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Fibertex: needled nonwovens for durable markets.

As a technology specialist, Fibertex, Aalborg Ost, Denmark, the 30th largest nonwovens manufacturer, continues on its single, successful nonwovens path--needlepunching. Supplying durable products to the furniture, mattress, geotextile and carpet backing markets, the company's lone technology focus has produced stable results. In 1992, despite a downturn in the European carpet backing market--a primary market for Fibertex--other areas such as furniture, geotextiles (including geomembrane protection in landfills and asphalt repair cloth) and mattress applications showed appreciable gains in the marketplace, allowing total sales to remain steady.

Since 1989, overall nonwovens capacity has also remained stable at Fibertex, at a level of about 100 million sq. meters. In the past year, there has been a slight shift to heavier weight needlepunched fabrics as the company offers fabrics with advantages over lighter spunbonded products.

Fibertex is in a relatively unique position from a raw materials standpoint, as it manufactures all the polypropylene fiber it uses in its nonwovens production. Polypropylene is the primary raw material used by the company; polyester and polyethylene are two other major fibers, with acrylics and polyamides playing a smaller part. Ongoing research at Fibertex centers on manufacturing fabrics with newer fibers; for example, the company is investigating the use of specialty fibers for flame retardant applications including composites.

The key to these composite investigations is the needlepunching technology itself. "We see composites as the next step in nonwovens," said Kurt Lindholt, managing director. "With our technology, we have the ability to blend many different types of fibers and to apply various bonding methods." This, however, does not mean that the company is ruling out experimenting with other nonwoven technologies. "For the long term, we are consistently considering other technologies," hinted Mr. Lindholt.

From its base in Aalborg--with a sales office in Barcelona, Spain--Fibertex exports nearly 90% of its nonwoven production, with 80% of that figure destined for other European nations. Because exports are such a large part of Fibertex's operations, the company is currently exploring options to increase its existing sales in the Middle and Far Eastern markets and in the growing market of Eastern Europe.

As a major exporter of nonwovens to other European nations, a single European market will be a major benefit for Fibertex. "In terms of European unification, it is difficult to see any negative effects on the industry," said Mr. Kurt Lindholt. "There are only positive things to come."

Fibertex's "Matchback" branded broadloom secondary carpet backing--launched in 1992--continues to do well. It enables carpet manufacturers to select individual colors of the backing and to have a logo or pattern printed on it. To further capitalize on this trend, Fibertex this year launched "ComfortBack," a new secondary backing that offers better recycling options at every stage. "Since end product manufacturers are moving away from foam and precoats, they are looking to needlepunched nonwovens," explained Mr. Lindholt, "a technology that offers the opportunity to create the whole carpet from one polymer whether it be polypropylene, polyethylene or polyamide. This makes the entire product easier to recycle, moving the product and its waste up the recycling ladder, from landfill and incineration options to recycling and energy return system possibilities," he said.

Fibertex has also been cooperating with individual customers in developing their own more environmentally friendly products, with Fibertex modifying its products to suit them. Finally, as part of the company's environmental policy, Fibertex continues to avoid using any chemical bonding in any of its products.

New products have been introduced at Fibertex in the automotive sector with polyester and polypropylene needlepunched products. The company has unveiled new polypropylene seat materials and oil/water repellent bonnet/hood linings. Trials on a moldable headliner of 100% polyester that is self-supporting are also underway. Because of its single polymer construction, the headliner would be more easily recyclable, both for the manufacturing waste and at the end of the product's life.

In other new product areas, the fabrics launched by the company in 1991 to protect plastic geomembranes in landfills have been well received. According to Mr. Lindholt, the company expects demand for the products, which weigh up to 1500 grams sq. meter, to increase this year.

The asphalt repair fabric for use in road reconstruction introduced by Fibertex in 1991 has also been very favorably received, especially in Europe and the Middle East. Eastern Europe, with its heavy requirement for infrastructure repairs, should become one of Fibertex's major markets for this type of geotextile product.

On the quality front, Fibertex received ISO 9001 in 1991, one of the earliest nonwovens recipients in Europe. "We are devoted to quality at Fibertex," commented Mr. Lindholt. "We are constantly seeing and experiencing the benefits." According to Mr. Lindholt, ISO certification is especially important

in the geotextile and automotive markets; in fact, in the geotextiles market, having an ISO program in place makes manufacturing product to geotextile industry guidelines much easier.
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Title Annotation:International Top 30
Publication:Nonwovens Industry
Date:Sep 1, 1993
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