2017 Nonwovens Sales: $1.25 billion
Hans Sohlström, president and CEO; Sakari Ahdekivi, deputy CEO and executive vice president; Omar Hoek, executive vice president, specialties; Fulvio Capussotti, executive vice president, filtration and performance
Belgium: Malmedy; Brazil: Louveira; China: Binzhou, Longkou; Finland: Karhula, Mikkeli, Tampere; France: Bousbecque, Brignoud, Orleans, Pont-Audemer, Saint-Severin; Germany: Osnabrück, Bärenstein; India: Mundra; Italy: Turin, Fabriano, Russia: Tver; South Korea: Hyon Poong; Sweden: Ställdalen, Falun; U.K.: Chirnside, Radcliffe; U.S.: 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
The year 2017 was a transformative one for Ahlstrom-Munksjö. In July, the company was created through the merger of nonwovens manufacturer Ahlstrom and paper specialist Munksjö in April, forming a global leader in sustainable and innovative fiber-based solutions with combined annual sales of €2.2 billion and earnings of €249 million and approximately 6200 employees. The combined company has 41 production and converting facilities in 14 countries as well as leading global positions in its main product areas including décor, filtration, industrial solutions and specialties.
Prior to the merger, the two companies had jointly operated a site in Turin, Italy, since 2013 when Munksjö had merged with Ahlstrom’s Label and Processing business.
Following the merger, the company’s nonwovens businesses have been grouped into two divisions—filtration and performance and specialties. The filtration and performance division, which saw sales rise 7.8% to €665.3 million in 2017, includes the company’s transportation filtration market as well as its wall coverings business. Filtration growth continues to benefit from stricter emission standards around the world as well as greater awareness of air pollution in countries like China and Brazil.
Ahlstrom-Munksjö is responding to these gains with investment.
In June, the company announced it would invest about €28 million to expand manufacturing capacity and product capabilities to help grow its filtration business. The project, which includes adding capacity in Turin, Italy, and rebuilding and modifying existing sites in Malmedy, Belgium, and Ställdalen, Sweden, was set to start this year and will be complete during the first half of 2020.
“This investment will enable us to create additional capacity in Turin, Italy, and will allow us to support growing demand for high-end filtration materials. Turin is already Ahlstrom-Munksjö’s largest plant globally and this investment will further consolidate our position as one of the leading global platforms for high-performance filtration material development and production,” says Fulvio Capussotti, executive vice president of Business Area Filtration and Performance. “This investment also includes rebuilding and modification of our existing plants in Malmedy, Belgium and Ställdalen, Sweden. We see an opportunity to use the remaining capacity of these two plants to develop unique filtration solutions for industrial applications, without affecting our ability to serve and support our existing customers at these plants.”
In recent years, Ahlstrom-Munksjö has made a number of investments in filtration. In July 2017, the company announced it would release additional capacity in Turin, Italy, to meet demand for engine and industrial filtration media. The project is expected to be finished by the end of 2018 and will significantly increase the company’s ability to answer the current and future needs of our filtration customers.
This investment follows a similar investment in Madisonville, KY, valued at €23 million, which was announced in October 2016. It was scheduled to be complete during the first half of 2018 and will help the company strengthen its focus in North and South America.
Meanwhile, in response to demand for filtration media in South America, Ahlstrom-Munksjö has taken the first step toward a potential capacity expansion plan in Louveira, Brazil, by acquiring a piece of land adjacent to its existing plant. The Louveira plant, which is in the San Paolo region of Brazil, employs about 110 people and makes filtration media for transportation and industrial applications.
In new product news, in March, Ahlstrom-Munksjö launched Trinitex Advance W3200, a unique E12 filtration media specifically designed for pulse jet gas turbine applications. Trinitex Advance W3200 is a natural extension of the Trinitex Advance product range and has been designed for pulse jet gas turbine applications requiring the highest level of performance.
Trinitex Advance W3200 has the ability to combine EPA (Efficiency Particulate Air) EN1822 E12 Efficiency Class, producing up to 30 times purer air than media with E10 Efficiency, while delivering unrivaled protection of the gas turbine in all demanding conditions, especially humid or industrial environments.
Meanwhile, the company’s wallcovering market continues to perform well as the market continues to switch to high value products like Spray Up, the wall covering system with a unique, integrated, adhesive system, which significantly improves the decorating experience for consumers.
Ahlstrom-Munksjö’s Specialties division includes food and beverage, lab filters, life science applications, water purification products, tapes and medial products. Its sales last year were mainly flat at €574 million.
One area of interest is the tea bag and coffee capsule market. While the market for tea bags continues to be competitive, there are opportunities for innovation in the premium tea bag and coffee capsule markets, according to the company. In June, Ahlstrom-Munksjö was recognized for its plastic-free tea bag material at the World Tea Expo in Las Vegas, NV. Fiber+ is a range of plastic free products for tea and coffee applications.
“Current filter solutions for heat sealable tea bags are mainly based on non-compostable materials made of cellulose and fossil based plastic,” says Stuart Nixon, vice president of beverage and casing. “Ahlstrom-Munksjö is one of the first players to provide a compostable filter capable to seal and be converted effectively. I’m delighted to receive this recognition from the industry as we believe sustainable materials are our future.”
As part of the company’s focus on sustainability, the new ‘Fiber+’ product range offers a plastic free, certified compostable version of traditional heat sealable materials combining high performance with special focus on reducing the environmental impact at end of life.
The Fiber+ technology consists in replacing the fossil based plastic with PLA, a material that has comparable properties but is renewable, biodegradable and compostable after use.
These filters have been specifically designed to perform at the same high level as traditional heat-seal material but with the advantage of meeting regulatory compostability requirements of both the European and American agencies.
In June, Ahlstrom-Munksjö announced it was reinforcing its position by modernizing its production platform in the beverage and casing business through the purchase of a second-hand Voith paper making line. The state-of-the-art line will be dismantled and transferred to Ahlstrom-Munksjö’s Chirnside, U.K., site where the company already has extensive knowledge in the manufacturing of tea and coffee filter paper and fibrous meat casing materials. The benefit of this €28 million investment will increase the site’s manufacturing capacity and production efficiency. The machine should be fully operational in the beginning of the fourth quarter of 2019.
The new production line will strengthen product capabilities and, combined with Ahlstrom-Munksjö’s extensive offering of biodegradable and compostable solutions, enables growth in the attractive tea and coffee markets. The investment addresses also the constrained capacity situation in all three segments; coffee, tea and casing, and enables the company to respond to growing end-use demand.
“The investment shows our long-term commitment and our ambition to maintain a leading position in coffee, tea and casing papers. I’m also encouraged that sustainability and plastic-free solutions are in strong demand because it gives us a strategic opportunity to leverage our competence and innovation capability, differentiate our offering of advanced custom-made fiber based materials, and strengthen our relationship with our customers,” states Omar Hoek, executive vice president of Business Area Specialties.
Meanwhile, in medical, the company continues to focus on advanced products featuring breathable technology and is looking to expand capacity in the medical warp segment to widen its geographical footprint.
Earlier this year, the company launched Ahlstrom-Munksjö PureArmor, a breathable impervious fabric for blood borne pathogen and cleanroom apparel protection.
“PureArmor eliminates the need to choose between comfort and protection. It offers the highest possible level of protection for sensitive environments without sacrificing the wearer’s comfort, which is unique when compared to fabrics frequently used in cleanroom apparel,” says Lionel Bonte, vice president, Medical, Ahlstrom-Munksjö.
The new PureArmor fabric is a next generation tri-laminate nonwoven that has extremely low lint, making it suitable for applications that are sensitive to particle contamination. By leveraging patent pending Ahlstrom-Munksjö technology, its product development engineers achieved extremely low levels of lint. The patent pending manufacturing process welds bicomponent spunbond fibers together which makes the fabric less prone to shedding without sacrificing softness.
The barrier film layer at the center of the tri-laminate fabric is a membrane which has a nonporous monolithic structure that provides an impervious barrier, thus blocking the passage of viruses, bacteria, fluids and particles. The structure of the film allows moisture vapor to pass through, allowing the wearer to remain comfortable while providing the highest level of protection.
Most nonwoven fabrics available for cleanroom applications have particle filtration efficiency between 94-98% meaning that the fabric is allows hundreds of thousands of particles to be released into the cleanroom environment in addition to potential blood borne pathogens. PureArmor’s monolithic film design stops 100% of the particles and potential blood borne pathogens.
Ahlstrom-Munksjö’s diverse product portfolio of fabrics within the medical segment also includes fabrics for use in many types of protective apparel, surgical drapes, gowns and sterile barrier systems meeting demanding performance needs.