Location: Hof/Saale, Germany
Sales: $91 million
Description: Textilgruppe Hof AG
Eswegee Vliesstoff GmbH
A company of Textilgruppe Hof
Fabrikzeile 21, 95208 Hof/Saale Germany
Techtex GmbH Vliesstoffe
A company of Textilgruppe Hof AG
Hof Textiles, Inc.
A company of Textilgruppe Hof AG
Manfred Knieling, managing director; Rudolf Scholtter, managing director; Detlev Käppel, managing director-Techtex, sales director, technical nonwovens; Gunther Hoffmann, president-Hof Textiles, Inc.
Hof/Saale, Germany; Mittweida, Germany; Lincolnton, NC
ISO 9001, ISO 14001, VDA 6.1
Drylaid, thermal bonded, needlepunched, saturate bonded, stitchbonded
Variopoint, Unipoint, Unisoft, Zetafelt, Zetastitch, Zetafil, Zetawatt, Florbond, Zetabond, Zetatherm, Zetamold, Maliwatt, Malivlies, Kunit, Multiknit eswegee 2000 series, Bassopoint
With consolidated 2004 worldwide nonwovens sales topping $91 million, eswegee Vliesstoff Group, Hof/Saale, Germany, saw a sales increase of about 4.5% compared to 2003. The company’s domestic/export sales ratio was almost even, at 57% and 43%, respectively in 2004. Industrial markets remain Hof’s core focus and represent 60% of its business, while interlinings make up 40% of sales.
Similar to most roll goods producers, a major challenge for Hof this year came in the form of price increases for all raw materials across the board, from fibers to chemicals. Due to the highly competitive nature of the market, Hof found it nearly impossible to pass these increases onto customers. Furthermore, the company reports its competition has been lowering prices to sell high volumes, regardless of performance. “The automotive industry still calls for lower prices regardless of what is going on in the raw material market,” commented sales director Detlev Kaeppel. “One result of this is most likely the frequent recalls due to quality malfunctions.”
Business in the interlinings sector was described as steady yet challenging due to weaker consumer demand, a tough economy and the use of fewer interlinings by the fashion industry. However, after slow first and second quarters in 2004, Hof did enjoy some increased demand resulting from new designs that use more interlinings. Unfortunately, this trend had already slowed by the end of 2004
Hof’s managing director Manfred Knieling predicts that domestic business for interlinings will become more difficult due to fewer remaining garment manufacturers within Germany as well as a dramatic increase in less expensive Asian textile imports (particularly from China) due to lowered import restrictions. In an effort to defend its position in the market, Hof developed a new product line with updated raw material compositions, higher qualities and extremely good bond strengths.
As far as exports for interlinings are concerned, Hof remains confident in its current level of success and is reaping the rewards of earlier efforts to strengthen its export division and sales support staff. As a means of securing future growth in interlinings exports, Hof has developed new products such as Bassopoint, a new generation of lightweight nonwovens characterized by a high fusing temperature range (90-130°C) to enhance the performance of fashion fabrics. “Our latest investment, a new high-speed thermal bonding line, enables us to strike back against low-cost imports,” said Mr. Knieling.
In the industrial nonwovens sector, Hof benefited from sales growth stemming from new projects and products. The main markets for Hof’s industrial nonwovens continue to lie within the automotive industry where products are used for acoustical applications such as hoodliners, dash liners, headliners, package trays and boot applications. In the future, Hof plans to focus on new products for filtration with its range of multiple technologies.
Other market segments are secondary carpet backings and pressure-sensitive tapes, which the company produces at its Techtex stitchbonding plant in Mittweida. The plant’s capacity was recently increased for new Kunit/Multiknit nonwovens to target the foam replacement market for car seats through an upgrade of an older trial machine. The expansion represents an investment of $2.4 million and bumps capacity at the Mittweida plant to 3.5 million square meters.
Also new in the industrial arena is a generation of moldable nonwovens used for trunk applications and wheel arch covers in cars. The products offer a unique surface structure, lower weights, good acoustics and prices that are competitive with existing products. “We have seen encouraging results with this product line, which have turned into first orders from customers,” said Mr. Käppel.
Another growth area for stitchbonded nonwovens is facing applications such as headliners, package trays and luggage covers. “We have seen good success here and will expand capacity for stitchbonded nonwovens at the Mittweida plant,” stated Mr. Käppel. The company plans to invest $1.5 million to add a new six meter line, which will boost capacity by three to four million square meters.
Other new products are nonwovens with low shrinkage rates and composites for the automotives industry. “Growth in technical sales has not yet come to an end. We have some new projects under contract that will target the U.S. automotive industry for the future and we are looking ahead with optimism,” said Mr. Käppel. Among the company’s new projects are new generations of facing products to target headliner and package tray applications as well as new concepts of trunk material for the three big U.S. OEMs.
Hof´s capital investments in 2004—which were in the double-digit million dollar range—focused primarily on capacity expansions for both the interlining and automotive markets at all three of the company’s plants. Although Mr. Knieling declined to offer any detailed information about these investments, he indicated that further capital investment plans are already underway in 2005.
“The investments are designed to help both segments— interlinings and automotives—enhance quality and lower costs. They also give us the chance to grow into new areas with new products,” Mr. Knieling commented. He added that Hof will continue to focus on its strategy in Asia for both interlinings and technical nonwovens. He referred to the company’s offices in Shanghai and Hong Kong as the first steps, with more decisions likely to follow.
Overall, Mr. Knieling expects the global nonwovens industry to remain very interesting with growth potential remaining for specialized rather than “me too” products. “Our goal is to provide our customers the best ‘total cost solution,” he said.