Location: Carson, CA
Sales: $150 million
Description: Key Personnel
Ken Hardin, president and CEO, WNI and HiLoft division; Robert Owen, chief financial officer; Matt Scheantz, vice president of operations; Jim Walker, vice president of performance products; John Gearhart, vice president of needlepunch; Dan Dobbins, vice president of information technology; Nancy Haas, vice president human resources
Carson, CA; Los Angeles, CA; City of Commerce, CA; St. Louis, MO; Oakland, CA; Sauget, IL; Orlando, FL; Pensacola, FL; Clearfield, UT
Carded, dry laid, air laid, thermal bonded, needlepunched, chemical bonded, foam bonded, densified batting, calendered, spunbond
Bouncebackability, Westfill, West Air, Fiberloft, Sof-Seal, Duro-Seal, PalAir, Quline, PolarGuard, Cerex, PBN-II, Orion, Vibratex, Spectralon
Furniture, bedding, filtration, medical, craft, aerospace, automotive, geotextiles, CIPP (cure in place pipe), rug components, carpet cushion, home furnishings, mattress
A company integration plan as well as a multimillion dollar capital improvement program are two of the means by which roll goods producer Western Nonwovens, Carson, CA, plans to thrive in the future. Earlier this year WNI restructured its business, which formerly operated as a series of acquisitions, into three main segments—HiLoft, Performance Products and Needlepunch—in an effort to focus on its customers’ needs. “The three business lines have very different requirements and uniquely different manufacturing processes,” remarked CEO Kenneth Hardin. “This structure allows WNI to simultaneously launch business improvement programs across the company, where needed, in customer service, new products, cost reductions and strategic capital investments.”
In May, the company launched a capital improvement plan designed to improve the products and manufacturing capabilities of its three core businesses. The plan includes state-of-the-art technological enhancements to the HiLoft and Needlepunched facilities throughout the U.S. Also, in the Performance Products segment, WNI began construction on a new nylon spunbond line in Pensacola, FL, that will create a new generation of products and provide additional capacity to support the increased demand for specialized nonwoven fabrics. “WNI needed to integrate our total business functions and assure that all of our assets throughout the country could deliver products required by our customers,” Mr. Hardin explained.
To date, WNI has completed the initial phase of this plan and expects its major elements to be complete in 2003. Already, the business has been enhanced by better leveraging of its resources for growth, producing products at lower costs and higher quality.
The company’s HiLoft division will continue to grow through the company’s nationwide strategy of acquiring or starting up new operations throughout the U.S. Currently the division operates production sites in Carson, City of Commerce and Los Angeles, CA, Clearfield, UT, Sauget, IL and Orlando, FL. At the California and Utah sites, WNI is currently upgrading its thermal bonding manufacturing technology; in Illinois, WNI recently upgraded its thermal bond operation for lightweight roll goods capabilities and raw material diversification. Meanwhile, in Orlando, FL, WNI completed an upgrade to its resin and thermal bond capacity in July. The HiLoft division previously operated a seventh facility in St. Louis, MO, which was struck by a fire in September 2001. The production from this site was subsequently transferred to other operations within the company and the facility was closed.
In addition to production growth, WNI has been focusing on product diversification to boost its HiLoft business. Areas of continued interest include flame retardants, acoustics, foam replacement, filtration media, natural fibers and functional roll goods such as antimicrobial and antibacterials.
The Needlepunch division operates only one facility in St. Louis, MO but also has capacity at the City of Commerce HiLoft facility. In this segment, WNI has been implementing lighter weight production capabilities to go after new markets, such as medical, furniture and wipes.
The company’s Performance Products business includes the nylon spunbond capabilities acquired through WNI’s purchase of Cerex Advanced Fabrics in 2000 as well as WNI’s exclusive continuous filament insulation business. The company combined the Cerex product line with the filament insulation product line because they both share a similar business mindset for growth in niche areas of the marketplace. “All of WNI benefits from having a portion of the business focused on specialty products through technology sharing, manufacturing benchmarking and value-based product management techniques,” Mr. Hardin explain.
Executives expect this segment, which operates sites in Pensacola, FL and Oakland, CA, to benefit from a spunbond capacity expansion, scheduled to be complete in Summer 2003, through the aforementioned capital improvement plan. On the continuous filament insulation side of the business, growth is expected to come through new product development.
Speaking of new product development, it is the means by which the company expects to garner growth in the future. “WNI believes all our end use markets are evolving, requiring either new product variants and/or complete new product alternatives from current industry offerings,” Mr. Hardin said. “Our customers clearly are looking for more product value from our suppliers. Flame retardants, foam alternatives for bedding and furniture, lighter weight roll goods with excellent loft and dimensional stability, functionality for better filtration, sound absorption and hygiene. WNI recognizes this industry need and is committed to bringing more product value to our customers.”
WNI’s most recent product launch is PolarGuard Home, a continuous filament polyester material that is an alternative to down and other synthetic products in comforters and bedding applications. Products using PolarGuard are reportedly being developed for use in upscale contemporary hotels, and the company expects to soon develop a line of highly washable comforters, quilts and lightweight blankets from the material. Polarguard Home is expected to be followed by a slew of new introductions.
“WNI relaunched its product research and development initiative during the past year and we have several new products under development and near commercialization,” Mr. Hardin added. “WNI has completed development of new flame retardant barrier products, made advancements in densification for foam replacement and acoustics and achieved new dimensionally stable roll goods for both heavy- and light-weight products.”
In other research efforts, WNI is currently collaborating with Cargill-Dow, Midland, MI, in developing nonwovens based on Dow’s poly lactide (PLA) fibers for the bedding, home furnishings and filtration markets. Both highloft and needlepunched technologies are being used to create these products and company executives are excited about the opportunity to work with this new generation fiber.
Looking toward economic conditions, WNI did feel the sting of a deflated North American economy, to some extent, in 2001, but sales had already rebounded by the fourth quarter. To date, 2002 has been characterized by increased sales in all of WNI’s core segments. “Even though the industry saw its first negative growth period in 2001, continued positive growth in the global industry is anticipated due to several factors, such as increased nonwovens usage in developing nations, continued replacement of higher cost and/or lower quality alternatives and new technology advancements within the nonwovens industry,” Mr. Hardin explained.
In the future, WNI will continue to ensure that its customer base has the most advanced products in the industry with the highest quality and service. “As we continue to develop lighter weight roll goods and deploy new and unique raw material fibers for each of our business lines, we will invariably find opportunities to enter new markets,” Mr. Hardin concluded.