Location: The Netherlands
Sales: $223 million
Description: Key Personnel
Jan van Boldrik, president; Franz Junkermann, vice president marketing and sales; Axel Poscher, manager geosynthetics
Emmen and Arnhem, The Netherlands; Obernburg, Germany; Asheville, NC
All plants ISO 9001 certified; U.S. Plant QS 9000 certified; European plants QS 9000 in preparation; Obernburg plant ISO 14001 certified; remaining European plants ISO 14001 in preparation
Chemical bonded, thermal bonded and specialties
Nonwovens—Colback, Coltron, Geosynthetics Enkamat, Enkadrain, Colbonddrain, Enkagrid, Armater
Flooring, automotives, construction (including roofing), civil and environmental engineering
Sand Hill Road; P.O. Box 1057
Enka, NC 28728
Telephone: 828-665-5000; Fax: 828-665-5065
Rick Roberson, executive vice president; Rob Noppen, director of marketing and sales industrial nonwovens; Don Brown, director of sales flooring industry, Joe Luna, director of marketing and sales geosynthetics
Thermal bonded and specialties
Like many of this year’s top companies, Colbond’s performance was, to some degree, affected by adverse market conditions and the soft global economy. Economic uncertainty ended the company’s tradition of 10% annual growth, but Colbond was still able to end the year on the plus side, according to company president Jan van Boldrik. “This was achieved by continuing the company’s consistent global strategy of focusing on adding value to customer products and activities,” he explained. “The success of our long term strategy also depends on flexibility and the balanced application of short term tactics, allowing for early anticipation and timely adjustments.”
With headquarters in Arnhem, The Netherlands and a U.S. subsidiary in Enka, NC, Colbond mainly targets the construction, automotives, flooring and geosynthetics markets. Of the company’s key end use segments, construction was hit particularly hard by the year’s economic problems. Improved sales volumes of Colbond’s Coltron polyester spunlaid product for roofing applications were unable to offset industry price pressures, which were a constant problem affecting the overall bottom line. Also feeling the impact of a recession was the automotives industry, where competition was increased by recent capacity expansions in the market as well as growing volume from Japanese suppliers. On the other hand, in flooring and geosynthetics, particularly in the U.S., Colbond was able to retain its strong position with competitive products.
Geosynthetics further benefited from the success of Colbond’s Enkagrid family of engineered, high performance soil reinforcement products that are based on strength. Originally introduced in 1999, the line is comprised of products made from a unique, patented laser-welding technique developed by Colbond. It outperforms thermal and adhesive options and enables proper connection of the strips without losing material properties.
Paying further testament to Enkagrid’s success is a company plan to increase the line’s initial capacity—between six and 10 million square meters—by 30% through the construction of a state-of-the-art product line in a yet-to-be-determined location. And capital investment is not the only factor expected to boost Enkagrid. Colbond will also continue to invest heavily in research and development efforts to help Enkagrid garner future success. “Extensive specification work has been done that will result in sales at a later stage,” Mr. van Boldrik explained. “This work will result in Enkagrid finding a range of new application areas that will be realized in due course.”
While Enkagrid has been boosting Colbond’s geosynthetics business, the flooring, construction and automotive interior arms of the company have been reaping the fruits of another premium product. The company’s Colback polyester thermal bonded material has found applications in headliners, hood liners, door panels, molded carpets and seating and trunk liners. “The application potential of Colback in each of these markets continuously increases, as a result of the flexibility of the Colback bicomponent technology,” Mr. van Boldrik said. “This proprietary technology provides an excellent balance between the constant factor of the highest quality and the flexibility in product characteristics. This allows us to supply tailor made materials with specifically enhanced properties for specific technical and creative requirements. The applications increasingly include other attractive market niches.”
By region, about half of Colbond’s sales are achieved in Europe, while North American sales represent about 35% of the company’s total business. The remainder of sales are split between the rest of the world. With plants in The Netherlands, Germany and North Carolina, Colbond has no plans to construct manufacturing facilities in other world regions, such as South America and Asia, which have been prime areas for Colbond’s growth. Despite its reluctance to build new facilities, Colbond is not ignoring its existing sites. In fact, the company is currently underway with a capital expansion project in Emmen, The Netherlands. The improvements comprise several subprojects that will be complete in 2005. Included in these subprojects is a 17,000 ton increase to the company’s existing 35,000 ton-per-year capacity as well as a new Colback spinning line, which came onstream in 2001. The new spinning line has allowed the company to implement new technology, according to Mr. van Boldrik. In its Arnhem site last year Colbond began operating a development and application center, which has allowed the company to develop products in house.
“In the past few years, quite a lot has been established,” Mr. van Boldrik said. “Product and process improvement is an integral part of our strategy and as such an ongoing activity.”
In the U.S., Colbond bought the Asheville site from BASF, representing an important investment for the company in September 2001. Colbond had operated as partners at the site since 1995 when Colbond began production there. BASF had previously been producing Colback nonwovens at the site since 1989 through a license agreement with Colbond’s former parent Akzo Nobel. In 1999, Colbond doubled the production capacity at the site.
The opportunity and potential for growth in the nonwovens and geotextiles markets continues to be encouraging,” Mr. van Boldrik said. “The acquisition of the additional property affords Colbond to meet this challenge.”
In the future, Colbond will continue to focus on product and process improvement and product development based on Colback and Enkagrid technology to continue offering value added products to its customers. For instance, in Colback, currently polyester/polyamide bicomponent filaments are most commonly used for Colback but polyester/copolyester or other combinations could also be used, according to Mr. van Boldrik. “This will further increase the potential for providing added value and tailor-made products and business solutions in increasingly demanding and new application areas,” he explained.