Stewarding Development with Measured Experience

Matt O’Sickey, Director of Education & Technical Affairs, INDA
Matt O’Sickey, Director of Education & Technical Affairs, INDA

INDA, Association of the Nonwoven Fabrics Industry recently announced the appointment of Matt O’Sickey, Ph.D., as its new Director of Education & Technical Affairs. An accomplished market development, technology and product management executive, O’Sickey has more than 20 years of experience with Tredegar Film Products in the absorbent hygiene, food, and medical sectors.

Most recently, he held Director positions at RKW-North America in the areas of research and development, product design, application engineering, site operations, quality, and technology with a focus on breathable, and lamination films for controlled atmosphere packaging.

At INDA, O’Sickey will direct and expand workforce development programs for all industry members, manage the international harmonized standards activities, and play a leadership role in INDA’s product stewardship working groups and conference content development committees.

“Matt is a well-respected technical professional in our industry with an extensive R&D and operational background,” said Tony Fragnito, INDA President. “He will be a great asset to advance INDA’s leadership on key technical issues impacting the industry and provide leadership to our workforce development programs to meet the evolving content and delivery needs that are vital in a growing industry.”

O’Sickey has a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering and a Master’s degree in Engineering Administration, both from Virginia Tech as well as a Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering from Purdue University. He holds three U.S. patents.

He will operate out of INDA’s offices in Cary, NC.
International Fiber Journal caught up with him to discuss his new role and his perspectives on industry advancement.

IFJ: Give us an overview of your career in the industry thus far.

O’Sickey: I have 25+ years experience in R&D, marketing, and product management in the areas of elastic fibers and films, laminates of nonwovens and films, and breathable films for hygiene, medical, and food processing. Over that span, groups I have led developed and commercialized new-to-industry materials and technologies that saw adoption on six continents. These products were nominated for, and in some cases won, awards in a number of regions. Ultimately though, the greatest highlight has been hearing of and reading reviews of products that I was involved with, that have tangibly improved the quality of life for consumers.

The standards will likely require intervention by legislative bodies or a third-party organization,
such as ISO, before being widely adopted.

IFJ: What brought you to INDA and what are your goals there, either current or future, as you get to work in the organization.

O’Sickey: I’ve had the good fortune to work with INDA and MTS in the development and teaching of short courses and workshops for design and use of films and nonwovens in the absorbent hygiene sector. Additionally, I’ve been active with INDA in committees for the organization of conferences and addressing industry wide technical or regulatory issues. The Director of Education & Technical Affairs position allows me the opportunity to expand upon that prior experience and promote the educational outreach efforts of INDA in educating not only industry members, but also the public and lawmakers.

IFJ: Tell us about what you think is happening in the industry to note and where it’s going in the future, especially in regard to sustainability.

O’Sickey: I believe that after many years of talking about it, there is finally the right combination of consumer demand AND consumer willingness to pay for environmentally responsible solutions. The challenge that we have as an industry is defining easy-to-understand and consistent language about the different options available. With that accomplished, it will fall upon our industries and associations to education consumers and to monitor our markets to ensure that these definitions and standards are being upheld. It is an undeniable trend that within many segments of the nonwovens industries that sustainability, whether bio-sourced raw materials, material circularity, or biodegradable or compostable, is becoming entrenched.

IFJ: In regard to standards, how do you envision standards that are easily adaptable for the industry to apply?

O’Sickey: While there is increasing consumer emphasis towards standardization of consumables as part of effort to define basic quality standards, facilitate recycling and other end-of-life considerations, and to provide clarity around sustainability claims, there are still deeply entrenched proprietary company driven standards that will need to be considered, accommodated, or in some cases overcome. The standards will likely require intervention by legislative bodies or a third-party organization, such as ISO, before being widely adopted.

IFJ: How do you feel the marketplace will respond to standardization, and how long will it take to be widely adopted?

O’Sickey: Unless there is coordinated adoption of standards by multiple states or countries, there will be a period of years before differences of the standards can be mutually resolved. This is generally wasteful for companies in terms of compliance and to be avoided if possible. Upon the onset of standards, it may be advisable to address the initial standard(s) and attempt to use those as a basis for broader and/or universal adoption.

IFJ: What kind of education will be of most value to the industry, and how will INDA meet that need?

O’Sickey: Considering that companies are generally well suited to provide the education for the areas that they specialize in, there are two varieties of external education that will be useful. The first will be broad training to provide exposure to adjacent spaces and alternative technologies. This type of training will assist in assessing new opportunities, threats, or other facets of the supply chain beyond one’s own organization. The second type of training will be focused on areas specific to significant projects, expansions or strategic initiatives. This may be a mixture of general overview to quickly raise the level of understanding of a broad swath of an organization combined with very specific but deeper technical training for targeted challenges associated with such large programs.

IFJ: What innovations have you seen launch recently that are noteworthy for the future of the industry.

O’Sickey: A very broad innovation trend that began before COVID and gained very significant traction during COVID, is the ability of consumers to source very personalized solutions to their needs. Consumers that learned during the crisis to search for the products they needed when supply chains were disrupted or when they distrusted the brick-and-mortar experience have learned to take control of finding “just the right product” for their needs, whether that be wipes, filters, absorbent hygiene, etc.

While this was beginning pre-pandemic, with boutique brands of period care and baby care, it has greatly accelerated now. This has driven the need for greater, but still efficient, flexibility in the raw materials sourcing and converting processes.

IFJ: How does technology and connectivity play a part in innovation going forward, especially in a global marketplace?

O’Sickey: The ability to be exposed to and obtain products and alternate designs from other regions of the world has pushed companies to consider segmenting their offerings. I think a notable example of this was during 2020 when myriad mask designs were shared that allowed consumers to find the variety that worked for them in terms of fit, cost, and comfort. Furthermore, consumers in some instances will now request hybrids of local and globally available products, such as asking for nonwovens that are both cottony and silky.

Somewhat related to this is that supply chain disruptions are also driving innovation. The need to look beyond one’s own neighborhood to find products and beyond one’s own region to find needed raw materials has driven a willingness to explore alternative solutions. In the case of raw materials, many of us have been in the position of asking “what can we get and how would we use that.” This has resulted in substitutes of not simply different grades of nonwovens in applications, but substitutions of different classes of nonwovens and, in extreme cases, hybrid solutions of compensating for a substitute material’s deficiencies with enhancements gained from a second material.

IFJ: Are there any final thoughts you’d like to share that you feel would be noteworthy either about yourself or the industry.

O’Sickey: As a chemical engineer by training, I was taught that there are no waste products, merely byproducts that have not yet found an economically viable use. I believe that as an industry, sustainability is finally being viewed through the lens of finding viable uses for byproducts. This will ultimately make our industry stronger.