2017 Nonwovens Sales: $511 million
Tapio Engström, interim president and CEO; Ernesto Levy, senior vice president, Convenience; Lynda Kelly, senior vice president, Care
Bethune, SC; Green Bay, WI; Windsor Locks, CT; Paulínia, Brazil; Cressa, Italy; Mozzate, Italy; Nakkila, Finland; Alicante, Spain
Spunlace, wetlaid, thermal bonded, carded, hydroentangled, SPC
Wipes, medical, hygiene
Sales continued to climb for Suominen, the world’s largest maker of spunlace nonwovens and other technologies for wipes applications, thanks to its changemaker strategy, which focuses on superior high value-added products.
“We have focused on understanding market and consumer needs and developing innovative products that meet those needs,” says Tapio Engström, interim president and CEO. “Whether it is the softest baby wipe or top sheet or even better dispersible toilet tissue, our new products are helping us deliver solid business growth.”
The healthy economic situation and solid GDP growth have created an environment conducive to this growth. Also consumer confidence remains strong in both North America and Europe, which are the company’s main market regions. Sales grew 2% to $511 million (€426 million,) while profits were lower than the 2017 level largely due to challenges facing the start-up and ramp-up of Suominen’s new line in Bethune, SC. The total negative impact of the costs of all growth investments, Bethune being the largest, was nearly $6 million in 2017. In addition, the unfavorable development of sales prices due to the competitive situation in Europe, as well as product mix change, affected gross profit and hence also the operating profit.
Despite the challenges faced in the start-up of the new line in Bethune, the company remains optimistic for its success as production volumes continue to flow in the right direction and customer demand continues to exist. Toward the second quarter of 2018, improved stability and reliability helped turned the new line positive on gross profit and the company expects the line to reach its full potential by the end of 2018.
The new line, which features proprietary technology to target key value added segments, such as workplace and household wipes, was developed after a review of megatrends, key customer trends and consumer trends, Engström says.
“This new, very flexible composites line satisfies our need for additional capacity, provides a platform to improve our products with colors, chemistry treatments and textures, but it also does a lot more,” he says. “We call it a Laboratory of Opportunities because you can use pretty much any fiber, from 100% synthetic to 100% natural; produce wetlaid or composite products—it has really unique capabilities.”
In addition to dispersibility, the new line allows Suominen to create nonwovens ranging from super soft to abrasive allowing it to serve markets like moist toilet tissue as well as industrial wipes that require durability and strength. For home care, the line can deliver excellent patterns/textures and apertures for great particle pickup. “So from here, it is evident that the line supports all high-value added segments, while we first focus on workplace and home care and to the products that we already know,” Engström says. “Once the line is fully up and running, it is time to get even more innovative. “
Suominen has been upgrading existing lines around the world to promote its focus on value added products. In Green Bay, WI, where it operates two spunlace lines, Suominen has invested €6 million to install new carding machinery on an existing line, expanding the product range made at the site.
“Once upgraded, the production line will, for its part, improve Suominen’s capability to supply high value added nonwovens for home care, personal care and workplace wipes as well as for hygiene and medical applications, i.e. categories where Suominen seeks to grow. Moreover, the investment offers more efficient supply of nonwovens for baby wipes for Suominen’s customers. The investment again demonstrates that Suominen is serious about growth. It represents also a clear upgrade to our current production technology base, expanding our product offering globally and increasing our production capacity.”
Other investments include a line upgrade in Paulínia, Brazil, which allowed Suominen to launch Fibrella Wrap, a high-performing material for undercast paddings and cushions used in wound care, to the South American market, Suominen’s initial foray into the growing medical market of South America. In Alicante, Spain, the investment expanded the plant’s product offering and increased its capability and capacity to supply also products with high added value. The focus of the investment was particularly on workplace and medical segments.
With upgraded operations in South America, North America and Europe, Asia, the world’s largest market for nonwovens in the world, represents a hole in the company’s manufacturing footprint. As part of its strategic plan, announced in 2017, the company said Asian expansion is a priority.
“At the moment we operate there only through agents, and it has always been clear to us that in order to really succeed commercially in Asia, we need to have local manufacturing, Engström says. “The two basic options for Suominen to expand to Asia are greenfield investment or acquisition. Both options are being considered and both have their pros and cons. While the expansion to Asia is currently being seriously explored, at the moment there is nothing more to communicate about that.”
In terms of market segments, Suominen’s sales are grouped into two categories—Convenience and Care. Convenience represents about 92% of sales and comprises the company’s activities in the disposable wipes segment. “Wipes continue to be central to Convenience’s growth as is the transformation of our portfolio to drive growth of higher value applications such as dispersible wipes, home and workplace cleaning wipes,” says Ernesto Levy, senior vice president, Convenience. “This is important because these segments truly value the innovation we are able to bring.”
In addition to improvements in dispersible technology, Suominen has introduced a line of workplace wipes called Genesis Pro that deliver superior absorption and its Design Series, which offers personalization and customization capabilities.
“Innovation is the key to our growth. The only way we will grow will be via innovation. Our strategy to be a market driven product leader requires us to understand trends and needs a then address these needs with innovative nonwovens that others cannot develop,” Levy says.
Suominen’s business outside of wipes, including products for the medical and hygiene markets, is contained within its Care Division, which continues to be an integral part of Suominen, supporting the company’s vision of becoming a leader in fluid management. “The learning and development within fluid management is a common thread in wipes, hygiene and medical articles,” says Lynda Kelly, senior vice president, Care. “We are a relatively new player in the global hygiene market offering a focused product line for select product applications. Growth in these segments takes time and we are doing the right things to grow in the future. “
While the predominant technology in the hygiene and medical market is spunmelt, Suominen continues to see smaller pockets of opportunity for spunlaced applications in hygiene. The company has found success with its Fibrella Move product line for acquisition distribution layers in feminine hygiene and light incontinence products. The recently published EU directive proposal supports the demand for plastic free products, which will provide a broader platform for spunlaced nonwovens in hygiene applications.
In medical, Suominen continues to grow in niche medical applications utilizing its unique thermal bond line called Novonette nonwovens. This technology offers unparalleled hold and release characteristics of fluid necessary for many niche medical applications. Meanwhile, Webril, the company’s 100% cotton nonwovens line of products, continues to meet the rigorous needs of the medical cast padding and medical market. To support the transition from medical wovens to nonwovens, Suominen launched Fibrella Wrap in Brazil. The company sees strong growth in Latin America, high single-digit figures, and aims to expand its business there leveraging its modern manufacturing capability in Brazil. It recently invested in this plant, and thanks to that it can now efficiently supply also medical products to this very lucrative market. On top of the replacement of traditional textiles with nonwovens in, it also sees totally new application areas.