2012 Nonwovens Sales: $460 million
Key Personnel: Daniel Dayan, CEO; Kate Miles, group finance director
Plants: Old Hickory, TN; Aschersleben, Germany; Berlin, Germany; Pontypool, U.K.; Maldon, U.K.; Aberdare, U.K.; Terno d’Isola, Italy; Mundra, India, Biesheim, France
Processes: Thermal bonded, air-through bonded, spunbond, needlepunch, meltblown, lamination, film, extrusion
Major Markets: Filtration, geosynthetics, medical specialties, crop covers, tree shelters, dryer sheets, adult incontinence components, housewrap, roofing underlayments, grass protection
Continuing its goal of becoming a specialty materials company, London, UK-based Fiberweb has been focusing on growth across its two divisions—technical fabrics and geosynthetics. The larger of the two divisions, technical fabrics comprises the company’s former Americas and European industrial business as well as remaining hygiene businesses in France and Italy. Meanwhile, geosynthetics combines Fiberweb’s Terram business, the 2011 acquisitions of Tubex and Boddingtons as well as existing geotextile and construction businesses in the U.S. and includes sites in Maldon, Essex and Aberdare, U.K., as well as the new acquisition of Terram India at Mundra, Gujarat, India and housewrap and tree shelter production lines in Old Hickory, TN.
In 2012, nonwovens sales were primarily flat as growth in the North American construction and landscape fabrics market offset challenges in the European construction market as well as in the geosynthetics business in the U.K. and continental Europe. “We haven’t seen a turnaround in 2013,” says CEO Daniel Dayan. “I would say sales have been flat. It’s not declining the way it did last year. Of course, some of this is the negative impact of the long winter in North America.”
In spite of these challenges, Dayan says he is still happy with the company’s performance. “We did very well growing the bottom line. We grew earnings strongly. We achieved great volumes. We are in a nice position with no debt and we have a lot of cash thanks to the hygiene sales at the end of 2011.”
The sale, of course, is Fiberweb’s divestment of much of its hygiene business to former joint venture partner Fitesa in late 2011. The $286 million sale encompassed Fiberweb’s stake in the FitesaFiberweb joint venture, including manufacturing sites in the U.S., Canada and Mexico, as well as Fiberweb’s hygiene spunbond operations in Germany, Italy and Sweden and two airlaid lines in Tianjin, China.
Overnight, the sale transformed Fiberweb from a major player in the hygiene market into a streamlined company heavily focused on specialty materials and bringing innovation to market.
“This has absolutely been the right strategy for us,” Dayan says. “It has led to better differentiation by working with the customers on what they need. This is the journey we are on. It’s not unique but it’s absolutely the right strategy.”
In June 2013, Fiberweb continued to divest its hygiene assets, selling a specialized resin-bond hygiene line at Terno d’Isola in Italy to Fitesa for €3 million. The sale, which had been planned for some time, will reduce second half 2013 sales by €3.5 million, according to the company.
Even as the strategy toward specialty materials continues to pay off, Dayan says he would like to see faster growth in filtration and some other specialty areas like composites and digital printing. “We would like to see quicker getting innovation to market. We have some great projects underway but it takes a long time to get it to market.”
During the past 18 months, Fiberweb has made several investments to help it achieve its goals. These include the expansion of a breathable fi lm line in Aschersleben, Germany, which has allowed Fiberweb to expand its microporous film production for roofing and medical applications, a new airthrough bonding line in Italy as well as a new needlepunch line in the U.K.
The new U.K. line features technology that has allowed Fiberweb to meet demand for heavier geotextiles while at the same time achieving greater flexibility than with spunbond. One example of a new product being made on the new line is a fivelayer geocomposite for the rail industry that can be placed under high-speed lines in areas with clay subsoils.
“That is a good example of where we are listening to customers,” he says. “The result is that we are seeing innovation on both sides of the business. There is a lot of stuff in filtration and composites for technical fabrics in our pipeline.”
If there is one area where the new Fiberweb is a little behind its former self is in its global footprint. Before the sale to Fitesa, Fiberweb had a strong Asian presence with a large airlaid operation in China. Today, its only real Asian operation is Terram, a joint venture within the geotextiles market in Gujarat, India. In July, Fiberweb announced it had increased its stake in the venture from 26% to 65% to enable expansion at the plant with the addition of a value-added manufacturing line. The investment was valued at €2 million.
Terram India was started in 2012 with a geotextile spunbond line relocated from Fiberweb’s Terram operations in the U.K. The unique Terram spunbond process produces strong, lightweight geotextiles and has long been a key component in many leading geocomposites, being utilized as a trusted element in road, rail and building foundations, as well as many other construction projects. According to Fiberweb, the line is currently supplying Fiberweb in the U.K. along with several Fiberweb customers in the Middle East, South America, Asia and Africa and is well placed to deliver strategic benefit from the growing Indian market.
Beyond India, Fiberweb is looking at other areas for expansion, particularly in other emerging markets, but decisions on where to go will not be made lightly.
“Wherever we go we would like to have a close to leadership position in some areas of the industry,” Dayan says. “We are not satisfied with a me-too presence and we would rather be a leader where we can differentiate ourselves.”