2015 Nonwovens Sales: $1.7 billion
Bruce Olson, CEO; René Wollert, CFO; Frank Heislitz, CTO, Richard Shaw, COO
Weinheim, Germany; Neuenburg, Germany; Kaiserslautern, Germany; Greetland, U.K.; Swindon, U.K.; Littleborough, U.K.; Colmar, France; Barcelona, Spain; Nizhiniy, Novgorod, Russia; Sant´ Omero, Italy; Cossato, Italy; Novedrate, Italy; Pisticci, Italy; Hong Kong, China; Suzhou, China; Nantong, China; Chennai, India; Pyungtaek, South Korea; Yang Mei, Taiwan; Tayuan, Taiwan; San Martin/Buenos Aires, Argentina; Durham, NC; Jacarei, Brazil; Cape Town, South Africa
All locations are ISO 9001 and ISO 14001 certified; locations serving the automotives industry are TS 16469 certified; all sites are OHSAS 18001 certified
Drylaid staple fiber, wetlaid, spunbond, meltblown, needlepunched, thermal bond, chemical bond, water entanglement
Celestia, Comfortemp, Evolon, Lutradur, Lutrasil, SoundTex, Vildona, Viledon, Vilene, Vilmed, Vlieseline, Marelli & Berta
Automotive interiors, apparel, energy, geotextiles, building interiors, medical, hygiene and special applications
Beginning in 2015, Freudenberg began operating through a new model combining its nonwovens business with its roofing and construction outfit, Freudenberg Politex. The merged businesses are now known as Freudenberg Performance Materials. By combining these two formerly independent companies, Freudenberg Performance Materials can leverage technological and material synergies more intensively, create more efficient processes and pool knowledge. In its first year, the group established a new organizational structure for the global Apparel and Building Materials Divisions well as the regional Business Units of Europe, North America, South America and the Asia/Pacific.
Freudenberg Performance Materials is a leading global supplier of innovative solutions for a broad range of applications such as automotive interiors, apparel, building materials, filtration, hygiene, medical, shoe components and specialties. The company has more than 25 manufacturing sites in 14 countries.
The company’s apparel business, which includes both woven and nonwoven technologies, has reported appreciable sales growth thanks largely to the acquisition of the Hansel brand from Hansel Textil in Iserlohn, Germany. The acquisition has allowed Freudenberg to offer sophisticated interlining solutions in ladies and men’s outer garments, childrenswear and sportswear. In June 2016, Freudenberg added to these offerings through the investment of a stretchable interlinings line in Weinheim, Germany. Freudenberg relocated all of the Hansel operations from Iserlohn to its Weinheim headquarters in 2015.
In 2015, the apparel business was strong in the Asian countries of Vietnam and Bangladesh but growth was subdued in China and challenges were felt in Southern Europe, due to the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
Meanwhile, the Building Materials segment was recognized with several awards. In Taiwan, the Interface Group presented Freudenberg Far Eastern Spunweb, based in Taoyuan, Taiwan, with its Supplier Gold Award.
In China, the city of Nantong recognized Freudenberg & Vilene Interlinings (Nantong) Co. Ltd., Nantong, China, as a “Green Company” for the thirteenth time.
On the manufacturing front, this division continued its intensive efforts to improve manufacturing process efficiency and progressed with the phased transition of production lines to manufacture high quality glass fiber reinforced spunlaids with a view to offering sustainable solutions to construction industry customers worldwide.
Additionally, special products, such as solutions for steep gabled roofs, were added to upgrade the product range. By converting the production lines in Pisticci, Italy, and Colmar, France, Freudenberg Performance Materials can offer customized solutions for underlays.
The business group also consolidated its position as the world market leader for polyester nonwovens for roofing applications by expanding its range of high-quality products, know-how in both spunlaid and staple fiber technology and close ties with global customers. Furthermore, Freudenberg Performance Materials built on existing achievements in sustainable and efficient resource management, for example reducing CO2 emissions in staple fiber production at Novedrate, Italy, by 4%.
In 2015, Freudenberg & Vilene Nonwovens (Suzhou) Co. Ltd., Suzhou, China, invested in a new state-of-the-art production line for automotive headliners at the Suzhou facility in Eastern China. Start of production was scheduled for summer 2016. The company began marketing printed headliners in 2010 and is currently the only headliner manufacturer with in-house printing capabilities.
In the U.S., Freudenberg’s Durham, NC site is adding spinning capabilities to provide more uniformity in a number of markets including automotives, carpets and geotextiles. This $6 million investment is known as Freudenberg’s PA2 line.
In other investment news, in September Freudenberg added a €3 million pilot plant at its Kaiserslautern, Germany site to develop and test new processing technologies.
“We are producing spunlaids with the patented technology developed by us, a technology with significant advantages compared to competing technologies,” says Michael Ehret, head of operations regional business unit Europe and site manager in Kaiserslautern. The benefits include tailor-made products, consistent quality and higher productivity.
“With the new pilot plant, we are able to open up completely new application fields and to develop new innovative products for individual customer needs,” says Dr. Volker Röhring, manager process development. The plant is operated with the existing workforce.
In January 2015, Freudenberg’s medical business received a boost through the acquisition of Polymer Health Technology, a Wales, U.K.-based supplier of polyurethane foams for advanced wound care applications. This has allowed the company to offer its customers additional innovative solutions for modern wound management. The hydrophilic polyurethane foam systems from Polymer Health Technology absorb wound exudate, creating an ideal environment for healing the wound and protecting it from drying out.
Since the acquisition, Freudenberg has been working closely with customers to intensify the research and development of foam-based solutions. Its first successes include customized, antimicrobial polyurethane foam systems for medium to strong extruded wounds such as decubitus and second degree burns. The antimicrobial effect contributes to reducing the bacterial load in infected wounds. It also acts as a barrier in wounds with high and renewed risk of infection. In the future, the company will also offer standardized solutions for a wide range of applications.
Another source of new products and new market opportunities is Evolon, Freudenberg’s microfilament nonwoven material, which was developed more than a decade ago but continues to evolve.
In 2016, Freudenberg showcased Evolon’s usage in the high tech wiping markets. While the material has been used as a heavyweight, high-tech cleaning cloth for years, recent developments have allowed Freudenberg to combine the benefits of microfilaments and the convenience of disposable items to develop its range of lightweight wipe substrates. Evolon wipes offer exceptional cleaning performance in their category thanks to the fineness and density of the microfilaments. Dry or pre-impregnated, Evolon lightweight wipes are set for highly demanding applications requiring the best surface preservation, and are currently being qualified by the automotive and aerospace industries. These Evolon lightweight wipes give Freudenberg the opportunity to consolidate its position in the industrial cleaning segment.
Beyond wipes, Evolon’s evolution has allowed it to be used in a microfiber towel that can absorb four times its weight in large-scale graphics and in automotives applications where it aids in sound control. Evolon is currently used in General Motors’ Malibu automobile as a dashboard and full floor system to absorb sounds.
Additionally, the three-dimensional version of Evolon features increased surface volume and has become more refined, paving the way for a number of applications.
In corporate news, in August 2015, Freudenberg’s parent company purchased a 75% stake in Japan Vilene, one of Japan’s largest nonwovens manufacturers. Toray Industries will own the other 25% share in the company. Japan Vilene continues to operate as an independent company but Freudenberg, as the largest shareholder of the company, can make
Freudenberg Filtration Technology
Freudenberg Filtration Technology is also operating under a new structure. In January 2015, the group split into two global divisions—Automotive Filters and Industrial Filtration—while the existing Water Solutions global segment remained in operation.
Within automotives, demand from OEMs and the aftermarket for automotive filters developed very well, particularly in North America, with Freudenberg Filtration Technologies also reporting increased sales in Europe. The downturn in sales with key accounts in the Chinese automotive market could not be offset by the business group’s success in the non-branded aftermarket. The market environment in South America, particularly Brazil, was also challenging.
The Chinese filtration team won a major order from Zhejiang Geely Automobile Parts & Components Stock Co., Ltd., Hangzhou, China, to develop and supply engine intake air systems for a new platform for compact vehicles from the Volvo brand. This is the largest single order Freudenberg has won so far for the engine intake air filtration business in China.
In Weinheim, Freudenberg Filtration Technologies automated its pocket filter production lines—these filters are used in various industrial applications such as the food industry, in gas turbines or in paint shops, and invested in new machinery for cartridge filters for dust removal applications.
Within its Industrial Filtration Division, Freudenberg Filtration Technologies set up a new global market segment structure and improving global project management amidst generally volatile, extremely challenging market conditions.
Sales of filters for air purifiers and other household appliances in China and Korea decreased as a result of altered consumer behavior, more intense competition and changes in the purchasing patterns of key customers. The mining industry in Australia stagnated.
The market environment in South America also continues to be extremely challenging. In Europe there is strong demand fluctuation in many segments, and this calls for high flexibility in production and throughout the entire supply chain.
Freudenberg Filtration Technologies’ engineering business developed well despite a somewhat subdued investment climate for the maintenance, conversion and expansion of filtration systems. The business group built 12 ultra-modern filter houses for gas turbines on three offshore platforms operated by a Brazilian oil company off the South American coast.
The key benefit for the customer is reliably high filtration performance in continuous operation. Despite extremely high flow rates and extreme environmental conditions, Freudenberg air filters have a long service life.
Expansion of engineering business lines up with Freudenberg Filtration Technologies’ strategic goal to evolve from a supplier of high quality filtration products into a competence partner for complete, energy-efficient filtration solutions.