2011 Nonwovens Sales: $150 million
Key Personnel: John Lewis, president, Southern Felt; Mike Konesky, vice president, Sales & Marketing, Southern Felt
Plants: South Carolina, China, U.K., India
Processes: Needlepunch, thermal bond, chemical finishes
Brands: Fiberlox, Microfelt, Checkstatic, Powertech, Powerlox, Pleatlox
Major Markets: Filtration, technical felts, laundry products
Global economic conditions were blamed for stagnant sales at U.K.-based filtration media maker Andrew Industries last year. Despite modest growth in new products around the company, sales were reported flat at $150 million.
“The baghouse market remains highly competitive and some areas have rebounded nicely since the recession of 2008,” says John Lewis, president of Southern Felt, Andrew’s U.S. arm. “The asphalt market remains slower than normal due to the lack of spending on highway infrastructure. Other high temperature markets such as PPS will become more active as utility companies upgrade facilities to meet new air standards put fort by the EPA.”
In the U.S., Southern Felt has operations in North Augusta, SC, while in China, Andrew operates as China Felt and has recently acquired a business in Wuxi. Andrew’s U.K. operations are known as Andrew Webron. Nearly all of its business targets the baghouse filtration market, however, in 2011 the company diversified its business through the acquisition of Ahlstrom’s dust and automotive filtration business in Bethune, SC, and Wuxi, China. According to Lewis, the acquisition has also given Andrew a strong foothold in the liquid filtration market, specifically automotive transmission filter media.
Meanwhile, in its core needlepunch business, Andrew is adding a state-of-the-art needlepunch line at its Southern Felt site in North Augusta. This $5.5 million investment is part of a continued effort to add capacity as well as invest in the latest equipment innovations. Also in North Augusta, Andrew’s Bondex business has broken ground and will expand its facility to include a coating and laminating line for electrical insulation and specialist packaging products that complement its thermal bonded products. Meanwhile, in the U.K., Andrew Webron invested in ePTFE laminating equipment last fall, giving it the ability to offer high quality ePTFE membrane laminated felts and fabrics in Europe.
In China, Andrew continues to operate two manufacturing plants: China Felt, which it established in Qingpu seven years ago; and Andrew Wuxi, which was purchased from Ahlstrom. Since buying the Wuxi site in March 2011, Andrew has invested heavily in the site where improvements include a state-of-the-art needlepunch line specifically for PTFE filter media. “This was a very significant investment that enables us to be the leader in the fast growing PTFE filter media market in China,” Lewis says. “We have also diversified into the liquid filtration market in Wuxi where we made felts for automotive transmissions.”
While the Chinese market has cooled significantly, Andrew still expects to see growth of 5-8% annually (compared to 10-15% previously).
Beyond China, the next spot on Andrew’s radar is India, where it intends to open a converting operation. This facility will produce filter bags, made from both felt and fiberglass, for the growing India market, which is strategically important to Andrew due to demand for high quality filter bags as well as huge market growth potential.
In terms of technology, Andrew has been seeking ways to diversify its business and plans are now underway to expand into hydroentangling. The company’s first 3-meter-wide hydroentangling line will likely come on-stream in mid-2014, allowing Andrew to bring innovative filtration products to the global market. “We will certainly focus on niche markets where we can excel and our filtration expertise can be fully utilized,” Lewis adds.