2012 Nonwovens Sales: $1.3 billion
Key Personnel: Jan Lang, president and CEO; Fulvio Capussotti, executive vice president, advanced fi ltration; Jari Koikkalainen, executive vice president, transportation fi ltration; Laura Raitio, executive vice president, building and energy; Paula Aarnio, executive vice president, HR and sustainability; Seppo Parvi, CFO and executive vice president, food and medical; Rami Raulas, executive vice president, sales and marketing; Luc Rousselet, executive vice president, supply chain; Aki Saarinen, executive vice president, strategic business development; Paul Stenson, executive vice president, product and technology development
Plants: Brignoud, France; Karhula, Finland; Malmedy, Belgium; Mikkeli, Finland; Stalldalen, Sweden; Tver, Russia; Bousbeceque, France; Chirnside, UK; Kauttua, Finland; Longkou, China; Mundra, India; Pont-Audemer, France; Saint Severin, France; Radcliffe, UK; West Carrollton, OH; Windsor Locks, CT; Barcelona, Spain; Bethune, SC; Fabriano, Italy; Binzhou, China; Hyon Poong, Korea; Louveira, Brazil; Madisonville, KY; Mount Holly Springs, PA; Tampere, Finland; Taylorville, IL; Turin, Italy
Processes:Wetlaid (Trinitex), microglass, nanotechnology (Disruptor), composites, creping/micrexing, spunmelt/spunbond, parchmentizing, coating, calendaring
Major Markets: Transportation filtration, diagnostic filtration, water filtration, wall coverings, building, automotive, food packaging, beverage, medical, flooring and masking tape
In recent months, Ahlstrom has continued its strategy of focusing on high performance materials, as first evidenced through the company’s late 2011 sale of its wipes business, including €300 million in total sales, as well the demerger of its label and processing unit in August 2012. The essence of the company’s business, which now operates through four major divisions— Transportation Filtration, Advanced Filtration, Building and Energy and Food and Medical—is to focus on fiber-based materials that protect people, purify air and liquids and provide surface structure to its customers’ products, according to company spokesperson Bethany Schivley. Nonwovens made by Ahlstrom are mainly used in transportation, construction, food and beverage, medical, energy, water and life science markets.
In 2012, sales decreased 1.5% to €1.01 billion ($1.3 billion) due to lower volumes and capacity closures which offset higher selling prices and favorable currency effects. Operating profits also declined due to lower sales volumes, adverse product mixes and increases in market-related downtime in production.
“Higher selling prices and the profit improvement programs implemented at the end of 2011 improved profitability,” says Schivley. “In addition, short-tem cost mitigation, related to maintenance and temporary lay-offs, had a positive effect on profitability.”
Effective January 1, Ahlstrom reorganized its business into the aforementioned four business areas after dividing the company’s former filtration business area into two separate business areas: Transportation Filtration and Advanced Filtration. This has enabled a stronger focus on filtration, along with demerging the label and processing unit and combining it with Munksjo in November 2012.
According to Schivley, transportation filtration is mainly focused on the automotive market while advanced filtration encompasses a broader reach, serving laboratory and life sciences, gas turbine, hydraulic, food and beverage and HVAC. Both areas continue to be strong areas of focus and growth for Ahlstrom and together comprise about 37% of sales, or €352.7 million, up from €324 million, in 2012.
Within the transportation segment, which includes media for automotive engines and other transportation-related applications, this year Ahlstrom launched Captimax, a great technology that combines high efficiency filtration with extremely high dust holding capacity. According to the company, the technology, which uses Eastman Cyphrex microfibers, will open different filter design possibilities for its customers and meet several needs from the automotive industry such as a smaller footprint in the engine compartment, glass fiber formulation and high filtration performance.
“This breakthrough technology is a new platform for Ahlstrom and several other products can be expected soon,” Schivley says.
The technology also gives filter media manufacturers the ability to obtain optimum micron efficiency ratings and dust holding ability by providing a balance of excellent small-particle retention and the potential for longer media life.
Recent highlights of the advanced filtration business include the purchase of Sweden-based Munktell Filter AB in September 2012, a move Ahlstrom sees as a strategic step to grow its advanced filtration business particularly in life science and laboratory applications. The transaction included 100% of the shares in Munktell Filter AB, as well as its holdings in Munktell & Filtrak GmbH, Filtres Fioroni SA and Munktell Inc.
“When we combine Munktell’s strong position in the European advanced filtration market with our solid presence in North America, we will gain access to new markets geographically. Driven by global changes in demographics, life science and laboratory filtration are lucrative growth areas for us,” says Tommi Björnman, former executive vice president, filtration.
Munktell is based in Falun, Sweden and it has production sites in Germany and Sweden, a joint venture in France, as well as a sales office in the U.S. The company’s reported sales are €15 million with an operating profit margin of roughly 15% in 2011.
Also in advanced filtration, Ahlstrom is collaborating with Dow Chemical Company to use its Disruptor technology in drinking water applications. Disruptor is Ahlstrom’s nanoalumina technology designed for a wide range of water filtration applications.
“One of the key goals in our product development is to create products that purify air and liquids in a sustainable way. We are excited about the opportunity to work with Dow since we see a wealth of opportunities for providing pure water solutions through combining our expertise with Dow’s industry-leading product offering,” says Fulvio Capussotti, executive vice president, advanced filtration.
Amidst these efforts, Ahlstrom continues to see capital investment as a growth strategy. While the once steady stream of investments has slowed more recently, Ahlstrom has continued to add capacity within its filtration business. The most recent effort is the addition of capacity in Turin, Italy, which is scheduled to be operational by the third quarter of 2013 and will consist of an upgrade to a paper machine producing filter media for transportation and gas turbine applications.
“This investment is another important step in our growth roadmap, where we are strengthening our platform in Europe. By expanding our filtration operations, we are reinforcing our position as a global supplier in the filtration market with a full offering of filter media,” Björnman says.
Other recent capacity expansions include a new line in Binzhou, China to serve the Chinese market as well as an upgrade to its Louveira, Brazil site.
Ahlstrom’s building and energy business, including products for construction, energy storage and even wall coverings continued to thrive in 2012 while representing 26% of sales.
One market that has consistently been strong within this segment is the global wall covering market, which Schivley says has remained stable mainly due to the global financial situation, political confidence and reduced consumer spending in Europe. In line with this stability, Ahlstrom has made some considerable investment to this segment in recent years including upgrades in Malmedy, Belgium to make the site capable of producing embossed substrates for digital print applications and a new production line in Binzhou, China where the market is expected to reach 300 million rolls by 2015.
“The Chinese wall covering market is changing from one of import to one of domestic production,” Schivley says.
Another increasingly important business area in this segment is battery separators, a market Ahlstrom entered last year through the purchase of a stake in Porous Power Technologies, a Colorado-based company developing technology for lithiumion battery separators. Together with Porous Power, Ahlstrom is offering a new generation of separator solutions for safer batteries and capacitors in electric-drive vehicles, e-bikes, portable electronics and utility-grade storage products.
Ahlstrom’s food and medical business area is benefitting from the addition of a new plant in Longkou, China, dedicated to the manufacture of crepe paper used for masking tape and sterilization pouches for the medical market. Marking Ahlstrom’s third such plant—the other two are in Pont Audemer, France and Kauttua, Finland—the investment proves how important Asia is for all of Ahlstrom, especially the food and medical division.
In April, medical introduced Ahlstrom Reliance Tandem to the market. Ahlstrom Reliance Tandem is an expansion of Ahlstrom’s interleaved SBS portfolio with the introduction of SMS. Adding SMS to offerings that formerly comprised just crepe and wetlaid is allowing the company to offer an optimal combination of sterile barrier system sheets for sequential wrapping.
Ahlstrom’s food packaging and beverages categories are also seen as a high growth area for food and medical. These are areas where consumers want both products and packaging to be more environmentally sensitive but without the expectation of changing how they shop, prepare and cook.
In beverage applications, Ahlstrom is developing products made from PLA (polylactic-acid), an advanced renewable and biodegradable polymer. PLA is already used in Ahlstrom BioWeb teabags and is currently being expanded into coffee capsules for espresso machines.
In food packaging, Ahlstrom has created the sustainable Genuine Vegetable Parchment baking paper, which can be converted into molds replacing molds made of plastic or aluminum. Molds are produced from 100% sustainable and renewable resources and are biodegradable, helping to meet customers’ sustainability requirements.