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The top companies in the worldwide nonwovens industry.


our award-winning survey of the top 12 U.S. and top 12 European nonwovens roll goods producers offers detailed looks at the companies that drive today's nonwovens industry; five Up-And-Comers are cited for their contributions to nonwovens technology and marketing

The first thing that becomes apparent when analyzing a list of the top U.S. and European nonwovens producers is that the overwhelming majority of them remain American companies. Upon further analysis it then becomes obvious that all of the top worldwide companies either stress or see the need to stress the international market as their home market.

Even the companies that remain strictly U.S. or European operations designed to support their parent company's worldwide efforts--companies such as Hoechst Celanese and the two Freudenberg companies in the U.S. and HJR Fiberweb in Sweden--are based on worldwide marketing principles. Technology expansions, acquisitions and joint ventures have been almost universally undertaken as a means to this end.

The stories that have come out of personal interviews with all of these top companies range from management changes at Chicopee, Freudenberg Spunweb and Lantor to significant capacity expansions at DuPont, Freudenberg Nonwovens, Hoechst, Suominen and HJR Fiberweb to a program of consolidation at James River. From the in-house marketing slant at Kimberly-Clark, Chicopee and Molnlycke to the aggressive marketing style of Veratec, Reemay, Sodoca and Corovin, the past year has provided plenty of new material for the annual look at the world's leading nonwovens producers.

North American, European Consumption

The value of shipments of nonwoven fabrics in North America, which consumes more than half of world consumption of nonwovens, was about $2.34 billion in 1988. This is equivalent to just less than 13 billion sq. yards of fabric. The industry continues its 5-6% annual growth in constant dollars; estimates place the roll goods market at $3.5 billion by 1995.

Nonwovens designed for disposable end uses accounted for about 60% of 1988 North American value of shipments, but more than 80% of total yardage volume. Sales of converted disposable end products made from these nonwovens--in segments ranging from baby diapers to medical products to industrial wipes and apparel--approached the landmark $10 billion mark in North America in 1988 and are expected to surpass it this year.

Current forecasts suggest that the volume of nonwovens sold for disposable end uses will grow at a slightly lower rate--about 5% a year--than the volume of nonwovens used in durable applications, put at between 6-7% annually. For practical purposes, both disposable and durable segments should maintain an almost equal pace.

In Europe, total production of nonwovens in 1988 was approximately 350,000 tons, up from about 342,000 tons in 1987. Durable nonwovens, such as interlinings, household nonwovens, filtration and civil engineering, accounted for more than 60% of this amount.

Dry laid continues to be the most widely used nonwovens technology in Europe, accounting for about 165,000 tons of production in 1988. Spunbonded remains the second leading technology with an estimated 115,000 tons in 1988. Wet laid production was in the 50,000 ton range.

Not Just The U.S. Anymore

For the first time this three year old feature on the industry's largest companies is including profiles and rankings of the top European and Japanese producers as well. These companies are being profiled separately because, despite the globalization of the nonwovens industry, European companies are still identified as primarily European and U.S. companies as primarily American.

The top U.S. companies are, on the whole, larger than the top European companies, with the notable exception of Freudenberg in West Germany, which comes in as the world's largest supplier of nonwoven fabrics through its operations and joint ventures around the world. Strictly on the basis of sales, many U.S. companies would have to be included above the numbers four through 12 European companies. But it was necessary for any worldwide look at the industry to include the 12 European companies we have profiled.

This, of course, has led to some repetition of parent companies and overseas subsidiaries. We have chosen to profile and rank Freudenberg in West Germany separately from its two U.S. companies--Freudenberg Nonwovens and Freudenberg Spunweb--simply because they are viewed by the German parent as completely independent operating units; the sales figures of the European Freudenberg operation include the two U.S. businesses. The same can be said for Hoechst Celanese in the U.S., whose Hoechst parent in West Germany is also profiled separately; both units are large enough to stand on their own in this feature.

The same rationale was applied in including the European operations of a number of U.S. producers as part of the U.S. company profile. DuPont, Veratec, Dexter, Scott Nonwovens and James River all run their overseas operations out of the U.S. division headquarters and are viewed as such in this feature. HJR Fiberweb, a joint venture of James River in the U.S. and MoDo in Sweden, is included in the European section because it remains strictly a European operation.

The U.S. companies have been ranked and profiled for the past three years in this feature. This year, however, instead of ranking them solely on U.S. sales of nonwoven roll goods, as we have done in the past, they are ranked on worldwide nonwovens sales. While this has not caused any significant changes in the order of listing, it does shed a more accurate light on a company's relative position in the global business.

The European companies are ranked according to worldwide sales as well, with their reported turnover converted from local currency to U.S. dollars for the sake of consistency. The 12 companies profiled here were selected on the basis of not only their sales performance in the past year, but on their historical marketing and technology contribution to the nonwovens industry as well.

The leading Japanese producers are profiled and ranked in a separate article in this issue written by Nonwovens Industry Far East correspondent Kin Ohmura.

The figures that serve as a basis for these rankings were either provided by the company itself or are estimates of the Nonwovens Industry staff as well as outside consultants to this project. Not all of the estimates were confirmed by the companies.

The five Up-And-Coming companies profiled at the end of this feature--four from the U.S. and one from Europe--were chosen because of the potential their research and marketing efforts have shown in the past year.

The 24 top companies in Europe and the U.S. bear an inordinate amount of the burden for new product development and research efforts into nonwovens around the world. These companies are usually the first to take advantage of opportunities for nonwovens to keep the industry in a strong position to continue its healthy growth as it heads towards the 21st century.
COPYRIGHT 1989 Rodman Publications, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Jacobsen, Michael
Publication:Nonwovens Industry
Date:Sep 1, 1989
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