Location: HELSINKI, FINLAND
Sales: $1.28 billion
Risto Anttonen, president and CEO; Randal Davis, senior vice president, Filtration; Claudio Ermondi, senior vice president, Advanced Nonwovens; Tommi Bjormann, senior vice president, glass nonwovens; Jean-Marie Becker, senior vice president, Home & Personal Nonwovens; Jerome Barrillon, director of marketing, Filtration; Marco Martinez, communications director, Nonwovens
Needlepunch, resin bonded, spunlaced, nanofiber, spunmelt/spunbond, wetlaid, wetlaid/Hydraspun, wetlaid/spunlace composite, composite nonwovens, wetlaid/Trinitex, process enhancements, SPC
Alicante, Spain, Barcelona, Spain, Bethune, SC, Bishopville, Brignaud, France, Carbonate, Italy, Chirnside, U.K., Cressa, Italy, Gallarate, Italy, Green Bay, WI, Groesbeck, TX, Hyun Poong, Korea, Karhula, Finland, Louveira, Brazil, Madisonville, KY, Malmedy, Belgium, Mikkeli, Finland, Mozzate, Italy, Mt. Holly Springs, PA, Sassoferator, Italy, Stalldalen, Sweden, Tampere, Finland, Taylorville, Turin, Italy, Tver, Russia, Windsor Locks, CT, Wuxi, China
Wipes, filtration, industrial
Reporting continued growth in nonwovens is Finland’s Ahlstrom as it reaps the benefits of a spate of acquisitions and capital investments across its global nonwovens and filtration businesses. The Helsinki-based manufacturer of nonwovens for the wipes, food, medical and industrial markets reported overall nonwovens sales volume growth of 54%, driven by strong demand in wipes and wall coverings. Meanwhile, sales of Ahlstrom FiberComposites segment, containing Glass nonwovens and Filtration business areas in addition to Nonwovens, were €941 million ($1.28 billion) compared to €808 million in 2006.
In 2007, Ahlstrom purchased large wipes businesses from Fiberweb and Orlandi as well as a high efficiency air filtration manufacturer Fabriano Filter Media and invested in new lines across the globe. At the same time, Ahlstrom has shut plants and transferred equipment to make its business run more efficiently.
In July 2008, Ahlstrom re-organized its nonwovens business area, dividing it into two parts—Home & Personal Nonwovens, covering mainly Ahlstrom’s wipes business—and Advanced Nonwovens, incorporating food, medical and industrial nonwovens. This split highlights the growth of Ahlstrom's nonwovens business, especially in wiping fabrics while allowing the new Advanced Nonwovens business area to free resources and focus on profitable growth in high-value market segments. Jean-Marie Becker, who has been with Ahlstrom since 1980, was appointed senior vice president of the Home & Personal Nonwovens business area. Senior vice president Claudio Ermondi, who previously led the Nonwovens Business Area, has taken responsibility for the Advanced Nonwovens business area.
Ahlstrom’s Home and Personal Nonwovens business contains what is reportedly the world’s largest wipes business. Ahlstrom achieved this status in mid-2007 when it acquired the spunlace business of Fiberweb including a plant in Bethune, SC, two in Italy and one in Spain, estimated to add approximately €110 million in sales and 400 employees to Ahlstrom’s existing wipes business.
Also in 2007, Ahlstrom purchased the spunlaced business of European supplier Orlandi with two plants and four production lines in Cressa and Gallarate, Italy, adding an estimated €65 million to annual sales. In addition to broadening Ahlstrom’s European presence in wipes, the purchase added airlace technology—pulp-containing wiping fabrics—to its business.
“These deals represented an important landmark in Ahlstrom’s global strategy, strengthened its presence in the European wiping markets and positioned Ahlstrom as the leading wiping fabrics producer globally with a large presence both in Europe and the U.S.,” said Marco Martinez, communications director for Ahlstrom’s nonwovens business.
Before these two major acquisitions, Ahlstrom already had a spunlace operation in Green Bay, WI as well as spunlace assets in Windsor Locks, CT and France. The Green Bay facility was acquired in 2004 and a second line was added in 2006, which enables hydro embossing, in-line printing, cotton blending and the design of composite structures.
Looking ahead, Ahlstrom’s newest spunlace line is scheduled to come onstream in Paulinia, Brazil in the second quarter of 2009. The new line will make Ahlstrom the first dedicated wipes producer in Brazil, increasing its presence on the continent and allowing it to serve this fast growing market with new and innovative markets, Mr. Martinez said. The market for wiping products in Latin America is anticipated to grow at a double-digit rate annually.
These investments respond not only to global growth for the wipes market but also give Ahlstrom access to new technology, Mr. Martinez added. “We continue to invest not only in additional capacity but also in new capabilities to offer innovative and technically sophisticated solutions. This is, for example, the case with the addition of airlace technology to our portfolio, which is used to manufacture pulp-containing wiping fabrics in the Italian plants acquired from Orlandi in 2007 and the new capabilities for the manufacturing of cotton-containing products thanks to the recent investments in the Green Bay plant. In addition to producing rayon/polyester spunlace materials, the new machine enables hydro embossing., in-line printing, cotton blending and the design of composite structures.”
Beyond wipes, Ahlstrom’s Advanced Nonwovens business contains a number of core businesses including medical, food packaging and industrial applications. “Growth initiatives are ongoing in all three main markets.” Mr. Martinez said.
At the center of Ahlstrom’s medical business is a large spunbond composite line that came onstream at Ahlstrom’s Windsor Locks, CT site in 2001. Beyond this, Ahlstrom is set to grow this business eastward through an investment in a medical nonwovens plant using spunmelt technology in Gujarat, India. Scheduled to come onstream in early 2010, this investment will not only provide Ahlstrom with a strategic and cost-competitive location close to its suppliers and global customers but also positions the company well for the emerging medical nonwovens market of India.
In food nonwovens, the building of a new production line in Chirnside, Scotland is proceeding on schedule with production estimated to start in the last quarter of 2008. The new plant will be based on spunmelt technology and will serve the growing market for infusion products with next generation materials. “Major customers in the infusion products market are seeking new technical solutions and the growth in high valued-added segments, which is higher than in traditional tea market demands differentiation in the filter media used. Moreover, environmentally friendly products will be preferred. The new line will allow Ahlstrom to manufacture environmentally sound products based on recyclable and biodegradable materials.
The big news in Ahlstrom’s industrial nonwovens business is its expanding wallcovering range with new mid-tier applications. These substrates, created from a mix of natural and synthetic fibers, enable excellent decoration performance and easy processsability. They will be made at Ahlstrom’s Turin, Italy facility where the conversion of a paper machine into a state-of-the-art nonwovens line is ongoing. The new materials will be available by mid-2009.
Another core growth area for Ahlstrom is its Filtration division which has also been the focus of a great deal of strategy and investment in recent years. “Nonwovens and filtration are among the main areas of growth for Ahlstrom,” said filtration marketing director Jerome Barrillon “We have stated this repeatedly.”
In recent years, Ahlstrom has built on its long history in the engine filtration market, where it supplies mainly wetlaid nonwoven media by broadening into a number of other filtration segments. This started in 2004 when the company purchased Hollinee LLC, giving it access to the HVAC market. Subsequent acquisitions included Lantor, adding needlepunching capabilities for dust filtration media and automotive, Fibermark’s absorbent materials business, HRS Textiles to enhance its place in air filtration; and, most recently, Sassoferrato, Italy-based Fabriano Filter Media, a maker of microglass filter media, providing exposure to high efficiency air filtration markets.
“The acquisitions have given us access to markets we didn’t have prior and a leading position globally in filter media,” Mr. Barrillon explained. “Ahlstrom’s Filtration business was mainly related to transportation so the acquisitions broadened our presence in new markets. We are balancing the portfolio and the risk.”
At the same time, Ahlstrom has been adding to its Filtration business through capital investment. These include a new needlepunch line in Bethune, SC, a drylaid asset in Grosbeck, TX and a needlepunch line in Wuxi, China, near Shanghai, which began operation in July.
As investments have slowed, Ahlstrom has now focused on rationalizing and optimizing its filtration assets. This has included the closure of its Darlington, SC and Bellingham, MA sites earlier this year. Ahlstrom moved a line centered on HVAC applications from the Darlington site to its Groesbeck, TX site, which was already centered on the HVAC market. A needlepunch line was moved from Bellingham to Bethune, SC, at a site acquired from Fiberweb. Additionally, a needlepunch line planned for Darlington is now being built in Bethune, which is described as a large, state-of-the-art facility with world-class talent. A liquid filtration converting operation once located in Mt. Holly Springs, PA is also now housed in Bethune.
These closures and streamlining are designed to trim Ahlstrom’s filtration business as it adapts to its new position as a diversified media supplier and deals with challenges in the market. “For the most part, filtration is a strong and growing market but a lot of filtration is related to infrastructure needs,” Mr. Barrillon said. “As the economy slows, certain areas can be affected. On the flip side, we are diversified enough in terms of geographies as well as market areas that we generally are up in some areas when down in others.”
In March, Ahlstrom added a new product to its Disruptor filtration media line. Disruptor PAC is a medium using nanoalumina fiber technology combined with powdered activation carbon for water filtration. This technology, which is licensed exclusively by Ahlstrom from the Argonide Corporation, can economically improve the purity and taste of nearly any water stream by efficiently removing a large variety of contaminants including virus, bacteria and humic compounds—naturally occurring, ultrafine particulate organic compounds, about the size of a virus, produced by the decay of natural organic matter found in surface waters. Prior to Disruptor PAC, humic compounds could not be completely removed by microfiltration or ultrafiltration polymeric membranes. Ahlstrom was honored with an INDEX Achievement Award for the product in April.
Disruptor PAC contains powdered activated carbon having an average particle size of only eight microns. The small particle size produces remarkably high dynamic adsorption as compared to conventional granular carbon or carbon blocks. With Disruptor PAC, the retention of the powder activated carbon is accomplished through electrokinetic adsorption by the nanoalumina fibers in the product, not with binders or adhesives. This retention mechanism makes nearly all the pores of the powder activated carbon available for adsorption of chlorine, iodine, volatile organic compounds, disinfection byproducts and natural organic material from water.
Ahlstrom believes that the unique features of Disruptor PAC will provide filter and filtration device manufacturers with the ability to design more efficient and cost-effective products to improve the quality of both drinking water and wastewater. Disruptor can be used in a wide range of water filtration applications including beverage manufacture, pharmaceutical make up water, point of use and point of entry filters, boiler and chiller water as well as prefiltration to reverse osmosis membranes. Disruptor PAC is easily pleated into nearly any size of filter cartridge providing superior filtration efficiency at high flow rates and very low pressure drop."