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Amoco: two diverse divisions at one company.

Although different markets are the focus of the two nonwovens divisions of Amoco Chemical--Amoco Fabrics and Fibers, Atlanta, GA and Amoco Fabrics Europe, Gronau, Germany--the businesses remain connected in their overall strategic goals of growing the nonwovens business on an international scale. Amoco Chemical, our 22nd largest nonwovens manufacturer, had 1992 sales of $82 million.

In the U.S., Amoco Fabrics and Fibers continues to divide its energies between its traditional needlepunching business and its newer technologies, "Claf," "RFX" and "AP3." In the Claf fabric area, run through its Amoco Nisseki Claf (ANCI) joint, venture established in 1991, various developments are underway. "Some products are commercial now, while others are still in the development stages," explained president Frank Andrusko. "While it has taken more time to develop products than expected in some cases, we are very happy with the total quality of the products currently available."

These products range throughout the market spectrum; recent targets have included envelopes and packaging materials. In one particular product, the Claf material is laminated to a paper, providing an upgraded paper product that works on paper machines. This product, like most Claf products, is only available to limited customers at this time. "We feel it is only fair to give our customers a reasonable lead time," said Mr. Andrusko.

Another application for Claf fabric has been as an insulation facer fabric, which uses Claf laminated to RFX fabric for a nonwoven that does not stretch. Across the board, Claf applications are not primarily Claf fabric alone, but rather Claf in conjunction with other products. Claf can be laminated to paper, foil, film, foam and nonwovens.

"The main change in the past year in the Claf fabric area," said Mr. Andrusko, "is our increase in market and product development. Rather than replacing current products, we are now working on developing completely new products." This comes from dealing with companies that are willing to listen and accept new product ideas, he said. Many of these companies are smaller and do not have the financial or personnel resources to do the research, explained Mr. Andrusko.

And new product ideas have abounded. "Claf fabric has helped break current paradigms," said business manager, lightweight nonwovens Mark Williams. "We can do more with the technology than we [or our joint venture partners] ever thought we could. We are |pushing the envelope' in terms of capabilities," said Mr. Williams.

Another new product is a double warp fabric that reaches the tensile strength range of woven materials. "We have upgraded the level of strength of Claf fabric in the past year to achieve levels of woven products," said Mr. Andrusko. "We can now offer the same strength as customers are used to using."

Amoco's other new technology, which is related to its RFX fabric and described as a competitor to spunbonded nonwovens, targets two main areas, medical and industrial protective apparel.

In terms of the business in general, the biggest development has been in the composite area, said Mr. Andrusko. "We have invested most of our efforts here," he said. "We don't want |me, too' fabrics, we want to concentrate on making different products." Differences include very low basis weights--down to .1 ounce per square yard--and the ability to use both uncalendered and calendered webs. "We have a lot of flexibility in our composites," said Mr. Andrusko, "and we continue to look at the possibility of value added products in absorbent product and other areas."

A lot of work has been done on the economics of the RFX fabric technology as well. "When we started with RFX, we had several small lines to give us maximum flexibility," said Mr. Andrusko. "This made it difficult to keep the cost down, however. We are now working on bringing that cost in line with typical spunbonded processes."

To this end, Amoco has reconfigured its operation to a multiple head in-line system that gives it the capability of making composites in-line. While it may give up a little bit of flexibility, it retains the other advantages of RFX and also can produce fabrics up to 120 inches wide. Amoco is also moving all of its RFX production to its Nashville, GA facility, with targeted completion by November, 1993. "It made sense to consolidate our operations, since this was where the new equipment was located and there was room for future growth," explained Mr. Williams. "The unique thing about the process is that we can gear the technology however we want. We can value the business based on the market direction."

Another development in the RFX fabrics business is the recent settlement of Amoco's lawsuit with Kimberly-Clark. K-C had sued Amoco, charging its RFX-C fabric infringed K-C's spunbond/melt blown/spunbond (SMS) fabric. Mr. Andrusko did not wish to comment on terms of the settlement, saying only that had been settled. "It was done as a business decision," he said. "We continue to offer our RFX-C material to customers."

Amoco is also continuing work on a porous polypropylene film for new composite structures. "We think we can give significantly improved barrier properties," said Mr. Andrusko. "We are combining our AP3 film technology with our RFX material to move to a new level of barrier protection. Many companies use extrusion laminated products, which is like wearing a plastic bag," said Mr. Andrusko. "We are providing the same protection with a breathable material. There's nothing like it out there," he said.

AP3 is currently being registered as a trademark and the company is considering beginning commercial production of the material. "Plans are to install our own equipment once we have determined that it is commercially feasible," said Mr. Andrusko. "However at this time we are still able to get large quantities outside the company." He said that the target is to install the equipment next year, with product start-up targeted in the first quarter of 1995.

Despite ongoing work in Claf and RFX fabric technologies, needlepunched geotextiles still make up more than 50% of U.S. sales and approximately 50% of sales on a worldwide basis. Amoco has spent time and effort in the past year upgrading its lines to improve coverage and its cost position. "We are still showing good growth, despite concerns about overcapacity," said Mr. Andrusko. "Our plans have not changed." He added that Amoco also sees things coming together on the lightweight side. "This takes time and is costly but we continue to keep products in our commercial cycle because we have new products coming right behind them.

"Our story is that we have to run like hell to stand still. Developments will continue to be a way of life for us," he said. "If we are structured for controlled cost and improved performance, then we have the whole mouse trap."

Part of this mouse trap relates to the company's response to the environment and to its customer's disposal problems. Amoco has set up a recycling center in Hazlehurst primarily for its woven customers, which were having problems disposing of waste. "We are bringing back our own material for customers and recycling it into plastic fence posts," said Mr. Andrusko, adding that they also have plans to manufacture plastic wood from the recycled materials. "We are doing this in a few areas with our RFX and Claf fabrics as well," he said, although he added that right now this is a service that the company offers to its customers rather than a sideline business for it.

Amoco is also beginning work on ISO certification, although Mr. Andrusko reports the company does not really need it from a business standpoint. "We are looking at it because it makes good sense, but we are not driven by a business need," he said. He reported that Amoco has officially made the decision to become certified; it has yet to determine the time frame. Amoco Fabrics Europe is already ISO certified and has been since 1991.

Amoco Fabrics Europe

Amoco Fabrics Europe continues to grow on the strength of two main businesses--hygiene and agricultural products, with all other areas accounting for less than 10% of sales. Historically, Amoco has been primarily a fiber supplier; it has since made a name for itself in nonwovens with $40 million in 1992 sales.

Amoco Fabrics Europe is divided into three divisions--Floorcoverings, Industrial and Nonwovens; the latter has grown to nearly 1/3 of the European subsidiary. The nonwovens sector, which concentrates 100% on Europe, has been affected by price pressure and increasing commodities, said director-hygiene and engineered fabrics Jurgen Nebe. "Products become commodities so quickly," he said. "We must be looking at taking nonwovens and making products with added value by different processes if we hope to stay profitable.

"The overcapacity problem is not stopping either," he continued. "More capacity is constantly coming onstream." To combat this, Amoco is concentrating on markets such as agricultural materials and geotextiles, niche markets that should see attractive growth, according to Dr. Nebe, and therefore areas where development will be focused.

Dr. Nebe also said that there is a constant exchange of technology information with the U.S., but that they look at different markets. "The common denominator," he said, "is the Claf fabric and the company's needled |AmoPave' material."

In summary, Dr. Nebe said "We must try to differentiate ourselves from the commodity nonwovens. It is the only way to fight the price war going on."

Amoco Chemical Company

Worldwide Nonwoven Sales: $82 million

Amoco Fabrics and Fibers 900 Circle 75 Parkway, Suite 300, Atlanta, GA 30339 404-956-9025; Fax: 404-984-4453

U.S. Nonwovens Sales: $42 million

Key Personnel: Frank Andrusko, president; Mark Williams, business manager, lightweight nonwovens; Rush Clark, vice president-marketing, industrial fabrics; Gary Willibey, marketing manager-civil engineering fabrics; Robert Jenkins, marketing manager-nonwoven furniture fabrics; Dr. Robert Morris, general manager, research and development; Dr. Geraldine Eaton, research supervisor, fabrics

Plants: Hazlehurst, GA; Nashville, GA; Roanoke, AL

Processes: Needlepunched, RFX fabric process

Brand Names: RFX, AmoPave, Amolene, AP3

Major Markets: Geotextiles, Furniture Fabrics, Protective Apparel, Medical Disposables, Agricultural Fabrics

Amoco Fabrics Europe P.O.B. 1709, D-48578 Gronau, Germany 49-2562-770; Fax: 49-2562-77492

European Nonwovens Sales: $40 million

Key Personnel: Jurgen Nebe, director-hygiene and engineered fabrics; fabrics; Klaus Koblischke, director-manufacturing and logistics; R.D. McKeehan, president-Amoco Fabrics Group

Plant: Gronau, Germany

Processes: Reicofil Spunbonded, Carded Thermal Bonded

Major Markets: Personal Hygiene, Coverstock, Industrial
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Title Annotation:International Top 30
Publication:Nonwovens Industry
Date:Sep 1, 1993
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