Location: HELSINKI, FINLAND
Sales: $1.35 billion
Description: Key Personnel
Jan Lång, president & CEO; Risto Anttonen, deputy of the president & CEO; Laura Raitio, executive vice president, Building and Energy; Jean-Marie Becker, executive vice president, Home and Personal; William Casey, executive vice president, Food and Medical; Tommi Björnman, executive vice president, Filtration; Patrick Jeambar, executive vice president, Label and Processing; Paula Aarnio, executive vice president, Human Resources & Sustainability; Claudio Ermondi, executive vice president, Product & Technology Development; Seppo Parvi, chief financial officer; Rami Raulas, executive vice president, Sales & Marketing
Needlepunch, resin bond, spunlace, nanofiber, spunmelt/spunbond, wetlaid, wetlaid/Hydraspun, wetlaid/spunlace composite, wetlaid/Trinitex, composite nonwovens, SPC, crepe, caustic entangled Webril, film-based composites, process enhancements.
Alicante, Spain, Barcelona, Spain, Bethune, SC, Bishopville, SC, Brignoud, France, Chirnside, U.K., Cressa, Italy, Green Bay, WI, Groesbeck, TX, Hyun Poong, Korea, Karhula, Finland, Kauttua, Finland, Louveira, Brazil, Madisonville, WI, Malmedy, Belgium, Mikkeli, Finland, Mt. Holly Springs, PA, Mozzate, Italy, Mundra, India, Paulínia, Brazil, Pont-Audemer, France, Sassoferrato, Italy, Ställdalen, Sweden, Tampere, Finland, Taylorville, IL, Turin, Italy, Tver, Russia, Windsor Locks, CT, Wuxi, China.
Filtration, medical, food and beverage, wipes, automotive, building, wallcover and hygiene.
Among the recent headlines posted by nonwovens producer Ahlstrom is a new organizational structure that segmented the company into five business areas, effective July 1. The organization is now comprised of the following units: Building and Energy, the former Glass and Industrial Nonwovens business area; Home and Personal, the former Home and Personal Nonwovens business area; Food and Medical, the former Advanced Nonwovens business area, crepe papers and vegetable parchment products; Filtration, and Label and Processing. According to the company, the organization within this new business area is being integrated to strengthen customer orientation and the supply chain process.
Looking at its business during the last 18 months, Ahlstrom reported it started seeing recovery during the second half of 2009, which has continued into 2010 but has not yet reached pre-recession levels. In a nutshell, filtration media in transportation and building materials segments benefited from the general upturn of the economy while demand for food packaging and teabag materials as well as nonwovens used in medical applications was steady. In wiping, demand began to decline toward the end of 2009, following a temporary peak during preparations for a potential swine flu epidemic but increased during the first quarter of 2010.
For the year, Ahlstrom’s nonwovens sales fell 12.8% to €861.2 million ($1.1 billion), mainly on these lower volumes while the segment reported an operating loss of €18.8 million compared with a profit of €15.3 million in 2008 on non-recurring items of €44.2 million including an impairment charge in the Home & Personal business area and costs stemming from the closure of a paper machine in Barcelona, Spain for the filtration business area.
To respond to these difficult conditions, Ahlstrom adjusted production volumes throughout the year to match weak demand in 2009 and implemented temporary layoffs and other flexible working house solutions, depending on the market conditions.
Within Ahlstrom’s wipes business, more recently known as Home and Personal, executives report that the segment is returning to growth after a decline toward the end of 2009. Here sustainability is the primary focus, as the company offers easy and innovative ways to produce environmentally friendly wipes for the baby, homecare, personal care and industrial wipes markets. Developments include biodegradable, dispersible or reusable wiping fabrics and products based on natural or recycled raw materials. These include recently developed absorbent spunlace fabrics based on recycled polyester.
“Ahlstrom owns the broadest range of wiping fabrics technologies and is able to offer a diverse range of innovative materials manufactured in numerous sites in Europe, North America and South America,” said Bethany Schivley, marketing communications associate. “Ahlstrom is strengthening its focus on the development of sustainable fabrics for wiping applications, which include biodegradable, dispersible or reusable wiping fabrics and products based on natural or recycled raw materials. These include the recently developed absorbent spunlace fabrics based on recycled PET (rPET).”
Ahlstrom achieved its status as the largest maker of spunlaced nonwovens largely through a series of acquisitions earlier this decade including Green Bay Nonwovens in the U.S., Fiberweb’s spunlace business in the U.S., Spain and Italy and Orlandi in Italy as well as a number of capital investments. More recently, the company has focused on consolidating its assets to increase its capacity and efficiency while broadening its range. In April, Ahlstrom said it would close its Carbonate, Italy plant while continuing production at Mozzate and Cressa, Italy. In Mozzate, a line that had been stopped in 2009 will be rebuilt by 2011, increasing Ahlstrom’s wipes capacity in Europe and concentrating it into fewer, more efficient sites.
In addition to sites in the U.S. and Europe, Ahlstrom also operates a spunlace line in Brazil, which it built in 2008 to target this growing market.
In other global expansion efforts, Ahlstrom recently began commercial production at its newest plant located in the Special Economic Zone of Mundra in the western state of Gujarat, India. The plant uses the most advanced technology to produce a broad range of SMS protective fabrics, specifically developed for the medical market. SMS is a three-layer protective fabric, specifically for application in all main single-use medical products that provide protection inside and outside operating room as surgical drapes, surgical gowns, face masks and sterile barrier systems.
“Ahlstrom’s SMS medical fabrics are strong and hydrophobic and provide an excellent combination of protection and comfort. Depending on the specific end-use requirements, these fabrics can be supplied untreated, antistatic-treated, alcohol repellency-treated or with a combination of both,” Ms. Shivley explained.
With a strong footprint in place in Europe and the Americas, Ahlstrom is starting to establish a solid manufacturing platform in Asia with its new medical nonwovens plant in India, which joins other Asian sites in Wuxi, China and Hyung Poon, Korea. This investment supports Ahlstrom’s strategy of strengthening its leading global position in roll goods nonwovens for the medical industry, increasing its presence internationally, particularly in Asia.
With India being among the world’s fastest growing economies today, particularly for the healthcare industry, this latest plant, with its state-of-the-art technology, has an optimal location in the Special Economic Zone and in the vicinity of one of Asia’s biggest ports, playing a key role in Ahlstrom’s growth strategy in India and Asia.
The medical market presents considerable opportunities for new products and technological developments with an aging population, growing sophistication of healthcare services in emerging economies, and evolving surgical procedures. Ahlstrom’s success in the medical market is due to a continued focus on infection protection through the use of single-use medical fabrics. Emerging markets like Asia and South America present new opportunities for Ahlstrom with the introduction of regulations and medical standards that single-use medical fabrics must follow to protect from infection. Additionally, the aging population worldwide presents more opportunities.
In addition to the new India site, the Food and Medical business has a new line in Chirnside, Scotland to serve the growing infusion markets with BioWeb, a lightweight nonwoven web with unique functional and environmental characteristics. The unique product provides an environmentally friendly, sustainable and affordable solution for high end and specialty tea packers, designed for conversion and on tea-packing machines that use the more recently developed ultrasonic sealing technology, according to the company.
“The current trend in food nonwovens is towards the production of premium and specialty teas using larger leaf particles that require filter materials with greater transparency and superior taste neutrality, two qualities that distinguish Ahlstrom BioWeb from traditional teabag papers,” Ms. Schivley said.
Also important to Ahlstrom is its filtration division, which has also been the subject of a great deal of investment in recent years. With a long history in the engine filtration market, where it once supplied mainly wetlaid nonwovens media, Ahlstrom decided a few years ago to expand its role into other filtration areas. What followed was a string of investments starting with Hollinnee LLC, giving it access to the HVAC market, continued with Lantor, which added needlepunching capabilities, Fibermark’s absorbent materials business and HRS Textiles to enhance its place in air filtration and ended with Sassoferrato, Italy-based Fabriano Filter Media, a maker of microglass filter media, which gave Ahlstrom exposure to high efficiency air filtration markets.
Most recently, in early August, Ahlstrom said it would acquire Shandong Puri Filter & Paper Products Ltd., a producer of transportation filtration media in Shandong, China, from the Purico Group. The purchase, valued at €22.5 million, will help expand Ahlstrom’s platform in China.
In addition to investment, Ahlstrom has made a number of capital investments in its filtration business, most recently a new needlepunch line in Bethune, SC, to help round out its newly acquired business. However, more attention of late has been paid to rationalizing and optimizing these assets. Recent efforts have included the closure of sites in Darlington, SC and Bellingham, MA in early 2008. Lines from these sites were moved to Groesbeck, TX and Bethune, SC, respectively. A liquid filtration converting operation once located in Mt. Holly Springs, PA has also been moved to Bethune.
“The filtration business is a clear focus for Ahlstrom and is now stabilized with the right assets in the right place, serving the markets that Ahlstrom wants to focus on,” said Jerome Barrillon. “ Transportation filtration remains the area where Ahlstrom has the most global footprint, serving key customers worldwide with assets on four continents. Meanwhile, the Advanced Filtration business, which includes our high efficiency air, gas turbine, water, laboratory and life science businesses, continues to expand its presence globally as well, serving customers from key assets in Europe and North America.”
With all of its assets in the right place, Ahlstrom’s filtration group is now focusing on new product development. Recently, advances in fuel filtration and fuel/water separation have allowed our customers to develop new filters in these areas. Also, Ahlstrom’s new Trinitex products for gas turbine air intake are gaining widespread market approval as they are combining high efficiency with high mechanical resistance in tough operating environments, and its nanofiber-treated media is being commercialized in a variety of different end uses, predominantly in air filtration.
While an older technology Ahlstrom’s Disruptor product—a unique carbon-based technology that removes a wide range of pathogens and submicron contaminants from water—continues to expand. In June, Ahlstrom partnered with Eureka Forbes Limited to launch a groundbreaking product to serve the growing needs for clean water in the Indian sub-continent. The device, designed and manufactured by Eureka Forbes, which will be sold under the brand name AquaSure, incorporates Disruptor filter media.
This new AquaSure storage water purifier removes all three types of contaminants from water: physical, chemical and microbiological - without the use of any chemicals and hence, gives not just microbiologically pure, but safe drinkable water.