2019 Nonwovens Sales: $2.17 billion (including sales
from Freudenberg Performance Materials, Freudenberg
Filtration Technologies and Japan Vilene)
Frank Heislitz, CEO; Thomas Herr, CFO; John McNabb, COO
Weinheim, Germany; Neuenburg, Germany; Kaiserslautern, Germany; Greetland, U.K.; Swindon, U.K.; Littleborough, Wales, U.K.; Colmar, France; Barcelona, Spain; Nizhiniy, Novgorod, Russia; Sant´ Omero, Italy; Cossato, Italy; Novedrate, Italy; Pisticci, Italy; 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; Macon, GA
All locations are ISO 9001 and ISO 14001 certified; locations serving the automotive industry are TS 16469 certified; all sites are OHSAS 18001 certified
Drylaid staple fiber, wetlaid, spunbond, meltblown, needlepunch, thermal bond, chemical bond, water entanglement
Comfortemp, Evolon, SoundTex, Vlieseline, Terbond, Texbond
Automotive, apparel, construction, building interiors, energy, medical, hygiene and special applications, shoe and leather goods
In May 2020, the world’s second largest nonwovens producer Freudenberg strengthened its nonwovens business through the purchase of Low & Bonar, the maker of Colbond and other nonwovens technologies for construction, geotextiles and other application areas.
“Colbond is a great link to our current core spunbond business,” says Frank Heislitz, CEO of Freudenberg Performance Materials. “Its two step spinning technology is a great complement to our spinning technology. This allows us to offer our customers a wider range of products and to expand in existing and adjacent markets.”
Additionally, Low & Bonar’s Enka brand is strong in the building materials market, an area where Freudenberg has a strategic focus for growth.
“If you look deeper into Low & Bonar, there are many good reasons why FPM should acquire it,” Heislitz says. “As a pioneer in spunbonded nonwovens production, Freudenberg has offered its customers materials manufactured with a one-step production process since 1968. Thanks to the two-step process solution from Low & Bonar, we can be even more flexible and individually tailor products to customer specifications. Freudenberg can also expand on its broad product range. This is particularly true for the current application in the construction, interior build out, home textile and automotive sectors.”
Just like Low & Bonar, Freudenberg uses leading edge technologies to develop and manufacture its fabrics and textiles and for refining textiles and materials. The products from both companies are top quality. Freudenberg and Low & Bonar also have identical sustainability processes. The goal of both companies is to be responsibly sustainable in their actions. Sustainability is integrated in the entire product cycle, including the use of raw materials and energy as well as the entire manufacturing process. International standards are not merely satisfied but exceeded.
In other acquisition news, in December 2019, Freudenberg purchased Filc, a Slovenian needlepunch manufacturer with about 360 employees, a move that allowed the company to expand its portfolio and technological footprint in Europe, where the company says needlepunch capacity was behind its Asian business. “We thought this was the perfect opportunity for us to globalize this business,” Heislitz says.
The company’s needlepunch technology, particularly in the area of composites, and its adhesive coating abilities, is allowing Freudenberg to offer customer solutions in adjacent segments in the construction business. This expands the group’s technical expertise in acoustics, both in construction and automotives, and provides customers with a broad technology portfolio that includes lamination, printing, and coating. “We believe with our global production footprint, we can globalize this business,” Heislitz says.
Turning to 2020, the coronavirus pandemic has had varied impacts on Freudenberg’s business units, says Heislitz. “The biggest negative was within the apparel market, an industry that virtually shut down globally, and was particularly hard hit in Asia, where the virus began,” he says. “People are staying home. They are not out buying clothes. I do not believe this industry will recover for a couple of years.”
Another negative has been in automotives but Freudenberg’s exposure to this business is not as high as in other markets.
On the positive side, at least from a business standpoint, is healthcare. “Everyone is looking for material for medical products, for face masks,” Heislitz says. “This has meant a big demand for meltblown and materials that can be alternative to meltblown.”
While Freudenberg has applied many of its nonwovens technologies, including its Evolon microfilament fabric, to the mask market, it is also increasing its meltblown output to serve this market. The company is adding a meltblown line at its Kaiserslautern, Germany, spunbond facility, which should start up in late 2020 or early 2021.
In other investment news, Freudenberg has added two lines in Suzhou, China. The first is a new needlepunch line, added in early 2019, that has largely been dedicated to the automotives market where it has met increasing demand for sophisticated headliner materials combined with FPM’s unique printing technology.
Also in Suzhou, Freudenberg’s new line for the production of sophisticated wadding material for the apparel industry is reportedly the first line capable of making 100% biodegradable wadding material in Asia. This material is sold under the Comfortemp brand name.
“Sustainability is linked to our guiding principals,” says Heislitz. “I do not believe anything will stop our activities in sustainability. In fact, I think that sustainability will play an even more important role because in the EU there is a strong focus on the apparel industry in regards to sustainability.”
Elsewhere in Asia, Freudenberg added a new line in Taiwan two years ago and it has just recently started operating, serving the core market segment of automotives carpet and filtration. Like all of its new investments, the new line features a modified process technology to create more uniform materials.
In divestment news, in February Freudenberg completed the sale of its South American hygiene business, which primarily consisted of carded air through bonded technology, to Fitesa.
“For the past couple of years, we have seen the strategic fit of this business within Freudenberg was limited,” Heislitz says. “We made a special material layer for diapers but have seen the market change. It is driven regionally and not in our focus.”
Freudenberg had been in the South American market since 1985 and had a long history with a highly skilled work force. “We are very happy that we found Fitesa as a new owner for this business that bought our people a long term future.”
Freudenberg previously narrowed its focus on hygiene in 2018 when it shuttered a hygiene-related site in Greetland, U.K. after a major customer decided to go in another direction. The line making this product was extremely customized toward a specific product and could not be altered, according to the company.
For Freudenberg as a whole, medical is a big focus and it continues to focus on developing products based on nonwovens and adjacent technologies. In the U.K., the company makes a number of advanced wound care applications based on polyurethane foams and has recently acquired a medical film specialist to developed valued added products for the market.