Covid-19’s Mixed Impact on the Nonwovens Industry, Explained

Covid-19’s Mixed Impact on the Nonwovens Industry, Explained

A new Freedonia Group analysis projects demand for nonwovens in the US to grow 2.6% per year through 2024 to $8.6 billion. Nonwovens demand is driven by the outlook for the products that are made using these materials, which themselves are influenced by macroeconomic factors, consumer preferences, and business trends. Looking forward, additional sales will be realized from:

  • heightened demand for crucial products as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic
  • continued innovation in nonwoven composition to create better performance
  • efforts to produce more sustainable products

The COVID-19 pandemic has had an overall mixed impact on the nonwovens industry in 2020, pushing suppliers to rapidly adapt to both the high demand for crucial end-use products and the limitations of stay-at-home orders and a recession economy. As a result, nonwovens demand is expected to decline slightly in 2020, as gains in the medical market offset losses in construction, commercial, and industrial applications.

Medical Nonwovens Demand Spiked 12% in 2020 as PPE Needs Surged

US demand for medical nonwovens spiked 12% in 2020 as demand surged for a range of nonwovens-based products, personal protective equipment (PPE) such as face masks and medical gowns, as well as disinfecting wipes. Keeping up with demand for these products – which continues to soar with the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases – required the nonwovens suppliers instrumental to their production to adapt to a dramatically altered market environment, and fast.

Producers invested in new capacity and shifted production lines to meet end user needs. Though China makes most PPE for the global market, other countries developed capacity of their own – sometimes with government support – to ensure local populations had sufficient stocks of critical supplies during the pandemic. PPE shortages continue to plague Covid-19 control efforts in some countries – notably, the US – but producers have generally been able to avoid the major shortfalls experienced at the pandemic’s onset.

While a vaccine may be on the horizon, until one can be distributed and delivered to enough people – next year, hopefully – demand for PPE and related nonwovens will remain elevated compared to pre-pandemic levels. However, once Covid-19 cases begin to fall, demand is expected to plummet.

Economic Shutdowns, Shift to Remote Work Hinder Growth for Nonwovens in Key Applications

Offsetting the surge in the medical market, demand for nonwovens has been drastically cut in many other applications, as businesses that were considered “nonessential” were shuttered in many areas in an attempt to slow the spread of the virus. As a result:

  • Nonwovens used in the manufacture of such big-ticket consumer products as automobiles, furniture, carpets, and rugs declined.
  • Economic uncertainty caused both consumers and commercial enterprises to limit investment in building construction (particularly in the nonresidential segment), where losses in nonwovens demand were steep.

In particular, the pandemic had a significant negative effect on industrial and commercial wipes as stay-at-home orders shut down manufacturing and offices around the country, significantly limiting the need for wipes:

  • Demand slowly ramped up as workers returned to businesses, with a greater emphasis placed on disinfection to prevent potential transmission among employees.
  • However, 2020 still represented a significant decline in demand, and with more offices downsizing as workers continue to work remotely, protracted weakness is expected in the commercial market.

Nevertheless, as the pandemic subsides and most manufacturing and construction segments return to growth, demand across the board is expected to return to growth rates more in line with those seen before the pandemic.

Want to Learn More?

Nonwovens, Carded Nonwovens, Medical Nonwovens, and Nonwoven Filter Media are now available from The Freedonia Group.

About the Author:

Peter Kusnic is a Content Writer with The Freedonia Group, where he researches and writes studies focused on an array of industries.

  Industry Studies      Textiles & Nonwovens