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.