For more than 30 years—this year included—Freudenberg has been at the top of our annual top companies report. This global company with its roots in apparel and current strengths in automotives, filtration and other technical markets has avoided the high volume, low margin call of the hygiene markets, a plan that has made its annual sales creep up a little less slowly than some of the other larger nonwovens companies in the world.
Still, Freudenberg, until now, has scraped by, growing just enough to keep the competition at bay, but the gap between them continues to narrow. This is not so much the case with DuPont, the world's second largest nonwovens maker who has also avoided some of the larger volume applications, but other leading players like Ahlstrom and PGI have been steadily increasing their sales on the heels of investments in new lines and acquisitions of new businesses. In the past 15 years or so, Freudenberg's sales have only increased about 20% while PGI's have more than doubled and Ahlstrom's (including the Dexter acquisition) have more than quadrupled.
Of course, things can always change in an instant. Ahlstrom has announced a plan to sell off more than $400,000 of its business, which will surely impact its ranking moving foward, and PGI's sales are largely dependent on the whims of raw material prices, moving up sharply when prices are high and decreasing when they drop.
Even beyond the current top producers, there are many companies with ambitious expansion plans that could seriously impact the rankings during the next couple of years. Fiberweb is moving into China and growing its business in the Americas with its joint venture partner Fitesa; PGI is adding a large line in Virginia and has hinted at further expansion in Asia and South America; Avgol has got two new lines in the works and will probably add another in Russia before long; Pegas is expanding in Egypt; Suominen has made a major acquisition that will increase its sales many times over.
These are just a few of the already announced plans that will drive sales at many of the world's largest producers in the next year and certainly change the breakdown of companies included in this annual report. Even beyond this year's 40 largest manufacturers, there are several—Dounor, Atex, Mogul, Mada, Advanced Fabrics—that are poised for impressive sales growth and will surely make their way into this report before long.
It is with this in mind that, once again, I stress that the sales figures—and related company rankings—are just a small part of this special report. It is really the profiles, containing all of the latest news and developments from each company, that provide the flavor for each company and, when taken together, the nonwovens industry as a whole.
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