2012 Nonwovens Sales: $150 million
Key Personnel: John Lewis, president, Southern Felt; Mike Konesky, vice president, sales and marketing, Southern Felt
Plants: South Carolina, U.K., China, India
Processes: Needlepunch, thermal bond, chemical finishes
Major Markets: Filtration, technical felts, laundry products
Sales remained flat for Andrew Industries as falling raw material prices have lowered prices even as volumes have increased. At the same time, earnings met expectations but executives say it is becoming increasingly important to purchase wisely, lower manufacturing expenses and reduce waste.
“We are facing more and more competition from cheap imports that threaten our market and we must be diligent controlling costs,” says John Lewis, president of Andrew’s Southern Felt division.
Andrew’s core market, the industrial air filtration market strengthened in 2012 compared to the prior two to three years as improvements in the domestic housing market drove demand for bag filters in the cement and asphalt industry, Lewis says. Additionally, strong demand for automobiles has given life to the steel and aluminum industries, driving demand for filtration.
According to Lewis, filtration continues to be important to his company.
“Southern Felt actively participates in other markets but we are focusing resources on new markets such as fi re blocking and protective apparel,” he says. “We feel these markets offer the opportunity for niche products that we are capable of designing and manufacturing. Our core is filtration and will remain so while we diversify into other nonwoven fabrics for technical applications.”
Andrew’s U.S. division, Southern Felt, based in North Augusta, SC, commissioned a needlepunch line in September 2012, giving the division the ability to produce a full range of technical filtration needlefelts as well as other industrial felts. The new line has added six million square yards of capacity annually.
In other investment news, Southern Felt is actively pursuing specialized finished equipment needed for its Pleatloxx product line. This equipment will allow the company to penetrate the pleatable cartridge market with niche products.
Meanwhile, Bondex, Andrew’s thermal bond business, has added new laminating and coating capabilities, giving the division better exposure in the electrical insulation market.
Looking eastward, China continues to be a rapidly growing market but also a competitive one. For success, Andrew, which is known in China as China Felt, has differentiated itself through innovative products, high quality felts and excellent customer service.
“Our high technical and commercial integrity also separates us from some of our domestic competitors and is required by multinational and large OEM and end user customers in China,” Lewis says. “Yes, there is still growth potential in China as tighter environmental standards are put in action, thus creating more demand for industrial filter felts. We project growth being 5-6% annually for the next few years.”
In India, Andrew India, where the company began a converting operation in 2012, is now operational, producing a full range of filter bags from both needlepunch felts and woven fiberglass. Lamination equipment has also been commissioned giving Andrew India the capability to offer ePTFE laminated felts, wovens, and spunbonds.
“There are tremendous growth opportunities in India due to massive growth in infrastructure throughout the country,” Lewis says. “This internal growth, along with tighter emission standards, demand a high quality, reputable filter bag producer such as Andrew.”
In the next two to three years, Andrew intends to add needlepunch manufacturing equipment in India but until then the site will be supplied by the Chinese operation.
Meanwhile, in China, Andrew expects its new spunlace line at its Wuxi facility to be operational in early 2014 when it will enable the company to offer new innovative high efficiency media.