2020 sales of nonwovens: $1.3 billion
Michael Hsu, Managing Director, Kimberly-Clark; Kim Underhill, President, North America Consumer Business, Kimberly-Clark; Aaron Powell, President, Kimberly-Clark Professional; LLori Shaffer, Vice President, Global Nonwovens
Corinth, MS; Hendersonville, North Carolina; LaGrange, Georgia; Neenah, WI; Maumelle, AR; Conway, AR; Beech Island, South Carolina
Corinth, MS; Hendersonville, North Carolina; LaGrange, Georgia; Neenah, WI
Spunbond, meltblown, SMS, BCW, hydroentangled, film lamination, elastic lamination, airlaid and Coform
Kimberly-Clark Professional; Protective fabrics: Block-It, Dustop, Evolution and Noah; Filtration media: Intrepid, Powerloft, Cyclean; Distribution Systems: Hydroknit
Filtration, construction, acoustics, consumer hygiene, industrial, medical, packaging, protection, absorbents, textile liners and wet wipes
Kimberly-Clark continues to deliver on its commitment to its global nonwovens business through investments. In November 2020, the company announced that it would invest $140 million in its nonwovens manufacturing facility in Corinth, MS. This investment is the second on the site in so many years. In November 2019, the company invested $20 million to increase the capacity of an existing nonwovens line and added 25 jobs.
The most recent investment at Corinth would be Kimberly-Clark’s largest ever investment in Global Nonwovens and will expand the facility by more than 150,000 square feet. The new facilities will manufacture components primarily for Huggies, Pull-Ups, Poise and Depend products. The improvements are expected to create 33 jobs at the site.
“All investments in our nonwovens facilities are tied to our global growth initiatives,” said Lori Shaffer, global vice president of nonwovens at Kimberly-Clark. “They all include a variety of different technologies, not just one, because there are several different materials that we often need for each product. What we may need for a baby diaper may be different from what we need for a baby wipe.
In addition to the Corinth site, Kimberly-Clark manufactures nonwovens for adult care, feminine care, and infant and child care businesses at its Berkeley manufacturing facility in Henderson, NC. This site was recently expanded in 2018 with an investment of $30 million. Additionally, the nonwovens site in LaGrange, Georgia manufactures Kimtech N95 respirators. These non-surgical respirators were designed to help alleviate supply shortages in the industrial, cleanroom and laboratory segments during the Covid-19 pandemic. They take advantage of Kimberly-Clark’s exclusive nonwoven technology to provide industry-leading comfort and protection. The plant also manufactures substrates for industrial-grade garments and wipes, supporting the Kimberly-Clark Professional business.
“Our goal on our team is to work with our business partners around the world to meet consumer needs and grow the business,” says Shaffer. “Global Nonwovens has focused on innovation and growth. We achieve this through regular contacts with all our business partners worldwide, which cover a wide spectrum.
Currently, approximately 95% of Kimberly-Clark’s nonwovens production feeds into its internal hygiene and wipes business, and the remaining 5% targets high performance areas such as filtration, absorbents, critical cleaning, etc
In addition to working with business partners, Kimberly-Clark has developed relationships with researchers at leading universities including Georgia Tech, University of Georgia, Purdue University and University of Wisconsin-Madison. Through these relationships, the company has access to cutting-edge technologies from university researchers as well as startups with particular expertise in materials development and production. Working with these organizations expands Global Nonwovens’ capabilities and accelerates the process of creating and bringing to market new solutions to meet the ever-changing needs of consumers and customers around the world.
For example, the Global Nonwovens technical team is working with researchers from the School of Materials Science at Georgia Tech to apply artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to accelerate the development of new generation materials. AI and ML are used to predict how variables such as raw material, structure, and processing conditions affect a material’s performance, replicating traditional product testing at a fraction of the time and cost.
In addition to academic partnerships, the Global Nonwovens business leverages industry relationships and an open innovation mindset to accelerate time to market. Through its partnership with biotechnology company RWDC Industries, KC is developing sustainable solutions that address the environmental challenges of single-use plastics.
This collaboration combines KC’s deep experience in nonwoven technologies and resin development with RDWC’s innovative and cost-effective biopolymer solutions. RWDC provides its polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA) source material, Solon, which the company will use to develop marine-degradable products. This initiative is one of the strategies KC is pursuing to reduce its use of new fossil fuel-based plastics by 50% by 2030.
“We’ve seen the growing demand from consumers and governments for companies to provide more sustainable solutions to single-use plastics,” says Shaffer. “Solving these challenges will require breakthrough innovation as well as working with industry-leading partners like RWDC to help accelerate the time-to-market of these new materials.”
This new source material for KC’s personal care products is one of the strategies the company is pursuing to transition from traditional fossil fuel-based plastics to more renewable and regenerative materials.
Global Nonwovens already uses alternative source materials, including rayon, viscose, cotton and lyocell, in products such as wet wipes and sanitary napkins. By using and exploring these sustainably sourced materials, the company has had the opportunity to design products for recovery and compatibility with existing and emerging organics processing and remediation infrastructure.
Global Nonwovens also operates the Roswell Rapid Advanced Material Prototyping (R2AMP) facility to test production of new materials and validate consumer proposals. Process learning and consumer insights gained from the R2AMP pilot line enable Global Nonwovens to deliver breakthrough materials that help Kimberly-Clark brands deliver on their promise of better care for a better world, driving sustainable growth for the company.
The focus on sustainability has also carried over to KC’s consumer product offerings. Last year the company launched a new range of Huggies Pure Biodegradable wipes in the UK which biodegrade after 15 days under simulated landfill conditions.
The plastic-free wipes are made with 100 percent naturally-derived fibers, says Huggies. Independent testing shows that Huggies Pure Biodegradable wipes biodegrade under landfill conditions after 15 days, making it the brand’s first biodegradable product, according to a report in Circular (UK).
The brand has pledged to eliminate plastic from its range of baby wipes in the UK within five years or sooner.
In other product news, KC recently launched Scott 24 Hour Disinfecting Wipes, the company’s first effort in the surface cleaning wet wipes category, which recently received the World of Innovation Award. Wipes (WOW) from INDA. For this product, KC has developed the entire value chain, including the meltblown wipe substrate and surface disinfectant solution, which has been proven to keep surfaces germ-free for at least 24 hours.
“Knowledge of the criticality of baby wipes – which includes an in-depth understanding of regulated products and their impact on health and well-being – has been a significant advantage for the team behind Scott 24,” says Julia Georgoff, general manager, North American wipes, KC Professional. “It gave us a better understanding of quality manufacturing processes, product safety and regulated product environments. KCP also gained considerable knowledge on this journey by referencing our WetTask product line, which allows end-user customers to combine our substrates with their own chemicals. This product family has added to our understanding of how our substrates react to various formulations.
Georgoff adds that this product is another example of the company’s customer-led innovation efforts and that the product was developed through specific customer insights. “Teams worked closely with key customers across multiple segments to ensure that KC not only clearly understood their needs, but also conducted enough customer testing to provide evidence-based confidence that their facilities and their customers will be protected from bacteria for longer periods of time when using Scott 24. This is what we call “confidence between cleanings”.
In terms of acquisitions, KC’s global footprint expanded significantly at the end of 2020 with the acquisition of Softex Indonesia, a leader in the growing Indonesian personal care market.
“This acquisition represents a compelling strategic fit and demonstrates our commitment to accelerating growth in developing and emerging markets,” said Mike Hsu, Chairman and CEO of Kimberly-Clark. “Furthermore, the addition of Softex Indonesia and its brands to Kimberly-Clark will improve our company’s underlying growth prospects and help us create even more long-term shareholder value.