Filtration Makers Respond to Changing World

By Karen McIntyre, Editor | November 16, 2012

Protecting processes and improving sustainability are new challenges facing the filtration market.

The wide variety of markets and applications it serves as well as its ability to fetch a premium price even in the toughest of economic conditions has made filtration an attractive market for many nonwovens manufacturers. These manufacturers have come to rely on a number of technologies ranging from needlepunch to meltblown to nanotechnology to help them conquer new territories.

These territories range from consumer areas like home heating and ventilation systems or water purification filters to industrial baghouse systems to engine filtration devices and even more sophisticated life science or cleanroom applications. Throughout all of these areas, the demands being placed on filtration media continue to change thanks to shifts in consumer demand, manufacturing processes and engine.

“The way we see it is, there have been really big changes in market needs,” says Jay Baxter, business development manager for K-C Professional. “With filtration, it used to be just dust protection and then it became preventing damage to the equipment. Ten or 20 years ago, cleaner air became a concern. Now the trends we are seeing are actually concerned with the health and productivity of building occupants as well as greener buildings and sustainability.

“So, the challenge has been how do we target all of those things,” Baxter adds. “We need to achieve submicron particle capture while maintaining a low air flow resistance. It might seem simple but how do you achieve the submicron target without sacrificing quality?”

To achieve these demands, K-C, like most companies active in filtration, relies upon a number of technologies. At K-C offerings include bicomponent spunbond technology, nanotechnology and electrostatic treatments but other nonwovens technologies common within the filtration market also include wetlaid, needlepunch, meltblown and even airlaid substrates. This has created a pretty high level of competition within the filtration market, which has attracted a number of new entrants in recent years. However, companies with a long history in filtration say at the high levels, the playing field is wide open. Instead, it is in the higher volume area, which have lower barriers to entry, where competition remains strongest.

“There are a lot of players but once you get to the demanding application areas, you see a separation,” explains Geoff Crosby, director of marketing for filtration, Lydall Performance Materials. “Critical applications like gas turbine, cleanroom and pharmaceutical contain a clear payback for customers that operate at that high of a level. These products need to last a long time.”

Going strong
According to data furnished by INDA, Association of the Nonwoven Fabrics Industry, growth does continue for nonwovens within filtration even in economic downturns. While dry applications, led by interest in heating, ventilation and air conditioning applications, continue to lead growth, the need for cleaner drinking water as well as fuel and blood applications is boosting sales on the liquid side of the spectrum.

Hollingsworth & Vose, the Walpole, MA, maker of a number of technologies for the filtration market saw its sales grow 9% in 2011 despite the challenging global economy. The company credits a global customer base as well as local supply capabilities and steady increases in the Asian engine filtration market as well as the European HVAC markets to this growth.

With more interest being paid to fresher air, more efficient fuel or cleaner drinking water, filtration media are not only becoming more sophisticated, they are fetching higher prices in the marketplace. Consumers are placing a premium on these products and the result is a rapid rate of innovation within the filtration market. From fine fibers to nanotechnology to charged fibers, new technologies are all over the place in filtration, expanding nonwovens’ scope in this market.

Hollingsworth & Vose continues to innovate in its filtration business. Recent advancements include Nanoweb liquid filtration media, a product that delivers the same performance as membrane filtration at a better value the company says.

Nanoweb’s durability, improved fractional efficiency and lower pressure drop make it ideal for water and bioscience microfiltration applications, according to Jodi Meltzer, senior corporate communications manager. Also new is 99+%@4 µ fuel filtration media, which meets tomorrow’s strict diesel engine economy and emissions standards. “Our multilayer service intervals are all that is necessary for the newest global diesel systems,” she says.

In its Engine and Industrial Filtration segments, H&V has witnessed a global need for increased filtration driven by emission regulations, power needs, global affluence, and health concerns. The worldwide trend of continued urbanization has resulted in the creation of new infrastructure. The infrastructure, in turn, supports the expansion of autos, roads, and further urbanization—all of which drive increased filtration needs. Other product development has focused on extending service intervals and making filters more space efficient in order to reduce the amount of waste products.

H&V’s Capaceon meets both of these requirements, delivering 20-50% higher dust-holding capacity at equal basis weight, caliper, and surface area. With Capaceon, new premium filter designs can provide equivalent or improved efficiency while also achieving longer filter life, lower pressure drop, and energy savings throughout the lifetime of the filter.

Meanwile, H&V’s Nanoweb for air applications offers energy efficiency and longer service life. It is designed with H&V’s proprietary nanofiber technology to significantly enhance particle capture efficiency at a minimal increase in pressure drop. Nanoweb media is designed for demanding air filtration applications, which call for long-lasting, extremely durable nanofiber media with high dirt-holding capacity for the toughest environments.

H&V’s High Efficiency and Specialty Filtration business continues to be strong in the gas turbine, energy markets, and indoor air quality markets, but has remained flat for other businesses. Today there is an increased interest in higher efficiency (HEPA) synthetic media to improve uptime in gas turbine filtration.

“NanoWave has gained traction in Europe due to newly ratified HVAC EN779-2012 standards,” says Mike Clark, division president of H&V’s HESF division. “This standard relies on discharged efficiencies to simulate more rigorous longevity tests. NanoWave is the highest performing synthetic filter media providing mechanical filtration that outperforms glass mat in pocket filter applications.”

NanoWave provides a broad technology platform for products being developed for various markets including HVAC, gas turbine, air filtration, and liquid filtration.

H&V’s MFM (Molecular Filtration Media) has experienced global growth due to an increased level of interest in HVAC gas phase filtration to remove pollutants or gases from the air. Worldwide there is an increased level of interest in improved indoor air quality, particularly in office buildings and in automobile cabin air. The benefit of MFM media is that it can capture smaller particles and remove pollutants and odors. 

The many applications for TechnoStat Plus such as disk drives, cabin air, room air and medical devices have kept product revenues on track globally. TechnoStat Plus media exhibits exceptionally low resistance, HEPA high efficiency, and very high dust loading. The new Technostat Plus delivers all the benefits of Technostat plus higher efficiency for a given basis weight.

In Europe, increasingly stringent emission regulations and the need to reduce the fuel consumption of cars have created new market opportunities. The broad-based introduction of “Start-Stop” engine technology has created a significantly growing market for high performance batteries. H&V has supported this development with tailor made battery separators and has invested in a new manufacturing asset in Winchcombe, UK to meet market demands.

Ahlstrom continues advancements
After a series of acquisitions and expansions during the last five years—and a refocused effort on specialty applications—last month, Ahlstrom said it would divide its filtration business into two business areas: Transportation Filtration and Advanced Filtration saying this would enable a stronger focus within filtration, a segment which comprised 20% of sales last year and is expected to grow in importance following the divestment of other businesses including wipes and label and processing.

“We are focusing on further developing innovative filter media solutions for our customers in both transportation and advanced filtration applications,” says company spokeswoman Noora Blasi, marketing manager, Filtration. “Strong partnerships and innovative research and development activities keep filtration as a strong growing segment.”

The new Advanced Filtration business will be led by Fulvio Cappussoti, who has been with Ahlstrom since 2002. The Transportation Filtration business will be headed by Jari Koikkalainen who joins Ahlstrom from Metso Paper.

In addition to this reorganization, Ahlstrom has continued to invest in its filtration business. Most recent efforts have included a saturator in Turin, Italy. The €17.5 million investment features state-of-the-art control equipment that ensures manufacturing of very consistent, clean and high quality media, according to Gary Blevins, vice president of transportation filtration.

“We are pleased to be able to provide the newest technology, both for transportation and advanced filtration materials. This way we will help our customers to stay ahead,” he says. “We are excited about the new saturator line, which has state-of-the-art control equipment that ensures manufacturing of very consistent, clean and high quality media.”

Also in Turin, Ahlstrom has announced it will invest €10 million in filtration media capacity including a paper machine producing filter media for transportation and gas turbine applications.

“This investment is another important step in our growth roadmap, where we are strengthening our platform in Europe. By expanding our filtration operations, we are reinforcing our position as a global supplier in the filtration market with a full offering of filter media,” says Tommi Björnman, executive vice president filtration. “Our global filtration platform has grown significantly in the past two years, with the recent investments in the new saturator line in Turin, the expansion at our plant in Louveira in Brazil and the acquisition and the expansion of the Binzhou plant in China.

“We will continue to work with our customers to grow in regions where they are focused,” adds Gary Blevins, vice president, Transportation Filtration.

Meanwhile, in acquisition news, in September Ahlstrom acquired the Sweden-based Munktell Filter AB as a strategic step to grow the advanced filtration business, particularly in life science and laboratory applications. Under the agreement Ahlstrom will acquire 100% of the shares in Munktell Filter AB, as well as its holdings in Munktell & Filtrak GmbH, Filtres Fioroni SA and Munktell Inc. The transaction was estimated at approximately €20 million, including the planned subsequent buyouts of minority interests. Through the transaction, Ahlstrom will become a global leader in life science and laboratory media filtration. Jan Lång, Ahlstrom president and CEO, said the acquisition will reinforce Ahlstrom’s leadership in filtration material markets worldwide.

“There is a clear strategic fit with Munktell and Ahlstrom, and the transaction allows us to strengthen our product portfolio in advanced filtration materials. This move is a prime example of our focus on new types of high performance materials business with attractive future growth potential,” explains Björnman. “When we combine Munktell’s strong position in the European advanced filtration market with our solid presence in North America, we will gain access to new markets geographically. Driven by global changes in demographics, life science and laboratory filtration are lucrative growth areas for us.”

Munktell, based in Falun, Sweden, has production sites in Germany and Sweden, a joint venture in France and a sales office in the U.S. The company’s net sales amounted to approximately €15 million and its operating profit margin was roughly 15% in 2011. It employs some 100 people. Munktell produces filtration materials mainly for life science and laboratory applications. End use examples include newborn screening, laboratory media filtration and filter materials for pollution control as well as testing materials used by medical, sugar and beverage industries. Munktell will be integrated into Ahlstrom’s Filtration business area.

Another filtration leader Lydall, Manchester, CT, continues to work in response to the gas turbine air intakes responding to advancements in new blade technologies that make them more sensitive to corrosion. “To have those plants run well, we need high levels of filtration to keep them running at high efficiencies,” explains Crosby. Other influences include the conversion of many plans from coal to natural gas, which have meant less pollution and easier start and stop times.

In response to these industrial market changes, Lydall has developed a new membrane technology, Arioso, which is important in high efficiency filtration areas that are impacted by a number of different elements. Arioso’s ability to repel water and dust, make it ideal in these markets.

Other efforts from Lydall include a new generation of water and oil repellent microglass products, which are serving as prefilters for tough environmental conditions.

The fact that 10-20% of a building’s electricity usage can be used to run HVAC systems, efforts toward improving air quality while at the same time improving energy consumption and environmental impact are paramount. “In Europe, they already have a new regulation guaranteeing minimum efficiency,” Crosby explains. “Where in the past, companies could use highly charged electrostatic materials, they are being pulled off the table because they won’t meet these requirements.”

Therefore, more expensive filtration media that can help lower fuel costs are being factored. These include microglass wetlaid media, products that have been Lydall’s bread and butter for more than 30 years, according to Crosby. “It’s our belief that we still have advances to go when it comes to pressure drop,” he says. “We are launching new generations in Europe and we are rolling them into the US.”

Another area important to Lydall is fuel filtration, where the use of ultralow sulfur diesel and other biofuels require high filtration standards to prevent corrosion problems. Media manufactures are challenged with chemical compatibility, which is not an issue with previous diesel types.

“We are working on two fronts—advanced microglass solutions to address finer filtration solutions and non-traditional synthetic media,” says Crosby. “There are limits in cellulose and meltblown so pursuing non-traditional synthetic media is a plan that will work.”

Gaining traction
Precision Custom Coatings (PCC), Totowa, NJ continues to gain strength in filtration, a market the company entered about two years ago to make up for apparel-related businesses that have moved to Asia. For the most part, the company has concentrated on qualifying itself as a contender in the wire-based pleated air filter market for industrial, commercial and retail segments. But recent efforts have allowed the company to expand beyond HVAC into other, more sophisticated areas like higher MERV rating areas and paint filtration, according to president and CEO Scott Tesser.

Tesser predicts the company will achieve even greater flexibility in its filtration businesses during the next 12 months as a new airlaid line comes onstream. Intended to make highloft nonwovens for bedding applications, it will also allow the company to offer new areas of filtration.

“With any new business, there is a trial and error process,” says Dave Reamon, the head of PCCs filtration business. “But, it seems the filter manufacturers market is developing a good feeling about us as a supplier. It’s not simply just a matter or proving yourself, but being able to repeat it. We have very successfully done that and we are doing that.”

DuPont is another nonwovens veteran who more recently has entered the filtration segment. Its Nomex KD is a filtration medium that combines the company’s Nomex and Kevlar performance fibers in a unique nonwoven material. It is suited for high temperature applications such as asphalt production and cement clinker coolers.

According to public affairs manager Cathy Andriadis, DuPont has teams focused on specific filtration applications where high performance filtration is needed for either protecting people and the environment, and these teams are working with industry leaders in these targeted applications to develop, qualify and supply specialty high performance materials.

“We feel the targeted segments in filtration are important to our businesses and continue to develop high value in use materials,” she says.

“DuPont does have a competitive advantage in filtration applications due to a broad area of science core competencies, wide materials portfolio and our engineering capabilities,” she adds. “We remain focused on specific applications where these areas can deliver high value-in-use protection.”

Asia calling
As Asia ramps up its infrastructure, better filtration devices have become a necessity. With this trend sure to continue, nonwovens makers targeting filtration are investing rapidly in the region. In the past 12 months, H&V, Ahlstrom, Freudenberg and Andrew Industries are just a few of the companies expanding in the East, looking to support current customers heading there and attracting new ones.

A longtime leader in the filtration market, H&V has continued to focus on expanding its product offerings while broadening its global footprint. Recent investments include a new line at its Suzhou, China, facility, a new joint venture operation in India, additional glass capacity in the U.K., and a new European meltblown line.

Josh Ayer, vice president and managing director of Asia-Pacific, says he sees the total market growing in Chinese auto manufacturing and heavy-duty equipment manufacturing—both key end users of H&V’s filtration media. “H&V’s approach of producing in China for Chinese customers and for international companies based in China has helped us build our business,” he explains.

H&V currently operates a site in Suzhou, China where it is adding a new paper machine capable of producing filter media for engine and industrial applications. Coming onstream by the end of the year, this line will be H&V’s largest globally and will be designed with the full capabilities needed to serve the growing China and Asia Pacific market with high quality, performance-based products.

In the engine filtration area, Ayer states that, “Chinese customers have outgrown local quality. The EPA in China is stronger and tougher in many cases than in the U.S. China has a five-year plan mandating increased fuel efficiency. H&V sells high end products in China so the Chinese market is beginning to look like the U.S. and European market. We believe increased demand for high quality products is a benefit for H&V.”

In June, H&V said it would form a joint venture with Nath Group to build a new mill in India. This new site will be able to make engine filter media as well as selected products in the HVAC filtration market in response to demand for high quality filtration products in the country. Also in Asia, H&V is adding a new paper machine able to make filter media for engine and industrial filtration applications. H&V has operated the plant in Suzhou since 2008.

Ahlstrom has also had a filtration presence in Asia for some time but its priorities there have shifted in recent months. The company sold its Wuxi, China-based dust filtration assets to Andrew Industries as part of a global exodus from this business but it continues to operate a site in Binzhou, which it acquired from Shandong Puri Filter and Paper Products in September 2010. “As Asia remains one of our key strategic regions, the acquisition of Shandong Puri Filter and Paper Products, which was confirmed in September 2010, has strengthened our position as a global leader in filter media manufacturing,” says spokeswoman Noora Blasi. ”The operation has gone well, and now, with operations in all the main regions, we are well positioned to serve our customers with global reach with local assets.”

Meanwhile, Andrew Industries, in addition to its Ahlstrom acquisition, has been beefing up its Chinese dust filtration business, called China Felt, for the last several years and is reporting 10-15% growth in this arm of its business, despite fierce competition. “The demand for dust filtration products continues to grow and new competitors have entered the market in the past couple of years,” says John Lewis, president of U.S.-based Southern Felt, an Andrew subsidiary.

Beyond dust filtration, executives hope the Wuxi assets will allow it to venture into some liquid filtration markets. Additionally, the company plans to add some needlepunching operations to the site to broaden its supply base in China.

Beyond China, the group is also establishing an Indian facility. While this site won’t make nonwovens initially—but will instead focus on roll good distribution and converting—eventually needlepunching capabilities will be added.

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