Plants: Weinheim, Germany; Neuenburg, Germany; Kaiserslautern, Germany; Greetland, U. K.; Swindon, U. K.; Littleborough, U. K. Colmar, France; Parets, Spain; Sant‘ Omero, Italy; Cossato, Italy; Hong Kong, China; Suzhou, China; Nantong, China; Chennai, India; Pyungtaek, South Korea; Yang Mei, Taiwan; Tayuan, Taiwan; San Martin/Buenos Aires, Argentina; Durham, NC; Jacarei, Brazil; Cape Town, South Africa
ISO Status: All locations are ISO 9001 and ISO 14001 certified; locations serving the automotives industry are TS 16469 certified; all sites are OHSAS 18001 certified.
Processes: Drylaid staple fiber, wetlaid, spunbonded, meltblown, needle-punched, thermal bonded, chemical bonded, water entanglement
Brands: Celestia, Comfortemp, Evolon, Lutradur, Lutrasil), SoundTex, Vildona, Viledon, Vilene, Vilmed, Vlieseline, Marelli & Berta
Major Markets: Automotive interiors, apparel, energy, geotextiles, building interiors, medical, hygiene and special applications.
The varied slate of investments announced recently by the world’s largest nonwovens producer include an expansion of the company’s proprietary microfiber Evolon technology in Colmar/France and the creation of a recycling unit in Kaiserslautern, Germany. Additionally, Freudenberg Nonwovens, Weinheim, Germany, has continued to focus on new product development and recent introductions have included Vildona airliner 2.0 for waterproof and breathable shoe soles and uppers, Viledon battery separators and Lutradur ECO made with Repreve.
“Business has been stable and on plan,” says General Manager of North America, John McNabb.“I think the industry in general has recovered.”
Freudenberg’s Nonwovens business operates in a number of markets including consumer products for shoe and hygiene applications, battery separators, automotives and medical products where it produces products made through a number of technologies including polyester spunlaid, drylaid staple fiber, electrostatic spun microfiber (Evolon, needlepunch, thermal bonded, chemical bonded and water entanglement in plants located around the world.
In recent years, Freudenberg has expanded its offerings of products made from post consumer recycled (PCR) materials through its Lutradur Eco product range.
“Freudenberg is the leading spunbond company to offer post consumer recycled materials in its products,” McNabb says. “For us, this has been driven by a desire to be green, not a lower cost products.”
At IDEA 2013 in April, Freudenberg introducing its eco-friendly nonwoven product Lutradur ECO, made with Repreve recycled PET resin. Repreve is a brand made with recycled materials, including plastic bottles. Unlike any other recycled ingredients, Repreve is made with the highest quality standards in the industry, and certification and verification that ensure product integrity. Lutradur ECO has the same outstanding product properties such as dimensional stability, high temperature resistance, non-fray properties and surface uniformity, only it’s better for the planet thanks to Repreve. Lutradur® ECO is suitable for many applications, including wall covering substrates, carpet backing, landscape and geotextiles, green roof systems, building and construction, coating and printing substrates and many other end uses.
Freudenberg’s commitment to being green can also be seen through its commitment to achieving zero landfill status at as many of its global plants as possible since 2004. Calling it a “constant effort,” McNabb reports that Freudenberg has been steadily decreasing its landfill contributions by recycling internal waste back into its products.
These efforts are sure to be enhanced through an investment, completed this year, in a new unit that allows excess materials, rejected during the production, to be reused down to the last fiber. This investment, located in Kaiserslautern, Germany, is valued at €700,000.“At Kaiserslautern, we have been recycling rejected materials such as start-up material and edge strips for many years. Nevertheless, the new unit represents a quantum leap in our everyday work. This unit will allow us to improve the quality of our products and to offer our customers even better solutions, explains Steffen Reuther, the production manager responsible for operation of the new plant. In the new unit, material from production is melted cooled and chopped into small pieces to form a granulate. The chips are returned during the manufacturing process and used to make nonwovens.“This production loop allows us to use raw materials more effectively. It also makes a contribution to environmental protection,” Reuther says. The Kaiserslautern plant makes spunlaid nonwovens for construction, hygiene products and carpet industries as well as horticulture products.
In other investment news, in May, Freudenberg announced it would to expand its Evolon business in Colmar, France, the site of the company’s original Evolon investment. Evolon is manufactured through a globally patented technology combining the spinning of filaments with splitting through hydroentanglement. Since its development in the late 1990s, Evolon has been successful in a number applications including high tech cleaning cloths, automotives and, most recently medical areas. The latest expansion to this technology, is scheduled to be complete by October. The company is reporting the investment at €5 million.
“Once the new production line is complete, we will combine various base materials and create new products through hydroentanglement,” says Ulrich Jahn, plant manager at Colmar.
Freudenberg’s interlinings business, once its primary business, continues to perform well in Asia. Products from Freudenberg Nonwovens are number one in the menswear segment. The production site in Nantong serves the markets in South and Southeast Asia. However the technology continues to face competition from woven and weft products. While the company has followed this trend by increasing its woven and weft sales, restructuring measures have been required. The first measures have already been initiated at the Weinheim facility and in Italy, the Interlinings business at Marelli & Berta, has been realigned.
Speaking of reorganization, Freudenberg Nonwovens disposed its production lines in Kaiserslautern, Germany to Freudenberg Filtration Technologies in late 2011, allowing the division to better concentrate on core businesses in 2012. These include carpet applications and automotive products.
Looking forward, Freudenberg Nonwovens expects market conditions to remain difficult for the next two years. Nevertheless, the group will continue to work on making process improvements, realigning its interlinings division and reinforce the local R&D departments for innovations. Within the industrial nonwovens division, the focus is on generating growth with innovative products and market niches. In South America a very high performing nonwoven to improve liquid management has been launched for hygiene applications. One market niche gaining traction is urbanization and energy storage, which have driven Freudenberg researchers to develop high performance separators for lithium-ion batteries. This ultrathin nonwoven contains a special surface coating, which outperforms conventional separator materials in terms of thermal and mechanical stability. These separators provide the needed improvements in battery technology that play a key role in the safety, reliability and service life of large Lithium-ion batteries.
Meanwhile, Freudenberg’s Vildona Airliner 2.0 has exceeded all expectations as a shoe insole. The technology is based on a substrate, in this case a spunlace nonwoven, in which a superabsorbent polymer is anchored using a chemical reaction. Freudenberg has already partnered with a leading Turkish brand Greyder as well as the Deichmann group.
2012 Nonwovens Sales: $289 million
Sales for Freudenberg Politex declined slightly to €217 million ($289 million) as sales in the group’s core business, roofing reinforcements dropped by 2.9%. Sales in construction materials, a smaller segment for the division, grew 10.3% year-on-year.
Reporting a difficult situation in the construction segment of Western Europe, the company saw demand for roofing reinforcements in these regions mainly driven by repairs and renovations. At the same time, the group saw sales grow in Russia, Turkey and the Middle East as infrastructures were modernized and expanded.
Freudenberg Politex operates sites in the U.S., China, France, Italy, Poland and Russia. In Russia, the company’s factory in the Nizhniy Novgorad was expanded with a second line, which came onstream in September 2012. The investment, which was valued at €20 million, will help Freudenberg Politex serve the growing Russian market with a complete range of fiber and spunbond roofing reinforcements.
Looking ahead, Freudenberg Politex does not expect any major changes in the market situation of Europe and North America and does not expect any increase in production volumes in these regions. Instead, the company will focus on expanding its footprint, through manufacturing assets and new products, in developing regions.
Freudenberg Filtration Technologies
2012 Nonwovens Sales: $373 million
On the back of increases in all regions and market segments, Freudenberg Filtration Technologies continued its growth trajectory of the previous two years, growing sales by 8.8% to €280.9 million ($373 million). Sales developed particularly well in North America and China.
Higher energy, raw material and transport costs were offset by sales growth, price increases, productivity improvements and technological innovations.
This group’s position in the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China) was successfully expanded in 2012. In India, Freudenberg Filtration Technologies acquired part of the business of filter manufacturer Pyramid Filters Private Ltd., a manufacturer of air filter elements and systems for process-critical cleanroom applications in the pharmaceutical, medical, chemical and food industries.
Additionally, a subsidiary was established in Nizhiniy Novgorod, Russia in early 2013 to help boost momentum in the Russian industrial filter market and in Chengdu, China, a new site making micronAir automotive filters and Viledon industrial filters began operation.
Demand in the industrial filter space was generally described as good, but volatile. Freudenberg Filtration Technologies launched innovative products such as the particularly energy-efficient Viledon eMaxx cassette filters for use in gas turbines, Viledon sinTexx Plus filter cartridges for dust removal and high performance filters for room air purifiers
In new product news, the group added gas phase filtration technology for the pulp and paper, petrochemicals and mining industries. Investment in a production line for high temp filters has also opened up opportunities for the surface technology segment.
Global sales of micronAir cabin air filters to both OEMs and in the aftermarket remained at a good level. Freudenberg Filtration Technologies won major orders for new vehicle platforms where series production is scheduled to begin in the next few years.
In the next couple of years, Freudenberg hopes to evolve from a supplier of high quality filter products to an all-round partner for holistic, energy efficient filtration solutions. Already, significant progress has been made in India, NorthAmerica and Europe.