2011 Nonwovens Sales: $1.06 billion
Key Personnel: Jan Lång, president and CEO; Seppo Parvi, CFO; Laura Raitio, executive vice president, Building & Energy; William Casey, executive vice president, Food & Medical; Tommi Björnman, executive vice president, Filtration; Daniele Borlatto, executive vice president, Label & Processing; Paula Aarnio, executive vice president, Human Resources & Sustainability; Rami Raulas, executive vice president, Sales & Marketing; Luc Rousselet, executive vice president, Supply Chain; Aki Saarinen, executive vice president, Strategic Business Development; Paul Stenson, executive vice president, Product & Technology Development.
Plants: Barcelona, Spain; Binzhou, China; Bousbecque, France; Brignoud, France; Chirnside, U.K.; Hyun Poong, South Korea; Jacareí, Brazil; Karhula, Finland; Kauttua, Finland; Longkou, China; Louveira, Brazil; Madisonville, KY; Malmédy, Belgium; Mount Holly Springs, PA; Mundra, India; Osnabrück, Germany; Pont Audemer, France; Pont Evêque, France; Radcliffe, U.K.; Saint Séverin, France; Ställdalen, Sweden; Stenay, France; Tampere, Finland; Taylorville, IL; Turin, Italy; Redkino, Russia; West Carrollton, OH; Windsor Locks, CT
Processes: Wetlaid (Trinitex), microglass, nanotechnology (Distruptor), composites, creping/micrexing, spunmelt/spunbond, parchmentizing, coating, calendering.
Major Markets: Filtration, wall coverings, building, automotive, labels, food packaging, beverages, medical
Ahlstrom’s business continues to transform itself as the Finland-based company moves forward with its plan of focusing on high performance materials. Already, this plan has led to the divestment of Ahlstrom’s wipes business—including about €300 million in annual sales—in October 2011 to Suominen Corporation. According to executives, the sale of the wipes business, once an important growth vehicle for Ahlstrom, will allow it to strengthen and develop current businesses, particularly in Asia.
Ahlstrom’s remaining nonwovens-related business units include filtration, building and energy and food and medical. In 2011, sales from continuing operations decreased 1.8% to €1.6 billion. Of these sales, nonwovens-related business comprised about 59% of sales, meaning Ahlstrom’s nonwovens sales were about €819 million or $1.06 billion last year.
According to executives, demand for most of Ahlstrom’s products were stable during the first half of 2011, but the market started to decline after the summer holiday season following the slowdown in the global economy, particularly in Europe. This slowdown impacted a number of markets, including construction, wall coverings and flooring, as well as food packaging and tape materials. However, demand in transportation materials and medical materials remained strong.
Ahlstrom has continued to focus on growing its presence in filtration, a business in which the company has invested heavily through acquisitions and capital expenditures during the past decades. Already a leader in the transportation filtration area, this investment strategy has helped Ahlstrom evolve into a well-rounded supplier of both wet and dry media applications in a number of core markets.
Last year, filtration sales comprised 20% of total sales. “We are focusing on further developing innovative filter media solutions for our customers in both transportation and advanced filtration applications,” says company spokeswoman Noora Blasi, marketing manager, Filtration. “Strong partnerships and innovative research and development activities keep filtration as a strong growing segment.”
The company’s most recent investment was a capacity expansion at its site in Turin, Italy, where it completed work on a new saturator line in August. This €17.5 million investment was described as an important step that will benefit customers in both transportation and advanced filtration areas. Additionally, in 2010, the company beefed up its Asian filtration business with a new plant in Binzhou, China, that is dedicated to transportation materials, as well as with the opening of a logistic service center in India in December 2011 to support this business.
Ahlstrom’s building and energy business serves customers mainly in the building, transportation, marine, windmill and wall covering industries and comprises about 18% of the group’s sales.
Among the key activities in this business is the addition of a new wall covering line targeting the China market. The new line, in Binzhou, will mainly serve the Chinese market, which is expected to reach 300 million rolls by 2015. “Ahlstrom has a wide range of nonwoven substrates for wall covering applications,” says Calum Mayland, marketing manager, Building & Energy. “They carry different and unique surface characteristics which are directly printed to create stylish wall cover designs.”
Because design is the key driver in this industry, Ahlstrom products appeal to designers due to their ability to incorporate structure and touch into a wall cover design. This combination of easier decoration and better appearance on the wall is driving growth of nonwoven substrates around the world, Mayland adds.
Another important business area for this segment is battery separators, a market Ahlstrom entered last year through the purchase of a stake in Porous Power Technologies, LLC, a Colorado-based company developing technology for lithium-ion battery separators. Ahlstrom had previously partnered with Porous Power by providing the nonwovens component of the membrane technology used in battery separators. “Everything we are hearing from this market is that it is growing strongly and will continue to until at least 2020, says Laura Raitio, executive vice president of Ahlstrom’s Building & Energy business. “The transaction will be very beneficial because it will give us access to the membrane technology and it’s a good fit to our existing business.”
Ahlstrom had been working with Porous Power for some time, supplying a nonwoven component to the porous membrane product. The resulting product is a highly interesting membrane, Raitio explains. Using Symmetrix technology, the product aids in faster charging and provides safety aspects like an ability to hold up under extremely hot and extremely cold temperatures.
Ahlstrom, together with Porous Power, will continue to offer a new generation of separator solutions for safer batteries and capacitors in electric-drive vehicles, e-bikes, portable electronics and utility-grade storage products. Porous Power’s current separator products are already being evaluated by battery manufacturers around the world. The products for electric vehicles will be commercially available in larger scale at a later date. Among the benefits of Porous Power’s product is its ability to hold up well in extremely hot and cold temperatures. Its extreme porosity helps aid in charging speeds and can be offered at an attractive price point.
Also included in Ahlstrom’s nonwovens business is food and medical, which provides materials for tea bags, food packaging, masking tape and surgical drapes, gowns and sterile barriers. This area comprised 18% of group sales last year and significant growth is expected in Asia, as evidenced by recent investments in this region.
Key events in this segment include the opening of a new plant in Longkou, China, a joint venture with Longkou Yulong Paper. The site, which will open this fall, will produce crepe paper, targeting the masking tape and medical sterile barrier systems markets. It will be the group’s third crepe paper plant, joining existing sites in Pont Audemer, France and Kauttua, Finland.
Meanwhile, in India, Ahlstrom opened a spunmelt facility in Mundra in 2010. The output of this site can be used in nearly all medical applications, and in late 2011 a topical treatment line was added to allow the company to make alcohol repellent and antistatic SMS.
“With the addition of repellence SMS to the existing product range, we now have a completed medical portfolio that focuses on clean, single-use materials that conform to medical standards,” says Bethany Schivley, communication officer, Food & Medical.
With more than 80% of all surgical gowns being produced in Asia, expansion into this region was a must for Ahlstrom and Schivley says investment in both sales and personnel will continue in coming years.
In the food segment, Ahlstrom continues to see success with BioWeb, a lightweight nonwoven web that provides an environmentally friendly, sustainable and affordable solution for high-end and specialty tea packers, designed for conversion on ultrasonic or heat seal tea-packing machines, according to Schivley. Ahlstrom makes BioWeb in Chirnside, Scotland.