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Johan Berlin
Johan Berlin

Interview with Johan Berlin

Lack of converting capabilities inhibiting growth of nonwovens in Asian markets

Investkonsult Sweden AB has been buying and selling second-hand textile machinery since the early 1970s. In the mid-1980s, it started focusing on technical textiles - nonwovens and hygiene sectors. It is one of the few companies that specialises solely in these two fields. Investkonsult works as a consultant and broker of machinery in the nonwoven and disposable hygiene industries, supporting existing companies as well as start-ups. InvestKonsult Managing Director Johan Berlin discusses threadbare with Technicaltextile.net (venture of Fibre2Fashion), the state of the machinery industry for nonwovens and absorbent hygiene in India and all over the world. Joakim Blomqvist assisted Berlin with the answers, and is associated with InvestKonsult Sweden AB.

TT: It has been about two decades since Investkonsult shifted its focus from conventional textile machinery to nonwoven or hygiene machinery. How much has demand for nonwovens and hygiene machinery gone up? What is the growth expected in the next two years?

We have seen a continuously increasing demand for used nonwoven and absorbent hygiene equipment during the last decades, particularly used nonwoven machinery. In recent years, we have made efforts to expand our network of existing producers and potential new ventures. In addition to constantly strengthening and broadening our network, we strive to improve our ability to match buyers and sellers of equipment. By keeping ourselves updated and constantly gathering information, we increase our knowledge of producers' current production resources and their possible procurement and/or divestment needs. This strategy and a strong focus on increasing our knowledge of the players in the nonwovens and absorbent hygiene industry naturally generates more business. We believe that the market for used equipment will continue to grow, and the potential for growth is especially strong in India - both in terms of absorbent hygiene products as well as nonwovens. However, what is worth noticing is that in terms of quantity of single machines sold, it was much larger in the conventional textile business. During those days, we completed may be 30-40 deals over a year in conventional textiles. In the nonwovens, it may be 10-20. So, the difference is quite big. Of course, investments are also higher, and the need to deliver a more precise solution is also higher.

TT: What impact do sustainability initiatives of consumer brands have on nonwovens or hygiene sector?

If you are referring to India in particular, it does not have a huge impact at this particular moment. But, it does not take much imagination to see how this will also be a trend in India. I think that the main worry is about landfills and the issue with various sanitary products being placed in landfills. This issue, however, needs to be solved on a broader scale. Personally, I do not believe that this is going to be solved fully by bio-degradable products. And, even if it would be financially viable with such products, the problem with health issues and rag-pickers would remain. The bio-degradable diaper or sanitary napkin can have a future as long as it is placed in a guarded or enclosed landfill, and let it bio-degrade there. But that would also call for sorting of the product at source, and I find that highly unlikely at the moment. Thus, I believe that incineration is the best alternative. But that's not only up to the absorbent hygiene products' producers to handle. There are many other products and producers that jointly should take responsibility and action towards minimising the landfills in general in India. If we look at other parts of the world, SCA is a prime example of showing how sustainability can be made into a marketing tool. Various campaigns on social media such as tree-planting and get-togethers have proved this, not only in the western society but also in China.

TT: With the launch of the 'Make in India' campaign, do you foresee any difference in opportunity in the technical textile sector of the country?

Narendra Modi's 'Make in India' campaign will generate great benefits for the nonwovens and absorbent hygiene industries. But of course, we would have preferred a particular focus on these industries in the campaign. Still, it's important to note that the potential growth for nonwovens is strongly associated with growth and investments being made in other industries. For instance, a strong development in the automotive industry along with the 'Make in India' campaign initiatives for strengthening of automobile and automotive components industries will affect the nonwovens industry in a positive way. The presence of nonwovens is steadily increasing in the automotive sector. Today, more than 40 automotive parts are made with nonwoven fabrics, from interiors like carpets to air and fuel filters. It is also important to note that for the nonwovens industry, India should consider the 'Make in India' campaign as something which is both - made in India and consumed in India as well. Exporting nonwovens out of India at this time seems pointless, when so much of nonwovens needed domestically is still being imported. I think that this is something that many producers tend to forget.

TT: Nonwovens/hygiene machinery has different criteria for selection as compared to conventional machinery. Which are the criteria one has to abide by for setting up a unit?

The most important criterion concerns deciding which market you want to break in to. The initial question to pose is which product you want to produce. Before selecting a production line and starting to produce a certain type of roll goods, you must have a clear idea of what the final product should be. For nonwovens, this process can be a bit more complex compared to the choice of conventional textile equipment. To start a weaving mill, it is enough to know that there is a demand for woven material. To start the production of nonwoven rolls, you need to know that there is a need for specific end products like air filters. Then, you also need to know that there is access to converting industry that can transform the nonwoven rolls into filters.

TT: Apart from hygiene or nonwovens sector, which other sectors do you feel has huge potential in the Asian market and would recommend to be started?

The composite materials will of course be large in Asia. Apart from that, it's difficult to point out at anything special. But anything that comes up with a good solution to the issue of waste management can probably make a fortune.

TT: Apart from nonwovens or hygiene sector, are you contemplating to enter any other sector of technical textile

Currently, we are fully occupied with the commitment to these two industries. We believe we can offer our customers a better service and develop greater expertise, if we keep focusing on nonwovens and absorbent hygiene equipment only.

TT: What is the market size for this sector of machinery? Which are the main countries buying majorly in this segment? Where is India placed?

The market size for machinery is very difficult to estimate. The market size for products in the nonwovens sector is between USD 25-30 billion annually, and is expected to grow to USD 45 billion by 2019. So, there's certainly room for growth. Considering that the price for a line can vary from USD 200,000 (simple Chinese-manufactured needlepunch line) up to USD 45 million (complete Reicofil 4 spunbond line with all bells and whistles), it's impossible to put a number on the equipment sales worldwide. The majority of the buyers of equipment are in China. But, they mainly buy domestically produced Chinese machinery. Apart from that, majority of equipment buyers are in the US and Europe, with a focus on already existing nonwoven companies upgrading or substituting older lines for more modern lines. India is still placed quite low on the ladder, when it comes to equipment (new equipment) purchasing.

TT: Most of the nonwoven products when invented did not have much of a market, unlike conventional textiles. What are the bottlenecks that decelerate the growth of technical textiles in Asian market?

The obvious obstacles are the lack of a market, partially due to lower income levels and partially due to lack of knowledge about the products. One large obstacle inhibiting growth of nonwovens in India and other parts of the Asian market is also a lack of converting capabilities. With more converters that would know how to market and to whom to market the various converted nonwoven roll-goods, the better it would be for everyone. Now we see a tendency that some converted products are imported into India, even though the basic roll-goods are already manufactured in this very country.

TT: How is the market in India shaping up for this category of machinery? What trends do you expect?

We see that great investments have been made - both in the absorbent hygiene industry, eg SCA and in the nonwoven industry, eg Global Nonwovens, running India's first six beam spunmelt line. We believe that the investments in the absorbent hygiene industry will continue. Due to demographic factors (high birth rates), rising income levels (growing middle class) and increased awareness regarding the health benefits, we see an increased demand for baby diapers, sanitary napkins and incontinence products. The automotive industry will also continue to grow, with more cars and transport vehicles being manufactured in India and a larger part of the materials being continuously replaced with nonwovens. The same goes for the filtration market; in pace with or in line with sharper regulations concerning emissions from heavy industries, more filter products will be needed. And last but not least, the geotextile market should grow, although the problem is again regulations. There's no real benchmark on which kind of geos should be used for various projects, and even if there is, it is not actively controlled or enforced by the purchaser (often government or other state body).

TT: What is the kind of after sales service that you offer?

At Investkonsult, we can supply full turnkey installations as well as only sell the equipment as it is. Since our main segment is used equipment, it is usually not sold with any type of guarantees. It is sold "as is - where is", unless, of course, we undertake a full turnkey operation, as then it becomes our responsibility to put it into working condition, no matter what. In that case, we will provide that. Apart from that, we are known to take responsibility at a far larger stretch than most of our competitors. We usually assist our customers several years from a purchase with advice, contacts and even mechanical help and fine-tuning of their lines, even though it may not have been a part of our original commitment or undertaking.

Published on: 19/02/2015

DISCLAIMER: All views and opinions expressed in this column are solely of the interviewee, and they do not reflect in any way the opinion of technicaltextile.net.


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