2011 Nonwovens Sales: $1.48 billion
Key Personnels: Bruce Olson, CEO; René Wollert, CFO; Frank Heislitz, CTO
Plants: Weinheim, Germany; Neuenburg, Germany; Kaiserslautern, Germany; Greetland, U.K.; Swindon, U.K.; Colmar, France; Parets, Spain; Milano, Italy; Hong Kong, China; Suzhou, China; Jiangsu, China, Moriyama, Japan; Sashima, Japan; Tokyo, Japan; Mahape, India; Chennai, India; Pyungtaek, South Korea; Yang Mei Tao-Yuan, Taiwan; Tayuan, Taiwan; San Martin/Buenos Aires, Argentina; Durham, NC; Hopkinsville, KY; Jacarei, Brazil; Cape Town, South Africa
Processes: Drylaid staple fiber, wetlaid, spunbonded, meltblown, electrostatic spun microfiber, needlepunched, thermal bonded, chemical bonded, water entanglement
ISO Status: All locations are ISO 9001 and ISO 14001 certified; locations serving the automotives industry are TS 16469 certified; 21 out of 23 plants are OSHAS 18001 certified
Brands: Celestia, Comfortemp, Evolon, Lutradur, Lutrasil, Soundtex, Vildona, Viledon, Vilene, Vilmed, Vlieseline
Major Markets: Automotive, apparel, energy, filtration, geotextiles, home and industrial furnishings, medical, personal care
As the leading nonwovens producer with a hand in many major markets, Freudenberg continues to make strategic investments that will expand its global reach while also strengthening its current capabilities. Divided into three separate business groups that operate independently (Freudenberg Nonwovens, Freudenberg Politex and Freudenberg Filtration Technologies), the group is on the cutting edge of the nonwovens industry, raking in €1.14 billion ($1.48 billion) in total nonwovens sales in 2011.
Freudenberg Nonwovens sales grew 4.8% in 2011 to €663.7 million. While sales in interlinings and industrial nonwovens were stagnant, the company’s spunlaid business in Europe, the U.S. and Asia developed well, according to the company.
“Overall, we are pleased with our performance in the 2011 financial year,” says René Wollert, CFO, Freudenberg Nonwovens. “However, all divisions had to cope with rising raw material prices. Furthermore, the disastrous earthquake in Japan impacted business in Asia, particularly regarding products for the automotives industry. These difficulties were compounded by the continuing euro crisis, which is affecting sales in Europe in particular.”
Regarding specific nonwovens markets, Wollert says the global interlinings business is suffering from consumer restraint in all regions, requiring further capacity adjustments, especially in Europe and Asia. “After a very good first six months in 2011, Industrial Nonwovens felt the effects of the EU financial crisis in some segments during the second half of the year,” he adds. “Efforts continue to harness the growth potential in the energy sector (particularly in regards to separators for lithium-ion batteries) and for various new technical specialties.”
The company’s spunlaid business has grown in all areas, particularly following the recovery of the automotive industry. “The rise in raw material prices had a negative influence on profitability as market prices could only offset a share of the higher raw material cost,” Wollert notes.
The Interlinings Division continues to expand its menswear business, extending its product range and investing further in sales expertise. The company established a new sales company in Italy with Marelli & Berta Interfordere in 2011, looking to strengthen its position as a market leader in the menswear segment and the larger apparel industry with innovative products such as Viltec, which was patented in 2011, as well as two other patented innovations that will come to market in 2012 and 2013.
Meanwhile, Wollert says the polyester spunlaid business in Europe, Asia and the U.S. continues to be very strong. In Asia in particular there is significant growth potential for spunlaid applications triggered by rising demand. “A new product range for sports shoes has reinforced the market position in Asia,” Wollert says. “Business with environmentally-friendly spunlaid products is also growing in North America and Europe as the automotive sector recovers. The business group has been very successful in developing ‘green’ products based on recycled polyester. A new award-winning generation of automotive carpets with significant weight-saving potential named Lutraflor has been launched.”
Significant investments are planned in capacity extension of polyester spunlaid in Asia and a debottlenecking of the company’s Evolon operation in Colmar, France.
Regarding other future prospects, Wollert says the energy sector is a key future market for Freudenberg and Industrial Nonwovens is investing in forward-looking technologies. For example, a coating line for lithium-ion battery separators was commissioned last year. “Momentum on industrial nonwovens markets has become significantly more dynamic as a result of the increasing numbers of electric cars,” notes Wollert. “Growing orders for fuel cell components such as gas diffusion layers also call for process optimization and investments.”
The company commissioned its coating plant for lithium-ion battery separators at the end of last year. However, competition in battery separators for Ni MH cells is intensifying, particularly in Asia, adds Wollert. “We are currently developing new separators for lithium-ion batteries with product characteristics that significantly enhance the safety and operating life of the lithium-ion cells.”
The company also invested in a new cable coating plant in Spain—a signal for further growth in Europe.
In the medical sector, Freudenberg Nonwovens is working on developments for advanced wound care. “Modern wound management seeks to keep the wound moist in order to accelerate the healing process. This presents a very demanding challenge for the nonwovens used in such treatments,” says Wollert.
Regarding hygiene, Freudenberg Nonwovens laid the foundations for further growth in this sector in 2012 with two new hygiene lines in Korea, which were successfully commissioned in April 2011. By the second half of 2011 the capacity utilization rate was already very good, says Wollert. “In the hygiene sector, Freudenberg is focusing on special acquisition/distribution layer products based on staple fiber technology.”
Recognizing broad potential in developing markets, Freudenberg continues to grow its presence in key regions. “We are continually expanding our activities in China and India and will be providing these markets, which have an increasing demand for state-of-the-art technical solutions, with locally manufactured products,” says Wollert. Other future markets of interest include Indonesia, Brazil and, in the mid-term, Russia, he adds.
Freudenberg Nonwovens is also addressing the issue of sustainability “with great vigor,” says Wollert. “We are developing environmentally-friendly products and our carbon footprint already plays a role in our production processes. Lutraflor, for example, which is used for automotive carpeting and produced using a deep-draw process, is manufactured without any chemical additives and is extremely lightweight. Another new development is natural fiber-based nonwovens used in side panel applications in the automotive industry.”
Sales for Freudenberg Politex in 2011 reached €223 million, compared to €204 million in 2010. “In a very challenging global environment we closed 2011 with satisfactory results in terms of sales and market shares, maintaining a minimum level of profitability,” says Richard Shaw, president and CEO. “We were able to partially compensate for the dramatic raw materials price increases thanks to different actions focused on process optimization and cost savings, in addition to unavoidable sales price increases.”
In the past few years the company has carried out rationalization projects in all its facilities, in particular in European plants. In addition, the company has installed a spunbond line in its Russian factory in Nizhniy Novgorod region, which will come on-stream in September 2012.
As a whole, the construction market remains very slow in most regions Freudenberg Politex operates. “In particular the trend of new construction is negative in most mature countries and the demand for roofing reinforcements is mainly fed by repair and renovation works,” says Shaw. “The situation is deteriorating particularly in Mediterranean countries, slowing down also in Central Europe. Northern Europe and North America are performing better but are also somehow flat, while in growing economies the market is sustained by new constructions following the need of modernization.”
The company says demand for sustainable products has contributed to the further growth of environmentally friendly construction materials. “This is why our efforts in research and product development are continuously focused on alternative raw materials and finished products, which allow us to offer solutions providing advanced technical performances, but also allowing the building sector to contribute to environmental protection,” says Federico Pallini, business director.
As Freudenberg Politex moves forward, top considerations will include customer orientation, innovation and technical leadership, as well as environmental stewardship.
Freudenberg Filtration Technologies
In 2011 Freudenberg Filtration Technologies brought in €258 million in sales, compared to €241 million for 2010. Positioning itself for future growth in the filtration sector, Freudenberg Filtration Technologies India Private Ltd. signed an agreement earlier this year to acquire the business of Pyramid Filters Private Ltd. Based in Pune, Freudenberg Filtration Technologies India provides highly efficient industrial and automotive filter elements and systems, as well as globally patented system solutions for capacity and efficiency enhancement in gas turbines and compressors. Pyramid Filters develops and produces air filter elements and systems for cleanroom applications in the pharmaceutical, medical, food and chemical industries.
At the time of the acquisition, Andreas Kreuter, managing director of the global Freudenberg Filtration Technologies Group, said, “Founded in 1998, Pyramid Filters enjoys an excellent reputation in India, thanks to a comprehensive HEPA filter range and renowned services. Based on Pyramid’s strong market position, we will be able to add new products to our already broad portfolio and offer our customers further services.”
In February 2011, Freudenberg Filtration introduced Viledon Hydrotexx ECO, green filtration media made with post-consumer recycle (PCR) polyester. Extending the lifecycle of an original product for reuse into another application, PCR comes from converting used polyester bottles into a raw material that can be fed into the manufacturing process. About 23% of all polyester bottles in the U.S. are recovered through recycling and reprocessing.
According to the company, Hydrotexx ECO was designed to respond to the green-minded consumers in the Pool & Spa marketplace. The product has additional potential applications in air and liquid filtration, pleat media, pre-filter and composite support substrates.