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Fiberweb Group.

Fiberweb Group

CH-5200 Brugg, Switzerland 056-94 54 65; Fax 056-94 52 18

Worldwide Nonwovens Sales: $250 million Key Personnel: Guido Patroncini, president and chief executive officer; Aldo Ghira, executive vice president, Fiberweb Group, Europe; Roger Fehrman, executive vice president, Fiberweb Group (North America); Rene Beer, vice president-controller; Johannes Janfeld, vice president-technology; Hans-Ulrich Muller, vice president-marketing; Dennis Tavernetti, vice president-strategic planning; Lloyd Trimble, vice president-research and development

Fiberweb North America 545 North Pleasantburg Drive Greenville, SC 29607 (803)240-2600; Fax (803)240-2695 U.S. Nonwovens Sales: $120 million Key Personnel; Roger Fehrman, president and CEO; Dennis Tavernetti, vice president-strategic development; Jim Posa, vice president-marketing and sales; V.W. Brinkerhoff, vice president-manufacturing; Ed Thomas, director of R&D Plants: Simpsonville, SC (thermal bonded, spunlaced: semi-commercial, melt blown); Pensacola, FL (spunbonded nylon); Washougal, WA (spunbonded polypropylene) Processes: Thermal Bonded, Carded, Spunbonded, Melt Blown, Spunlaced Brand Names: Polyweb melt blown, Cerex spunbonded nylon, Celestra spunbonded polypropylene, PBN-II Spunbonded Nylon Major Markets: Sanitary (diapers, adult incontinence, feminine hygiene), Medical, Industrial, Filtration, Wipes; markets Airtex air laid nonwovens for James River Corp.

American Agrifabrics 1122-D Cambridge Square Alpharetta, GA 30201 (404)664-7820; Fax, (404)664-7873 Key Personnel: Peter Kohm, director Major Markets: A wholly-owned subsidiary of Fiberweb North America, American Agrifabrics markets nonwoven fabrics and other products for agricultural and landscape use Brand Names: Agryl, Yardtec

Fiberweb Europe Sodoca S.a.r.l. B.P.29 68600 Biesheim, France (33) 89 72 47 00; Fax (33) 89 72 89 82 Worldwide Nonwovens Sales: $55 million Key Personnel: Pierre Vauterin, managing director; Pieter Meijer, marketing and sales manager; Philippe Kling, technical manager Plant: Biesheim, France Processes: Spunbonded, Thermal Bonded, Carded, Melt Blown (semi-commercial), Staple Fiber (polypropylene) Brand Names: Agryl (agricultural), Dipryl (industrial) Major Markets: Sanitary (baby diapers, adult incontinence, feminine hygiene), Agriculture, Medical, Upholstery and Bedding, Coating Substrates, Protective Clothing

Fiberweb Sweden AB S-601 88 Norrkoping, Sweden (46)11236600; Fax (46)11563929 European Nonwovens Sales: $55 million Key Personnel: Ulf Holm, managing director; Urban Lindbergh and Knut Jonsson, sales managers Plant: Norrkoping, Sweden Processes: Spunbonded Polypropylene, Spunbonded Polyester that can be Thermal Bonded, Needlepunched or Resin Bonded; also import melt blown nonwovens from Fiberweb NA Brand Names; Holmestra Spunbonded Polypropylene, Cerex Polypropylene, Holmstrong Polyester Spunbonded Major Markets: Sanitary, Industrial, Medical, Furniture and Bedding, Roofing

Neuberger SpA Via Bologna 7 I-20060 Trezzano Rosa, Italy 02-90960475; Fax 02-90960442 European Nonwovens Sales: $20 million Key Personnel: Aldo Ghira, managing director; Herbert Gerlach, marketing manager; Gianluigi Fornoni, technical manager Plant: Trezzano Rosa, (MI) Italy Process: Spunbonded Brand Name: BASE Major Markets: Industrial, Sanitary, Coating Substrates Notes: Most observers felt that the most active company in the worldwide nonwovens industry was finally slowing down a bit in order to assess its technological and manpower capabilities. But then the Fiberweb Group turned around and entered into a major joint venture with a Japanese company, Mitsui, to spur its move into the Asian market.

After a host of acquisitions in the past two years--the most recent of which was acquiring Italian spunbonded nonwovens producer Neuberger earlier this year--Fiberweb has put in place an overall group organizational structure designed to combine a central coordination with independent management concept. The Fiberweb Group consists of Fiberweb North America (U.S.), American Agrifabrics (U.S.), Sodoca (France), Fiberweb Sweden AB (Sweden) and Neuberger (Italy).

Fiberweb's parent company Holzstoff Holding, Basel, Switzerland, entered into a joint venture agreement in July with Mitsui Petrochemical Industries, Tokyo, Japan, to market spunbonded products in the Far East, with manufacturing planned as soon as market studies are completed. This collaboration, after market development work and economic study, will lead to a 50/50 joint venture investment in a Far Eastern country to build a nonwovens manufacturing plant; the exact location of the planned manufacturing facility has yet to be determined. Guido Patroncini, executive vice president of Holzstoff and president of the Fiberweb Group, told NONWOVENS INDUSTRY the proposed plant would most likely utilize Fiberweb's new "S-Tex" technology or a derivative of it.

The consummation of the venture with Mitsui was a matter of timing, Mr. Patroncini said. "The business is globalized and if you want to be part of it you have to globalize as well," he said. The Mitsui venture grew out of a close technical cooperation between the two companies that goes back three years, especially in the Lurgi spunbonded technology employed by both companies. "This venture just emerged as part of a long term strategy with Mitsui," he said. "If we build a plant in the Far East, and we plan to, it is not going to be with old technology."

S-Tex, the recently introduced new spunbonded technology from Fiberweb's Sodoca that it bills as "the next generation spunbonded fabric," is said to further increase uniformity and can be made of very fine filaments. S-Tex raises the standard for filtration efficiency and abration resistance and combines this with superior formation and high tensile strength.

Dennis Tavernetti has been appointed as the person responsible for coordination and interface between the Fiberweb Group and Mitsui during the development phases. There has been no discussion of the day-to-day management set-up of the new venture yet, but the new company will most likely employ local management. As part of the Fiberweb Group it will report directly to Mr. Patroncini, putting it on the same organizational level as the European and U.S. units. Mitsui Petrochemical has become a leading Japanese producer of spunbonded polypropylene nonwovens.

New Organizational Structure

Effective in June, a divisional structure of parent company Holzstoff Holding was put in place to guide the future of the widespread nonwovens units. As a corporation Holzstoff has shifted from its traditional paper base to concentrate on nonwovens (now about 40% of turnover), distribution (about 45%) and paper (15%). Mr. Patroncini, the architect of the growth of the nonwovens business, continues the leadership as the president of the Fiberweb Group and a member of the executive board of Holzstoff Holding. The companies will continue to be run by their current management.

But a structural change has been made to facilitate managing of the European businesses, with Aldo Ghira assuming responsibility for all of the European companies, which have now been consolidated as Fiberweb Europe. Mr. Ghira will also remain as manager of Neuberger, the newest Fiberweb company. Sodoca continues to be the responsibility of Pierre Vauterin and Fiberweb Sweden is headed by Ulf Holm. Fiberweb North America remains under the direction of Roger Fehrman. Marketing, research and development, technology, controlling and strategic planning have been organized at the group level.

"We need a certain amount of coordination and structure, but it remains a very loose organization," Mr. Patroncini said in explaining the reasoning behind the new structuring. "We remain a very lean organization, but we needed some coordination in order to optimize the marketing and production operations."

The Fiberweb companies in Europe are not only organized independently, they actually operate in competition with each other. In some areas, for example, Fiberweb Sweden and Neuberger call on the same customers. The reasoning, according to Mr. Ghira, is that the companies operated as competitors for so long that the nature of the nonwovens business dictated they remain so. "In order to support diverse customer needs, we have to maintain that level of decentralization," he told NONWOVENS INDUSTRY. The organizational set-up is facilitated by the fact that the different Fiberweb companies, while offering the same basic technology, differ significantly in the type of spunbonding utilized.

"Internal competition up to a certain level keeps the organization lean and clean," Mr. Patroncini added. "It is my personal belief that large organizations need more coordination effort and it is absolutely clear that certain things have to be coordinated at the group level, especially R&D and technology."

In North America, Fiberweb has centralized support and separate production units, with the profit center at the top of the organizational structure. In Europe, there is a small amount of marketing and R&D coordination among the companies, but the companies themselves are their own profit centers.

An emphasis has been placed on what Mr. Patroncini refers to as the "competence center" concept within the Fiberweb Group. Basically, the concept entails getting the most out of the best to avoid duplication of effort, to "avoid reinventing the wheel." For example, Sodoca remains the competence center for spunbonded technology development and for agricultural products based on its long, successful history in both areas. Fiberweb Sweden is the competence center for durable nonwovens and polyester spunbond technology. In the U.S., the focus is on melt blown, composites, nylon spunbondeds and medical products. In this manner, its major technologies and market development expertise are centered in one group company, while each unit remains independent to pursue its own marketing agenda.

Bringing a new type of competence to the group is Neuberger, the latest nonwovens company in the Holzstoff stable, having been acquired in late 1990. The purchase added $15-20 million in sales to the company's growing portfolio and complemented its diversification. Neuberger produces mostly industrial spunbonded polypropylene products, which, according to Mr. Tavernetti, vice president-strategic development, gave the group inroads into the industrial segment. "This will balance our product mix from the industrial standpoint," Mr. Tavernetti said at the time of the purchase

Neuberger can also provide some invaluable assistance because of its proprietary air drawn spunbonded polypropylene technology and different equipment capabilities. "While Fiberweb and Sodoca have highly capital intensive, large lines," Mr. Tavernetti said, "the Italians have a more energy efficient system that is less capital intensive. This creates a different technology base. This means a possibility of using this technology to offer tailor-made solutions to our customers."

Neuberger was founded in 1980 and actually began commercial production of industrial spunbonded nonwovens in late 1982. It currently has the two production lines focusing on industrial nonwovens (which are still 60% of its business), with a third, based on a novel slow draw "HV" spunbonding concept, coming on-stream this summer. Neuberger joined Fiberweb, Mr. Ghira explained, because its efforts to compete in the hygiene area, which it entered three years ago, could not be sustained on a small scale. "The environmental and total quality concept demands required more capital that was not sustainable by a smaller company," he said.

Sodoca, with $55-60 million in annual turnover, remains the largest Fiberweb nonwovens unit in Europe, although its preeminence is being challenged by the Swedish unit. Sodoca, however, will re-establish its number one claim when its new S-Tex spunbonded line comes on-stream at the end of the year. The 3.2 meter wide line will produce fine denier, high quality nonwovens for, among others, the filtration and protective clothing markets. The line is built to contain a significant level of flexibility to allow for change from very fine to very high denier spunbondeds.

Sodoca's production remains in one plant in the Alsace region of France. Its original two lines have a production capacity of 14,000 metric tons a year. It also has thermal bonded capacity on three lines. Sodoca also has polypropylene staple fiber capacity for its thermal bonding unit.

Fiberweb Sweden, now under the direction of Mr. Holm--who took over for former managing director Ulf Scharin last spring when Mr. Scharin left the company to join a firm outside of the industry--had 1990 nonwovens sales of $55 million. Its growth from only $30 million in roll goods sales a year earlier can be attributed to the start-up of its multi-purpose, 5.4 meter wide spunbonded line. The Lurgi-based line is producing primarily polyester spunbondeds for the European roofing market, as well as geotextiles and carpet backings. The line has the capability to either thermally bond, resin bond or needlepunch nonwovens and can also produce lightweight polypropylene fabrics.

The Swedish unit's main responsibility remains in the European hygiene sector. It produces primarily lighter weight coverstock. The first line, installed in 1984, has a 9000 ton annual capacity of "Holmestra" with a weight range of 14-40 grams sq. meter and widths of 3.2 meters. The smaller second line has a capacity of 1000 tons a year and produces primarily Holmestra in the 40-200 grams sq. meter range for industrial and health care applications.

Speaking of Fiberweb Europe, "we are already in a coordinating phase, putting the pieces together to maximize our effectiveness," Mr. Ghira explained in summary. "We have shown it is possible to be successful with this type of operation and we will show it in the future."

The North American Business

Fiberweb North America remains more independent than the European units of Fiberweb, primarily because of its geography and the markets it serves, with Mr. Fehrman reporting directly to Mr. Patroncini. It had nonwovens roll goods sales of $120 million last year.

Fiberweb NA has undergone a reorganization of its own in the past year, including a relocation of some of its production sites and R&D center, and it is in the midst of building a new headquarters in Simpsonville, SC. Mr. Fehrman, however, hesitated to call the move a "consolidation," since a number of expansions are an integral part of the move as well. "It is more of a unification and concentration," he said.

There is a big effort in the U.S. to bring manufacturing and R&D closer, dictating the move to Simpsonville. All labs have been relocated in the 35,000 sq. foot site on an 108 acre campus 11 miles south of its present location in Greenville, along with the head office and thermal carded and melt blown production. The company is moving its melt blown facility from spaced leased from James River in Milford, NJ to the new site, with production scheduled to start this fall. While there have been no significant capacity expansions, there are spunbonded upgrades underway in Washougal, WA and Pensacola, FL; the new South Carolina site is designed to facilitate a spunbonded production line for the S-Tex technology, scheduled for completion early next year (that line will utilize some of the newly-acquired Neuberger technology as well). Fiberweb had shut down its Greenville resin bonded operation in 1989 after attempts to sell it failed.

Mr. Fehrman explained recently that a number of factors contributed to the decision to move the Milford melt blown operations this year, not the least of which was because of a desire to bring all manufacturing closer together. The New Jersey site actually operated since the purchase by Holzstoff as a department within the James River plant there, with the hourly employees all a part of the James River workforce and only the equipment assets belonging to Fiberweb. By being closer to the R&D departments, the melt blown unit can be more fully integrated into the technology portfolio as well.

"We need different technologies to serve the higher end filtration and other businesses," he said. "We plan to compete heavily in the medical market segment as well." With Sodoca in France having only a small pilot line, the North American operations remain the melt blown competency center for the worldwide group; it supplies some melt blown nonwovens to Europe for specialty market development.

Fiberweb NA is also integrating its American Agrifabrics subsidiary to enhance its position in the North American agricultural fabrics market. That unit markets the group's "Agryl" crop cover fabrics in the U.S. to establish a position for the novel product; it is viewed basically as a distributor company to establish a market and was established as a marketer in the U.S. for Sodoca products. There are plans to add Fiberweb NA products into the product mix as well.

Mr. Fehrman rightfully believes that the ultimate test for all of this unification is the customer's satisfaction. "The concept we are trying to employ in Europe is the maximum amount of independence in the business and unit level. The companies won't look the same and they won't have the same sign out front," he said. "How well it comes together in Europe and the U.S. will ultimately be judged by our customers. Are our customers satisfied? That's the test. The choice of structure to get there doesn't really matter."
COPYRIGHT 1991 Rodman Publications, Inc.
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Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:nonwoven fabrics business
Publication:Nonwovens Industry
Article Type:company profile
Date:Sep 1, 1991
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