Industry information

The use of nonwovens in medical applications is growing. According to Smithers Apex’s new report, “The Future of Medical Nonwovens to 2018,” this is primarily due to strong key drivers addressing cost and market composition. For example, nonwovens demonstrate reduced cost to use in highly cost-sensitive hospital and institutional environments. Similarly, they routinely outperform textile and fluff pulp-based products in comfort, barrier properties, absorbency, and resistance to contamination.

Smithers Apex examines the key drivers behind the growth of the medical nonwovens market. What future trends should you be looking out for in this industry?


Continuing replacement of reusable medical fabrics by disposable, nonwovens-based fabrics


According to the research firm, the largest sector of traditional nonwoven medical products is surgical gowns, drapes and instrument wraps, and both reusable and disposable variants are used in different regions around the world. In North America, over 90% of these materials are disposable while the European rate currently stands at 70-75%. The remainder of the world is varied, with one commonality: disposables continue to gain share over reusables.


There have been countless studies by those favoring both sides showing the advantages of either disposables or reusables. Both sides have issued reports on sustainability and cost advantages, and both also claim to meet the latest EU standards, including EU EN13795. However, the true test tends to be the buying decision of the end user.


This trend favoring disposables is expected to continue, especially in emerging markets where South American and Asian nonwovens used in gowns and drapes will grow at 6.6% and 7.0% annual growth rates through to 2018.


Increasing responsibility of hospitals and institutions for hospital-acquired infections


Recent government action, especially in North America and Western Europe, has shifted the responsibility for hospital-acquired infections (HAIs) and healthcare-associated infections (HCAIs) back to the healthcare provider. Institutions are now looking at preventative measures, and nonwovens are often involved as a solution.


Underpads based on nonwovens have higher absorbency, retention and improve patient skin dryness. Though more costly per unit, the longer duration of use and reduced labor costs, coupled with a consequent lower instance of HAIs, caused the usage of nonwovens to increase rapidly. Nonwoven-based disposable patient isolation drapes, gowns and linens also appear to reduce the rate of HAIs.


Increasing emphasis on cost control for healthcare


In healthcare, the current 'fee for service' model is being challenged by a 'fee for performance' model. While fee for service sets payment based on the quantity of services, fee for performance bases payment on results. Under this model, higher performing and higher cost materials which provide desired results quicker are more profitable. The apparently conflicting goals of improved performance and reduced cost for medical fabrics can only be met through the use of better materials.


Replacing woven cotton textiles with lighter weight, higher performance spunlaid nonwovens or replacing fluff pulp wadding with lighter weight, higher absorbency airlaid nonwovens and even cotton swabs and pads with lighter weight nonwoven swabs and pads can all help improve performance and cost. Medical products producers are now recognizing the changing payment model paradigm, and are moving toward higher performance products today.


Increasing availability of modern healthcare to emerging market regions


Nonwovens are an important part of the healthcare system, reducing labor costs and improving performance versus older, textile- or paper-based products. In regions where there is little or no modern healthcare, the availability of, and procedures for, the use of nonwovens are limited.


Today, modern healthcare is reaching more and more of the global population. As large developing regions begin to receive modern healthcare, the need for efficient nonwoven-based medical products increases. This offers both the opportunity to serve new end users by replacing older products as well as adding larger numbers of potential customers.