In China, there are about 530 million workers in the secondary and tertiary industries, needing atleast 530 million pieces of face masks a day. This is an on-going requirement and for more masks are needed for the people staying at home to go out occasionally for shopping or outdoor activities. Above this, how many more masks are to be needed, if the change of mask is more often being a single use mask? Roughly accounted, one ton of meltblown nonwovens can turn out 1 million pieces of Single use masks, more than 100 tons of nonwovens in this category can turn into 100 million pieces of masks, still far short of supply.
We have meltblown nonwovens, who has got mask machines?
Before the outbreak of the current epidemic on February 6, Sinopec, a China Petrochemical Corporation, was seeking collaborative production of masks with vendors having masks machines, because the petrochemical complex produces meltblown, the raw material for nonwovens facemasks. But now, the nonwoven raw material is not something it wants to supply to masks manufacturers for co-production, rather it wants to keep the raw material for its own production of masks, instead of selling out cross-aisle to the other sectors of industry.
We have mask machines, where is meltblown?
On the other side, BYD Company Ltd., was the earliest respondent to Sinopec’s appeal for mask machines, now calls even louder for cooperation by saying “ We have mask machines, but have no way of buying meltblown nonwovens!” BYD staff told media “Our company needs 5 tons of meltblown nonwovens per days, but we have only found a supplier for around 10 tons of it, barely enough to support consumption for two or three days, this too at a lead time of about one month.”
Obviously, BYD is not the only company troubled with meltblown supply shortage. Some mask manufacturers said that some suppliers for meltblown nonwovens went with an offer as high as 150,000 Yuan/ton, still very hard to get it even at this cost with cash-and-carry terms. This generally happens only for critical medical-purpose product applications and not for an ordinary civil consumption product.
In fact, 150,000 Yuan/ton for meltblown nonwovens is not the ceiling price at the moment. Mr. Chen, coordinator for raw material allotment to some of the mask manufacturing companies in Changyuan city, Henan province, told the media “The price for meltblown nonwovens rocketed from the previous less than 20,000 Yuan/ton to 300,000 Yuan/ton and even higher up to 400,000-500,000 Yuan/ton in the price offering.”
Demand spikes up production with new lines
The demand/supply relationship here in the market as the mask manufacturers are starving for meltblown nonwovens, is driving up the raw material prices. A meltblown nonwoven manufacturer in Beijing has told CHINA TEXTILE that its price was somewhere at 18,000 Yuan/ton before the coronavirus breakout, and is over 400,000 Yuan/ton, 20 times higher at the moment today on March 8. “It’s like one-day-one-price business” he said.
The production of this special product is usually adequate for consumption, due to its small niche market, but the outbreak of COVID-19 goaded a lot of companies not only in textile industry, but also in the other sectors of the industry to invest in new lines or capacity expansion, including some new comers who shunted their lines to the mask production to keep abreast of the rising demand, intensifying the competition not to sell out, but to buy in when it comes to availability of meltblown nonwovens. On February 24, Sinopec decided to invest 200 million Yuan in 10 new lines which are expected to go into production as soon as possible, multiplying its daily output to 18 tons of meltblown nonwovens. Two new lines out of this new capacity are set up in Sinopec Yanshan Petrochemical Company in Beijing, which was supposed to go into production on March 8, 2020.
The meltblown nonwoven is the core filter of the sandwiched mask that is flanked by spun-bonded nonwovens on both sides, and it is often made of polypropylene which is the key feedstuff for making meltblown nonwoven. According to China Non-Woven and Industrial Textile Association (CNITA), there was about 53,400 tons of this product, roughly 146 tons every day on full-year count, which is not confined to mask application, it is also widely applied to the niche market for environmental protection, garment and diaphragm in battery. Based on its slim production capacity, about 20,000 tons of meltblown nonwovens for N95 medical masks are needed, that is to say, 50 tons a day in a year to meet the demand if we take into account the mask production for 6 billion pieces as was reported last year.
Demand outstrips even increased production
As the factories are rebooting progressively across the sectors in the whole country, workers are asked to wear mouth muffles. There are about 530 million workers in the secondary and tertiary industries that means, a need to provide atleast 530 million pieces of face masks a day. And how many more are to be needed if the change of masks is more often these being a single use masks? Roughly accounted, one ton of meltblown nonwovens can turn out 1 million pieces of one-off masks, more than 100 tons of nonwovens in this category can turn into 100 million pieces of masks, still far short of supply.
This on-going and potential driver for more masks not only for the people at work, but also for the people staying at home to go out occasionally for shopping or outdoor activities. Moreover, there are two sectors driving demand at fast speed right now, one for workers to come back to factories, and another growing demand as global spread of the disease at an accelerating rate, both factors will push the demand for more new lines even higher.
As the price has blown out, another worry grows, nevertheless. The quickly rising demand for new lines for meltblown production overwhelms the machine manufacturers who are unable to deliver on time, with a promise to fulfill the contract in 6 months, in September this year. The heat will soon quench if the coronavirus dies away and out, what will blow out when so many expensive production lines are here and there or even under construction?
Contributed by Mr. ZHAO Hong
He is working for CHINA TEXTILE magazine as Editor-in-Chief in addition to being involved in a plethora of activities for the textile industry. He has worked for the Engineering Institute of Ministry of Textile Industry, and for China National Textile Council and continues to serve the industry in the capacity of Deputy Director of China Textile International Exchange Centre, V. President of China Knitting Industry Association, V. President of China Textile Magazine and its Editor-in-Chief for the English Version, Deputy Director of News Centre of China National Textile and Apparel Council (CNTAC), Deputy Director of International Trade Office, CNTAC, Deputy Director of China Textile Economic Research Centre. He was also elected once ACT Chair of Private Sector Consulting Committee of International Textile and Clothing Bureau (ITCB)