Supply Still in Shortage Despite Capacity Increases
Growing Demand in Africa
Modacrylic fiber possesses high flame retardancy in addition to the unique suppleness and excellent dyeability of acrylics. Only three companies in the world are producing modacrylic fiber. The largest producer is Kaneka Corporation of Japan, which is marketing modacrylic fiber under the “Kanecaron” brand.
Kaneka started producing Kanecaron in 1957 at its plant in Takasago, Hyogo Prefecture. The plant’s production scale has been continuously increasing since the start of production. The latest capacity increase was undertaken in 2010. Nevertheless, the company could not keep up with the growth in demand, and a production line was newly added to its plant in Malaysia.
Among the company’s seven business segments, the Synthetic Fibers and Others segment, of which Kanecaron accounts for the majority of business, earned 27% of the company’s consolidated operating profits in fiscal 2015. Consolidated sales amounted to 555.2 billion yen, of which the Synthetic Fibers and Other segment gained 45.2 billion yen.
The Kanecaron business has grown continuously to become Kaneka’s biggest earner; the following illustrates the whole picture of this outstanding business.
Largest Application Is Hair Accessory Products
The application of Kanecaron can be roughly divided into hair accessory products including wigs and hair extensions, flame-retardant products such as protective clothing and pile products such as eco-fur. The largest application is hair accessory products. Manufacturers of hair accessory products in Africa, China and Indonesia, which Kaneka positions as a “partner”, receive supplies of Kanecaron, and market their products made from Kanecaron in Africa, the U.S., Asia and other parts of the world. Especially in recent years, demand has been strong in African markets.
The Takasago Plant producing Kanecaron increased its annual production capacity to 61,000 tons by adding a production line in 2010.
Nevertheless, supply soon became insufficient with the demand growth in African markets, so a new Kanecaron plant exclusively for catering to hair accessory product demands in Africa was set up on the plant site of Kaneka (Malaysia) Sdn. Bhd. at an investment cost of approximately 90 billion yen. According to Hidesuke Amachi, Member of the Board and Managing Executive Officer at Kaneka, the new plant is expected to enter full-scale operation in the second half of the current fiscal year.
Support to the Development of Human Resources at Partner Companies
In order to meet growing demand in Africa, Kaneka is cooperating in the development of human resources of partner African manufacturers of hair accessory products. Although it is little known, the Kanecaron plant in Takasago has a set of equipment for processing hair accessory products and eco-fur.
The equipment is used for the trial production of final products and the accumulation of know-how on producing the products for the purpose of supplying fibers to customers. The employees of partner companies in Africa are invited to the plant as a support to improve and upgrade their processing technology and development capabilities.
In Africa, the growing demand for hair accessory products has resulted in a shortage of beauticians. For this reason, Kaneka provides support to beautician training schools and beautician training seminars operated or organized by partner companies. In 2015, a number of consumer-participating events were held in Nigeria including the Miss Kanecaron Contest.
Growing Demand as a Material for Flame-Retardant Workwear
Kanecaron is in growing demand for use as a material for flame-retardant workwear. Fabrics purely made of aramid fiber have high flame retardancy, but are not comfortable to wear.
On the other hand, there is concern about how the flame retardancy of flame-retardant-processed pure cotton fabrics can withstand washing. For this reason, an increasing number of users are utilizing fabrics in which “Protex”, a Kanecaron fiber possessing greater flame-retardancy, is blended with aramid fiber or with a third material such as cellulosic fibers. Demand for Protex first increased in the U.S., and then spread to Europe.
Since the momentum to make the safety of workwear more reliable is increasing worldwide, Managing Executive Officer Amachi expects a further growth of the market for Protex. Accordingly, the company promoted the performance of Protex at Techtextil, the world’ largest international trade fair for technical textiles and nonwovens held once every two years in Germany, continuously in 2013 and 2015.
Kanecaron Popular in Chinese Eco-Fur Market
Kanecaron for use in eco-fur and other pile products is exported mainly to China. Products commercialized by Chinese pile product manufacturers are exported to advanced nations centering on Europe and the U.S., and are sold in the Chinese domestic market.
In the past, the scale of sales to advanced nations was 2-3 times greater than sales in the Chinese market, but after the collapse of Lehman Brothers in September 2008, sales to the domestic market came to grow remarkably as a healthy economy was maintained in China.
Today, sales to the Chinese market are 1.5 times the scale of sales to advanced nations. In 2012, CHINA FAUX FUR FASHION CREATIVE ALLIANCE was founded, by the China Wool Textile Association, with an aim to make the growing Chinese eco-fur market even more attractive, and Kaneka is an honorary member of this council.
Taking advantage of the set of equipment for trial production of Kanecaron products at the Takasago plant, “Lustrous” was developed as a processing that suppresses the fallout of hair on eco-fur.
The method of suppressing hair fallout by impregnating resin on the back side of eco-fur is well known, but there is concern about its effects on the fabric’s texture. Lustrous is Kaneka’s original processing technique that differs from former methods. It has no effects on the texture, and hair fallout is one-tenth that of normal products. Six Chinese and Korean eco-fur manufacturers that have installed specialized processing equipment developed by Kaneka have acquired the rights for manufacturing Lustrous processed products and for the use of the Lustrous trademark from Kaneka, and are marketing Lustrous processed products made of Kanecaron mainly in China.
A Look Into the Development Room
Kaneka has developed an ion-adsorbent fiber by chemically bonding various substituents with the know-how accumulated in Kanecaron production.
The larger surface area, as compared with typical beaded adsorbents enables high-speed ion adsorption. By selecting the type of substituents that are to be chemically modified, it is possible to provide ion-selective adsorption.
Various applications of this technology include wastewater treatment, toxic metal removal, radioactive waste removal, ultra-pure water production and recovery of valuable metals.
A new type of fiber has been developed using collagen as a raw material. Its five main characteristics are soft texture, antibacterial property, moisture control, flame retardancy and odor control.
Applications are considerable, such as beauty-related products, sanitary materials, baby supplies, senior supplies and women’s innerwear. Kaneka is already commercially producing collagen fiber under the brand “Ultima” for application in hair accessory products.