Consumables, garment markets rear strange bedfellows

Mark A. DeSorbo

WILMINGTON, DE—The DuPont Co. has once again allied with more cleanroom consumables and garment manufacturers, steadfastly securing market presence.

The multi-faceted company made headlines more than a year ago when its Lycra division teamed up with Wilshire Technologies Inc. (Carlsbad, CA) to develop a disposable polyurethane polymer for industrial cleanroom gloves. [See “Dupont to put Lycra to new use,” September 2000, p. 1.]

The consumables segment of the cleanrooms industry has traditionally been highly fragmented, with a large number of suppliers focusing on niche or regional markets.
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The most recent collaboration is with Contec Inc., a Spartanburg, SC-based consumables maker that markets DuPont's Sontara, a non-woven sterile wiper that was designed specifically for use in pharmaceutical, medical device and biotech environments.

Soon after that early October agreement with Contec, DuPont's Tyvek organization announced a “global alliance” with Kappler Safety Group Inc. (Guntersville, AL); a deal in which DuPont acquired Kappler's line of protective garments for industrial safety applications.

Terms of both deals were not disclosed.

But while acquisitions and alliances are often thought of as a sign of lean economic conditions, it is not the sole reason for corporate partnerships. In fact, in some cases, the end user drives these scenarios, says Bob Spector, a member of the CleanRooms Editorial Advisory Board.

“There are a fair amount of manufacturers out there who will bypass their distributors if they are approached by an end user who asks that manufacturer for a bid,” Spector says. “It's up to the manufacture to decide whether they protect their distributors or bid against them. The manufacturer is in a bad spot sometimes, too, because they wonder if the distributor will mark the product up too high.”

Calling it a catch 22, Spector says if Manufacturer A is producing a product that Manufacturer B's customers want, Manufacturer B will have to work with Manufacturer A.

“On the other side of the coin, they very well could remain or become competitors,” he adds.

Contec has worked with DuPont “for many years” to meet diverse end-user demands, says Jack McBride, chief executive of Contec.

This time, Contec is packaging and distributing DuPont's Sontara non-pyrogenic wipers, which are compatible with ISO Class 5 (Class 100) cleanrooms. The non-pyrogenic fabric is a blend of polyester and cellulose fibers that was developed with low levels of endotoxins, particles and extractables. According to DuPont, wipers made with the proprietary fabric pass bacterial endotoxin tests, with levels below U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) limits for medical devices. Sontara wipers are also Gamma irradiated.

“Our combined strengths in market understanding and technology now offer the regulated cleanroom industry a wiping product for multiple cleaning applications,” McBride adds.

Beth Huber, marketing communications manager for DuPont's Tyvek protective apparel division says alliances provide more information and capabilities for end users, which, she adds, is DuPont's overall mission.

“We've made the Tyvek fabric for years, but we could not quickly respond to the marketplace for a finished garment,” she says. “So we looked at what we needed to do to meet that need. Now, with [Kappler] we can complete a finished garment with our fabric in a timely manner.”

DuPont's Tyvek division bought the rights to Kappler's protective clothing market, but Kappler still retains existing plants and manufacturing equipment, says Michael Willis, Kappler's chief operating officer.

Willis says along with end-user demand, the market is on the decline, and teaming with DuPont will allow Kappler to concentrate on military barrier fabrics for biological and chemical threats; medical garments to protect personnel from viral, bacterial and chemical exposure; and its line of consumer rainwear.

Kappler, Willis says, also expects to see consolidation across the industry.

“The North American slice of pie is either static or declining because more manufacturing jobs are going off shore to Central America or Asia,” he adds. “We licensed patents to them, and we also retained the rights to the consumer, military and medical markets. We are still the name making the garments, but DuPont is now the marketing arm.”


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