2011 Nonwovens Sales: $465 million
Key Personnel: Daniel Dayan, CEO; Kate Miles, group finance director
Plants: Old Hickory, TN; Aschersleben, Germany; Berlin, Germany; Pontypool, U.K.; Maldon, U.K.; Aberdare, U.K.; Terno d’Isola, Italy; Melbourne, Australia
Processes: Thermal bonded, air-through bonded, spunbond, needlepunch, meltblown, lamination, film
Major Markets: Filtration, geosynthetics, medical specialties, crop cover, tree shelters, dryer sheets, adult incontinence components, housewrap, roofing underlayments, grass protection
Big changes have taken place at Fiberweb over the past half-decade. During this time, the company has evolved from a large-scale nonwovens player strong in polypropylene-based spunmelt products geared toward hygiene applications—with sites around the world—to a smaller, more focused maker of specialty fabrics.
The biggest change came at the end of 2011 when the London-based company sold the majority of its commodity hygiene business to its former joint venture partner Petropar, the Brazilian owner of Fitesa, for a reported $286 million (see more on Fitesa on page 50). The deal, which was finalized December 30, included plants around the world and infused Fiberweb with a strong cash position.
The new organization, which CEO Daniel Dayan now describes as a specialty materials company rather than a nonwovens maker, reports its annual sales at about $465 million and is predicting growth to be in the 3-5% for the year. Meanwhile, stock market analysts predict that earnings should rise from $16 million to $23 million.
“We don’t describe ourselves as a nonwovens business but as a specialty materials business,” says Dayan. “We now do a long list of things to fine-tune fabrics for customers like coating and laminating on fabrics.”
Following the hygiene divestment, Fiberweb now operates through two main divisions: Technical Fabrics and Geosynthetics. Technical Fabrics comprises the group’s former Americas and European industrial businesses, as well as the remaining hygiene businesses in France and Italy. It is the larger of the two divisions, comprising five production sites and about 900 employees.
Meanwhile, the Geosynthetics business was created from Fiberweb’s existing Terram geotextile business, the 2011 acquisitions of Tubex and Boddingtons, as well as existing geotextile and construction businesses in the U.S. This division includes sites in Maldon, Essex and Aberdare, U.K., plus housewrap and tree shelter production at Old Hickory, TN, in North America.
While much of the company’s business now lies in industrial and technical markets like construction, filtration and geotextiles, about one-third of sales are within remaining hygiene businesses, mainly comprising specialty spunbond and carded materials that mostly go into adult incontinence, rather than baby care applications, as well as specialty polyester spunbond for dryer sheets.
Included in the sale were FitesaFiberweb-owned spunmelt manufacturing sites in Washington, South Carolina, Mexico and Peru, as well as Fiberweb spunmelt operations in Sweden, Germany and Italy, and an airlaid plant in Tianjin, China. Fiberweb continues to operate specialty nonwovens sites in the U.S. and Europe, as well as a small operation in Australia.
“The affect of the sale of the business has been more focus,” Dayan says. “We are now very focused on technical fabrics, specialty, filtration, niche areas like aerospace, fiber-reinforced plastics, automotives, medical and filtration. We are operating in a less broad area so it’s easy to focus and prioritize investments. The other thing is instead of debt we now have a lot of cash.”
That’s not to say, however, that Fiberweb is hot to spend all that capital. At the time of the sale, the company said it would take at least 18 months to determine the direction major future investments would take. Whether the direction will be acquisition, capital investment or return to shareholders has yet to be determined.
As it considers its options, Fiberweb has continued to invest moderately in its business, allotting about $23 million last year in new capital. Among its latest investments is an upgrade to a breathable film line in Aschersleben, Germany, to allow for the development of new medical products; a thermal air-through bonding line in Terno d’Isola, Italy, that has helped reduce costs at the site; and a new generation needlepunch line in Maldon, U.K., which replaces an old specialty spunbond line that will close by the end of this year. Also, in late 2011, Fiberweb upgraded a spunbond line in Berlin, Germany, to feature state-of-the-art inline printing and converting equipment that offers seamless end-to-end processing from the granule to the final packaged goods for the European roofing market.
In other investment news, Fiberweb’s Old Hickory, TN, pilot line has allowed the company to make small quantities of polyester nonwovens for trials in areas like filtration where volumes can be small and samples can be expensive. Meanwhile, a recently opened research and development center in Maldon, U.K., is being seen as a center of innovation, but there are no current plans to add pilot capabilities there.
While Technical Fabrics is much larger, Fiberweb’s Geosynthetics division shows great prospects. The division posted an impressive 15% increase in 2011, fueled largely by two major acquisitions, Boddingtons and Tubex, both of which have been well integrated and are performing as expected. Additional growth is being driven by a new tree shelter line in Old Hickory, which is serving the forestry and viticulture industry in the U.S.
“We like the civil engineering accessory place, there are good margins and we expect to keep growing,” Dayan says. “We have a long way to go before we exploit the full potential of the business.”
Also benefitting this side of the business is a new line in Maldon, which gives Fiberweb the ability to make products ranging from 70-1,200 gsm, offering a product range that is more differentiated and flexible than spunbond.
As it continues to find strength in a narrower focus, Fiberweb continues to lack in one area, its global president admits. The sale of the hygiene assets left Fiberweb without a significant presence in Latin America or Asia, something he calls a downside to the disposal.
“We sell a lot of materials into Asia, India, the Middle East and Russia, but it’s not the same as having your own site and this is something we certainly want to do,” says Dayan. “Whatever we do in those markets, we will aim to be very focused. It has to be something we think we can make good money on.”
For now, Fiberweb will continue to remain true to its new branding strategy—“The Next Answer”—which has been created to reflect the direction of the company toward global technical fabrics and geosynthetics.
“We will continue to change the orientation of the business toward our customers,” Dayan says. “What we need to do now is deliver two or three years of solid improving results and prove that the specialty materials tag is justified.”