Users are getting wise to the benefits of using disposable wipes in manufacturing settings.
The industrial wipes market is increasing. The biggest driving force behind this growth is the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) long-awaited wiper rule, which was published in 2013 and makes non-laundered wipers more competitive against laundered shop towels, but other factors are also playing a role. Research has shown that the use of premoistened wipes can save money—both in labor and supply costs—as the products are administered in a more controlled setting. And, this controlled setting also allows users to gauge exactly what they are applying to cleaning surfaces.
“Everyone is so busy—they are looking for more efficient cleaning methods,” says Andy Bolin, ITW Brands. “A lot of people are able to see the value that a wiper brings—the right solutions, the right towel, a premeasured amount, consistency,” he says. “When you think about cleaning something where people are using a spray bottle and rag, you have to go get that rag and you don’t know the quality or the integrity of that rag. With a wipe, it’s a controlled application, there is no dripping or prepping.”
According to a recent study from Kline & Co., sales of wipes in the industrial and institutional (I&I) market have outpaced conventional cleaners for the past three of four years, showing nearly double the growth rate. Some say this growth stems from wipes’ ability to offer a better clean.
“Consumers and customers prefer to engage with and do business with facilities where they see better hygiene and feel safe from exposure to germs,” business manager Renu Singh says. “This is one of the leading influencers for facilities that are customer facing, such as food service and fitness facilities.”
Industrial wipes are finding opportunities in the car prep market. The healthcare sector, with its need for disinfecting, sanitizing and killing germs to ensure that healthcare associated infections are prevented, and industrial facilities, which benefit from making the work process faster, uniform/standardized and efficient, are both benefiting from using disposable wipes rather than washable cloth rags and towels. Of course the convenience that wipes can offer—the standardized quantity of disinfectant per wipe which makes it possible for facilities to use them effectively and reduce waste—is also driving growth, the Kline study found.
EPA Ruling Continues to Influence
The EPA Wiper Rule, which was adopted in 2013 after more than 30 years of back and forth between the EPA and wipes market stakeholders, modifies hazardous waste management regulations under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) to conditionally exclude solvent-contaminated wipes from hazardous waste regulations provided that the businesses clean or dispose of them properly. It’s based on the EPA’s final risk analysis that concluded wipes contaminated with certain hazardous solvents do no pose significant risk to human health and the environment when managed properly.
The EPA estimates that the final rule will result in net savings of $18 million per year in avoided regulatory costs and between $3.7 and $9.9 million per year in other expected benefits, including pollution prevention, waste minimization and fire prevention.
Now that the ruling, which was first challenged in the early 1980s, has been finalized, wipes makers are waiting for individual states to adopt the ruling. So far, 21 states—including Alaska, Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, North Carolina, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Utah—have already adopted the ruling, while six others—California, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Minnesota and Rhode Island—have decided against adopting the ruling. Another 15 states have indicated they are very likely to implement the ruling and one, New Hampshire, has adopted the rule but has eliminated some of the rulings. Three states are evaluating and likely to adopt soon, while four more are evaluating but have no clear timeline for action.
INDA, the Association of the Nonwoven Fabrics Industry, has been actively involved in state adoption of the ruling, staying in regular contact with various state officials to track these developments. The association has weighed in with 12 states so far, providing formal submissions supporting rule adoption. Several of INDA’s member companies have also weighed in with states using template communications INDA has provided.
“INDA has also created a Product Stewardship Committee on Industrial Wipes (PSCIW) to give interested members the opportunity to more closely monitor activity in the states and to help influence state adoption as needed,” says Jessica Franken, director of government affairs. “We have developed for our PSCIW members a ‘Wiper Rule Toolkit’ designed to help companies monitor and influence activity in states critical to your business and to communicate the rule’s key details to their customers.”
This tool kit includes a wiper rule state implementation spreadsheet that provides regularly updated information on rule adoption status in all states; key talking points and templates for communicating with state officials to urge adoption of the rule and a wiper rule summary and Q&A to help understand ins and outs of the rule and to educate customers.
“INDA will continue monitoring activity and keeping members of the PSCIW and the broader membership updated about relevant developments and will continue to weigh-in with states as their rulemaking processes move forward,” Franken adds.
Calling the ruling a driver of change in the nonwovens industry, INDA says there is significant marketing opportunity for non-laundered wipes. If nonwoven disposables were to capture 25% over the next three years of the market, the industry would see an annual growth rate increase from 6.1% to 13.3%. Raising the overall industrial and institutional wipes annual growth rate from 5.9% to 8.4%. This represents a significant opportunity.
According to INDA figures, in 2012, sales to end users in the industrial and institutional wipes market were almost $2.8 billion for disposable nonwoven wipes, disposable cloth towels/rags, and reusable laundered shop towels/wipes. Sixty percent of these sales were to one segment, the industrial general purpose segment, where the greatest opportunity exists for nonwovens following the Wiper Rule.
Kline research supports claims that the EPA wiper ruling has positively impacted I&I growth.
“Until recently when the EPA categorized solvent-contaminated wipes (but not washable cloths and rags soaked with the same solvents) it made more sense for companies dealing with these solvents to avoid wipes altogether since it is time consuming and expensive to undertake the disposal of hazardous waste,” Singh says. “With the modification to the rule, wipes have been excluded from this category and are on par with cloths and rags. Wipes are still more expensive than traditional cloths/rags, but they offer various benefits, which many companies are recognizing and making the shift to. Yes, we expect that this ruling will continue influencing the growth of the category for the next few years.”
Wipes manufacturers say they are definitely seeing the increasing effects of the EPA rule in their businesses as more states adopt the ruling. “We see a trend of people considering whether or not they want to launder products,” says Dawn Huston, director of marketing—wipes for Chicopee/Avintiv. “With wiper products, they can be safer and more productive. They can be healthier and hopefully use less water.”
Taking on the Task
Nonwovens, in fact, can outperform textiles because of the chemistry behind the substrate. Not only can a nonwoven be engineered to incorporate certain functionalities—like antimicrobial or antibacterial—it can be designed to absorb a certain amount of material and then release that same amount of material. Rags, on the other hand, tend to absorb more and then release less, leading to excess waste.
Nonwovens technology can also offer wipe users consistency. While many rags are made from various types of scrap materials, the wipers are all made to the same standard, meaning the user is protected against inconsistencies that could lead to problems down the road.
Chicopee/Avintiv is in the process of developing a global line of industrial general purpose wipes using its Spinlace nonwovens technology. Spinlace, a proprietary technology developed by Avintiv, gives users all of the performance attributes—low linting, absorbency, and a clean surface preferred in wiping.
“We want it to feel like an extension of the hand,” Huston explains. “We really feel that this is the unique driver.”
Last year, Avintiv announced it would add a second Spinlace manufacturing line in Benson, NC, adding more than 300 million square meters to its capacity. A good deal of this capacity will reportedly target industrial applications.
One of the means by which Chicopee will apply this technology is by educating plant manufacturers on the importance of a pristine workplace. The increased use of robotics and other state-of-the-art technology has really increased the need for spotlessness in manufacturing plants. This trend has started in North America and Europe and has trickled down globally. Huston and her colleagues have been visiting manufacturing facilities around the globe in an attempt to streamline cleaning practices.
“Our objective is to really globalize the wiping process,” Huston says. “We have been successful in lowering the dirt particles present in automotives plants in the EU and we are driving it into other areas. It is an evolution and we think it will continue to grow dramatically over the next decade. We see the elevation of the tools they are using to improve performance.”
One product helping Chicopee achieve this is DuraDry, a unique 100% microfiber product, which the company has been billing as the “ultimate cleaning wipe” and the only wipe on the market that outperforms the competition in all the important areas—cleaning, hygiene and cost. No other wipe can claim excellence in all three areas.
Some of the key benefits of DuraDry are a splittable fiber construction that gives more surface area with which to clean; high absorption rate; the ability to offer a streak-free clean and be used on food preparation areas.
More recently, Chicopee developed a new dispensing system to allow users to create tailor-made, single-use wet wipes.
The Single Use Dispense System (S.U.D.S.) comes with a choice of three different types of dry wipes delivered in a perforated roll, which can be used with cleaning chemicals that users already know and trust for specific tasks. Supplied in a portable dispenser bucket with space for labelling, the dry Chicopee wipes provide an alternative to ‘one size fits all’ wipes already impregnated with standard chemicals and saturation levels.
Chicopee provides guidelines for the amount of liquid needed for each application, taking into account different wipes and chemicals, and users can make a note of the chemicals used and the expiration date—key for volatile disinfection solutions that expire more quickly.
James Taylor, director of product marketing for Chicopee says, “S.U.D.S. provides the right wipe for the right use and ensures that every level of cleaning—from removing crumbs, to complete disinfection—upholds industry regulations and the required standards.”
High-Tech Conversions has also been aggressive in its new product development. The company’s new line of hydrogen peroxide wipes is designed for cleanrooms and environments where keeping VOCs (volatile organic compounds) to a minimum and reducing the use of harsh chemicals is important.
Marketing manager of Matt Hatfield says that new applications for wiping products are coming from research and development institutions as well as the growing renewable energy field.
“The need for cleaning environments and cleaner products is driving these developments,” he adds. “The biggest key to staying apace with new technology is by observing and listening to the needs of the industry and of our customers. We then answer these needs with innovative solutions.
“Since our inception, our core business has been wiping products for cleanrooms, industrial and electronics assembly facilities. We cover a wide range of industries and we are constantly surprised to learn about how some of our wiping products are utilized. Many of these new applications for wiping products are coming from research and development institutions as well as the growing renewable energy field,” he says.
High-Tech also recently launched three ESD-safe cleanroom wipe options. Vision 50, Vision 10P and Ultimate 5 ESD-safe wipes are all designed for critical environments in need of a wiping solution that is free of electrostatic discharge. They are suitable for wiping printed circuit boards and for cleaning a variety of other anti-static electronics and equipment.
ITW Professional Brands has been dabbling in how printing technology can impact performance in the wipes category for a while. In 2013, the company launched a rechargeable sanitizer indicator hand towel into the food service industry, which won the World of Wipes (WOW) Innovation Award at the 2014 conference.
The Sertune rechargeable sanitizer indicator towel starts yellow and then turns blue when quats are added. Once the quats are released, meaning they have done their job and more needs to be added, the towel returns to its yellow. The product was developed after the company looked at the market and found that there was a big problem with people getting fined or written up for not properly sanitizing areas in the food service industry. It was reportedly seven years in the making. “We are still getting Sertune established. It’s really taking root with school districts, restaurant chains and long-term care facilities,” Bolin says. “It takes the guess work out of the cleaning and sanitizing process.”
By seeing and talking to customers and studying the marketplace, ITW continues to see opportunities where nonwoven products, whether they are premoistened wipes or not, can add value and improve work environments, he adds. “Many of the areas that are interesting are niche or specialty applications and I think that kind of validates the level of innovation.”