications in all important markets. We have therefore shifted to holding Chinese patent applications too, because we think that by now, a well-operating patent culture is established that is working according to the European system.

TW : How do you judge the fact that in two years, another ITMA Asia will take place?
Dilo: The Chinese market is characterized by high dynamics. Therefore, it can make sense to arrange an exhibition of this kind in a shorter rotation — at least in the near future. In this context, it must be recognized that ITMA Asia at present is still holding to a different direction compared to ITMA in Europe. ITMA Asia is seen by many — and also by DiloGroup — to support sales efforts directly and concretely as a so-called operational fair. In this respect, there is hardly any significant representation of some of the latest developments of Western manufacturers in the area of nonwovens machinery. Exceptions may confirm the rule. On the other hand, the European ITMA, if one takes a look at its main targets, wants to offer exactly this platform for innovations. Of course, there are overlaps.

TW : Do you find it acceptable that with the current rhythm since 2010 and ITMA Europe in 2011, an ITMA will take place three years in a row?
Dilo: Well, one has to take into consideration that because of the geographical distance, up to now, not many Chinese visitors but also relatively few Chinese exhibitors are taking part in the European ITMA. Therefore — at least at present — one can imagine that it makes sense to maintain the current frequency of both events. However, for the future, the target should be that there will be an ITMA either in Asia or Europe every two years.

The Future
TW : What do you expect for the year 2011?
Dilo: Currently, the high amount of incoming orders continues for the first six months of 2011. However, the good order backlogs will partly be completed only next year, so there are good reasons for continued optimism for the year 2011.

As already mentioned, needlepunch bonding has a bright future thanks to our mature technology in the areas of fiber preparation, web formation and bonding, because virtually every fiber type — natural, man-made, mineral and even metal fibers — are processable. This gives the positive result that most different products and applications already exist for nonwovens; and it is fueled by a continuous development for future products. This trend continues and is supported by the numerous new developments in the fiber industry. This includes, for example, high-temperature fibers for filtration and high-tenacity fibers for structured parts such as moldings.

The application of natural fibers for car manufacturing still has a promising future, too.

In general, machinery and production lines have to be constantly improved with the aim that the higher production goes along with quality improvements in the final textile product and a rise of the availability. These are the classics for research and development. It must be highlighted that a particular focus has to be on the easy maintenance or, in particular, the cleaning of the machines, to minimize downtime.

The major cost factor in the textile business is fiber consumption. DiloGroup undertakes great efforts to achieve further evenness of the fiber mass flow and a reduction of variability in the end-product to achieve and allow further fiber savings. Alongside, there are also strong development efforts to better fulfill ecological criteria in general, to further reduce energy consumption, and to either reduce or reprocess waste. In certain markets, reduced water consumption and wastewater treatment are also important objectives.

Important ITMA 2011
TW : What do you expect from ITMA 2011 in Barcelona?
Dilo: Well, ITMA 2011 will be an indicator in a certain way of how the European ITMA can further be developed and optimized in the future. By all means, the consequences of the economic weakness of 2009 will still be apparent. One nevertheless expects that a strong participation by visitors, particularly from the Mediterranean region as well as from South and Central America, will be a strong signal for the location of textile production sites in the West. This production may relate to some special applications and niche markets — among others, in the sector of technical applications. The advantages of manufacturing close to the consumer markets have a special impact on short-dated fashion trends and can therefore serve as one of the more important reasons for a revitalization and increased flexibility in the Western textile economy.

For nonwovens, there is no such strong trend toward a shift to Asian production sites. Therefore, ITMA in Europe remains attractive certainly for new machinery developments for the production of technical textiles and nonwovens in Europe.

November/December 2010