“Power generation is a fast growing market and electricity demand is projected to almost double within the next 15 years,” notes Liisa Nyyssönen, vice president of communications. This growth will require many air filtration solutions for the conversion of fuel into power and electricity.
In addition to power and electric filtration, the Air Pollution Control (APC) sector is also seeing measured growth, largely in emerging economies where personal incomes and standards of living are on the rise, namely the Asia Pacific region, which consisted of 39% of the market in 2012. According to Nyyssönen, growth within both air and liquid nonwoven based filter applications is a combination of several things including overall growth in the manufacturing sector, increased legislative standards concerning workplace and environmental health and safety, as well as power generation. “Scarcity of clean air and water are other green carbon blueprint drivers,” she states.
Improvements to the technology in nonwoven manufacturing have enabled Ahlstrom to open up doors for new, market-segment exploration. Driven by renewed focus on high efficiency and durability, Ahlstrom has devised a technique utilizing needlepunch media to prolong the life of various air and liquid filters, thus filling a growing, market need. “Needlepunch media appears to have the best technical fit when there is a lot of coarser particles in the air to be separated to provide longer-life filter solutions,” states Nyyssönen. This marked improvement inevitably increases the cost of the products, but, as Nyyssönen asserts, “[It] is preferred even if [it] is more expensive than e.g. cellulose-based filters.”
Discussing industrial markets, cost is always an important factor to consider, but more important is to understand cost as a function of a new, potentially, high-value solution. A short-term price disadvantage can turn into a long-term price advantage, if the propositions are made wisely. Comparing the industrial market to car shopping, Nyyssönen states, “There is a reason why someone prefers a premium car model over an economy model.”
Cost, however important, is not the only challenge that Ahlstrom—and many other manufacturers—have considered and see a need to overcome. Nyyssönen explains that there is often a disconnect between the new materials and production processes, and an understanding of an ever evolving market with unique needs. “We need a more open mindset,” she states. “The sweet spot of innovation is to combine these new technological opportunities with the market needs…what our customer’s customer is looking for.”
Ahlstrom’s refocus has led to additional efforts to bring many new, nonwoven (synthetic) based, filter products to the marketplace, specifically in engine and industrial applications. Growth is there, and, according to Nyyssönen, Ahlstrom’s “successful product launches have consequently led to good growth opportunities”—a trend that is also visible in its food and medical, as well as building and energy business areas. If Ahlstrom can continue to put focus on providing high-value goods that meet an existing need, they will continue to see company growth along with the market.
Ahlstrom’s determination is to invest in product development to create new opportunities, and then, with the best solutions presented, shift from regional to global supply opportunities in its selected market, being regional and global simultaneously. According to Nyyssönen, “This is not a 100 meter hurdle, but a marathon.”