Used to prevent infection and maintain hygiene, medical nonwovens encompass everything from surgical drapes and gowns to woundcare dressings and adult incontinence items and are positioned for significant growth in the upcoming years.
According to a recent report from Allied Market Research, Portland, OR, the global medical nonwoven disposables market is projected to record a 9.6% CAGR (compound annual growth rate) during the 2015-2020 time period and will reach $10.6 billion globally by 2020.
The report says surgical nonwoven products had a 54.8% marketshare last year and would continue to lead the market through 2020. Incontinence products will have the fastest growth during 2015-2020 due to the rise in the aging population, as well as personal hygiene awareness and increase in per capita healthcare spending.
Among other findings in the report are that the increasing occurrence of hospital-acquired infections (HAI) would contribute to the growth of the nonwoven disposables market. Other growth drivers include stringent regulations for hygiene and the increase in the number of people with incontinence.
North America is the largest market for these products, according to the report, but Asia-Pacific is expected to surpass the Western continent by 2020 due to growing medical tourism and the rise in spending on “sophisticated hospitality services.” In the LAMEA (Latin America, Middle East and Africa) region, the demands for medical nonwoven products is up “due to the high prevalence of infectious diseases, interventions from the government through awareness campaigns and large-scale public initiatives for maintaining hygienic environment.”
Serkan Gogus, CEO of Mogul, a Turkish nonwovens producer, agrees that medical is a growing area for nonwovens, especially in emerging markets, and as income levels increase and health consciousness rises, demand for such products will go up. “In developed countries, new product developments that include the usage of nonwovens, in addition to current use, is key,” he says.
When it comes to HAIs as a growth factor, Medline, a manufacturer and distributor of healthcare items, sees the importance of nonwovens when it comes to prevention. “Nonwovens certainly have a central place in helping act as a barrier against healthcare acquired infections,” says Barbara Connell, MS, MT(ASCP)SH, VP Clinical Sales, Medline. “As more new technologies are being introduced, hospitals now have a cost-effective way to help in the fight against HAIs in the form of disposable nonwovens.”
Among Medline’s products used for infection prevention are personal protective equipment and disposable cleaning and disinfecting wipes.
In addition to these items, Medline also produces surgical drapes and gowns and sterilization wraps using nonwovens. “We’re always on the lookout for new fabrics and technologies, but, right now, nonwovens are the industry standard for many categories, especially in the operating room and in personal protective apparel,” says Medline’s Mark Chua, senior product manager, Proxima. “Customers are always looking for more value and performance, and Medline strives to have the strongest and most protective fabrics in the industry, while keeping user comfort in mind.”
The company has been also experimenting with the colors and looks and feel to its fabrics. Chua says this is because patient satisfaction is becoming “a more visible statistic in hospitals.” In addition to traditional surgical blue nonwovens, they also use fabrics with patterns like camouflage, pink ribbon and its new pink surgical gown line where a portion of proceeds are donated to the National Breast Cancer foundation.
Cardinal Health, a supplier of medical-surgical products such as surgical drapes, surgical gowns, face masks, sterilization wraps and incontinence items, finds that nonwovens are a reliable material for broad usage in the healthcare market and is seeing growth in several categories.
“We are seeing small shifts in surgical drapes and gowns due to shifts in procedure types,” says Debra Schotz, senior vice president and general manager of Medical Consumables at Cardinal Health. “Some areas, like the isolation gown market, continues to grow steadily, while other areas, such as the incontinence market, are seeing growth in part due to the aging population.”
Schotz says nonwovens offer several benefits in the medical field. “Nonwovens technology offers flexibility in softness, color and barrier levels, which allows for application to various medical product categories,” she explains, adding that they’re also cost effective disposable products, they provide consistent protection and performance, and they lower the amount of lint compared to previous products.
With the acquisition of DuPont’s Sontara business last year, the Jacob Holm Group has gained exposure to healthcare markets. Sontara offers surgical gowns, drapes, tape bases and other wound care products—specializing in soft and comfortable solutions that are lightweight, lower lint and specially treated.
“Healthcare is a key market segment for our Sontara business,” says Martin Mikkelsen, CEO, Jacob Holm Group. “Sontara has maintained its solid reputation of high quality and high performance, especially in the operating room, and is well-known in the industry for extreme softness, comfort and breathability. With the Jacob Holm innovation bench strength and our newly implemented Sontara Product Development Team, we will further advance our position in healthcare.”
According to Mikkelsen, the new team is currently working on expanding Sontara into select medical applications and has plans to launch several new products within the year. Although spunlace has lost share over the years in the healthcare market to spunmelt, Mikkelsen sees a lot of value in the material.
“Spunlace continues to be used in a variety of healthcare applications. The unique properties of Sontara and the flexibility to use a broad variety of fiber technologies in manufacturing allow for a wide range of high-performing, customized fabrics for many diverse applications.”
Among the advantages of Sontara are comfort, breathability and soft drapeability, which Mikkelsen says are challenging to replicate in a spunbond. Also, since Sontara is made using cellulose, it offers environmentally sustainable qualities, which are becoming increasingly important in the healthcare market.
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