Location: Helsinki, Finland
Sales: $596 million
Description: Key Personnel
Juha Rantanen, CEO; Jukka Moisio, division president
Ahlstrom FiberComposites Division
7F, Ebisu IS Building
13-6 Ebisu 1 - Chome
Shibuya-Ku Tokyo 150 Japan
1 Mid New Cultins
Edinburgh EH11 4DH Scotland
Two Elm Street
Windsor Locks, CT 06096-2335
Barcelona, Spain; Brignoud, France; Chirnside, U.K.; Hyun Poong, South Korea; Karhula, Finland; Louveira, Brazil; Madisonville, KY (U.S.); Mikkeli, Finland; Mount Holly Springs, PA (U.S.); Radcliffe, U.K.; Ställdalen, Sweden; Tampere, Finland; Taylorville, IL (U.S.); Turin, Italy; Warche, Belgium; Windsor Locks, CT (U.S.)
Hydroentangled, spunlaced composites, wetlaid
Ahlstrom, Dexter, Hydraspun
Automotives, composites, engine filtration, filtration specialties, food and beverage, medical, reinforcement composites, technical nonwovens, wallcoverings, wipes
Ahlstrom’s FiberComposites division, Helsinki, Finland, is one nonwovens producer that has not let the weakened economy hinder its aggressive plans for global expansion. During the past 18 months, the company has made several acquisitions as well as a large-scale capital expansion initiative to ensure its growth for the future. “Ahlstrom is continually investigating expansion or capacity increases,” explained Alistair Brown, director of marketing and communications for the company. “Capital improvements are a constant program with Ahlstrom’s roll goods manufacturing business.”
This strategy seems to have worked for Ahlstrom. Sales for the FiberComposites division increased significantly in 2001 to reach $596 million compared to $462 million in the previous year, despite the economic slowdown. While the economic situation hurt the company’s performance in 2001 to some degree, the outlook for the remainder of 2002 remains positive.
“The economic slowdown had an overall negative impact on the division’s performance during 2001,” Mr. Brown admitted. “The business environment for Ahlstrom Corporation, already deteriorating in the U.S. in late 2000, continued its downward trend in 2001, spreading to Europe and other important market areas during the year.”
A major milestone in 2001 for Ahlstrom was the completion of a new composites line at its Windsor Locks, CT facility, the culmination of a $50 million investment in December. The new 85,000 square foot building makes Windsor Locks the largest of the division’s six locations dedicated to the manufacture of nonwoven products. Using state-of-the-art technologies and processes, the new line can produce a wide range of composite nonwoven materials, which complement existing customer products in the division’s core businesses such as automotive, medical and wipes.
“This line can provide the properties and functionality of multiple layers in one composite product,” Mr. Brown added. “This investment adds value to nonwoven products and serves our existing and potential customers even better with products that bring them fiber solutions.”
With this expansion plan under its belt, Ahlstrom does not currently have any concrete expansion plans in the works, but one way the company has been expanding is through acquisitions, both in the U.S. and in Europe. After propelling itself into a position among the top 10 roll goods manufacturers in the world through its $275 million acquisition of Dexter Nonwovens in 2000, Ahlstrom more recently purchased the technology and related equipment of filtration specialist FiberMark’s Rochester, MI facility, BBA Nonwovens’ Lewisburg, PA wetlaid business activities and, most recently, Papelera del Besòs, a Capellades, Spain-based filtration media and specialty paper supplier.
“These acquisitions were consistent with Ahlstrom’s strategy of enlarging its customer and product base on a global scale,” Mr. Brown explained. “Ahlstrom’s new customers are thereby offered access to other products within Ahlstrom’s portfolio.”
But not all of Ahlstrom’s strategies center around expansion. In 2001, the company closed two of its less competitive paper machines to focus on more viable areas. Additionally the company took steps to consolidate its administrative structure, leading to cost reductions at many sites as well as the closure of its Amsterdam sales office.
Looking toward end use markets, Ahlstrom targets a wide range of applications ranging from food services and wipes to technical markets and filtration to wallcoverings and medical products, and these many end use segments showed mixed results last year. The company’s medical fabrics and automotive segments experienced weak volumes due to the soft economy. Meanwhile, the food service line achieved good volumes despite the negative impact of the BSE Disease on the meat casing industry. Additionally, the nonwoven wallcovering market experienced positive growth, which is expected to continue for the rest of 2002. This growth has been supported by the addition of a new wetlaid machine in Warche, Belgium, which came onstream in January 2001. Likewise, Ahlstrom’s technical nonwovens segment has benefited by the aforementioned purchase of the business activities related to BBA Nonwovens’ Lewisburg, PA plant in March. This purchase included all current BBA customer information, recipes, patents and production equipment related to wetlaid nonwovens production. The facility targets the apparel, filtration and technical tapes markets.
The company’s filtration specialties business was impacted strongly by the U.S. recession; however, the business showed resilience by achieving good profitability despite weak market conditions, according to Mr. Brown. Among the highlights of this business sector was Ahlstrom’s $13 million acquisition of the business activities of FiberMark’s Rochester, MI plant in September 2001. This facility produces engine filtration media and other fiber-based materials.
Ahlstrom also purchased Papelera del Besòs in April to strengthen its position as a versatile filtration media supplier for specialty filtration end uses such as laboratory and medical filtration, vacuum bag filters and engine filtration. The move also reinforced Ahlstrom’s position in Spain, where it formerly operated out of two sales offices.
With sales of E13 million last year, Papelera del Besòs was founded in 1946 and uses two specialty paper machines and two converting units to manufacture its products. The company has been renamed Ahlstrom Barcelona SA.
In addition to acquisitions, Ahlstrom has been busy upgrading its existing manufacturing facilities for its filtration business. In Taylorville, IL, the company added a solvent saturation unit to provide customers with increased flexibility and product quality, and in Hyun Poong, Korea, Ahlstrom upgraded a paper machine to expand its capacity in the filtration segment.
The company closed its Chattanooga, TN engine filtration plant in December 2001 and transferred production to its Madisonville, KY and Taylorville, IL sites. “These two sites are better suited to the production of advanced products and have both the capacity and production efficiency to handle the Chattanooga production volume,” Mr. Brown remarked. “The capacity has been successfully transferred to these two plants.”
Including the recently acquired sites, Ahlstrom now operates 10 machines and three converting units to serve the global filtration media market.
With new facilities, acquired both through acquisition and expansion, Ahlstrom’s FiberComposites division is well poised to meet the growing needs of its nonwovens customers with high-quality, value-added materials while growing its business in both developed and developing world regions. “The FiberComposites division’s main focus in 2002 has been to commercialize high performance fiber-based materials from its new production lines in Windsor Locks, CT and Warche, Belgium, while improving business operations in Europe, North America, Asia and Latin America,” Mr. Brown remarked."
Location: Helsinki, Finland
Sales: $651 million
Description: Key personnel
Juha Rantanen, CEO; Jukka Moisio, division president
Windsor Locks, CT 06096-2335
Telephone: 860 654 8300
Barcelona, Spain; Brignoud, France; Chirnside, U.K.; Hyun Poong, Korea; Karhula, Finland; Louveira, Brazil; Madisonville, KY; Malmedy, Belgium; Mikkeli, Finland; Mt. Holly Springs, PA; Ställdalen, Sweden; Tampere, Finland; Taylorville, IL; Turin, Italy; Windsor Locks, CT.
Ahlstrom’s FiberComposites division is one nonwovens producer that “is where it needs to be” in terms of end use markets, sales growth and earnings potential. The division’s sales, including nonwovens and filtration media, increased to $651 million last year. This 4.2% sales growth was achieved on 12% volume growth, which reflects the industry’s tight margins as well as currency fluctuations, according to Alistair Brown, vice president, corporate communications and marketing.
By market segment, 35% of the division’s sales were conducted in the consumer and healthcare market while 39% were in filtration and automotive. Meanwhile, 8% were sold in building markets and 17% in industrial applications. Regionally, the U.S. represents 25% of Ahlstrom Corporation’s total sales; Germany reflected 14%; France 11%, Italy 8% and the U.K. comprised 6% of sales. The remaining countries were 36%.
Ahlstrom has spent the past several years investing heavily in the nonwovens industry. While much of this investment initially centered around acquisitions—including Dexter Nonwovens, the wetlaid nonwovens business activities of BBA’s Lewisburg, PA plant and Spanish filtration provider Papelera del Besòs—more recently capital expenditure has been the growth method of choice for Ahlstrom. In the past 12 months, Ahlstrom has made only one acquisition, the specialty filtration business activities of FiberMark Inc. This purchase, made in December 2002, included the industrial and process filtration products, related customer lists, patents and converting equipment of Fibermark. These products were transferred to Ahlstrom’s Mount Holly Springs, PA, plant and has reportedly been fully integrated into existing businesses. Revenues for this business were reported at $5.7 million.
In place of acquisitions, Ahlstrom has made several important expansion plans in 2002 and 2003. Chief among these investments is the addition of a $44 million composite nonwovens manufacturing line in Windsor Locks, CT, which was announced in February. This line, expected to come onstream in early 2004, will feature proprietary composite technology that adds value to the nonwoven web. Output will mainly target consumer and industrial wipe products, but the line has the flexibility to handle other nonwoven applications.
This investment is the second made in recent years at Windsor Locks, the division’s largest facility, in recent years. In December 2001, the group completed construction on a $44.2 million composite line there. Mr. Brown said the rapid expansion rate is meeting customer demand for capacity while broadening the facilities’ technological capabilities.
Another facility receiving a great deal of attention from Ahlstrom in recent months is located in Turin, Italy, which is jointly operated by the FiberComposites and Specialties division. In February, the company announced a $12.5 million plan to reconfigure an existing specialty paper line capable of producing nonwoven materials. These materials will target the engine filtration market as well as medical, wipes and general industrial applications. In June, plans were announced to invest an additional $6.2 million on a filtration media production line. Including this fine fiber line, the Turin plant will have four lines producing nonwovens. Turin is Ahlstrom’s largest production site with, in total, six production lines and more than 500 employees.
Also receiving attention is the Hyun Poong, Korea site where a second nonwovens production line is set to come onstream next year. This $32 million line will be the site’s second and will help meet the need for nonwoven materials in Asia and around the world. The company has been present in the South Korean market for 15 years and this marks the second investment in two years at the site. In 2001, Ahlstrom upgraded a paper machine to expand its capacity in the filtration segment.
Additional investments include a $2.3 million upgrade program on a filtration line in Louveira, Brazil, and $3 million in a 17,000-square-foot research and development and administration office at the engine filtration facility in Madisonville, KY which was inaugurated in December. The Madisonville plant manufactures engine filtration products for both domestic and international markets. The expansion follows the closure and consolidation of Ahlstrom’s Chattanooga, TN plant in 2002.
This series of investments reflects the importance of nonwovens to Ahlstrom, according to executives. “Nonwovens has been identified as one of the key growth areas for the Ahlstrom Corporation,” Mr. Brown explained. “Ahlstrom’s vision is to be the most successful global company in high performance fiber solutions, and our recent acquisitions are consistent with this strategy. By investing in these two areas, we are able to add new technologies, extend existing manufacturing capabilities and satisfy the needs of our global customer base.”
Ahlstrom makes several considerations before finalizing investment decisions. Among these are the ability to create high-performance products in value-added market segments and to meet current and anticipated market and customer product needs within growth markets. This has made the transition periods following its recent acquisitions seamless both for Ahlstrom and the acquired business.
“The acquisitions have all proved to be all that we expected of these businesses,” Mr. Brown explained. “The transitions went well with no real disruption in supply to our customers.”
By end use segment, Ahlstrom supplies materials to a wide range of markets including food products, wipes, wall coverings and medical products. New markets are always of interest to the company. “We are willing to invest in all four corners of the world,” explained Mr. Brown. “We follow the needs of our customers as well the vision of Ahlstrom Corporation. All of the product lines we have are in areas where we are confident that future growth will occur.”
A major tenet of Ahlstrom’s growth strategy is the expansion of its value-added product offerings to provide its customers with products that provide multifunctional benefits. To achieve this, Ahlstrom has had to position itself at the forefront of nonwovens technology. And, as its core markets grow larger, so will the company, driven by increased consumption of nonwoven products across the world.
And regardless of the base, executives are confident that sales will continue to grow. “We are expecting growth in all of our areas. Sometimes the base from which that growth occurs is smaller than other times but it is still important growth for the company.”"
Location: Helsinki, Finland
Sales: $728 MILLION
Description: Key Personnel
Jukka Moisio, CEO; Business Area Leaders: Randy Davis, consumer and medical; Claudio Ermondi, Filtration; Jean-Marie Becker, industrial; Tommi Björmann, glass.
Shibuya-Ku, Tokyo, Japan
Key Personnel: Sachi Nagatsuka
Key Personnel: Karen Renton
Windsor Locks, CT
Key Personnel:Ellen Miles
Barcelona, Spain; Brignoud, France; Chirnside, U.K.; Groesbeck, TX; Hyun Poong, Korea; Karhula, Finland; Louveira, Brazil; Madisonville, KY; Malmedy, Belgium; Mikkeli, Finland; Mt. Holly Springs, PA; New Windsor NY; Ställdalen, Sweden; Tampere, Finland; Taylorville, IL; Turin, Italy; Windsor Locks, CT.
The completion of a large-scale composite line and the acquisition of a filtration manufacturer are the latest affirmations of Ahlstrom Corporation’s mission to be a top player in the nonwovens industry. Last month, the company held a ceremony dedicating its new $40 million production line in Windsor Locks, CT. This line is based on spunlaced composite technology and will mainly produce high-performance, value-priced disposable wipes. Executives have called this investment proof of both Ahlstrom’s commitment to the nonwovens industry and the continued growth of the wipes market. This and a spunbond composite line, added in November 2001, have contributed to making Windsor Locks, once the home of Dexter Corporation Nonwoven Materials, the largest Ahlstrom facility dedicated solely to nonwovens production.
Also this summer, Ahlstrom acquired Hollinee LLC’s filtration division in the U.S. which mainly included products for the HVAC market and gives Ahlstrom immediate access to this key market. This investment was part of Ahlstrom’s goal of becoming a leading supplier in the $500 million U.S. HVAC market.
Expansion and acquisition is nothing new to the Helsinki-based company, whose nonwovens business is known as the FiberComposites division. Ahlstrom has followed its 2000 purchase of Dexter, once the world’s seventh largest nonwovens producer, with a string of investments in its nonwovens business. Company executives have even indicated that their goal is to remain among the leading suppliers in the world and advance Ahlstrom’s position anyway they can.
Given the strength of the top players in nonwovens, this goal may seem a little lofty, but Ahlstrom has been able to grow its business nearly every year since the Dexter acquisition. Last year, volumes grew 8% in nonwovens, which were offset by adverse currency effects, leaving sales more or less flat at E645 million. Nearly 60% of the FiberComposites division’s sales are in non-euro currencies so the effect of this has been significant.
As it waits for this currency situation to right itself, Ahlstrom is relying on several key strategies to help it grow. Avoiding high volume/low price markets, such as absorbent hygiene products, is among them. “We are interested in being in wipes because it is not yet fully commoditized,” said global marketing and communications manager Jerome Barrillon. “You still have to offer differentiated products like our new spunlaced composite material to allow the end use manufacturer to offer a differentiated factor to the product.”
Stepped-up marketing efforts have also become a focus. Since 1999, Ahlstrom has moved from a straight, wetlaid producer to a diversified nonwovens producer. Now that it’s making the right products, it wants to convey the right message. Both Ahlstrom and Dexter were once primarily focused on wetlaid technology, making the merged company the number one global producer of the material. Ahlstrom saw no need to expand in wetlaid. Instead, the focus has been on diversifiying nonwovens technology platforms, enabling the company to offer a wider range of products to the market.
Ahlstrom operates its FiberComposites division through four key businesses: consumer and medical, industrial, filtration and glass. Filtration remains the largest. In addition to the Hollinee LLC filtration division, which will add $32 million to sales, Ahlstrom has benefited from a new media line in its Hyun Poong, Korea site, an expanded filtration line in Louveira, Brazil and a rebuilt line and a new fine fiber line in Turin, Italy. These investments are helping Ahlstrom meet the demand for filtration media around the world.
Big in engine filtration where it holds a significant global marketshare, Ahlstrom hopes to grow its filtration business in other subsegments, particularly HVAC, which will receive a boost from recent acquisitions.
Behind filtration is consumer and medical. This segment’s importance should increase thanks to recent investments including both composite lines in Windsor Locks, which together represent about a $90 million investment. Much of the output on the first line, centering on spunbond composite technology, will target the medical market primarily with innovative drape and gown products using a breathable three-layer composite material.
“This new technology has proven successful for us,” Mr. Barrillon said. “We believe that marrying technologies, such as spunbond and laminates, will assist us in further extending our product portfolio.”
Industrial applications include automotives, wall coverings and many other technical niche markets. These markets give Ahlstrom the chance to explore unchartered territories and new markets. “These niche markets, such as apparel, wood laminates and building materials, require a tailor-made approach to serving customer needs,” Mr. Barrillon said. “One of Ahlstrom’s strengths is its ability to answer the complex needs of each of these niches as well as having the ability to serve larger markets.”
The remaining sales are within glass which is mainly centered in Europe. End uses include wind energy, marine and flooring.
The opportunity for growth in both developed and developing regions is largely what has drawn Ahlstrom to nonwovens. By leveraging its history and knowledge of the paper market, Ahlstrom’s transition into a multitechnology nonwovens manufacturer is a natural fit, according to executives. “We are firmly committed to nonwovens,” said Mr. Barrillon. “There, in part, lies the future of Ahlstrom.”"
Location: Helsinki, Finland
Sales: $827 million
Jukka Moisio, president and CEO; Randal Davis, senior vice president and general manager, Filtration; Claudio Ermondi, senior vice president and general manager, Nonwovens; Tommi Bjormann, senior vice president and general manager, glass nonwovens; Marco Aimo, global sales and marketing manager, Europe filtration; Jerome Barrillon, director of marketing, U.S. filtration; Valmir Piton, general manager Brazil filtration; Howard Jin, vice president & general manager, Korea filtration; Karen Renton, marketing and communications manager, Europe nonwovens; Ellen Miles, marketing and communications manager, North America and South America nonwovnes; Jimmy Loh, general manager, Shanghai nonwovens; Juha Bohm, director of sales and marketing Europe glass nonwovens
Airlaid, carded drylaid, fine fiber, glass nonwovens, needlepunch, spunbond, spunlace, spunlace composites, Hydraspun, wetlaid, Trinitex and process enhancements such as embossing, extrusion coating, lamination, and textilization.
The last 18 months have been described as a period of transformation for Ahlstrom Corporation, Helsinki, Finland. At the end of 2004, Ahlstrom flattened its organization in order to become more customer driven. The move divided the former FiberComposites division into three separate business areas: Nonwovens, led by Claudio Ermondi, Filtration, led by Randal Davis, and Glass Nonwovens led by Tommi Bjornman. “In the new operating model, there is more direct contact between the customer and the company. This will help us recognize customer needs much faster and bring us a more competitive edge,” said Ahlstrom president and CEO Jukka Moisio.
A series of investments helped Ahlstrom grow its nonwovens business despite a weakening market. “Sales were up due to acquisition and investment but the market was weak in 2004, particularly in North America,” said Mr. Ermondi. “The weakness of the dollar against the Euro also impacted our results as approximately 50% of our business is conducted in the U.S.”
Despite these issues, Ahlstrom continues to make growth in nonwovens a priority. And while its rate of acquisition and investment has slowed slightly in the past 12 months, growth initiatives continue.
In 2004, investments were made in a number of key production sites around the world. In both Turin, Italy and Hyun Poong, Korea, production lines were reconfigured to support the growing local markets for nonwovens for medical, wipes and general industrial applications; in Windsor Locks, CT, a new spunlace composites line was inaugurated to serve the North American wipes market and specialty spunlace manufacturer Green Bay Nonwovens, based in Green Bay, WI, was acquired
Of the Green Bay acquisition, Mr. Ermondi said, “the acquisition fits our desire to grow in wipes, particularly in North America, and this allowed us instant access to customers, equipment and market knowledge. It also complements our new spunlace composites line in Windsor Locks, CT. Having many technologies in one geography enables us to offer a complete range of products to our existing and potential customer base.”
Among recent innovations is a natural cellulose-based wipe, which is not only dispersible but also biodegradable. The materials are produced using Ahlstrom’s patented Hydraspun technology which binds synthetic fibers into a uniform and soft dispersible wipe. These wipes dissipate in water. The product disperses completely to introduce only small, individual fibers into a sewage system making our wipes suitable to water treatment facilities. Mr. Ermondi said, “The biggest driver of growth in consumer wipes is that consumers want convenience and that, coupled with increased benefits of health and wellness, has resulted in the popularity of consumer wipes growing at double-digit rates worldwide.”
Other groundbreaking innovations in nonwovens include the award-winning photocatalytic technology, which destroys pollutants in gas or liquid effluents. This new technique successfully fixes titanium dioxide (TIO2), a natural catalyst, to a nonwoven material. Combined with UVA from lamps or natural light and often a layer of activated carbon, it allows for the continual purification and sanitation of air and water.
Also receiving attention is Ahlstrom’s medical business, which continues to benefit from a large-scale spunbond composite line added in Windsor Locks in November 2001. Recent news from this segment includes the introduction of a new fabric for medical gowns that provides a high level of viral-barrier protection and enhanced comfort. Launched in November 2004, Ahlstrom’s Breathable Viral Barrier (BVB) not only protects medical personnel from viral infections such as Hepatitis, Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), Severe Accute Respiratory Syndrom (SARS) and Avian influenza but also maintains a high level of breathability and comfort, even as the wearer’s temperature rises.
These new developments have helped Ahlstrom diversify its business from wetlaid, which comprised a large portion of its business due to its large acquisition of Dexter Corporation, Nonwoven Materials, a wetlaid producer, in 1999. Still, wetlaid remains an important technology to Ahlstrom “Wetlaid is important in filtration, food services, tea bags, wipes, medical and many other markets,” Mr. Ermondi explained. “Wetlaid still is the bulk of our business and this technology is very specific to our business plan. What we are doing now is trying to use wetlaid to hit other markets.”
Across all of its technologies and businesses, Ahlstrom will rely on new technology and development to help it achieve its goal of being among the top three largest nonwovens producers in the world within the next couple of years. “We want to expand more through innovation,” Mr. Ermondi said. “It is our plan to mix competencies and technologies to provide something new to nonwovens. We want to be in the top three (producers of nonwovens) but we also want to be profitable. The way to do this is to serve customers in a new way.”
Ahlstrom’s Filtration business operates from 10 principal sites in Asia, Europe and North and South America and with a global sales office network.
During 2004, Ahlstrom completed two organic growth investments in Hyun Poong, Korea and Turin, Italy. The investments involved the reconfiguration of existing machines to supply products for engine filtration markets. Furthermore, the business expanded the capacity of its manufacturing plant in Louveira, Brazil and completed the acquisition of Hollinee LLC’s Filtration business, adding mainly heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) media to its already extensive filtration portfolio.
The acquisition of Hollinee LLC’s Filtration business is part of Ahlstrom’s goal of diversifying its filtration business from its mainstay—engine filtration. “We have made a strategic decision to become a major player in the filtration market,” said Jerome Barrillon, director of marketing, filtration. “For us, this means being number one or number two in all of the markets we choose to be in. The acquisition of Hollinee’s New Windsor and Groesbeck plants gave us instant access to the market.”
Consistent with this, Ahlstrom also formed a strategic alliance with Lydall Inc. to serve the North American liquid filtration market with a new technology and product offering— Lydall’s wetlaid microglass media (LyPore XL). “The partnership is a bonus for both companies.”
More recently, Ahlstrom announced its intent to expand its capacity in solvent-treated filtration materials for the automotive market. “The expansion involves a series of smaller investments across our global manufacturing sites over the next few years,” stated Jerome Barrillon. “We will match these investments to customer demand. We have already begun the process in Turin, Italy and should see an increase in capacity of around 15%.”
Also expected to add to Ahlstrom’s filtration business is the start up of the new fine fiber production line in Turin, Italy that took place in June 2005. “The new line is based on custom melt-spinning technology and can use multiple polymers to create composite and calendered products for a number of applications for air, liquid and engine filtration.”
Ahlstrom’s Glass nonwovens business serves the windmill, marine and transportation markets with a range of specialty reinforcements and glassfiber tissues. The business serves its customers globally from its two manufacturing units in Finland.
The glass nonwovens market remained competitive throughout 2004 and increased its volumes by 8% despite intense price competition. Investments in 2004 included a further expansion of its glass tissue line and a cold repair of the glass furnace."
Location: Helsinki, Finland
Sales: $928 million
Jukka Moisio, president and CEO; Randal Davis, senior vice president and general manager, filtration; Claudio Ermondi, senior vice president and general manager, nonwovens; Tommi Bjormann, senior vice president and general manager, glass nonwovens; Marco Aimo, global sales and marketing manager, Europe filtration; Jerome Barrillon, director of marketing, U.S. filtration; Valmir Piton, general manager Brazil filtration; Howard Jin, vice president and general manager, Korea filtration; Karen Renton, marketing and communications manager, Europe nonwovens; Ellen Miles, marketing and communications manager, North America and South America nonwovens; Jimmy Loh, general manager, Shanghai nonwovens; Juha Bohm, director of sales and marketing Europe glass nonwovens
Airlaid, carded drylaid, fine fiber, glass nonwovens, needlepunch, spunbond, spunlace, spunlace composites, Hydraspun, wetlaid, Trinitex and process enhancements such as embossing, extrusion coating, lamination, and textilization.
Acquisition and capital investment has continued for Ahlstrom’s Nonwovens business area, which reported sales and earnings growth in 2005. The company has attributed much of this success to new acquisitions and new equipment but credits its success to a sharp focus on core markets including wipes, medical, industrial, food packaging and filtration. “We are not interested in being involved in a number of niche areas,” explained Claudio Ermondi. “We aren’t making acquisitions just for the sake of it.”
Sales growth in 2005 came from increased activity on Ahlstrom’s spunlace composite line in Windsor Locks, CT, the fruits of its acquisition of Green Bay Nonwovens in late 2004 as well as improvements to lines in Turin, Italy and Hyun Poong, Korea, intended to support the local growing markets for nonwovens.
One major coup for Ahlstrom has been the wipes market, which is served through its spunlace composite lines in Windsor Locks and Chirnside, Scotland, as well as the Green Bay Nonwovens facility (renamed Ahlstrom Green Bay), where Ahlstrom is already adding a second spunlace line to respond to increased wipes demand in North America. This new line is expected to come onstream in January 2007.
Despite these coups, Ahlstrom faced several challenges in 2005. Growth in European markets remained unsatisfactory; prices for raw materials, energy and logistics increased in 2005. Ahlstrom offset these challenges by improved sourcing of raw materials, centralized purchasing and the use of less expensive raw materials where possible. These strategies allowed Ahlstrom to nearly double its earnings with operating profit growing to €117.2 million.
“Our strategy is pretty simple,” Mr. Ermondi explained. “We invest in capacity of new lines that will allow us to maintain our growth.” The acquisition and subsequent expansion to Ahlstrom Green Bay reflects the growth of the consumer wipes market, an area where Ahlstrom is a key supplier.
“We needed more capacity for the North American wipes market,” Mr. Ermondi explained. The challenge in wipes lies in meeting the diverse needs of converters such as natural-based wipes or water solubility, he continued. “They are continuously asking for new things and it is a good opportunity for you if you can meet these needs.” Most recently, Ahlstrom added the ability to run cotton fibers through its Green Bay spunlace line to respond to the wipes market’s increased interest in incorporating cotton into the substrate.
Much of Ahlstrom’s efforts in wipes have centered on North America but other areas are on the radar. The big wipes opportunity remains in the U.S. so far,” Mr. Ermondi said. “It is the ‘driving’ market. Europe is growing but slower, South America is small but growing. We don’t see big growth in Asia yet.” In Europe, Ahlstrom currently operates only one spunlace line in Chirnside. Because this market is facing an overcapacity situation, building a new line there is probably not in Ahlstrom’s future but Mr. Ermondi would not rule out an acquisition in the region.
Another area receiving significant investment by Ahlstrom is filtration, where the company has played a role since the 1970s when it began producing media in Italy, mainly for the automotive market. More recently, however, the company has worked hard to broaden the scope of this business by adding new technologies, most often through acquisitions.
“It has been easier to buy some companies rather than starting from scratch,” Mr. Ermondi explained. These efforts began in 2004 with the purchase of Hollinee LLC’s filtration in the U.S., which has given Ahlstrom instant access to the $500 million HVAC market, and have more recently included a number of acquisitions across the filtration spectrum.
In December, Ahlstrom acquired the filtration business of Lantor, Inc. to reinforce its position in the air filtration and automotive filtration markets by adding additional needlepunch production capacity and expanding its product portfolio with high temperature dust filtration and other specialty filtration products.
The Lantor acquisition will add approximately $20 million in sales to Ahlstrom’s filtration business and includes a Bellingham, MA facility as well as a new facility in Wuxi, China, which started production in May 2005. The new entity in the U.S. is operating under the name Ahlstrom Lantor LLC.
Mr. Ermondi said the Chinese arm of the business shows particular potential for growth. “China with increasing power generation needs and growing industrial manufacturing has a high demand for air filtration products. The fact that Lantor has built a successful filtration business in the U.S. and that they have transferred this knowledge to China will allow Ahlstrom to accelerate its presence in this geography.”
Also in December, Ahlstrom acquired FiberMark’s North American absorbent materials business and integrated this operation into its existing product offering supplied from its Mt. Holly Spring, PA site. “This transaction strengthens Ahlstrom’s position and increases its product offering in the specialty filtration market. We know the market and have the structure to service it, we have the right production capabilities and we are now well positioned to be a major supplier to this market.”
Then, in January, Ahlstrom reached a deal to acquire HRS Textiles, a South Carolina supplier of specialty nonwovens to the North American air and liquid filtration markets. This transaction will add $20 million to Ahlstrom’s filtration business and strengthen its position in air and liquid filtration.
“Ahlstrom has been in filtration for more than 35 years already. We grew in transportation filtration being one of the biggest players of the segment. We also accumulated an important experience and knowledge in filter media design and production. Then we started to approach different filtration markets, using our competencies and enhancing them with selected acquisitions (companies that support market know-how and have complementary-to-Ahlstrom technologies),” Mr. Ermondi said.
Also expected to add to Ahlstrom’s filtration business is a new fine fiber line in Turin, Italy, which came onstream in June 2005. Based on custom melt-spinning technology, this line can use multiple polymers and create multilayer and calendered products to serve multiple applications, particularly filtration. Where traditional meltblown technology produces most fibers above one micron, Ahlstrom’s Fine Fiber technology produces a much higher proportion of fibers in the sub-micron range. This greater amount of finer fibers opens up many possibilities to increase filtration efficiencies while maintaining performance. In addition, the compositing capabilities of the line combined with its ability to produce multiple density materials will allow it to create novel structures, opening up new avenues for filtration product development.
Also receiving attention is Ahlstrom’s medical and consumer business, which continues to benefit from a large-scale composite spunbond line added in Windsor Locks in November 2001. While demand for medical nonwovens has been softer in early 2006 than it was in 2005, Ahlstrom continues to focus on offering higher protection and increased comfort to its customers.
In November, Ahlstrom formed an alliance with SAAF, a Saudi Arabian nonwovens producer, to sell its Medalon range of spunmelt medical drape and gown fabrics alongside Ahlstrom’s existing product range. The cooperation enables both companies to benefit from SAAF’s manufacturing expertise and innovative product range, allied to Ahlstrom’s global presence, strong relationships and wide product offering.
Whether through capital investment, acquisition of joint ventures, Ahlstrom clearly is willing to do anything it takes to grow its nonwovens business and these efforts will continue, said Mr. Ermondi. “Ahlstrom aims to continue to expand and further improve its operations mainly through the following ways: investments in new capacity, new technologies and productivity improvements in existing capacity; investments and expansion in Asia, Russia/Eastern Europe and the Americas to grow with its global customer base and possible acquisitions to expand its geographic presence and enhance its product offering.”
And, Ahlstrom won’t be haphazard. “We want to be sure that if we invest it will benefit the company and that’s not always easy,” Mr. Ermondi said. "
Location: Helsinki, Finland
Sales: $1.01 billion
Jukka Moisio, president and CEO; Randal Davis, senior vice president, filtration; Claudio Ermondi, senior vice president, nonwovens; Tommi Bjormann, senior vice president, glass nonwovens; Paul Marold, VP/GM medical nonwovens; Jean-Marie Becker, VP/GM industrial nonwovens; Martin Davis, VP/GM wipes nonwovens; Michael Black, VP/GM food nonwovens; Francesca Camerano, communications director, nonwovens; Jerome Barrillon, director of marketing, filtration
Needlepunch, resin bonded, spunlaced, nanofiber, spunmelt/spunbond, wetlaid, wetlaid/Hydraspun, wetlaid/spunlace composite, composite nonwovens, wetlaid/Trinitex, process enhancements, SPC
Turin, Italy; Milan, Italy; Malmedy, Belgium; Brignoud, France; Stalldallen Sweden; Alicante, Spain; Green Bay, WI; Windsor Locks, CT; Bethune, SC; Louveira, Brazil; Seoul, Korea
Continuing its aggressive growth strategy is Ahlstrom, a nonwovens producer who has spent the last half decade making capital investments and acquisitions to pose itself among the top three nonwovens producers in the world in the near term. And, all of this effort is paying off. In 2006, the company reported sales of €808 million, making it number six of the world’s leading nonwovens producers and its ranking is expected to climb higher once new acquisitions, notably Fiberweb’s consumer wipes business and Orlandi’s spunlace operation, are rolled into its corporate sales.
“Ahlstrom has made several investments in the nonwovens market, more specifically in the wipes market,” said Claudio Ermondi, senior vice president and general manager of nonwovens. “These include acquisitions and investments in new production assets. We have not made these investments randomly but based on both current and future strategic needs for the wipes market and the other market segments where we are active. This, together with innovation, helped the growth.”
Ahlstrom has made its commitment to growing its consumer wipes business during the past 12 months through both acquisition and capital investment. With two large spunlace lines already in operation in Green Bay, WI as well as a large spunlace composite machine running in Windsor Locks, CT, Ahlstrom announced in October it would add a new wiping production line using spunlace technology in Brazil, making it that country’s first maker of wipe substrates and increasing its presence in Latin America.
Then, in February, Ahlstrom demonstrated its commitment to Europe’s wipe market through the acquisition of Orlandi’s Italian spunlace operation, adding two plants with four production lines in Cressa and Gallarate, Italy and an estimated €65 million in annualized net sales to its business. In addition to increasing Ahlstrom’s spunlace capacity and its presence in Europe, the Orlandi acquisition will allow it to make pulp-containing wiping fabrics.
One month later, in March, Ahlstrom announced the acquisition of the consumer wipes business of Fiberweb plc. The purchase includes two plants in Italy, one in Spain and one in Bethune, SC and will add €110 million in sales and 400 employees to Ahlstrom’s existing business. Fiberweb’s consumer wipes business mainly targets personal care, baby care and household applications.
Mr. Ermondi said the acquired businesses will not only increase Ahlstrom’s output in the wipes market, it will broaden its product offerings, allowing it to create more options for its customers. “Differentiation has become a key for consumer and private label companies who want to offer a value-added product. Therefore, in order to compete in the wipes market in the future, nonwoven material manufacturers must provide differentiated products. Ahlstrom is positioned well to compete, as we have developed new equipment and processes that allow us to deliver innovative and exciting materials.”
In addition to wipes, filtration has been the focus of a great deal of activity for Ahlstrom in recent months including acquisitions and new line announcements, intended to broaden the company’s role in a number of filtration segments. A long-time leader in the supply of wetlaid media for the automotive filtration markets, Ahlstrom has more recently been eyeing growth in a number of sophisticated filtration markets across wet and dry applications, according to Jerome Barillon, marketing director, filtration.
“We have been adding pieces of the puzzle by acquiring businesses and adding them to existing businesses in a number of markets,” he said. “Ahlstrom has made it clear it wants to be a leader in the filtration market and with the assets we have in place we are definitely positioned to achieve this.”
Ahlstrom’s ambition in filtration first surfaced in 2004 with a number of acquisitions including Hollinee LLC, which provided access to the $500 million HVAC market; Lantor, adding needlepunching capabilities for the air and automotive filtration markets as well as high temperature dust filtration media; and FiberMark’s absorbent materials business and HRS Textiles to enhance its place in air filtration.
More recently, in February 2007, Ahlstrom acquired Sassoferrato, Italy-based Fabriano Filter Media, a maker of microglass filter media, increasing its exposure to the high efficiency air filtration markets. “This was really a great acquisition for us,” Mr. Barrillon said. “It gives us access to the high efficiency air filtration markets and allows us to compete in new areas.”
Acquisition hasn’t been Ahlstrom’s only strategy for growth in filtration. The company has announced a string of new investments designed to enhance current offerings. In May Ahlstrom said it would invest €8 million in a new needlepunch line in Darlington, SC. The new line will help expand Ahlstrom’s role in the North American dust filtration market. The targeted completion date is slated for early 2008, and the new line will manufacture a full range of needlepunched fabrics, mainly for the high-temperature dust filtration industry.
The investment follows one announced in February when Ahlstrom said it would invest €5 million in a new drylaid nonwoven line to serve the North American air filtration market. The new line, located at Ahlstrom's Groesbeck, TX facility, is expected to start at the beginning of 2008. The Groesbeck site currently operates six drylaid and needlepunch nonwovens lines dedicated to producing filter media. The new line will incorporate the latest advances in drylaid nonwovens equipment and provide Ahlstrom with an additional fast and modern asset to better serve the Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) filter media market in North America, according to executives. The line will be particularly well-suited to manufacture products for the medium efficiency range and offer solutions to the growing demand for unsupported filter media.
And, in October, Ahlstrom said it would add a new needlepunch line to its Wuxi facility located close to Shanghai, China to serve the growing dust filtration market in Asia. The investment, valued at approximately $5 million (€4 million), will be completed in the third quarter of 2007. The new line will manufacture a variety of needlepunch nonwoven media targeted mainly at high temperature applications for the dust filtration market. By adding these capabilities, Ahlstrom will increase its participation in this very dynamic segment of the filtration industry.
The line will more than double the capacity of Ahlstrom's Wuxi facility in China, acquired less than two years ago, where it currently operates one line serving this market segment.
Amidst all of this investment has come some restructuring as well for Ahlstrom. In June, the company announced plans to close its Bellingham, MA facility—acquired in 2005 from Lantor—and consolidate these operations in Darlington, SC. This move was mainly driven by the need to be more cost competitive, and it will also allow Ahlstrom to locate its dust filtration business closer to many of its customers. The relocation will affect approximately 80 jobs in Bellingham and the transition will take up to one year to complete. Ahlstrom estimates that the cost related to the closure and the consolidation of assets will be approximately €2 million.
Also benefiting Ahlstrom’s place in filtration is an exclusive licensing agreement with the Argonide Corporation to manufacture and commercialize their patented electropositive nano fiber filter media. The new Ahlstrom product—called Disruptor—is based on Argonide technology developed through basic research over the last five years. The development was partially funded by NASA, aimed at purifying recycled water in advanced space vehicles, used on the moon and beyond. Disruptor is a wetlaid technology that is designed to be used in pleated, spiral wound, disc or flat sheet media formats. The key to the effectiveness of Disruptor is the grafting of alumina nanofibers onto microglass fiber. The microglass fiber acts as a platform for the nanoalumina while also enhancing flow rates through the creation of pore space and providing mechanical retention for large or uncharged particles.
According to Ahlstrom, Disruptor is an excellent choice as an alternative filter media to membranes for many applications. These include: Point Of Entry and Point Of Use potable water, pharmaceutical make up water, boiler feed water, chiller water, metals removal from waste water; filtration of gelatin, inks, starch, carbon, paint pigments and many other industrial and pharmaceutical processes.
Another key market for Ahlstrom, medical nonwovens continues to benefit from a strong technology base, namely a large-scale spunbond composite line in Windsor Locks, CT. “Growth is really being driven by regulations and customer demand,” said Paul Marold, vice president and general manager of medical. “Globally we are seeing a conversion to disposables move west to east.”
Interestingly, however, developing areas such as the Asia-Pacific region are leapfrogging less sophisticated disposable products as they make this conversion and moving right into sophisticated, barrier protective products, according to executives.
Meanwhile, Ahlstrom’s industrial business, spanning a number of end use segments, continues to perform well. “Our strength here is that we have access to a lot of technologies and the ability to use a lot of different fibers,” said Jean-Marie Becker, vice president and general manager of industrial nonwovens. “This helps us be involved in a lot of different businesses.
One segment of growth is Wall coverings where Ahlstrom’s wetlaid materials offer great printing capabilities. To help it grow in these markets, a new needlepunch line will begin operation in Brignoud at the end of 2007. Executives said the beauty of industrial segments—including agriculture, construction protective apparel and automotives—is there are so many different areas that there is always a potential for growth in a number of new and exciting areas.
For instance, Ahlstrom’s food products market is set to receive a boost from a €27 million investment, announced in December 2006, to add a new spunmelt nonwovens line in Chirnside, Scotland. The new line utilizing spunmelt technology will primarily serve the growing infusion products market with next generation spunmelt products. The infusion products market in general is anticipated to grow at 5% annually and is becoming a strong market for spunmelt nonwovens, according to Mr. Ermondi. It is market areas like this that Ahlstrom will look to for future growth when determining its future investment strategy.
“Nonwovens market as a whole is growing at a quite significant rate globally,” Mr. Ermondi said. “Ahlstrom has been active in some segments for many years and then decided to play a bigger role in the business. Our strong position in the papermaking technology and know-how was a good starting point to enter nonwovens, then we approached other technologies to broaden our offerings to customers. Growth will be in all our core business: wipes, wallcover, infusion, filtration and medical. Innovation and a strong manufacturing platform will support our expansion even in the future.”"
Location: HELSINKI, FINLAND
Sales: $1.28 billion
Risto Anttonen, president and CEO; Randal Davis, senior vice president, Filtration; Claudio Ermondi, senior vice president, Advanced Nonwovens; Tommi Bjormann, senior vice president, glass nonwovens; Jean-Marie Becker, senior vice president, Home & Personal Nonwovens; Jerome Barrillon, director of marketing, Filtration; Marco Martinez, communications director, Nonwovens
Needlepunch, resin bonded, spunlaced, nanofiber, spunmelt/spunbond, wetlaid, wetlaid/Hydraspun, wetlaid/spunlace composite, composite nonwovens, wetlaid/Trinitex, process enhancements, SPC
Alicante, Spain, Barcelona, Spain, Bethune, SC, Bishopville, Brignaud, France, Carbonate, Italy, Chirnside, U.K., Cressa, Italy, Gallarate, Italy, Green Bay, WI, Groesbeck, TX, Hyun Poong, Korea, Karhula, Finland, Louveira, Brazil, Madisonville, KY, Malmedy, Belgium, Mikkeli, Finland, Mozzate, Italy, Mt. Holly Springs, PA, Sassoferator, Italy, Stalldalen, Sweden, Tampere, Finland, Taylorville, Turin, Italy, Tver, Russia, Windsor Locks, CT, Wuxi, China
Wipes, filtration, industrial
Reporting continued growth in nonwovens is Finland’s Ahlstrom as it reaps the benefits of a spate of acquisitions and capital investments across its global nonwovens and filtration businesses. The Helsinki-based manufacturer of nonwovens for the wipes, food, medical and industrial markets reported overall nonwovens sales volume growth of 54%, driven by strong demand in wipes and wall coverings. Meanwhile, sales of Ahlstrom FiberComposites segment, containing Glass nonwovens and Filtration business areas in addition to Nonwovens, were €941 million ($1.28 billion) compared to €808 million in 2006.
In 2007, Ahlstrom purchased large wipes businesses from Fiberweb and Orlandi as well as a high efficiency air filtration manufacturer Fabriano Filter Media and invested in new lines across the globe. At the same time, Ahlstrom has shut plants and transferred equipment to make its business run more efficiently.
In July 2008, Ahlstrom re-organized its nonwovens business area, dividing it into two parts—Home & Personal Nonwovens, covering mainly Ahlstrom’s wipes business—and Advanced Nonwovens, incorporating food, medical and industrial nonwovens. This split highlights the growth of Ahlstrom's nonwovens business, especially in wiping fabrics while allowing the new Advanced Nonwovens business area to free resources and focus on profitable growth in high-value market segments. Jean-Marie Becker, who has been with Ahlstrom since 1980, was appointed senior vice president of the Home & Personal Nonwovens business area. Senior vice president Claudio Ermondi, who previously led the Nonwovens Business Area, has taken responsibility for the Advanced Nonwovens business area.
Ahlstrom’s Home and Personal Nonwovens business contains what is reportedly the world’s largest wipes business. Ahlstrom achieved this status in mid-2007 when it acquired the spunlace business of Fiberweb including a plant in Bethune, SC, two in Italy and one in Spain, estimated to add approximately €110 million in sales and 400 employees to Ahlstrom’s existing wipes business.
Also in 2007, Ahlstrom purchased the spunlaced business of European supplier Orlandi with two plants and four production lines in Cressa and Gallarate, Italy, adding an estimated €65 million to annual sales. In addition to broadening Ahlstrom’s European presence in wipes, the purchase added airlace technology—pulp-containing wiping fabrics—to its business.
“These deals represented an important landmark in Ahlstrom’s global strategy, strengthened its presence in the European wiping markets and positioned Ahlstrom as the leading wiping fabrics producer globally with a large presence both in Europe and the U.S.,” said Marco Martinez, communications director for Ahlstrom’s nonwovens business.
Before these two major acquisitions, Ahlstrom already had a spunlace operation in Green Bay, WI as well as spunlace assets in Windsor Locks, CT and France. The Green Bay facility was acquired in 2004 and a second line was added in 2006, which enables hydro embossing, in-line printing, cotton blending and the design of composite structures.
Looking ahead, Ahlstrom’s newest spunlace line is scheduled to come onstream in Paulinia, Brazil in the second quarter of 2009. The new line will make Ahlstrom the first dedicated wipes producer in Brazil, increasing its presence on the continent and allowing it to serve this fast growing market with new and innovative markets, Mr. Martinez said. The market for wiping products in Latin America is anticipated to grow at a double-digit rate annually.
These investments respond not only to global growth for the wipes market but also give Ahlstrom access to new technology, Mr. Martinez added. “We continue to invest not only in additional capacity but also in new capabilities to offer innovative and technically sophisticated solutions. This is, for example, the case with the addition of airlace technology to our portfolio, which is used to manufacture pulp-containing wiping fabrics in the Italian plants acquired from Orlandi in 2007 and the new capabilities for the manufacturing of cotton-containing products thanks to the recent investments in the Green Bay plant. In addition to producing rayon/polyester spunlace materials, the new machine enables hydro embossing., in-line printing, cotton blending and the design of composite structures.”
Beyond wipes, Ahlstrom’s Advanced Nonwovens business contains a number of core businesses including medical, food packaging and industrial applications. “Growth initiatives are ongoing in all three main markets.” Mr. Martinez said.
At the center of Ahlstrom’s medical business is a large spunbond composite line that came onstream at Ahlstrom’s Windsor Locks, CT site in 2001. Beyond this, Ahlstrom is set to grow this business eastward through an investment in a medical nonwovens plant using spunmelt technology in Gujarat, India. Scheduled to come onstream in early 2010, this investment will not only provide Ahlstrom with a strategic and cost-competitive location close to its suppliers and global customers but also positions the company well for the emerging medical nonwovens market of India.
In food nonwovens, the building of a new production line in Chirnside, Scotland is proceeding on schedule with production estimated to start in the last quarter of 2008. The new plant will be based on spunmelt technology and will serve the growing market for infusion products with next generation materials. “Major customers in the infusion products market are seeking new technical solutions and the growth in high valued-added segments, which is higher than in traditional tea market demands differentiation in the filter media used. Moreover, environmentally friendly products will be preferred. The new line will allow Ahlstrom to manufacture environmentally sound products based on recyclable and biodegradable materials.
The big news in Ahlstrom’s industrial nonwovens business is its expanding wallcovering range with new mid-tier applications. These substrates, created from a mix of natural and synthetic fibers, enable excellent decoration performance and easy processsability. They will be made at Ahlstrom’s Turin, Italy facility where the conversion of a paper machine into a state-of-the-art nonwovens line is ongoing. The new materials will be available by mid-2009.
Another core growth area for Ahlstrom is its Filtration division which has also been the focus of a great deal of strategy and investment in recent years. “Nonwovens and filtration are among the main areas of growth for Ahlstrom,” said filtration marketing director Jerome Barrillon “We have stated this repeatedly.”
In recent years, Ahlstrom has built on its long history in the engine filtration market, where it supplies mainly wetlaid nonwoven media by broadening into a number of other filtration segments. This started in 2004 when the company purchased Hollinee LLC, giving it access to the HVAC market. Subsequent acquisitions included Lantor, adding needlepunching capabilities for dust filtration media and automotive, Fibermark’s absorbent materials business, HRS Textiles to enhance its place in air filtration; and, most recently, Sassoferrato, Italy-based Fabriano Filter Media, a maker of microglass filter media, providing exposure to high efficiency air filtration markets.
“The acquisitions have given us access to markets we didn’t have prior and a leading position globally in filter media,” Mr. Barrillon explained. “Ahlstrom’s Filtration business was mainly related to transportation so the acquisitions broadened our presence in new markets. We are balancing the portfolio and the risk.”
At the same time, Ahlstrom has been adding to its Filtration business through capital investment. These include a new needlepunch line in Bethune, SC, a drylaid asset in Grosbeck, TX and a needlepunch line in Wuxi, China, near Shanghai, which began operation in July.
As investments have slowed, Ahlstrom has now focused on rationalizing and optimizing its filtration assets. This has included the closure of its Darlington, SC and Bellingham, MA sites earlier this year. Ahlstrom moved a line centered on HVAC applications from the Darlington site to its Groesbeck, TX site, which was already centered on the HVAC market. A needlepunch line was moved from Bellingham to Bethune, SC, at a site acquired from Fiberweb. Additionally, a needlepunch line planned for Darlington is now being built in Bethune, which is described as a large, state-of-the-art facility with world-class talent. A liquid filtration converting operation once located in Mt. Holly Springs, PA is also now housed in Bethune.
These closures and streamlining are designed to trim Ahlstrom’s filtration business as it adapts to its new position as a diversified media supplier and deals with challenges in the market. “For the most part, filtration is a strong and growing market but a lot of filtration is related to infrastructure needs,” Mr. Barrillon said. “As the economy slows, certain areas can be affected. On the flip side, we are diversified enough in terms of geographies as well as market areas that we generally are up in some areas when down in others.”
In March, Ahlstrom added a new product to its Disruptor filtration media line. Disruptor PAC is a medium using nanoalumina fiber technology combined with powdered activation carbon for water filtration. This technology, which is licensed exclusively by Ahlstrom from the Argonide Corporation, can economically improve the purity and taste of nearly any water stream by efficiently removing a large variety of contaminants including virus, bacteria and humic compounds—naturally occurring, ultrafine particulate organic compounds, about the size of a virus, produced by the decay of natural organic matter found in surface waters. Prior to Disruptor PAC, humic compounds could not be completely removed by microfiltration or ultrafiltration polymeric membranes. Ahlstrom was honored with an INDEX Achievement Award for the product in April.
Disruptor PAC contains powdered activated carbon having an average particle size of only eight microns. The small particle size produces remarkably high dynamic adsorption as compared to conventional granular carbon or carbon blocks. With Disruptor PAC, the retention of the powder activated carbon is accomplished through electrokinetic adsorption by the nanoalumina fibers in the product, not with binders or adhesives. This retention mechanism makes nearly all the pores of the powder activated carbon available for adsorption of chlorine, iodine, volatile organic compounds, disinfection byproducts and natural organic material from water.
Ahlstrom believes that the unique features of Disruptor PAC will provide filter and filtration device manufacturers with the ability to design more efficient and cost-effective products to improve the quality of both drinking water and wastewater. Disruptor can be used in a wide range of water filtration applications including beverage manufacture, pharmaceutical make up water, point of use and point of entry filters, boiler and chiller water as well as prefiltration to reverse osmosis membranes. Disruptor PAC is easily pleated into nearly any size of filter cartridge providing superior filtration efficiency at high flow rates and very low pressure drop."
Location: HELSINKI, FINLAND
Sales: $1.3 billion
Description: ∫Key Personnel
Jan Lang, president and CEO; Risto Anttonen, deputy of the president and CEO, senior vice president, Advanced Nonwovens (interim); Jean-Marie Becker, senior vice president, home & personal nonwovens; Tomi Bjornman, senior vice president, filtration; Laura Raitio, vice president of glass and industrial nonwovens; Gustav Adlercreutz, senior vice president, legal affairs, general counsel; Diego Borello, senior vice president, purchasing and sustainability; Claudio Ermondi, senior vice president, Innovations & Technology; Seppo Parvi, chief financial officer; Rami Raulas, senior vice president, sales and marketing; Daniele Borlatto, senior vice president, release & label papers; Patrick Jeambar, senior vice president, Technical Papers
Needlepunch, resin bonded, spunlaced, nanofiber, spun melt/spunbond, wetlaid, wetlaid/Hydraspun, wetlaid/spunlace composite, composite nonwovens, wetlaid/Trinitex, SPC, Caustic Entanglement, film based composites, process enhancements,
Alicante, Spain, Barcelona, Spain, Bethune, SC, Bishopville, Brignoud, France, Carbonate, Italy, Chirnside, U.K., Cressa, Italy, Green Bay, WI, Groesbeck, TX, Hyun Poong, Korea, Karhula, Finland, Louveira, Brazil, Madisonville, KY, Malmedy, Belgium, Mikkeli, Finland, Mozzate, Italy, Mt. Holly Springs, PA, Paulinia, Brazil, Sassoferrato, Italy, Stalldalen, Sweden, Tampere, Finland, Taylorville, Turin, Italy, Tver, Russia, Windsor Locks, CT, Wuxi, China
Wipes, filtration, industrial (Medical, Food Packaging, Wallcover, Building, Automotive)
Sales in Ahlstrom’s FiberComposites division increased 4.9% to reach $1.38 billion (€987.4 million) last year thanks to organic growth as well as the integration of acquired businesses. At the same time, operating profits decreased mainly due to low demand in the fourth quarter, overall weak performance in wipes and additional costs related to ramp-ups and the integration of acquisitions.
In 2008, the operating environment of the FiberComposites segment was characterized by the rapid change in the global economy. In the beginning of the year, demand for most of Ahlstrom’s nonwoven products was still strong, especially in high growth segments like the windmill industry. By the fourth quarter, demand decreased across all business areas, especially in filtration due to the global decline in the automotives and construction industries. Demand remained brisk in medical and food applications.
In response to these challenges, Ahlstrom announced in April 2009 it would initiate a further restructuring program with the aim of gaining annual cost reductions of €50 million with a full effect in 2010. When announced, it was reported that these measures could impact up to 400-500 employees globally and would extend throughout Ahlstrom’s global businesses.
Even before this, Ahlstrom was streamlining its business. In July 2008, the company divided its nonwovens division into two parts— Home & Personal Nonwovens, covering mainly Ahl strom’s wipes business—and Advanced Nonwovens, incorporating food, medical and industrial nonwovens. According to executives, the high rate of investment and subsequent growth of Ahlstrom’s wipes business, which included former Fiberweb, Green Bay Nonwovens and Orlandi spunlace businesses as well as capital investment in Connecticut and Brazil, had required a special focus on its resources. Most of the effort was put on maximizing efficiency of the global wipes manufacturing platform, adapting it to a slowing market growth and some overcapacity.
A first step toward this goal came in January when Ahlstrom announced it would restructure its Italian spunlace business in response to weakened demand for wipes. The measures, including the shutdown of its Gallarate plant as well as a single production line in Cressa Italy, affected 48 employees.
“The planned actions will consolidate Ahlstrom wipes manufacturing organization in Europe into fewer, more efficient sites. This will additionally allow focusing the organization even more on quality and service. We will not exit any market segment or discontinue products; we’ll continue serving customers as usual despite the restructuring actions,” said Marco Martinez, com muni cations director for Ahlstrom’s nonwovens business.
A second effort was announced in June, when Ahlstrom decided to shut down one of its spunlace lines in Bethune, SC and move the products previously made on the line to Green Bay, WI.
Despite the slowdown, sustainability remains a priority both in Ahlstrom’s wipes business and throughout its product lines.
“We see a growing interest for more sustainable products coming from consumers, end-users and converters. While all the players in the value-chain are getting more environmentally conscious, there is also an increasing number of specific regulations, which is pushing this process,” said Mr. Martinez who called sustainability in both its products and processes one of Ahlstrom’s key priorities.
This commitment is shown in Ahlstrom’s new line in Chirnside, Scotland, which enables the company to make environmentally sound products, for the infusion beverage as well as other markets, based on biodegradable and compostable materials.
"In some applications, certain environmental or sustainability requirements have become a market standard, even long before the recent sustainability hype,” Mr. Martinez said. “In some cases, combinations of environmental and performance benefits could enable end users or brand owners to differentiate, enter or create new premium market segments, gaining competitive advantage and getting economic benefits even if the material cost per unit was higher.”
Within medical and food nonwovens, demand continues to be strong for Ahlstrom which currently has two major growth investment projects in progress there. The new line in Chirnside, Scotland, based on spunmelt nonwovens, will primarily serve the growing infusion products market with next generation products used, for example, in tea bags. This unique production line is able to process renewable and compostable plant-based fibers. This has led to the launch of new, environmentally friendly premium tea bag material, which conforms to EN13432 norms for biodegradability and compostability.
A second, longer term investment project within Ahlstrom’s Advanced Nonwovens division is ongoing in India, where Ahlstrom is establishing a new medical nonwovens plant in the Mundra Special Economic Zone in Gujarat. Operations are estimated to start in the first quarter of 2010 and the new plant will make a full range of SMS fabrics for medical applications such as drapes, gowns, facemask and sterile barrier systems.
Another important industrial market for Ahlstrom is wall coverings, where the company sees a clear movement to higher end wall coverings led by an increased designer interest in home decoration. Additionally, growing market demand for sustainable substrates is driven by the number of eco-conscious manufacturers and consumers.
Recently launched EasyLife mid-tier nonwovens responds to these trends. Made from a mix of natural and synthetic fibers and complementingthe existing ranges of papers and EasyLife high-tier nonwovensubstrates, this product is suitable in applications as backings aswell as in facings for direct printing, the new materials will combinebenefits of paper and nonwoven substrates to deliver excellent printability,optimum design performance and efficient processability.
Also important to Ahlstrom is its filtration division, which hasalso been the subject of a great deal of investment in recent years.With a long history in the engine filtration market, where it oncesupplied mainly wetlaid nonwovens media, Ahlstrom decided a fewyears ago to expand it role into other filtration areas. What followedwas a string of investments starting with Hollinnee LLC, giving itaccess to the HVAC market, continued with Lantor, which addedneedlepunching capabilities, Fibermark’s absorbent materials businessand HRS Textiles to enhance its place in air filtration and endedwith Sassoferrato, Italy-based Fabriano Filter Media, a maker of microglassfilter medial, which gave Ahlstrom exposure to high efficiencyair filtration markets.
Ahlstrom has also made a number of capital investments in its filtrationbusiness, most recently two sister needlepunch lines, mainlyfor dust filtration, in Bethune, SC and Wuxi, China, to help roundout its newly acquired business. However, more recent attentionhas been paid to rationalizing and optimizing these assets. Recentefforts have included the closure of sites in Darlington, SC andBellingham, MA in early 2008. Lines from these sites were movedto Groesbeck, TX and Bethune, SC, respectively. A liquid filtrationconverting operation once located in Mt. Holly Springs, PA has alsomoved to Bethune.
According to Jerome Barrillon, vice president of sales, liquid filtration,filtration has been defensive against weakened economies.While the OEM segment of this business has suffered in the wake ofautomotive industry problems, success has been seen in the aftermarketbusiness as consumers are more careful about taking care ofexisting vehicles. The same can be said in Ahlstrom’s HVAC business,which was hurt by the recent construction slowdown but at the sametime has benefitted from consumer interest in protecting their assets.
New technology continues to also be important to Ahlstrom’s filtrationbusiness. This includes Ahlstrom’s Disruptor product—esignedspecifically for improving the quality of water throughparticulate filtration properties produced by both electro adsorptionand mechanical filtration. Improved taste and odor qualities areprovided through the addition of powdered activated carbon (PAC).
Location: HELSINKI, FINLAND
Sales: $1.35 billion
: Key Personnel
Jan Lång, president & CEO; Risto Anttonen, deputy of the president & CEO; Laura Raitio, executive vice president, Building and Energy; Jean-Marie Becker, executive vice president, Home and Personal; William Casey, executive vice president, Food and Medical; Tommi Björnman, executive vice president, Filtration; Patrick Jeambar, executive vice president, Label and Processing; Paula Aarnio, executive vice president, Human Resources & Sustainability; Claudio Ermondi, executive vice president, Product & Technology Development; Seppo Parvi, chief financial officer; Rami Raulas, executive vice president, Sales & Marketing
Needlepunch, resin bond, spunlace, nanofiber, spunmelt/spunbond, wetlaid, wetlaid/Hydraspun, wetlaid/spunlace composite, wetlaid/Trinitex, composite nonwovens, SPC, crepe, caustic entangled Webril, film-based composites, process enhancements.
Alicante, Spain, Barcelona, Spain, Bethune, SC, Bishopville, SC, Brignoud, France, Chirnside, U.K., Cressa, Italy, Green Bay, WI, Groesbeck, TX, Hyun Poong, Korea, Karhula, Finland, Kauttua, Finland, Louveira, Brazil, Madisonville, WI, Malmedy, Belgium, Mikkeli, Finland, Mt. Holly Springs, PA, Mozzate, Italy, Mundra, India, Paulínia, Brazil, Pont-Audemer, France, Sassoferrato, Italy, Ställdalen, Sweden, Tampere, Finland, Taylorville, IL, Turin, Italy, Tver, Russia, Windsor Locks, CT, Wuxi, China.
Filtration, medical, food and beverage, wipes, automotive, building, wallcover and hygiene.
Among the recent headlines posted by nonwovens producer Ahlstrom is a new organizational structure that segmented the company into five business areas, effective July 1. The organization is now comprised of the following units: Building and Energy, the former Glass and Industrial Nonwovens business area; Home and Personal, the former Home and Personal Nonwovens business area; Food and Medical, the former Advanced Nonwovens business area, crepe papers and vegetable parchment products; Filtration, and Label and Processing. According to the company, the organization within this new business area is being integrated to strengthen customer orientation and the supply chain process.
Looking at its business during the last 18 months, Ahlstrom reported it started seeing recovery during the second half of 2009, which has continued into 2010 but has not yet reached pre-recession levels. In a nutshell, filtration media in transportation and building materials segments benefited from the general upturn of the economy while demand for food packaging and teabag materials as well as nonwovens used in medical applications was steady. In wiping, demand began to decline toward the end of 2009, following a temporary peak during preparations for a potential swine flu epidemic but increased during the first quarter of 2010.
For the year, Ahlstrom’s nonwovens sales fell 12.8% to €861.2 million ($1.1 billion), mainly on these lower volumes while the segment reported an operating loss of €18.8 million compared with a profit of €15.3 million in 2008 on non-recurring items of €44.2 million including an impairment charge in the Home & Personal business area and costs stemming from the closure of a paper machine in Barcelona, Spain for the filtration business area.
To respond to these difficult conditions, Ahlstrom adjusted production volumes throughout the year to match weak demand in 2009 and implemented temporary layoffs and other flexible working house solutions, depending on the market conditions.
Within Ahlstrom’s wipes business, more recently known as Home and Personal, executives report that the segment is returning to growth after a decline toward the end of 2009. Here sustainability is the primary focus, as the company offers easy and innovative ways to produce environmentally friendly wipes for the baby, homecare, personal care and industrial wipes markets. Developments include biodegradable, dispersible or reusable wiping fabrics and products based on natural or recycled raw materials. These include recently developed absorbent spunlace fabrics based on recycled polyester.
“Ahlstrom owns the broadest range of wiping fabrics technologies and is able to offer a diverse range of innovative materials manufactured in numerous sites in Europe, North America and South America,” said Bethany Schivley, marketing communications associate. “Ahlstrom is strengthening its focus on the development of sustainable fabrics for wiping applications, which include biodegradable, dispersible or reusable wiping fabrics and products based on natural or recycled raw materials. These include the recently developed absorbent spunlace fabrics based on recycled PET (rPET).”
Ahlstrom achieved its status as the largest maker of spunlaced nonwovens largely through a series of acquisitions earlier this decade including Green Bay Nonwovens in the U.S., Fiberweb’s spunlace business in the U.S., Spain and Italy and Orlandi in Italy as well as a number of capital investments. More recently, the company has focused on consolidating its assets to increase its capacity and efficiency while broadening its range. In April, Ahlstrom said it would close its Carbonate, Italy plant while continuing production at Mozzate and Cressa, Italy. In Mozzate, a line that had been stopped in 2009 will be rebuilt by 2011, increasing Ahlstrom’s wipes capacity in Europe and concentrating it into fewer, more efficient sites.
In addition to sites in the U.S. and Europe, Ahlstrom also operates a spunlace line in Brazil, which it built in 2008 to target this growing market.
In other global expansion efforts, Ahlstrom recently began commercial production at its newest plant located in the Special Economic Zone of Mundra in the western state of Gujarat, India. The plant uses the most advanced technology to produce a broad range of SMS protective fabrics, specifically developed for the medical market. SMS is a three-layer protective fabric, specifically for application in all main single-use medical products that provide protection inside and outside operating room as surgical drapes, surgical gowns, face masks and sterile barrier systems.
“Ahlstrom’s SMS medical fabrics are strong and hydrophobic and provide an excellent combination of protection and comfort. Depending on the specific end-use requirements, these fabrics can be supplied untreated, antistatic-treated, alcohol repellency-treated or with a combination of both,” Ms. Shivley explained.
With a strong footprint in place in Europe and the Americas, Ahlstrom is starting to establish a solid manufacturing platform in Asia with its new medical nonwovens plant in India, which joins other Asian sites in Wuxi, China and Hyung Poon, Korea. This investment supports Ahlstrom’s strategy of strengthening its leading global position in roll goods nonwovens for the medical industry, increasing its presence internationally, particularly in Asia.
With India being among the world’s fastest growing economies today, particularly for the healthcare industry, this latest plant, with its state-of-the-art technology, has an optimal location in the Special Economic Zone and in the vicinity of one of Asia’s biggest ports, playing a key role in Ahlstrom’s growth strategy in India and Asia.
The medical market presents considerable opportunities for new products and technological developments with an aging population, growing sophistication of healthcare services in emerging economies, and evolving surgical procedures. Ahlstrom’s success in the medical market is due to a continued focus on infection protection through the use of single-use medical fabrics. Emerging markets like Asia and South America present new opportunities for Ahlstrom with the introduction of regulations and medical standards that single-use medical fabrics must follow to protect from infection. Additionally, the aging population worldwide presents more opportunities.
In addition to the new India site, the Food and Medical business has a new line in Chirnside, Scotland to serve the growing infusion markets with BioWeb, a lightweight nonwoven web with unique functional and environmental characteristics. The unique product provides an environmentally friendly, sustainable and affordable solution for high end and specialty tea packers, designed for conversion and on tea-packing machines that use the more recently developed ultrasonic sealing technology, according to the company.
“The current trend in food nonwovens is towards the production of premium and specialty teas using larger leaf particles that require filter materials with greater transparency and superior taste neutrality, two qualities that distinguish Ahlstrom BioWeb from traditional teabag papers,” Ms. Schivley said.
Also important to Ahlstrom is its filtration division, which has also been the subject of a great deal of investment in recent years. With a long history in the engine filtration market, where it once supplied mainly wetlaid nonwovens media, Ahlstrom decided a few years ago to expand its role into other filtration areas. What followed was a string of investments starting with Hollinnee LLC, giving it access to the HVAC market, continued with Lantor, which added needlepunching capabilities, Fibermark’s absorbent materials business and HRS Textiles to enhance its place in air filtration and ended with Sassoferrato, Italy-based Fabriano Filter Media, a maker of microglass filter media, which gave Ahlstrom exposure to high efficiency air filtration markets.
Most recently, in early August, Ahlstrom said it would acquire Shandong Puri Filter & Paper Products Ltd., a producer of transportation filtration media in Shandong, China, from the Purico Group. The purchase, valued at €22.5 million, will help expand Ahlstrom’s platform in China.
In addition to investment, Ahlstrom has made a number of capital investments in its filtration business, most recently a new needlepunch line in Bethune, SC, to help round out its newly acquired business. However, more attention of late has been paid to rationalizing and optimizing these assets. Recent efforts have included the closure of sites in Darlington, SC and Bellingham, MA in early 2008. Lines from these sites were moved to Groesbeck, TX and Bethune, SC, respectively. A liquid filtration converting operation once located in Mt. Holly Springs, PA has also been moved to Bethune.
“The filtration business is a clear focus for Ahlstrom and is now stabilized with the right assets in the right place, serving the markets that Ahlstrom wants to focus on,” said Jerome Barrillon. “ Transportation filtration remains the area where Ahlstrom has the most global footprint, serving key customers worldwide with assets on four continents. Meanwhile, the Advanced Filtration business, which includes our high efficiency air, gas turbine, water, laboratory and life science businesses, continues to expand its presence globally as well, serving customers from key assets in Europe and North America.”
With all of its assets in the right place, Ahlstrom’s filtration group is now focusing on new product development. Recently, advances in fuel filtration and fuel/water separation have allowed our customers to develop new filters in these areas. Also, Ahlstrom’s new Trinitex products for gas turbine air intake are gaining widespread market approval as they are combining high efficiency with high mechanical resistance in tough operating environments, and its nanofiber-treated media is being commercialized in a variety of different end uses, predominantly in air filtration.
While an older technology Ahlstrom’s Disruptor product—a unique carbon-based technology that removes a wide range of pathogens and submicron contaminants from water—continues to expand. In June, Ahlstrom partnered with Eureka Forbes Limited to launch a groundbreaking product to serve the growing needs for clean water in the Indian sub-continent. The device, designed and manufactured by Eureka Forbes, which will be sold under the brand name AquaSure, incorporates Disruptor filter media.
This new AquaSure storage water purifier removes all three types of contaminants from water: physical, chemical and microbiological - without the use of any chemicals and hence, gives not just microbiologically pure, but safe drinkable water.
2011 Nonwovens Sales: $1.06 billion
Jan Lång, president and CEO; Seppo Parvi, CFO; Laura Raitio, executive vice president, Building & Energy; William Casey, executive vice president, Food & Medical; Tommi Björnman, executive vice president, Filtration; Daniele Borlatto, executive vice president, Label & Processing; Paula Aarnio, executive vice president, Human Resources & Sustainability; Rami Raulas, executive vice president, Sales & Marketing; Luc Rousselet, executive vice president, Supply Chain; Aki Saarinen, executive vice president, Strategic Business Development; Paul Stenson, executive vice president, Product & Technology Development.
Barcelona, Spain; Binzhou, China; Bousbecque, France; Brignoud, France; Chirnside, U.K.; Hyun Poong, South Korea; Jacareí, Brazil; Karhula, Finland; Kauttua, Finland; Longkou, China; Louveira, Brazil; Madisonville, KY; Malmédy, Belgium; Mount Holly Springs, PA; Mundra, India; Osnabrück, Germany; Pont Audemer, France; Pont Evêque, France; Radcliffe, U.K.; Saint Séverin, France; Ställdalen, Sweden; Stenay, France; Tampere, Finland; Taylorville, IL; Turin, Italy; Redkino, Russia; West Carrollton, OH; Windsor Locks, CT
Wetlaid (Trinitex), microglass, nanotechnology (Distruptor), composites, creping/micrexing, spunmelt/spunbond, parchmentizing, coating, calendering.
Filtration, wall coverings, building, automotive, labels, food packaging, beverages, medical
Ahlstrom’s business continues to transform itself as the Finland-based company moves forward with its plan of focusing on high performance materials. Already, this plan has led to the divestment of Ahlstrom’s wipes business—including about €300 million in annual sales—in October 2011 to Suominen Corporation. According to executives, the sale of the wipes business, once an important growth vehicle for Ahlstrom, will allow it to strengthen and develop current businesses, particularly in Asia.
Ahlstrom’s remaining nonwovens-related business units include filtration, building and energy and food and medical. In 2011, sales from continuing operations decreased 1.8% to €1.6 billion. Of these sales, nonwovens-related business comprised about 59% of sales, meaning Ahlstrom’s nonwovens sales were about €819 million or $1.06 billion last year.
According to executives, demand for most of Ahlstrom’s products were stable during the first half of 2011, but the market started to decline after the summer holiday season following the slowdown in the global economy, particularly in Europe. This slowdown impacted a number of markets, including construction, wall coverings and flooring, as well as food packaging and tape materials. However, demand in transportation materials and medical materials remained strong.
Ahlstrom has continued to focus on growing its presence in filtration, a business in which the company has invested heavily through acquisitions and capital expenditures during the past decades. Already a leader in the transportation filtration area, this investment strategy has helped Ahlstrom evolve into a well-rounded supplier of both wet and dry media applications in a number of core markets.
Last year, filtration sales comprised 20% of total sales. “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 company’s most recent investment was a capacity expansion at its site in Turin, Italy, where it completed work on a new saturator line in August. This €17.5 million investment was described as an important step that will benefit customers in both transportation and advanced filtration areas. Additionally, in 2010, the company beefed up its Asian filtration business with a new plant in Binzhou, China, that is dedicated to transportation materials, as well as with the opening of a logistic service center in India in December 2011 to support this business.
Ahlstrom’s building and energy business serves customers mainly in the building, transportation, marine, windmill and wall covering industries and comprises about 18% of the group’s sales.
Among the key activities in this business is the addition of a new wall covering line targeting the China market. The new line, in Binzhou, will mainly serve the Chinese market, which is expected to reach 300 million rolls by 2015. “Ahlstrom has a wide range of nonwoven substrates for wall covering applications,” says Calum Mayland, marketing manager, Building & Energy. “They carry different and unique surface characteristics which are directly printed to create stylish wall cover designs.”
Because design is the key driver in this industry, Ahlstrom products appeal to designers due to their ability to incorporate structure and touch into a wall cover design. This combination of easier decoration and better appearance on the wall is driving growth of nonwoven substrates around the world, Mayland adds.
Another important business area for this segment is battery separators, a market Ahlstrom entered last year through the purchase of a stake in Porous Power Technologies, LLC, a Colorado-based company developing technology for lithium-ion battery separators. Ahlstrom had previously partnered with Porous Power by providing the nonwovens component of the membrane technology used in battery separators. “Everything we are hearing from this market is that it is growing strongly and will continue to until at least 2020, says Laura Raitio, executive vice president of Ahlstrom’s Building & Energy business. “The transaction will be very beneficial because it will give us access to the membrane technology and it’s a good fit to our existing business.”
Ahlstrom had been working with Porous Power for some time, supplying a nonwoven component to the porous membrane product. The resulting product is a highly interesting membrane, Raitio explains. Using Symmetrix technology, the product aids in faster charging and provides safety aspects like an ability to hold up under extremely hot and extremely cold temperatures.
Ahlstrom, together with Porous Power, will continue to offer a new generation of separator solutions for safer batteries and capacitors in electric-drive vehicles, e-bikes, portable electronics and utility-grade storage products. Porous Power’s current separator products are already being evaluated by battery manufacturers around the world. The products for electric vehicles will be commercially available in larger scale at a later date. Among the benefits of Porous Power’s product is its ability to hold up well in extremely hot and cold temperatures. Its extreme porosity helps aid in charging speeds and can be offered at an attractive price point.
Also included in Ahlstrom’s nonwovens business is food and medical, which provides materials for tea bags, food packaging, masking tape and surgical drapes, gowns and sterile barriers. This area comprised 18% of group sales last year and significant growth is expected in Asia, as evidenced by recent investments in this region.
Key events in this segment include the opening of a new plant in Longkou, China, a joint venture with Longkou Yulong Paper. The site, which will open this fall, will produce crepe paper, targeting the masking tape and medical sterile barrier systems markets. It will be the group’s third crepe paper plant, joining existing sites in Pont Audemer, France and Kauttua, Finland.
Meanwhile, in India, Ahlstrom opened a spunmelt facility in Mundra in 2010. The output of this site can be used in nearly all medical applications, and in late 2011 a topical treatment line was added to allow the company to make alcohol repellent and antistatic SMS.
“With the addition of repellence SMS to the existing product range, we now have a completed medical portfolio that focuses on clean, single-use materials that conform to medical standards,” says Bethany Schivley, communication officer, Food & Medical.
With more than 80% of all surgical gowns being produced in Asia, expansion into this region was a must for Ahlstrom and Schivley says investment in both sales and personnel will continue in coming years.
In the food segment, Ahlstrom continues to see success with BioWeb, a lightweight nonwoven web that provides an environmentally friendly, sustainable and affordable solution for high-end and specialty tea packers, designed for conversion on ultrasonic or heat seal tea-packing machines, according to Schivley. Ahlstrom makes BioWeb in Chirnside, Scotland.
2012 Nonwovens Sales: $1.3 billion
Key Personnel: Jan Lang, president and CEO; Fulvio Capussotti, executive vice president, advanced fi ltration; Jari Koikkalainen, executive vice president, transportation fi ltration; Laura Raitio, executive vice president, building and energy; Paula Aarnio, executive vice president, HR and sustainability; Seppo Parvi, CFO and executive vice president, food and medical; Rami Raulas, executive vice president, sales and marketing; Luc Rousselet, executive vice president, supply chain; Aki Saarinen, executive vice president, strategic business development; Paul Stenson, executive vice president, product and technology development
Plants: Brignoud, France; Karhula, Finland; Malmedy, Belgium; Mikkeli, Finland; Stalldalen, Sweden; Tver, Russia; Bousbeceque, France; Chirnside, UK; Kauttua, Finland; Longkou, China; Mundra, India; Pont-Audemer, France; Saint Severin, France; Radcliffe, UK; West Carrollton, OH; Windsor Locks, CT; Barcelona, Spain; Bethune, SC; Fabriano, Italy; Binzhou, China; Hyon Poong, Korea; Louveira, Brazil; Madisonville, KY; Mount Holly Springs, PA; Tampere, Finland; Taylorville, IL; Turin, Italy
Processes:Wetlaid (Trinitex), microglass, nanotechnology (Disruptor), composites, creping/micrexing, spunmelt/spunbond, parchmentizing, coating, calendaring
Major Markets: Transportation filtration, diagnostic filtration, water filtration, wall coverings, building, automotive, food packaging, beverage, medical, flooring and masking tape
In recent months, Ahlstrom has continued its strategy of focusing on high performance materials, as first evidenced through the company’s late 2011 sale of its wipes business, including €300 million in total sales, as well the demerger of its label and processing unit in August 2012. The essence of the company’s business, which now operates through four major divisions— Transportation Filtration, Advanced Filtration, Building and Energy and Food and Medical—is to focus on fiber-based materials that protect people, purify air and liquids and provide surface structure to its customers’ products, according to company spokesperson Bethany Schivley. Nonwovens made by Ahlstrom are mainly used in transportation, construction, food and beverage, medical, energy, water and life science markets.
In 2012, sales decreased 1.5% to €1.01 billion ($1.3 billion) due to lower volumes and capacity closures which offset higher selling prices and favorable currency effects. Operating profits also declined due to lower sales volumes, adverse product mixes and increases in market-related downtime in production.
“Higher selling prices and the profit improvement programs implemented at the end of 2011 improved profitability,” says Schivley. “In addition, short-tem cost mitigation, related to maintenance and temporary lay-offs, had a positive effect on profitability.”
Effective January 1, Ahlstrom reorganized its business into the aforementioned four business areas after dividing the company’s former filtration business area into two separate business areas: Transportation Filtration and Advanced Filtration. This has enabled a stronger focus on filtration, along with demerging the label and processing unit and combining it with Munksjo in November 2012.
According to Schivley, transportation filtration is mainly focused on the automotive market while advanced filtration encompasses a broader reach, serving laboratory and life sciences, gas turbine, hydraulic, food and beverage and HVAC. Both areas continue to be strong areas of focus and growth for Ahlstrom and together comprise about 37% of sales, or €352.7 million, up from €324 million, in 2012.
Within the transportation segment, which includes media for automotive engines and other transportation-related applications, this year Ahlstrom launched Captimax, a great technology that combines high efficiency filtration with extremely high dust holding capacity. According to the company, the technology, which uses Eastman Cyphrex microfibers, will open different filter design possibilities for its customers and meet several needs from the automotive industry such as a smaller footprint in the engine compartment, glass fiber formulation and high filtration performance.
“This breakthrough technology is a new platform for Ahlstrom and several other products can be expected soon,” Schivley says.
The technology also gives filter media manufacturers the ability to obtain optimum micron efficiency ratings and dust holding ability by providing a balance of excellent small-particle retention and the potential for longer media life.
Recent highlights of the advanced filtration business include the purchase of Sweden-based Munktell Filter AB in September 2012, a move Ahlstrom sees as a strategic step to grow its advanced filtration business particularly in life science and laboratory applications. The transaction included 100% of the shares in Munktell Filter AB, as well as its holdings in Munktell & Filtrak GmbH, Filtres Fioroni SA and Munktell Inc.
“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,” says Tommi Björnman, former executive vice president, filtration.
Munktell is based in Falun, Sweden and it has production sites in Germany and Sweden, a joint venture in France, as well as a sales office in the U.S. The company’s reported sales are €15 million with an operating profit margin of roughly 15% in 2011.
Also in advanced filtration, Ahlstrom is collaborating with Dow Chemical Company to use its Disruptor technology in drinking water applications. Disruptor is Ahlstrom’s nanoalumina technology designed for a wide range of water filtration applications.
“One of the key goals in our product development is to create products that purify air and liquids in a sustainable way. We are excited about the opportunity to work with Dow since we see a wealth of opportunities for providing pure water solutions through combining our expertise with Dow’s industry-leading product offering,” says Fulvio Capussotti, executive vice president, advanced filtration.
Amidst these efforts, Ahlstrom continues to see capital investment as a growth strategy. While the once steady stream of investments has slowed more recently, Ahlstrom has continued to add capacity within its filtration business. The most recent effort is the addition of capacity in Turin, Italy, which is scheduled to be operational by the third quarter of 2013 and will consist of an upgrade to 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,” Björnman says.
Other recent capacity expansions include a new line in Binzhou, China to serve the Chinese market as well as an upgrade to its Louveira, Brazil site.
Ahlstrom’s building and energy business, including products for construction, energy storage and even wall coverings continued to thrive in 2012 while representing 26% of sales.
One market that has consistently been strong within this segment is the global wall covering market, which Schivley says has remained stable mainly due to the global financial situation, political confidence and reduced consumer spending in Europe. In line with this stability, Ahlstrom has made some considerable investment to this segment in recent years including upgrades in Malmedy, Belgium to make the site capable of producing embossed substrates for digital print applications and a new production line in Binzhou, China where the market is expected to reach 300 million rolls by 2015.
“The Chinese wall covering market is changing from one of import to one of domestic production,” Schivley says.
Another increasingly important business area in this segment is battery separators, a market Ahlstrom entered last year through the purchase of a stake in Porous Power Technologies, a Colorado-based company developing technology for lithiumion battery separators. Together with Porous Power, Ahlstrom is offering a new generation of separator solutions for safer batteries and capacitors in electric-drive vehicles, e-bikes, portable electronics and utility-grade storage products.
Ahlstrom’s food and medical business area is benefitting from the addition of a new plant in Longkou, China, dedicated to the manufacture of crepe paper used for masking tape and sterilization pouches for the medical market. Marking Ahlstrom’s third such plant—the other two are in Pont Audemer, France and Kauttua, Finland—the investment proves how important Asia is for all of Ahlstrom, especially the food and medical division.
In April, medical introduced Ahlstrom Reliance Tandem to the market. Ahlstrom Reliance Tandem is an expansion of Ahlstrom’s interleaved SBS portfolio with the introduction of SMS. Adding SMS to offerings that formerly comprised just crepe and wetlaid is allowing the company to offer an optimal combination of sterile barrier system sheets for sequential wrapping.
Ahlstrom’s food packaging and beverages categories are also seen as a high growth area for food and medical. These are areas where consumers want both products and packaging to be more environmentally sensitive but without the expectation of changing how they shop, prepare and cook.
In beverage applications, Ahlstrom is developing products made from PLA (polylactic-acid), an advanced renewable and biodegradable polymer. PLA is already used in Ahlstrom BioWeb teabags and is currently being expanded into coffee capsules for espresso machines.
In food packaging, Ahlstrom has created the sustainable Genuine Vegetable Parchment baking paper, which can be converted into molds replacing molds made of plastic or aluminum. Molds are produced from 100% sustainable and renewable resources and are biodegradable, helping to meet customers’ sustainability requirements.
2013 Nonwovens Sales: $1.35 billion
Marco Levi, president and CEO; Sakari Ahdekivi, CFO; Fulvio Capussotti, executive vice president, advanced filtration; Jari Koikkalainen, executive vice president, transportation filtration and sales region Asia; Arnaud Marquis, executive vice president, building and energy; Roberto Boggio, executive vice president, medical; Omar Hoek, executive vice president, food; Paula Aarnio, executive vice president, HR and sustainability; Rami Raulas, executive vice president, sales region Europe, Middle East, and India; Bill Casey, executive vice president, sales region Americas; Luc Rousselet, executive vice president, supply chain; Paul Stenson, executive vice president, technology and strategy development
Belgium: Malmedy; Brazil: Louveira; China: Binzhou, Longkou; Finland: Karhula, Kauttua, Mikkeli, Tampere; France: Bousbecque, Brignoud, Pont-Audemer, Saint-Severin; India: Mundra; Italy: Turin; Russia: Tver; South Korea: Hyon Poong; UK: Chirnside, Radcliffe; US: Bethune, SC; Madisonville, KY; Mt. Holly Springs, PA; Taylorville, IL; Windsor Locks, CT
Wetlaid (Trinitex), microglass, nanotechnology (Disruptor), composites, creping/micrexing, spunmelt/spunbond, parchmentizing, coating, calendaring
Transportation filtration, diagnostic filtration, water filtration, wall coverings, building, automotive, food packaging, beverage, medical, flooring and masking tape
A few years ago, Ahlstrom formed a strategy to transform itself into a major high performance, fiber-based materials company. This strategy meant the divestment of its wipes assets as well as investment and increased focus on core markets like filtration, wall coverings and medical. In addition, the company has demerged its specialty paper business.
Now that this transformation is complete, and Ahlstrom is indeed a high performance, fiber-based company, it has in place a roadmap for growth based on its established business portfolio and is well placed to improve its profitability in 2014, according to financial communications and investor relations manager Juho Erkheikki. In 2013, the company’s sales increased 0.4% to reach €1.01 billion ($1.37 billion) mostly due to higher selling prices and a favorable product mix.
“We have now successfully completed a major transformation of the company to become a high performance fiber-based materials company,” Erkheikki says. “We have created the roadmap for growth based on our established business portfolio and are well placed to improve our profitability in 2014.”
By business, two of the company’s five main segments, advanced filtration and transportation filtration, increased net sales while the other two, building and energy, food, and medical reported declines.
Within the company’s advanced filtration business, which includes all of Ahlstrom’s filtration activities outside of transportation, significant focus has centered on high efficiency air and power generation with focus on key performance characteristics like durability, advantages of processing and mechanical performance. “We are also working on innovative solutions for various liquid applications including water, laboratory and life sciences,” says marketing manager Noora Blasi.
In late 2012, Ahlstrom acquired Munktell Filter as part of its plan to accelerate growth in advanced filtration materials particularly in life science and laboratory applications. The transaction included 100% ownership in Munktell Filter as well as its holdings in Munktell & Filtrak, Filtres Fioroni and Munktell.
“The Munktell acquisition has now been successfully integrated into our business,” Blasi says. “By combining the product portfolios of the two companies, we have been able to build an even stronger portfolio in laboratory and life science markets.”
Also boosting Ahlstrom’s role in advanced filtration is collaboration with Dow whereby Dow will use Ahlstrom’s Disruptor technology in drinking water applications. Ahlstrom Disruptor is a unique nanoalumina technology designed for a wide range of water applications.
“One of the key goals in our product development is to create products that purify air and liquids in a sustainable way. We are excited about the opportunity to work with Dow since we see a wealth of opportunities for providing pure water solutions through combining our expertise with Dow’s industry-leading product offering,” says Fulvio Capussotti, executive vice president, advanced filtration, Ahlstrom.
Meanwhile, on the other side of Ahlstrom’s filtration business, transportation, solid growth continues in Asia, North America and Europe, while the market in South America has started to see some positive signs following a slowdown in the second half of 2013. As it continues to invest in growth in areas like Turin, Italy, Louveira, Brazil and Binzhou, China, Ahlstrom has also seen growth on the heels of several new product introductions including Captimax, which combines high efficiency filtration with extremely high dust holding capacity, and SafeCabin, a full portfolio of cabin air filter media including solutions for fine particulate filtration and for activated carbon with Ahlstrom Trinitex technology. Additionally, the company continues to expand its portfolio for oil applications and engine air media products.
“We will continue to grow with our customers by expanding our global filtration solution portfolio,” Blasi says. “We will do that by understanding the changing market and product requirements and unmet needs. Our global reach and presence is unique and that combined with our long history and expertise in fibers and chemistries will support our future growth.”
Meanwhile, Ahlstrom’s building and energy segment mainly serves customers in the building, transportation, windmill and wallcovering industries. One of the key pieces of news coming out of this segment is the startup of a new wallcovering line in Binzhou, China. The investment has not only expanded Ahlstrom’s capabilities in this market, it also provides it with immediate access to the fast growing Chinese wallcovering market.
“Our set of capabilities have increased dramatically and we feel that we are now in a great position to be successful in this fast growing market,” says Robin Guillaud, sales director, technical nonwovens.
Another milestone in Ahlstrom’s wallcoverings business was the launch of EasyLife Spray & Up, a new offering for the fast growing digital wall decor market. The patent-pending material has a unique, integrated adhesive system, which significantly improved the decorating experience for customers. According to Ahlstrom, EasyLife Spray & Up is easy and clean to use—no additional adhesive or specialist tools are required, just water and a spray bottle. Application time is reduced by up to 60%, while use of traditional adhesive is eliminated, delivering less mess and faster clean up time.
In recent focus groups in North America and Europe, EasyLife Spray & Up has been widely endorsed by consumers. In fact 95% of them say they were “extremely likely” or “very likely” to use the product.
Also within the building and energy market is the battery separator sector, which continues to grow nicely following the 2012 acquisition of a stake in Porous Power Technologies (PPT), a Colorado-based company developing technology for lithium ion battery separators. In January, PPT launched Symmetrix NC2020, a ceramic battery separator designed to improve thermal stability and safety of large-format lithium ion batteries. The product, which was developed in partnership with Ahlstrom, delivers sizable improvements in all three areas, particularly safety. Applications include batteries for electric vehicles, flat-cell consumer electronics, utility-grade energy storage and other high-power or high-energy applications.
Ahlstrom’s medical business area has declined slightly caused by the slow commercialization of start-up operations. Still, this business has been defending its position in the market by heavily focusing on high performance and smart single-use medical consumables, a strategy that has included the launch of several new products in recent months.
In March, Ahlstrom launched a new medical campaign—Dress for Surgical Excellence—featuring a range of single-use medical consumables for high-risk surgeries, which demand a higher caliber of dress, protecting patients, surgeon, and surgical staff from contaminants. The range includes BVB for impervious AAMI level 4 surgical gowns; Ahlstrom TenderGuard soft SMS for surgical gowns; Ahlstrom TrustShield, an expansive range of repellent and absorbent surgical drapes; and Ahlstrom Reliance sterile barrier systems for wrap, tray liners and over wrap.
The company has also previewed its new dynamic single-use scrub suit fabric, Ahlstrom VaporCool at three exhibitions this spring—AORN, INDEX and Medical World Americas. Ahlstrom VaporCool will be officially launched this fall. The dynamic single-use scrub suit works with the wearers body—when hot it promotes evaporation to give a cooling affect and when cold it holds in moisture to provide warmth.
“We’re continuing to listen to the market and better understand the needs of our customers and our customers’ customers,” says Bethany Schivley, communications officer, medical. “Our high performance medical consumables and smart fabrics will continue to be a priority for us as we push towards 2015.”
New product development is also a core focus in the food business. In February, the company launched Ahlstrom NatureMold, a new sustainable molding material that offers food processors and brand owners many unique benefits. For one, it’s biodegradable, unlike aluminum or PET. It also works great in a variety of temperatures—oven, microwave, fridge, freezer, and even to the table. Another unique feature is the ability for the mold to have patterning and coloring options, allowing brand owners to differentiate their product. For NatureMold, in the short-term, Ahlstrom says it’s focused around patterning and coloring options, in addition to an extended range with other customization options while working throughout the value chain for long-term growth.