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International Top Companies report.

The Movers and the Shakers

There's been quite a bit of movement in this year's top company report, brought on largely by mergers, acquisitions and divestments. Fitesa reappeared on the top company list at number six thanks to its purchase of Fiberweb's hygiene-related assets, which propelled its sales to about $670 million. Fiberweb, meanwhile dropped from number six to nine. Additionally, Ahlstrom's sale of its wipes business to Suominen impacted both of those companies' positions. Lastly, this year Danish company Fibertex appears in the rankings twice because last year parent Schow & Co. split it into two companies--Fibertex Personal Care and Fibertex Nonwovens, which appear at numbers 18 and 35, respectively, compared to last year's 17.

Mother influence to movement, something we will continue to see in the next couple of years, is investment. As we reported last year, there has been an unprecedented amount of new capacity announcements in the global spunmelt market with massive new lines coming in across the globe. Already, these investments have helped drive sales at companies like Avgol, Companhia Providencia, PGI, Toray Advanced Materials and Fibertex, and this trend will continue as several companies are still waiting for construction to be complete on new lines.

This year we welcome a couple of new companies to the Top Companies report, which show not only the growth of the nonwovens industry but also its expansion into new markets. Nan Liu Enterprise, based in Taiwan, debuts at number 38, thanks to an impressive investment philosophy, including a 6.2-meter-wide spunlace line that is set to come on-stream in China next year. Also new this year is the Hassan Group, the first Turkish company to crack the report. Of course, it most likely won't be long before another Turkish producer is included. For a list of contenders, see managing editor Sean Moloughney's report on Turkish nonwoven producers on page 97.

As has been the case since Nonwovens Industry started ranking producers, Freudenberg Nonwovens was the world's largest producer of nonwovens this year. This position continues to be challenged, however, as many of the company's fellow producers in the top five--including DuPont and PGI--continue to invest for future growth.

The Top Companies profiled in this issue are ranked in terms of their 2011 nonwovens sales (in U.S. dollars). Sales figures are taken from a variety of sources--public documents, company statements, industry estimates--and are only intended to be a guide. The real value of this report is the company profiles, which are taken from interviews with key nonwovens industry executives and provide relevant information about the largest players in the industry. Nonwovens Industry strives to make this report as comprehensive as possible. If you know of a company you think should be included in this ranking next year, please contact us at nonwovens@rodpub.com. As always, we appreciate your comments.
2011 Nonwovens Sales

1. Freudenberg                  $1.48 billion
2. Dupont                       $1.35 billion
3. Kimberly-Clark               $1.25 billion
4. Polymer Group, Inc. (PGI)    $1.20 billion
5. Ahlstrom                     $1.06 billion

6. Johns Manville                $670 million
7. Fitesa                        $670 million
8. Glatfelter                    $538 million
9. Fiberweb                      $465 million
10. Avgol                        $329 million

11. Sandler AG                   $311 million
12. Hollingsworth & Vose         $300 million
13. Japan Vilene                 $263 million
14. Companhia Providencia        $260 million
15. First Quality Nonwovens      $250 million

16. Asahi Kasei                  $246 million
17. Buckeye Technologies         $239 million
18. Fibertex Personal Care A/S   $229 million
19. Toray Advanced Materials     $224 million
20. Mitsui Chemicals             $219 million

21. Colbond                      $210 million
22. Pegas Nonwovens              $203 million
23. Jacob Holm Industries        $192 million
24. Union Industries             $184 million
25. Toyobo                       $164 million

26. Vita Nonwovens               $159 million
27. Georgia-Pacific              $152 million
28. Andrew Industries            $150 million
28. Textilgruppe Hot             $150 million
30. Propex Holdings              $140 million

31. Lydall                       $134 million
32. Precision Custom Coatings    $132 million
33. Suominen Nonwovens           $131 million
34. Hassan Group                 $128 million
35. Fibertex Nonwovens A/S       $126 million

36. Unitika                      $122 million
37. The Jofo Group               $120 million
38. Nan Liu Enterprise           $118 million
39. Spuntech                     $113 million
40. Kuraray                      $112 million
41. KNH                          $100 million
42. Dounor Nonwovens              $92 million


1. Freudenberg Nonwovens

Weinheim, Germany

www.freudenberg-nw.com

2011 Nonwovens Sales: $1.48 billion

Key Personnel:

Bruce Olson, CEO; Rene Wollert, CFO; Frank Heislitz, CTO

Plants:

Weinheim, Germany; Neuenburg Germany; Kaiserslautem, Germany; Greetland, U.K.; Swindon, U.K.; Colmar, France; Parets, Spain; Milano, Italy; Hong Kong China; Suzhou, China; Jiangsu, China, Moriyama, Japan; Sashima, Japan; Tokyo, Japan; Mahape, India; Chennai, India; Pyungtaek, South Korea; Yang Mel Tao-Yuan, Taiwan; Tayuan, Taiwan; San Martin/Buenos Aires, Argentina; Durham, NC; Hopkinsville, KY; Jacarei, Brazil; Cape Town, South Africa

Processes:

Drylaid staple fiber, wetlaid, spunbonded, meltblown, electro-static spun microfiber, needlepunched, thermal bonded, chemical bonded, water entanglement

ISO Status:

All locations are ISO 9001 and ISO 14001 certified; locations serving the automotives industry are TS 16469 certified; 21 out of 23 plants are OSHAS 18001 certified

Brands:

Celestia, Comfortemp, Evolon, Lutradur, Lutrasil, Soundtex, Vildona, Viledon, Vilene, Vilmed, Vlieseline

Major Markets:

Automotive, apparel, energy, filtration, geotextiles, home and industrial furnishings, medical, personal care

As the leading nonwovens producer with a hand in many major markets, Freudenberg continues to make strategic investments that will expand its global reach while also strengthening its current capabilities. Divided into three separate business groups that operate independently (Freudenberg Nonwovens, Freudenberg Politex and Freudenberg Filtration Technologies), the group is on the cutting edge of the nonwovens industry, raking in [euro]1.14 billion ($1.48 billion) in total nonwovens sales in 2011.

Freudenberg Nonwovens sales grew 4.8% in 2011 to [euro]663.7 million. While sales in interlinings and industrial nonwovens were stagnant, the company's spunlaid business in Europe, the U.S. and Asia developed well, according to the company.

"Overall, we are pleased with our performance in the 2011 financial year," says Rene Wollert, CFO, Freudenberg Nonwovens. "However, all divisions had to cope with rising raw material prices. Furthermore, the disastrous earthquake in Japan impacted business in Asia, particularly regarding products for the automotives industry. These difficulties were compounded by the continuing euro crisis, which is affecting sales in Europe in particular."

Regarding specific nonwovens markets, Wollert says the global interlinings business is suffering from consumer restraint in all regions, requiring further capacity adjustments, especially in Europe and Asia. "After a very good first six months in 2011, Industrial Nonwovens felt the effects of the EU financial crisis in some segments during the second half of the year," he adds. "Efforts continue to harness the growth potential in the energy sector (particularly in regards to separators for lithium-ion batteries) and for various new technical specialties."

The company's spunlaid business has grown in all areas, particularly following the recovery of the automotive industry. "The rise in raw material prices had a negative influence on profitability as market prices could only offset a share of the higher raw material cost," Wollert notes.

The Interlinings Division continues to expand its menswear business, extending its product range and investing further in sales expertise. The company established a new sales company in Italy with Marelli & Berta Interfordere in 2011, looking to strengthen its position as a market leader in the menswear segment and the larger apparel industry with innovative products such as Viltec, which was patented in 2011, as well as two other patented innovations that will come to market in 2012 and 2013.

Meanwhile, Wollert says the polyester spunlaid business in Europe, Asia and the U.S. continues to be very strong. In Asia in particular there is significant growth potential for spunlaid applications triggered by rising demand. "A new product range for sports shoes has reinforced the market position in Asia," Wollert says. "Business with environmentally-friendly spunlaid products is also growing in North America and Europe as the automotive sector recovers. The business group has been very successful in developing 'green' products based on recycled polyester. A new award-winning generation of automotive carpets with significant weight-saving potential named Lutraflor has been launched."

Significant investments are planned in capacity extension of polyester spunlaid in Asia and a debottlenecking of the company's Evolon operation in Colmar, France.

Regarding other future prospects, Wollert says the energy sector is a key future market for Freudenberg and Industrial Nonwovens is investing in forward-looking technologies. For example, a coating line for lithium-ion battery separators was commissioned last year. "Momentum on industrial nonwovens markets has become significantly more dynamic as a result of the increasing numbers of electric cars," notes Wollert. "Growing orders for fuel cell components such as gas diffusion layers also call for process optimization and investments."

The company commissioned its coating plant for lithium-ion battery separators at the end of last year. However, competition in battery separators for Ni ME cells is intensifying, particularly in Asia, adds Wollert. "We are currently developing new separators for lithium-ion batteries with product characteristics that significantly enhance the safety and operating life of the lithium-ion cells."

The company also invested in a new cable coating plant in Spain--a signal for further growth in Europe.

In the medical sector, Freudenberg Nonwovens is working on developments for advanced wound care. "Modern wound management seeks to keep the wound moist in order to accelerate the healing process. This presents a very demanding challenge for the nonwovens used in such treatments," says Wollert.

Regarding hygiene, Freudenberg Nonwovens laid the foundations for further growth in this sector in 2012 with two new hygiene lines in Korea, which were successfully commissioned in April 2011. By the second half of 2011 the capacity utilization rate was already very good, says Wollert. "In the hygiene sector, Freudenberg is focusing on special acquisition/distribution layer products based on staple fiber technology."

Recognizing broad potential in developing markets, Freudenberg continues to grow its presence in key regions. "We are continually expanding our activities in China and India and will be providing these markets, which have an increasing demand for state-of-the-art technical solutions, with locally manufactured products," says Wollert. Other future markets of interest include Indonesia, Brazil and, in the midterm, Russia, he adds.

Freudenberg Nonwovens is also addressing the issue of sustainability "with great vigorfsays Wollert." We are developing environmentally-friendly products and our carbon footprint already plays a role in our production processes. Lutraflor, for example, which is used for automotive carpeting and produced using a deepthaw process, is manufactured without any chemical additives and is extremely lightweight. Another new development is natural fiber-based nonwovens used in side panel applications in the automotive industry."

Freudenberg Politex

Novedrate, Italy

www.freudenbergpolitex.com

Sales for Freudenberg Politex in 2011 reached [euro]223 million, compared to [euro]204 million in 2010. "In a very challenging global environment we closed 2011 with satisfactory results in terms of sales and market shares, maintaining a minimum level of profitability," says Richard Shaw, president and CEO. "We were able to partially compensate for the dramatic raw materials price increases thanks to different actions focused on process optimization and cost savings, in addition to unavoidable sales price increases."

In the past few years the company has carried out rationalization projects in all its facilities, in particular in European plants. In addition, the company has installed a spunbond line in its Russian factory in Nizhniy Novgorod region, which will come on-stream in September 2012.

As a whole, the construction market remains very slow in most regions Freudenberg Politex operates. "In particular the trend of new construction is negative in most mature countries and the demand for roofing reinforcements is mainly fed by repair and renovation works," says Shaw. "The situation is deteriorating particularly in Mediterranean countries, slowing down also in Central Europe. Northern Europe and North America are performing better but are also somehow flat, while in growing economies the market is sustained by new constructions following the need of modernization."

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The company says demand for sustainable products has contributed to the further growth of environmentally friendly construction materials. "This is why our efforts in research and product development are continuously focused on alternative raw materials and finished products, which allow us to offer solutions providing advanced technical performances, but also allowing the building sector to contribute to environmental protection," says Federico Pallini, business director.

As Freudenberg Politex moves forward, top considerations will include customer orientation, innovation and technical leadership, as well as environmental stewardship.

Freudenberg Filtration Technologies

Weinheim, Germany

www.freudenberg-filter.com

In 2011 Freudenberg Filtration Technologies brought in [euro]258 million in sales, compared to [euro]241 million for 2010. Positioning itself for future growth in the filtration sector, Freudenberg Filtration Technologies India Private Ltd. signed an agreement earlier this year to acquire the business of Pyramid Filters Private Ltd. Based in Pune, Freudenberg Filtration Technologies India provides highly efficient industrial and automotive filter elements and systems, as well as globally patented system solutions for capacity and efficiency enhancement in gas turbines and compressors. Pyramid Filters develops and produces air filter elements and systems for cleanroom applications in the pharmaceutical, medical, food and chemical industries.

At the time of the acquisition, Andreas Kreuter, managing director of the global Freudenberg Filtration Technologies Group, said, "Founded in 1998, Pyramid Filters enjoys an excellent reputation in India, thanks to a comprehensive HEPA filter range and renowned services. Based on Pyramid's strong market position, we will be able to add new products to our already broad portfolio and offer our customers further services."

In February 2011, Freudenberg Filtration introduced Viledon Hydrotexx ECO, green filtration media made with post-consumer recycle (PCR) polyester. Extending the lifecycle of an original product for reuse into another application, PCR comes from converting used polyester bottles into a raw material that can be fed into the manufacturing process. About 23% of all polyester bottles in the U.S. are recovered through recycling and reprocessing.

According to the company, Hydrotexx ECO was designed to respond to the green-minded consumers in the Pool & Spa market-place. The product has additional potential applications in air and liquid filtration, pleat media, prefilter and composite support substrates.

2. DuPont

Wilmington, DE

www.dupont.com

2011 Nonwovens Sales: $1.35 billion

Key Personnel:

Thomas Powell, president, DuPont Protection Technologies; Roger Siemionko, vice president and global technology leader, DuPont Protection Technologies; Mindy Telliard, global product manager, Sontara, DuPont Protection Technologies; Michael Sanders, global business manager, Energy Storage Solutions, DuPont Protection Technologies

Plants:

Richmond, VA (Tyvek, Hybrid Membrane Technology, HMT); Old Hickory, TN (Sontara); Luxembourg (Tyvek, Typar); Asturias, Spain (Sontara); Shenzhen, China (Tyvek and Sontara converting facility); Brazil joint venture (Sontara)

ISO Status:

All plants are ISO 9002 certified; Luxembourg facility is also ISO 9001 certified

Processes:

Flash-spun (Tyvek), spunbond (Typar), spunlace (Sontara, HMT) Brands: Tyvek, Tychem, Energain, Sontara, Typar

Major Markets:

Construction, healthcare, protective apparel, industrial filtration, absorbents, home furnishings, envelopes, geotextiles, graphics, packaging, footwear, automotive

As it continues to leverage its technologies across a number of global markets, DuPont reports that overall sales in its nonwovens areas continue to be strong, despite uncertainty in the global economy.

"We are in a lot of very unique, niche applications, particularly with Tyvek," says Tom Powell, president of DuPont Protection Technologies. "The combination of breathability and protection that Tyvek provides has given us advantages in many applications, such as protective apparel and in medical packaging."

Tyvek, DuPont's flashspun nonwovens technology, serves a number of core markets, including graphics, construction and envelopes, in addition to protective apparel and medical packaging. DuPont's other nonwovens technologies include Sontara spunlace nonwovens, which target specialty wipes and medical apparel applications, and Energain, a nanofiber-based product targeted initially toward specialty battery and high-end filtration applications.

Most of DuPont's nonwovens business falls under its DuPont Protection Technologies (D1-71) business, which was formed three years ago by combining the nonwovens business (consisting of Tyvek and Sontara) with its sister units, including Kevlar and Nomex, on the aramid fibers side of the business. This division was formed to group technologies and products that protect people, the environment and critical processes worldwide. This marriage was part of a larger, company-wide streamlining that brought the number of DuPont business units from 25 to 14 and allows the company to respond to customer trends better while capitalizing on synergies that exist between the business units.

"We continue to look for places where we can leverage our technologies to bring new products while keeping costs down to be competitive," Powell explains. This has helped protect DuPont against economic volatility and uncertainty as well as rising raw material costs.

An important market for Tyvek, construction, falls outside the scope of DPI' but reports indicate demand continues to be strong despite difficulties in this market, which is tied heavily to housing starts. Other markets for the technology include envelopes, which have been challenged by a slowdown in snail mail, and other packaging applications, where Tyvek can offer great breathability and a good green story with its recyclability. In a nutshell, despite concerns in construction, Tyvek growth has been strong enough to convince DuPont to bring a production line in Luxembourg back on-stream. The line, which has been mothballed for several years, will help support the company's existing garment and construction business, according to Powell.

"Tyvek is a unique technology," he says. "There is no other producer of flashspun polyethylene. It delivers a unique combination of breathability and protection."

The company is always looking for new applications, he adds. "We are currently working on a couple of things that could be big but are still in the early stages." He went on to say that electronics have been a recent focus where the reflective properties of Tyvek provide a unique value in lighting applications.

Other advancements in Tyvek include adding metallization and other finishing techniques to provide enhanced protection without sacrificing breathability. One such product provides a silvery finish to enhance designs in banners, bags, tags and other decorative design applications.

Moving toward Sontara, DuPont's spunlace business, this technology continues to be strong in medical garments, where it offers low cost, sophisticated products to keep workers safe and comfortable. Two years ago, DuPont chose to forego its Advanced Composite Technology (ACT), which it used to make Suprel garments for medical workers. However, Powell says this market remains important to the company. "It is a very competitive market space but it is still a solid application for us. We have some large-scale, high quality brands with nice competitive technologies."

Additional markets for Sontara, which is a pulp-based spunlace technology, include high performance wipes products for car detailing, printing and aerospace applications and other areas where innovation is valued. Although they have done some business in consumer wipes markets over the years, DuPont presently does not focus on that business area.

DuPont's latest nonwovens-based business, Energain brand, continues to ramp up at a small commercial facility in Chesterfield, VA. This technology is a variation of a former technology, purchased several years ago from a Korean firm and marketed as HMT (hybrid membrane technology).

According to Powell, the current Virginia line is a small commercial scale and sampling line that is able to show potential customers exactly what the nanofiber-based material can achieve. "We call the line a production pilot and we are doing what we intended, that is demonstrating the base technology, developing basic data for a full-scale commercial facility and producing innovative samples for customers."

Energain will mainly target the battery separator market where it can provide increased power, improved battery life and also offer higher stability at increased temperatures. Beyond lithium-ion batteries, Energain has prospects in batteries in specialty consumer applications, including laptops, cellphones and power tools.

In other new market developments, filtration continues to be an area of interest for DuPont. The company has provided Nomex for many years into hotgas filtration applications. About two years ago, the DuPont portfolio was expanded with Nomex KD, a medium that combines Nomex and Kevlar fibers in a unique nonwoven filter medium. The product is well suited for high temperature applications such as asphalt production and cement clinker coolers.

While the development of Nomex KD is a great example of how the combination of DuPont's nonwovens and aramids businesses could combine to create innovative products, the medium was actually created before the formation of DPT. However, Powell describes filtration as a standout example of a market where DuPont's staple of science-based products can provide innovation.

"We offer world-leading technology at competitive costs as well as technical and application development expertise close to customers in developing markets," Powell says. "It seems to be working for us and we are confident it will continue to do so in the future."

3. Kimberly-Clark Corporation

Dallas, TX

www.kimberly-clark.com

2011 Nonwovens Sales: $1.25 billion

Partnership Products and K-C Professional Headquarters Roswell, GA

www.kcprofessional.com

Key Personnel:

Thomas Falk, chairman and CEO; Elane B. Stock, president, K-C Professional; Richard Thorne, vice president, K-C Professional North America; Bob Stargel, vice president, K-C Global Nonwovens, Tony Fedel, associate director, K-C Professional Partnership Products

Plants:

Corinth, MS; Balfour and Hendersonville, NC; Lexington, NC; LaGrange, GA; Neenah, WI; Barton-upon-Humber, U.K.; Jaromer, Czech Republic

ISO Status:

Certification achieved in Berkeley, NC, Lexington, NC, LaGrange, GA, and Barton (U.K.); other facilities in progress

Processes:

Spunbond, meltblown, SMS, BCW, hydroentangled, film lamination, elastic lamination and Coform

Brand Names:

Kimberly-Clark Professional; Protective Fabrics: Block-It, Dustop, Evolution, and Noah; Filtration Media: Intrepid, Powerloft, Cyclean

Major Markets:

Filtration, acoustics, consumer hygiene, industrial, medical, packaging, protective, sorbents, textile linings and wet wipes

0ne of the world's largest users of nonwovens, Kimberly-Clark's output largely fuels its absorbent products consumer business where it markets some of the biggest brands in the world, including Huggies diapers and wipes, Kotex feminine hygiene items and Depend adult incontinence care products. To serve this business, the Dallas, TX-based company uses nonwovens sourced both internally and externally, but the company also sells nonwoven roll goods in segments including filtration, sorbents and wipes, according to executives, and this segment of its business continues to be an important growth driver.

"Globally, K-Cers come to work every day striving to achieve the corporate vision to lead the world in essentials for a better life," says Tony Fedel, associate director, Kimberly-Clark Professional Partnership Products.

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"When a company and its people are driven by such a clear and noble purpose, every business unit is empowered to deliver on that promise. Ultimately, we view it as a clifferentiator and competitive strength within the nonwovens industry that allows us to work closely with our customers, helping them achieve their goals and grow their businesses. Our customers get the same product performance people associate with Kimberly-Clark overall, which makes our offerings ideal for other branded product marketers."

Partnership Products is a unique K-C business unit, managed within K-C Professional, in that it markets and sells K-C nonwoven materials externally to other branded and contract manufacturers across both the B2C and B2B spaces.

"We do see opportunities for growth in most of the segments we serve with our innovative, value-added products," Fedel says. "Partnership Products does not focus on commoditytype products or opportunities. Instead, we focus our attention on markets where we can provide differentiated technology and performance and where we can become a strategic, long-term partner with our customers. As an example, consider Kimberly-Clark's meltblown technology. K-C's nonwovens research and engineering know-how, product development capabilities and machine capabilities deliver best-in-class meltblown material performance properties. Our filtration media product is another good example of our high performance technology, this time with electret-treated bicomponent spunbond materials that we can manufacture at varying levels of thickness, as needed, to improve dust holding capacity as well as meet various filtration efficiency levels with low initial pressure drop."

In 2011, sales increased 6% corporate-wide for Kimberly-Clark, reaching $20.8 billion. Executives credited higher net selling prices as well as increased sales volumes for the increase. Meanwhile, personal care sales increased from $8.6 billion to $9.1 billion despite lower sales of Huggies and Pull-Ups in North America. Bright spots for the year included product innovation in the Poise, Depend and U by Kotex brands, currency benefits coming out of Europe, as well as strong growth in South Korea, China and Latin America (except for Venezuela).

In recent months, K-C has shown its commitment to broad-based growth through a series of new product introductions in a number of areas.

Just this summer, the Pull-Ups brand revealed new, glow-in-the-dark designs in its Pull-Ups NightTime disposable training pants. The designs, featuring Disney's Cinderella and Mater and Lightning McQueen from the Cars movies, help parents start a new nighttime routine to make potty training consistent, easier and fun.

Also in baby care, K-C has continued its tradition of seasonally appropriate, limited edition designer diapers with Hawaiian-themed and Camouflage diapers and formed a licensing agreement with Marvel comics for its GoodNites disposable underwear.

Also in the GoodNites brand, K-C this year introduced Bed Mats, ultra-absorbent, cloth-like, disposable mats that provide nighttime security against bedwetting. GoodNites Bed Mats feature adhesive strips to adhere to the top of a child's fitted sheet and help the product stay in place all night long.

"As a trusted leader and expert, GoodNites brand understands the challenges of millions of parents and children who are dealing with bedwetting," says Dave Caputo, senior brand manager, GoodNites. "GoodNites Bed Mats is a new bedwetting protection choice that offers outstanding absorption in a cloth-like mat, helping give families a better night's sleep."

Within its feminine care line, K-C is getting ready to launch a first-of-its-kind line designed specifically with menopausal women in mind. The Poise Feminine Wellness line--designed specifically with menopausal women in mind--represents the Poise brand's expansion into the feminine wellness category in the U.S. and Canada, following the recent successful rollout of these products in parts of Latin America.

The Poise Feminine Wellness line includes five products--including roll-on cooling gel and body cooling towelettes, a personal lubricant and panty fresheners--designed to work naturally with a woman's body during menopause to provide comfort and help her feel feminine and confident throughout the day.

"Fifty million women across North America are approaching or experiencing menopause, but until now there has been no suite of consumer products that helps them cope on a daily basis," says Rebecca Dunphey, Poise brand director at Kimberly-Clark. "The Poise Feminine Wellness line is specifically designed to help women approach this life stage with confidence. These products are a natural extension for the Poise brand, which millions of women already rely on for discrete protection from light bladder leakage." Poise Feminine Wellness products were initially launched in Chile in 2009 and were subsequently introduced in Colombia, and helped the Poise brand grow in that region.

C.) For younger women, K-C continues to be successful with its U by Kotex line of feminine hygiene items, which was introduced in 2010 to drive penetration for the Kotex brand and category growth in general. In its first year in the North American market, this Kotex sub-brand achieved more than four points of market-share, quickly becoming one of K-C's fastest growing brands and helping drive consumer interest and growth in a relatively flat category. Most recently, the IRI Symphony Group named U by Kotex the number three non-food pacesetter for 2011, generating approximately $75 million in first-year retail sales.

In 2012, K-C built off this success with the national launch of new U by Kotex Sleek tampons and new U by Kotex CleanWear pads. U by Kotex Sleek Tampons feature a first-of-its-kind "Perfect Touch Grip" applicator that is soft, smooth and slim to provide an easy hold for "just right" placement. The new U by Kotex CleanWear Pad features a revolutionary MemoryFlex core that keeps its shape and fits closely with a woman's curves, improving flexibility. Both innovations provide women with exceptional protection and comfort and establish a new level of performance.

"U by Kotex challenges accepted norms by delivering premium products that combine innovative design, outstanding performance and a bold, straight-talking approach to marketing that is changing the conversation around feminine care," says Claire Miller, marketing director for Kotex. "New U by Kotex Sleek tampons and U by Kotex CleanWear. pads are the latest step in our ongoing mission to break through the sea of sameness in the category, accelerate sales and continue to build the Kotex brand into a powerhouse."

In 2012, the Kotex brand achieved a significant milestone, joining other K-C brands like Huggies, Kleenex and Scott, by becoming a billion-dollar brand. Executives said this status was achieved after two years of growth by the brand.

In addition to new product development, K-C has invested considerable resources in upping its sustainability efforts during the past several years. Recently, the company received an A+ rating from Global Reporting Initiative (GM) on its 2011 Corporate Sustainability Report, which highlights the company's progress towards its Sustainability 2015 goals.

"Receiving the A+ GM rating is a testament to the commitment that our leaders and our employees have to sustainability across our entire value chain involving every function, brand and business at K-C," says Peggy Ward, director, Sustainability Strategy, at Kimberly-Clark. "While we are proud of our 2011 progress and the quality level of our sustainability report, we recognize that sustainability is a journey that we will never complete."

The 2011 Sustainability Report was released in May 2012 and is K-C's ninth such annual report. The report is structured around the company's Sustainability 2015 strategy framework of People, Planet and Products introduced last year. The new framework represents K-C's most ambitious and comprehensive sustainability strategy to date and embodies the company's commitment to weaving a sustainable business practice and mindset into every facet of the organization as an integral part of its Global Business Plan.

In order to secure the A+ rating, Kimberly-Clark fulfilled all 79 indicators established by GRI under the headings of Economic Performance, Labor Practices, Human Rights, Environmental Practices, Society Performance and Product Responsibilities. Some of the key highlights of K-C's activities captured in the report include: sourcing 99.9% of its fiber from suppliers certified by sustainable forestry practices; generating 13% of 2011 net sales from environmentally innovative products; accomplishing its goal of zero workplace fatalities; communicating its Supplier Social Compliance Standards to all of its key suppliers; extending the Huggies brand Every Little Bottom campaign in the U.S. to assist moms who struggle to provide their babies clean disposable diapers; and expanding the Huggies diaper composting initiatives by opening a second K-C-sponsored recycling plant in New Zealand.

4. Polymer Group, Inc. (PGI)

Charlotte, NC

www.polymergroupinc.com

2011 Nonwovens Sales: $1.2 billion

Key Personnel:

Veronica Hagen, president and CEO; Dennis Norman, executive vice president and CFO; Mike Hale, senior vice president, global supply chain; Scott Tracey, senior vice president, general manager, Americas; Jean-Marc Galvez, senior vice president, general manager, Europe; Leon Chang, senior vice president, general manager, Asia; Mary Tomasello, senior vice president, global human resources and employee communications; James Infinger, senior vice president, chief information officer; Daniel Rikard, senior vice president, general counsel and secretary and ethics compliance officer

Plants:

Benson, NC; Mooresville, NC; Waynesboro, VA; Clackamas, OR; North Bay, Ontario, Canada; The Netherlands; Tarragona, Spain; San Luis Potosi, Mexico; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Bailleul, France; Nanhai, China; Suzhou, China; Cali, Colombia

Processes:

Spunbond, meltblown, SMS, composites, through air bonded, adhesive bonded, resin bonded, thermal bonded, spunlace, air-laid, apertured film, film laminates, sonic laminated, extruded polyolefins, thermal laminated, Apex, Spinlace and other proprietary fabric forming, surfacing and binding systems

Brands:

Apex, Agriban, Agribon, Arium, Aquapex, Bonlinn, Bonsec, Chicopee, Chicopee Cares, Chix, Chux, Comfortlace, Comfortsilk, Durapex, Dura-Tex, Freeswell, Keybak, Kiara, Masslin, Medisoft, Medisoft Ultra, Poly-Breathe, Poly-Safe, Reticulon, Soft-Touch, Spin lace, TopSwell

The latest news from Polymer Group, Inc. (PGI) is a substantial organization redesign that realigns and repositions the company to leverage the benefits of its global footprint, aligning resources and capabilities with future growth opportunities. This new operating model is designed to better serve PGI's customers, the company says.

One of the major components of the redesign is the creation of a Global Business Development (GBD) unit, which will be the growth engine of PGI. "The GBD will harness the strength of a consolidated approach that brings together its segment leadership, research and development team, sales and marketing operations and strategic planning personnel," saysVeronica (Ronee) Hagen, CEO.

Mother key change within the redesign is the consolidation of PGI's former U.S. and Latin America regions into a combined Americas region, which will be led by Scott Tracey. This will enable PGI to compete more effectively, while leveraging the strength of both regions to ensure better customer alignment.

Included in the Americas division are PGI sites in Cali, Colombia; Buenos Aires, Argentina; San Luis Potosi, Mexico; Waynesboro, VA; Mooresville, NC; and Benson, NC, while the Clackamas, OR, and North Bay, Ontario, sites are part of the Fabrene business.

PGI also created a new Global Supply Chain unit as part of its organizational redesign. This new group will further integrate PGI's strong global procurement team into the operational strategy of the business and to work even closer with its partners. The company will gain further efficiencies through a focused and standardized approach to operations across the supply chain.

During the past several years, PGI has been ambitious in its spunmelt expansion strategy. In the Americas, this has meant new lines in Mooresville and Waynesboro, as well as significant expansion at all three of its sites in Latin America. The most recent addition has been a seventh line in San Luis Potosi, Mexico, which became operational in 2010.

"PGI has been a leader in Latin America for more than 15 years and continues to expect the market to grow," Hagen adds. "The new line in Mexico has enhanced our capabilities in both the hygiene and healthcare markets, and PGI's leadership continues to focus on having state-of-the-art capability in Latin America?

While plans to expand into Brazil have been hinted at, for now, Hagen says serving this market from its existing sites is the right strategy for PGI and that any future expansion would be timed to market demand.

Elsewhere in the Americas, PGI recently completed work on its latest custom-designed spunmelt line in Waynesboro, VA. This line not only gives the company state-of-the-art product barrier capability in North America but also provides the company with a platform for proprietary capabilities like Mum, a new nanofiber-based technology platform launched in November 2011, which enables submicron fiber production.

This technology allows PGI to enter new markets with improved performance at an attractive price point, the company says. Arium gives PGI a competitive advantage to expand its business in new markets and bring its engineered materials into markets where nonwovens have not yet penetrated.

In addition to its strong presence in the Americas, PGI has been building its footprint in Europe and Asia. The company operates a six-line site in Spain purchased from Tesalca-Texnovo in 2009. It also has sites in Nanhai and Suzhou, China, where a state-of-the-art spunmelt line--largely targeting healthcare applications--has recently become operational.

"PGI foresees that the business conditions in China will continue to evolve and that the Asian market will continue to grow," Hagen says. "The biggest challenge is to understand how quickly it will grow. A lot of participants in this market are struggling to understand what the new economy and new reality will look like in China."

Opining that capacity announced for China is already in excess of demand, Hagen says PGI does not expect supply and demand to be balanced before 2016 if capacity comes on-line as planned. Still, the company continues to focus on investment in China and the timing of these investments will be tied to market demand.

Moreover, supply and demand is something PGI is monitoring closely in the global spunmelt market, where the company considers capacity installations. are in excess of demand. "We believe this market is going to be under pressure for probably the next three to four years, causing particular distress for some of the induStry's smallest players," Hagen says.

To combat these difficult situations, PGI is making sure that it has the right cost structure and is positioning itself with customers for strategic platforms that are delivering the right value.

"The company's historic discipline has been to install capacity based on customer-specific demand," Hagen says. "PGI expects to leverage its global scope and breadth of technology to bring value to the market going forward. PGI has multiple opportunities for growth and expects to continue to grow as the market grows and to identify and innovate into new markets."

Growing in its importance will be PGI's specialty fabric businesses, which include a number of highly engineered material applications in a range of end uses, such as cable wrap, agriculture covers, fire resistant materials and filtration media.

"Our strategy in specialty fabric is to build scale and leadership within markets," Hagen says. "For PGI, the specialty fabric market segment is one that we expect to be the incubator for new applications with both current and potentially new capabilities."

One specialty market strong on PGI's radar continues to be filtration, where it will become more intentional and direct in its market participation, according to executives. Additionally, its proprietary Mum technology is expected to help advance PGI's role here.

Combining the high volumes of the hygiene market with the focus on innovation and differentiation demanded in industrial markets has been paying off for PGI. Last year, the company reported sales at $1.2 billion, despite the negative impact of the temporary closure of its Cali, Colombia, site for a portion of the year due to flooding.

"Sales growth during the year was the result of improved volumes in the U.S. in our carded businesses and improved volumes in France and The Netherlands as the industrial markets improved," Hagen says. "To further improve profitability, PGI is taking steps to ensure we have the right cost structure, the right technologies and the right products in the right places."

5. Ahlstrom

Helsinki, Finland

www.ahlstrom.com

2011 Nonwovens Sales: $1.06 billion

Key Personnel:

Jan Lang, president and CEO; Seppo Parvi, CFO; Laura Raitio, executive vice president, Building & Energy; William Casey, executive vice president, Food & Medical; Tommi Bjornman, executive vice president, Filtration; Daniele Borlatto, executive vice president, Label & Processing Paula Aarnio, executive vice president, Human Resources & Sustainability; Rami Raulas, executive vice president, Sales & Marketing Luc Rousselet, executive vice president, Supply Chain; Aki Saarinen, executive vice president, Strategic Business Development; Paul Stenson, executive vice president, Product & Technology Development.

Plants:

Barcelona, Spain; Binzhou, China; Bousbecque, France; Brignoud, France; Chirnside, U.K.; Hyun Poong, South Korea; Jacarei, Brazil; Karhula, Finland; Kauttua, Finland; Longkou, China; Louveira, Brazil; Madisonville, KY; Malmedy, Belgium; Mount Holly Springs, PA; Mundra, India; Osnabruck, Germany; Pont Audemer, France; Pont Eveque, France; Radcliffe, U.K.; Saint Severin, France; Stalldalen, Sweden; Stenay, France; Tampere, Finland; Taylorville, IL; Turin, Italy; Redkino, Russia; West Carrollton, OH; Windsor Locks, CT

Processes:

Wetlaid (Trinitex), microglass, nanotechnology (Distruptor), composites, creping/micrexing, spunmelt/spunbond, parchmentizing, coating, calendering.

Major Markets:

Filtration, wall coverings, building, automotive, labels, food packaging, beverages, medical

Ahlstrom's business continues to transform itself as the Finland-based company moves forward with its plan of focusing on high performance materials. Already, this plan has led to the divestment of Ahlstrom's wipes business--including about [euro]300 million in annual sales--in October 2011 to Suominen Corporation. According to executives, the sale of the wipes business, once an important growth vehicle for Ahlstrom, will allow it to strengthen and develop current businesses, particularly in Asia.

Ahlstrom's remaining nonwovens-related business units include filtration, building and energy and food and medical. In 2011, sales from continuing operations decreased 1.8% to [euro]1.6 billion. Of these sales, nonwovens-related business comprised about 59% of sales, meaning Ahlstrom's nonwovens sales were about [euro]819 million or $1.06 billion last year.

According to executives, demand for most of Ahlstrom's products were stable during the first half of 2011, but the market started to decline after the summer holiday season following the slowdown in the global economy, particularly in Europe. This slowdown impacted a number of markets, including construction, wall coverings and flooring, as well as food packaging and tape materials. However, demand in transportation materials and medical materials remained strong.

Ahlstrom has continued to focus on growing its presence in filtration, a business in which the company has invested heavily through acquisitions and capital expenditures during the past decades. Already a leader in the transportation filtration area, this investment strategy has helped Ahlstrom evolve into a well-rounded supplier of both wet and dry media applications in a number of core markets.

Last year, filtration sales comprised 20% of total sales. "We are focusing on further developing innovative filter media solutions for our customers in both transportation and advanced filtration applications," says company spokeswoman Noora Blasi, marketing manager, Filtration. "Strong partnerships and innovative research and development activities keep filtration as a strong growing segment."

The company's most recent investment was a capacity expansion at its site in Turin, Italy, where it completed work on a new saturator line in August. This [euro]17.5 million investment was described as an important step that will benefit customers in both transportation and advanced filtration areas. Additionally, in 2010, the company beefed up its Asian filtration business with a new plant in Binzhou, China, that is dedicated to transportation materials, as well as with the opening of a logistic service center in India in December 2011 to support this business.

Ahlstrom's building and energy business serves customers mainly in the building, transportation, marine, windmill and wall covering industries and comprises about 18% of the group's sales.

Among the key activities in this business is the addition of a new wall covering line targeting the China market. The new line, in Binzhou, will mainly serve the Chinese market, which is expected to reach 300 million rolls by 2015. "Ahlstrom has a wide range of nonwoven substrates for wall covering applications," says Calum Mayland, marketing manager, Building & Energy. "They carry different and unique surface characteristics which are directly printed to create stylish wall cover designs."

Because design is the key driver in this industry, Ahlstrom products appeal to designers due to their ability to incorporate structure and touch into a wall cover design. This combination of easier decoration and better appearance on the wall is driving growth of nonwoven substrates around the world, Mayland adds.

Another important business area for this segment is battery separators, a market Ahlstrom entered last year through the purchase of a stake in Porous Power Technologies, LLC, a Colorado-based company developing technology for lithium-ion battery separators. Ahlstrom had previously partnered with Porous Power by providing the nonwovens component of the membrane technology used in battery separators. "Everything we are hearing from this market is that it is growing strongly and will continue to until at least 2020, says Laura Raitio, executive vice president of Ahlstrom's Building & Energy business. "The transaction will be very beneficial because it will give us access to the membrane technology and it's a good fit to our existing business."

Ahlstrom had been working with Porous Power for some time, supplying a nonwoven component to the porous membrane product. The resulting product is a highly interesting membrane, Raitio explains. Using Symmetrix technology, the product aids in faster charging and provides safety aspects like an ability to hold up under extremely hot and extremely cold temperatures.

Ahlstrom, together with Porous Power, will continue to offer a new generation of separator solutions for safer batteries and capacitors in electric-drive vehicles, e-bikes, portable electronics and utility-grade storage products. Porous Power's current separator products are already being evaluated by battery manufacturers around the world. The products for electric vehicles will be commercially available in larger scale at a later date. Among the benefits of Porous Power's product is its ability to hold up well in extremely hot and cold temperatures. Its extreme porosity helps aid in charging speeds and can be offered at an attractive price point.

Also included in Ahlstrom's nonwovens business is food and medical, which provides materials for tea bags, food packaging, masking tape and surgical drapes, gowns and sterile bathers. This area comprised 18% of group sales last year and significant growth is expected in Asia, as evidenced by recent investments in this region.

Key events in this segment include the opening of a new plant in Longkou, China, a joint venture with Longkou Yulong Paper. The site, which will open this fall, will produce crepe paper, targeting the masking tape and medical sterile barrier systems markets. It will be the group's third crepe paper plant, joining existing sites in Pont Audemer, France and Kauttua, Finland.

Meanwhile, in India, Ahlstrom opened a spunmelt facility in Mundra in 2010. The output of this site can be used in nearly all medical applications, and in late 2011 a topical treatment line was added to allow the company to make alcohol repellent and antistatic SMS.

"With the addition of repellence SMS to the existing product range, we now have a completed medical portfolio that focuses on clean, single-use materials that conform to medical standards," says Bethany Schivley, communication officer, Food & Medical.

With more than 80% of all surgical gowns being produced in Asia, expansion into this region was a must for Ahlstrom and Schivley says investment in both sales and personnel will continue in coming years.

In the food segment, Ahlstrom continues to see success with BioWeb, a lightweight nonwoven web that provides an environmentally friendly, sustainable and affordable solution for high-end and specialty tea packers, designed for conversion on ultrasonic or heat seal tea-packing machines, according to Schivley. Ahlstrom makes BioWeb in Chirnside, Scotland.

6. Johns Manville

Denver, CO

www.jm.com

2011 Nonwovens Sales: $670 million

Key Personnel:

Mike Lawrence, vice president and general manager, Engineered Products North America (EPNA); Enno Henze, vice president and general manager, Engineered Products Europe/Asia (EPEA); Ken Forden, director of sales and marketing, EPNA; Stefan Mohr, commercial leader nonwovens, EPEA; Martin Kleinebrecht, marketing leader nonwovens, EPEA

Plants:

Waterville, OH; Richland, MS; Spartanburg, SC; Etowah, TN; Bobingen, Berlin, Wertheim, Karlstein, Steinach (Germany); Shanghai, Louyang (China); Trnava (Slovakia)

Brands:

Dura-Glass, DuraBase, Delta-Aire, DynaWick, DynaWeb, DynaTech, Micro-Aire, MicroLith (U.S. brands); Evalith (EU nonwoven brand); ThermoFlow, DuraCore, KY-Tex (EU fibers brands)

Building and specialty products manufacturer Johns Manville GM), a Berkshire Hathaway company and maker of a number of nonwovens technologies, continues to expand its scope into new markets, including filtration, automotive, batteries and flooring, to help protect itself against softness in construction.

Based in Denver, CO, the company operates through four regional segments--Insulation Systems, Roofing Systems, Engineered Products North America (EPNA) and Engineered Products Europe/Asia (EPEA). The company created the engineered products geographic-based business structure in 2010 to increase its decision-making speed.

"Overall, the building and construction market in Europe remains a concern to the industry as it has not yet recovered from the financial crisis, and we expect it to remain flat over the next few years," says Enno Henze, vice president and general manager of JM's EPEA business. "Renovation activities are doing relatively well but new construction continues at low levels."

However, JM has been able to defend itself against these challenges thanks to its complete portfolio of products with excellent technical properties, long-standing close relationships with its customers and diversification into market segments outside the construction industry.

Engineered Products has seen continued growth in several markets. However, certain segments are out-pacing economic growth due to the increased performance needs in segments such as energy storage and flooring. The business continues to focus on innovation and driving system costs lower for its customers, Henze says.

The filtration segment remains one of the key focus areas in both Europe and North America and JM is growing this business in various applications, including automotive cabin air filtration, industrial air filtration and HVAC via innovative spunbond and glass nonwoven solutions.

In effort to stay ahead of the market in terms of synthetic and micro glass fiber filtration media, JM is continuously investing in its facilities and technology upgrades.

According to Fred Stephan, vice president and general manager of Insulation Systems, JM's insulation business has started to see an uptick in the U.S. residential market, which is recovering after three years of historically low housing starts. "Although this recovery is coming from a very low base, it is encouraging to see growth, primarily in multifamily but also in single-family dwellings," he says.

JM has spent the downturn investing in broadening its product portfolio in response to acceleration in U.S. code changes. The company has developed product solutions that deliver value in a difficult economy. "As the markets recover, JM will bring to market the broadest offering of systems to meet its customers' needs," Stephan explains.

JM's commercial Roofing Systems business was flat in 2011 as a result of continued economic uncertainty and significant pressure to reduce spending on public buildings. Executives expect this trend to continue the remainder of the year.

In June, JM dedicated a plant in Milan, OH, to making ethylene propylene diene monomer, a thermoset synthetic rubber, single ply roofing membrane known for its durability, ease of installation and superior weathering characteristics. This roofing plant completes JM's portfolio of major waterproofing membranes and the company claims it now has the widest breadth of membranes in the industry, The company also announced in August that it has acquired Industrial Insulation Group, LLC, a manufacturer of insulation for industrial, commercial and fire-proofing applications

In the glass mat segment, JM has made several investments to its lines in Ohio and Tennessee to improve product capability and ensure product quality. "These improvements have allowed JM to deliver the broadest product portfolio with the increasing quality standards demanded by its customers," Lawrence says. "This has also enabled JM to develop new products that historically have not been served by a glass nonwoven."

JM also operates two plants in China--one in Shanghai and one in Louyang--where it continues to serve roofing specialty and geotextiles markets. This business is small compared to the company's overall scope but it remains a strategic element in its supply network.

"The Asian markets show very interesting growth rates and are rapidly achieving the necessary quality requirements," Henze says. "Managing manufacturing operations and doing business in Asia is a challenging but rewarding exercise."

6. Fitesa

www.fitesa.com

Simpsonville, SC

2011 Nonwovens Sales: $670 million

Key Personnel:

Silverio Baranzano, CEO, Hal Singley, CFO

Plants:

Gravatai, Brazil; Lima, Peru; Queretaro, Mexico; Simpsonville, SC; Green Bay, WI; Washougal, Wk Norrkoping Sweden; Peine, Germany; Trezzano Rosa, Italy; Tianjin, China

Processes:

Spunbond, SMS, bicomponent spunbond and SMS, meltblown, carded (chemical bonded, thermal bonded, air through bonded), airlaid, laminates

Major Markets:

Hygiene, medical and industrial specialties (filtration, agricultural, sorbent)

Back in the fold this year is Fitesa, as a result of Petropar's acquisition of Fiberweb's hygiene-related assets in late 2011 in a reported $286 million deal. The investment should propel the Petropar-owned company's sales to about $700 million up from about $160 million before the acquisition (Petropar's share of the FitesaFiberweb joint ventures revenues).

Fitesa's partnership with Fiberweb in the North and South American hygiene markets, which was formed in 2009, helped prepare it for this rapid expansion to become the second largest global spunmelt supplier. "The FitesaFiberweb exercise was a valuable template for the integration of this acquisition, which is proceeding in line with expectations," says Ray Dunleavy, director of marketing.

Prior to the acquisition, FitesaFiberweb had spunmelt operations in Brazil, South Carolina, Washington and Mexico. The purchase included these assets as well as Fiberweb-owned spunmelt lines in Sweden, Germany and Italy, carding lines in Green Bay, WI, and Simpsonville, SC, as well as airlaid lines in Tianjin, China. The nonwovens research center in Peine, Germany, was also included in the acquisition.

The FitesaFiberweb joint venture had already announced plans to install a spunmelt line in Lima, Peru, as well as a carded line in Brazil. Both of these investments are on track to start contributing to results in the second half of 2012, Dunleavy says. "The spunmelt line in Lima will serve the growing demand from Fitesa's hygiene customers on the Pacific coast of South America," he adds. Meanwhile, the new carded line in Gravatai, Brazil--which will be both resin bond and air-through bond capable--will enable Fitesa to meet its customers' demand for acquisition and distribution layers and other carded applications, including topsheets and backsheets.

In addition, FitesaFiberweb announced it would add two lines in North America when it was first formed in 2009: an SMS bicomponent spunmelt line, which started in 2011; and a second line in 2013-14. That plan has not changed.

As for Asia, this region continues to be on Fitesa's radar. "It cannot be denied that Asia is an important and rapidly growing market for hygiene products. Fitesa already participates there with its airlaid business in China. We are staying alert for growth opportunities in the region," Dunleavy says.

As it explores expansion in developing regions, Fitesa expects to see little growth in the next few years in developed regions like the U.S. and Western Europe, where increasing demand for adult incontinence products is being offset by declines in the demand for baby diapers, driven by declining birth rates and lower diaper usage.

8. Glatfelter

York, PA

www.glatfelter.com

2011 Nonwovens Sales: $538 million

Key Personnel:

Dante Parrini, chairman and CEO; John Jacunski, senior vice president and CFO; Christopher Astley, vice president, corporate strategy; Jonathan Bourget, vice president and general manager, Advanced Airlaid Materials; Martin Rapp, vice president and general manager, Composite Fibres

Plants:

Canada, Germany, France, U.K., Philippines

Processes:

Airlaid, wetlaid

With the integration of Concert Industries completed, Glatfelter has seen strong growth, despite a turbulent economic environment, thanks in part to increased volumes in the feminine hygiene market, which is the company's core business.

As some other airlaid companies have faltered, closing plants or teetering on the brink of bankruptcy Glatfelter has seen volumes increase 18% from 2009-2010 and 7.5% from 2010-2011. Profitability has almost doubled from 2010 to 2011, and results in the first half of 2012 are again 55% higher than those in the first half of 2011.

Jonathan Bourget, vice president and general manager, Advanced Airlaid Materials, notes that the company mostly operates in the mature markets of North America and Europe, which have only been growing about 2%. "We've been very fortunate to be able to grow faster than the market within a weak economic environment. This is testimony to the trust our customers have put into us."

The company reported $252 million in airlaid sales for 2011, about 82% coming from feminine hygiene. "That's been growing pretty healthfully, thanks to private label growth, particularly in North America," says Bourget. "Private label in general, including Europe, has some very good traction to it nowadays. I think there is recognition from the private label industry that there's no better way to imitate the leaders than to use the same raw materials. So they come to us and we try to find solutions for them."

Like most companies in the nonwovens industry, Glatfelter has an eye on emerging nations, which offer great potential for future consumption. Bourget noted that usage rates of feminine hygiene products in North America and Western Europe are about 170 grams per capita, while just 70 grams per capita in the Asia-Pacific region. "There's just a massive opportunity for penetration in this market," he says, adding that some major players in the industry have launched educational campaigns to promote awareness among developing nations.

Meanwhile, Glatfelter has increased its exposure to the wipes market in North America. The company offers an array of basis weights along with a broad manufacturer competency within different segments.

In addition to feminine hygiene and wipes for the personal care industry, other important airlaid markets for Glatfelter include home care, food pads and adult incontinence.

As for the company's composite fibers business (wetlaid), Glatfelter reported $476 million in sales in 2011. The company has continued to build on its market leading position in singleserve coffee and tea products, growing shipping volumes by 9%. The business segment's profitability has been increasing significantly (20% over the previous year).

Alongside food and beverage (60% of wetlaid sales), other important markets include metallized (20%), composite laminates (11%) and technical specialties (9%).

Bourget notes that Glatfelter's goal is to continue growing these two divisions, expanding geographical and market presence over the foreseeable future and capitalizing on the strong relationships that exist with global market makers.

9. Fiberweb

London, U.K.

www.fiberweb.com

2011 Nonwovens Sales: $465 million

Key Personnel:

Daniel Dayan, CEO; Kate Miles, group finance director

Plants:

Old Hickory, TN; Aschersleben, Germany; Berlin, Germany; Pontypool, U.K.; Maldon, U.K.; Aberdare, U.K.; Temo d'Isola, Italy; Melbourne, Australia

Processes:

Thermal bonded, air-through bonded, spunbond, needlepunch, rneltblown, lamination, film Major

Markets:

Filtration, geosynthetics, medical specialties, crop cover, tree shelters, dryer sheets, adult incontinence components, house-wrap, roofing underlayments, grass protection

Big changes have taken place at Fiberweb over the past half-decade. During this time, the company has evolved from a large-scale nonwovens player strong in polypropylene-based spunmelt products geared toward hygiene applications with sites around the world--to a smaller, more focused maker of specialty fabrics.

The biggest change came at the end of 2011 when the London-based company sold the majority of its commodity hygiene business to its former joint venture partner Petropar, the Brazilian owner of Fitesa, for a reported $286 million (see more on Fitesa on page 50). The deal, which was finalized December 30, included plants around the world and infused Fiberweb with a strong cash position.

The new organization, which CEO Daniel Dayan now describes as a specialty materials company rather than a nonwovens maker, reports its annual sales at about $465 million and is predicting growth to be in the 3-5% for the year. Meanwhile, stock market analysts predict that earnings should rise from $16 million to $23 million.

"We don't describe ourselves as a nonwovens business but as a specialty materials business," says Dayan. "We now do a long list of things to fine-tune fabrics for customers like coating and laminating on fabrics."

Following the hygiene divestment, Fiberweb now operates through two main divisions: Technical Fabrics and Geosynthetics. Technical Fabrics comprises the group's former Americas and European industrial businesses, as well as the remaining hygiene businesses in France and Italy. It is the larger of the two divisions, comprising five production sites and about 900 employees.

Meanwhile, the Geosynthetics business was created from Fiberweb's existing Terram geotextile business, the 2011 acquisitions of Tubex and Boddingtons, as well as existing geotextile and construction businesses in the U.S. This division includes sites in Maldon, Essex and Aberdare, U.K., plus housewrap and tree shelter production at Old Hickory, TN, in North America.

While much of the company's business now lies in industrial and technical markets like construction, filtration and geotextiles, about one-third of sales are within remaining hygiene businesses, mainly comprising specialty spunbond and carded materials that mostly go into adult incontinence, rather than baby care applications, as well as specialty polyester spunbond for dryer sheets.

Included in the sale were FitesaFiberweb-owned spunmelt manufacturing sites in Washington, South Carolina, Mexico and Peru, as well as Fiberweb spunmelt operations in Sweden, Germany and Italy, and an airlaid plant in Tianjin, China. Fiberweb continues to operate specialty nonwovens sites in the U.S. and Europe, as well as a small operation in Australia.

"The affect of the sale of the business has been more focus," Dayan says. "We are now very focused on technical fabrics, specialty, filtration, niche areas like aerospace, fiber-reinforced plastics, automotives, medical and filtration. We are operating in a less broad area so it's easy to focus and prioritize investments. The other thing is instead of debt we now have a lot of cash."

That's not to say, however, that Fiberweb is hot to spend all that capital. At the time of the sale, the company said it would take at least 18 months to determine the direction major future investments would take. Whether the direction will be acquisition, capital investment or return to shareholders has yet to be determined.

As it considers its options, Fiberweb has continued to invest moderately in its business, allotting about $23 million last year in new capital. Among its latest investments is an upgrade to a breathable film line in Aschersleben, Germany, to allow for the development of new medical products; a thermal air-through bonding line in Terno d'Isola, Italy, that has helped reduce costs at the site; and a new generation needlepunch line in Maldon, U.K., which replaces an old specialty spunbond line that will close by the end of this year. Also, in late 2011, Fiberweb upgraded a spunbond line in Berlin, Germany, to feature state-of-the-art in-line printing and converting equipment that offers seamless end-to-end processing from the granule to the final packaged goods for the European roofing market.

In other investment news, Fiberweb's Old Hickory, TN, pilot line has allowed the company to make small quantities of polyester nonwovens for trials in areas like filtration where volumes can be small and samples can be expensive. Meanwhile, a recently opened research and development center in Maldon, U.K., is being seen as a center of innovation, but there are no current plans to add pilot capabilities there.

While Technical Fabrics is much larger, Fiberweb's Geosynthetics division shows great prospects. The division posted an impressive 15% increase in 2011, fueled largely by two major acquisitions, Boddingtons and Tube; both of which have been well integrated and are performing as expected. Additional growth is being driven by a new tree shelter line in Old Hickory, which is serving the forestry and viticulture industry in the U.S.

"We like the civil engineering accessory place, there are good margins and we expect to keep growing" Dayan says. "We have a long way to go before we exploit the full potential of the business."

Also benefitting this side of the business is a new line in Maldon, which gives Fiberweb the ability to make products ranging from 70-1,200 gsm, offering a product range that is more differentiated and flexible than spunbond.

As it continues to find strength in a narrower focus, Fiberweb continues to lack in one area, its global president admits. The sale of the hygiene assets left Fiberweb without a significant presence in Latin America or Asia, something he calls a downside to the disposal.

"We sell a lot of materials into Asia, India, the Middle East and Russia, but it's not the same as having your own site and this is something we certainly want to do," says Dayan. "Whatever we do in those markets, we will aim to be very focused. It has to be something we think we can make good money on."

For now, Fiberweb will continue to remain true to its new branding strategy--"The Next Answer"--which has been created to reflect the direction of the company toward global technical fabrics and geosynthetics.

"We will continue to change the orientation of the business toward our customers," Dayan says. "What we need to do now is deliver two or three years of solid improving results and prove that the specialty materials tag is justified."

10. Avgol

Tel Aviv, Israel

www.avgol.com

2011 Nonwovens Sales: $329 million

Key Personnel:

Shlomo Liran, CEO

Plants:

Tel Aviv, Israel; Mocksville, NC; Jingmen, City Hubei Province, China; Uzlovaya, Russia

Processes:

Spunbond, meltblown, hydroentangled spunlace

Brands:

Zebra, Avspun, Avsoft

Major Markets:

Hygiene, medical and construction

The year 2011 went down as a record one in the production and sale of nonwoven fabrics for Israel's Avgol Nonwovens. The spunbond specialist expects growth to continue as a third production line comes on-stream in China and a fourth U.S. line becomes operational in 2012.

"Avgol's momentum in investments last year will ensure the strengthening of its business and competitive positioning in the coming years," says Shlomo Liran, CE0. "Not withstanding these investments, Avgol's level of leveraging increased moderately and its strong and stable financial position will enable the company to prepare for strategic moves in the market."

In 2011, sales grew about 18.8% to reach $329 million, due largely to contributions from the group's second Chinese line, which came on-stream in mid 2010, as well as an adjustment in selling prices caused by raw material price increases. During this period, the company placed special emphasis on improving the operating efficiency of existing production lines at all of its sites to contend with changing market conditions.

With six older lines operating at its Israel headquarters, Avgol operates sites in North Carolina, China and Russia, from which it serves global hygiene markets. Recent investments include a fourth line in North Carolina and a third line in China and executives have hinted at the possibility of a second line in Russia.

"We are seeing another Avgol growth engine in Russia, in light of steadily increasing demands in Russia," Liran says. "Currently, our production line is running at full capacity."

Avgol began making nonwovens in Uzlovaya, Russia, in late 2007 to serve emerging markets in Eastern Europe, Russia, the Ukraine and the "-stan" countries.

Meanwhile, in the U.S., Avgol's fourth line began operation in Mocksville, NC, in August. This new line is adding 15,000 tons of capacity to the site. Combined with another 15,000 tons being added in China, Avgol's global capacity is increasing nearly 30% this year to reach 140,000 tons.

Avgol first entered the U.S. market in 2001 when it purchased an existing spunbond line from Unifi. The company has continuously added to this site since then, becoming a leading player in the hygiene market in the Americas. The Chinese site was started in 2005 as a joint venture agreement with Hubei Gold Dragon. A second line was added to the site last year and the third line is set to come on-stream later this year.

Sine the establishment of this Chinese arm, Avgol has invested heavily in new lines, also increasing its stake in the company, which will stand at 83-84% after the new line is added. When the third line comes on-stream, production at this site is expected to increase to 40,000 tons.

The cost of the additional Chinese production line was mainly financed by investment in equity from the Chinese partnership, bank financing and/or with a shareholders' loan. The investment required to set up the new Chinese production line includes an investment of between $10.2 million and $12.4 million by Avgol in the Chinese partnership equity, as well as a $1.1 million investment by the Chinese partner in the partnership equity, The Chinese partnership will raise the remaining $27-30 million of the investment through local bank financing and/or a shareholders'loan.

"We identified great opportunities in the China/Asia-Pacific markets, which are considered markets with high growth rates in the categories of disposable hygiene products and specifically baby diapers," says Liran. "The investment in a third production line in China underscores our complete satisfaction with the investments we have made to date in China within the scope of the partnership and prepares the groundwork for driving the sales momentum in response to the already high demands in China."

"This strategic decision is the outcome of the continuing increase in the volume of purchases and the expression of trust in Avgol and in its production lines by our major customers in China, as well as throughout the world," he continues. "Increasing our production capacity will enable us to give expression to our competitive advantages--global presence, innovation, uncompromising quality and superb service to our customers, and to fortify Avgol's positioning as a leading and preferred supplier for the long years ahead."

Noting that there are a number of untapped markets for the hygiene market, like India, which represents about 11% of all infants in the world, Liran told investors that new manufacturing sites are a strong possibility. "Furthermore, we are considering entering additional territories in growing markets with high growth potential," he says.

Avgol's momentum and substantial strategic investments in new infrastructure last year, with the establishment of two production lines in China and in the U.S., will strengthen Avgol's business and competitive positioning and improve profitability in the coming years, Liran concludes.

11. Sandler AG

Schwarzenbach/Saale, Germany

www.sandler.de

2011 Nonwovens Sales: $311 million

Key Personnel:

Christian Heinrich Sandler, CEO; Dipl. Ingenieur (FH) Wolfgang Hoflich and Ulrich Hornfeck, members of the management board

Plants:

Schwarenbach/Saa le, Germany

Processes:

Carded, waddings and drylaid nonwovens, thermally bonded, mechanically bonded, meltblown, thermofused, needlepunched, air-through bonded, spunlaced, hotmelt and thermal lamination, coating and flexoprinting, embossing and aperturing, composites

Brands:

Sawafill, Sawabond, Sawaloom, Sawavlies, Sawaloft, Sawaflor, Sawatex, Sawascreen, Sawagrow, Sandler Sports, Sawacomp, Sawaflock, Sawaform, Sawalux, Sawaflex, Sawasoft, Sawasorb, Sawatec, Sandler Fibercomfort, Sandler Fiberskin, Sandler Unico, Sawadur, Sawadry, Sandler White Lace, Sandler Silver Lace, Sawatex Mariquita, Sawatex Oresettino, Sawatex Sea Dwellers, Bio Textile by Sandler

Major Markets:

Nonwovens for hygiene, medical, wipes (baby, cosmetic, technical, oil), automotive, filtration, technical nonwovens (civil engineering technical insulation, environmental nonwovens) and home textiles

Reporting a whopping 18% sales gain in 2011 was German nonwovens producer Sandler, which credits the past couple of year's growth to its presence in a diverse number of markets. Other factors contributing to this success include increasing export levels and a focus on new product development.

In investment news, Sandler continues to benefit from the addition of its third spunlace line at its Schwarzenbach/Saale headquarters, its sole manufacturing site, which allows the company to penetrate markets for spunlace beyond wipes applications. The new line, which came on-stream in mid-2011, was part of a [euro]40 million investment that also included a building to house the new line. In addition to adding capacity, the new line has allowed Sandler to diversify its spunlace output.

Currently, the majority of Sandler's spunlace output is going into wipes, a market being described as stable, but new business opportunities are coming from areas like hygiene and technical applications. "Specifically, we use our spunlace products in various applications and we are getting more and more successful," says Ulrich Homfeck, member of the management board. "Our special spunlace technology is great in industrial and household cleaning processes and also technical uses. Some of these applications are new to nonwovens and some substitute for other types of nonwovens."

"Wipes continues to be an important market for us but it is certainly not the only one," Homfeck notes. "We are also working in hygiene and technical applications, which have helped us increase sales opportunities." Beyond spunlace, Sandler offers a broad spectrum of technologies, including carded, drylaid, thermal bonded, meltblown and needlepunch with which it targets a broad range of disposable and technical markets. "We try to find the right balance between hygiene and technical. It is surely not easy but we work hard to be experts in nonwovens, not only on the technology, but on the product side. Our reputation for know-how and high-quality products allows us to develop cross-functionally, utilizing diverse technologies for a wide range of different products and seeing more synergies between the many markets we serve."

Sandler has the largest fiber-based nonwoven production location in Europe and was again able to generate growth in all of its market segments. Countries such as China and India in particular show high growth rates for nonwovens in technical applications, especially filtration and automotive. Sandler is currently expanding its business in these markets.

One area where Sandler has seen recent success has been in the vacuum cleaner bag segment, where nonwoven filter media can offer advantages, including higher suction power and better tear and moisture resistance than traditional paper bags. All of Sandler's materials, which combine several types of nonwovens, are certified according to Oeko-Tex Standard 100. These synthetic materials are therefore entirely safe, even for the youngest family members. Sandler media also cover the HEPA filter grades H10 and H11--offering even more protection, allowing people with allergies to breathe easy.

Sandler's latest development in the field of synthetic vacuum cleaner bags uses PLA, a polymer based on lactic acid that is made of renewable resources, such as corn. This material features a similar performance to other high-quality synthetics and its quick drying also makes it ideally suited for application in the vacuum cleaner bag market. At the end of the product lifecycle, the advantages of a natural raw material become most apparent: PLA-based media are compostable and can be recycled using established processes.

The use of PLA is just one example of the many ways that Sandler is focusing on sustainability in both its products and its processes. In the wipes segment, Sandler's bio textile uses certified viscose fibers and throughout its whole business, the company employs a "Less is Best to Nature" philosophy. Started in 2008, this initiative has led to lower basis weights and an increased use of recycled fibers. Hornfeck says efforts here will continue to change Sandler's business.

"Whether it's in the process, the product or the raw material, we try to bring those green ideas to the market in a reasonable way," he says. "Sustainability is not only focused on green but also on the long-term partnership and the perspective of the end users and the resources we use."

Mother important growth market for Sandler is in the automotive sector. The company offers several products for the engine compartment, providing sound absorbency, water repellency, oil repellence and heat stability, which Hornfeck describes as "interesting new fields of development of nonwovens."

"Highest level in quality, service, reliability and flexibility are Sandler's main targets, which we systematically follow in the long run," says Homfeck. "We will continue investing in our production facilities to keep expanding our business and tapping into new markets and new applications."

12. Hollingsworth & Vose Company

East Walpole, MA

www.holldngsworth-vose.com

2011 Nonwovens Sales: $300 million

Key Personnel:

Val Hollingsworth, president and CEO; David von Loesecke, vice president International; Mike Clark, president, High Efficiency and Specialty Filtration; Mitch Bregman, president, Energy and Industrial Specialties; John Madej, president, Engine and Industrial Filtration; Jochem Hofstetter, vice president and managing director, Europe, Middle East and Africa; Josh Ayer, vice president and managing director, Asia-Pacific; Jeff Sherer, vice president and CFO; Don Bockoven, vice president, Global Operations; John Fitzgerald, vice president and CIO; Ken Fausnacht, vice president, Human Resources

Plants:

Apizaco, Mexico; Corvallis, OR; East Walpole, Mk, Easton, NY; Floyd, VA; Greenwich, NY; Hatzfeld, Germany; Hawkinsville, GA; Kentmere, U.K.; Suzhou, China; West Groton, MA; Winch-combe, U.K.

ISO status:

Apizaco, Mexico, ISO-9001:2008; Corvallis, OR, ISO 9001:2008; East Walpole, MA, ISO 9001:2008; Easton, NY, ISO 9001:2008; Floyd, VA, ISO 9001:2008; Greenwich, NY, ISO 9001:2008; Hatzfeld, Germany, ISO 9001:2008; Hawkinsville, GA, ISO 9001:2008 and AS 9100C; Kentmere, U.K., ISO 9001:2008; Suzhou, China, ISO 9001:2008; West Groton, MA, IS09001:2008; Winchcombe, U.K., ISO 9001:2008

Processes:

Wetlaid, meltblown, carded thermal bonded (point and flat calendered), latex bonded, through-air bonded, needlepunched, thermal lamination, aqueous and solvent-based saturation, nanofiber-webs, composites, webs incorporating functional particles

Brands:

AFM, AFN, AQF, AlphaPerm, AlphaSeal, Capaceon, Cycle-guard, DynaSeal, EnergyGuard, EnergyGuard Plus, Fastock, HiPerm, HiPerm Plus, H2oudini, Hovomat, Hovotex, Inviscint, Magnaseal, NanoWave, Nanoweb, PerForm, PurePerm, Stitch-backers, Technostat, Technostat Plus, Unisorb, ValPac, ViaMat, WailTek

Major Markets:

Engine and industrial filtration; high efficiency and specialty filtration; energy and industrial specialties

Reporting a 9% sales increase, Hollingsworth & Vose (H&V), a supplier of nonwovens to filtration and other specialty markets, saw sales reach $300 million in 2011 thanks largely to a balanced global customer base, local supply and steady growth in the Asian engine filtration market and the European HVAC and energy markets.

Josh Ayer, vice president and managing director of Asia and Pacific, sees growth in Chinese automobile manufacturing and heavy-duty equipment manufacturing--both key end uses of H&V's filtration media. "H&V's approach of producing in China for Chinese customers and for international companies based in China has helped us build our business," he explains.

H&V currently operates a site in Suzhou, China, where it is adding a new paper machine capable of producing filter media for engine and industrial applications. Coming on-stream by the end of the year, this line will be H&V's largest globally and will be designed with the full capabilities needed to serve the growing China and Asia-Pacific market with high quality, performance-based products.

In the engine filtration area, Ayer states that, "Chinese customers have outgrown local quality. The EPA in China is stronger and tougher in many cases than in the U.S. China has a five-year plan mandating fuel efficiency. H&V sells high-end products in China so the Chinese market is beginning to look like the U.S. and European market."

Meanwhile, Europe, Middle East and Africa reported a strong increase in the first half of 2011 with sales easing in the second half of 2012 due to European economic uncertainty, according to Jochem Hofstetter, vice president and managing director of Europe, Middle East and Africa.

While sales momentum has continued in filtration, energy and specialty markets, a number of new products have added to strong sales results. These include NanoWave, NanoWeb, MFM (Molecular Filtration Media) and Technostat Plus used in HVAC, engine, cabin air and specialty filtration applications, respectively.

In fact, an emphasis on higher value added products such as NanoWave and other composite products have helped H&V maintain its strength amid economic uncertainty and raw material price fluctuations. "H&V has responded to challenges in the global economy by focusing on continuous improvement efforts and increased focus on the execution of core projects," Hofstetter says. "The key factor that has contributed to these results is efficiency," adds Don Bockoven, vice president, Global Operations.

Despite these efforts, higher commodity prices in 2011 forced H&V to raise prices to customers in order to partially offset these expenses, according to Mitch Bregman, president, Energy and Industrial Specialties. H&V is starting to see competition from Asia, but the superior performance of products such as EnergyGuard has helped H&V ward off competition in the battery market.

In its Engine and Industrial Filtration segment, H&V has witnessed a global need for increased filtration driven by emission regulations, power needs, global affluence and health concerns. The worldwide trend of continued urbanization has resulted in the creation of new infrastructure. The infrastructure, in turn, supports the expansion of automobiles, roads and further urbanization--all of which drive increased filtration needs.

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"Other product development has focused on extending service intervals and making filters more space efficient in order to reduce the amount of waste products," says Bregman.

H&V's Capaceon meets both of these requirements, delivering 20-50% higher dust-holding capacity at equal basis weight, caliper and surface area. With Capaceon, new premium filter designs can provide equivalent or improved efficiency while also achieving longer filter life, lower pressure drop and energy savings throughout the lifetime of the filter.

H&V's NanoWeb for air applications offers energy efficiency and longer service life. It is designed with H&V's proprietary nanofiber technology to enhance particle capture efficiency at a minimal increase in pressure drop. NanoWeb media is designed for demanding air filtration applications, which call for long-lasting, extremely durable nanofiber media with high dirt-holding capacity for the toughest environments.

Meanwhile, H&V's High Efficiency and Specialty Filtration business continues to be strong in the gas turbine, energy markets and indoor air quality markets but has remained flat for other businesses. Today, there is an increased interest in higher efficiency (HEPA) synthetic media to improve uptime in gas turbine filtration. "NanoWave has gained traction in Europe due to newly ratified HVAC EN779-2012 standards," says Mike Clark, president, High Efficiency and Specialty Filtration. This standard relies on discharged efficiencies to simulate more rigorous longevity tests. NanoWave is the highest performing synthetic filter media providing mechanical filtration that outperforms glass mat in pocket filter applications.

NanoWave provides a broad technology platform for products being developed for various markets, including HVAC, gas turbine, air filtration and liquid filtration.

H&V's MFM (molecular filtration media) has experienced global growth due to an increased level of interest in HVAC gas phase filtration to remove pollutants or gases from the air. World-wide, there is an increased level of interest in improved indoor air quality, particularly in office buildings and in automobile cabin air. The benefit of MFM media is that it can capture smaller particles and remove pollutants and odors.

The many applications for TechnoStat Plus such as disk drives, cabin air, room air and medical devices, have kept product revenues on track. TechnoStat Plus media exhibits exceptionally low resistance, HEPA high efficiency and very high dust loading The new Technostat Plus delivers all the benefits of Technostat, plus higher efficiency for a given basis weight.

In 2011, H&V completed two major investments: a new line in Wmchcombe, U.K. and the Mark Hollingsworth Technology Center in Suzhou, China. The Winchcombe line began production as scheduled in the third quarter 2011 to supply, predominantly, the HESF and battery markets. This new line is a step change in performance and more than doubles H&V's European capacity of glass media.

"These investments (meltblown in Germany and glass fiber media in the U.K.) have added product capabilities and strengthened our position to support growth in key filtration and battery separator markets in EMEA," says Hofstetter.

Within the industrial specialty markets, recovery has been slower than in other areas, but 2011 sales were able to meet pre-recession levels. This recovery has been driven by a recovery in demand for heavy equipment and engine products, particularly for friction and gasket materials and the new products the company has developed for the home furnishings market. The U.S. auto recovery has helped business, as has the movement of a small number of apparel manufacturers back to the U.S. from Asia.

Advanced Fiber Nonwovens (AFN) has developed new surfacing veils for fiber-reinforced plastics for aerospace companies, automobile companies and the military. H&V has a new home furnishings business where the company has product design and manufacturing capabilities along with specially applications in packaging and labeling.

"Our product mix continues to move toward EnergyGuard as it is more durable and can be used in all applications," notes Bregman. Other upcoming market segments for H&V include power generation in the engine filtration division, start/stop AGM batteries in high-end automotives and HESF products for air cleaners, medical devices and appliances.

"H&V continues to grow geographically with substantial manufacturing investments," says John Madej, president, Engine and Industrial Filtration. "Expansion in all three main geographic markets is on track to meet expectations. Growth in our Engine and Industrial division sales tend to follow market trends in the overall transportation and power generation segments and both segments have grown well over the last few years."

13. Japan Vilene

Tokyo, Japan

www.vilene.co.jp

2011 Nonwovens Sales: $263 million

Key Personnel:

Toshio Yoshida, president; Yoshiaki Mizutani, managing director; Yasufumi Matsumiya, director; Masahir Kimura, director

Plants:

Shiga and Tokyo, Japan

Processes:

Resin bonded, needlepunched, thermal bonded, wetlaid, spunlaced, meltblown, tackspun

Total sales for Japan Vilene for the year ended March 2012 were $568 million, down 4%, while the nonwovens portion of these results were $263 million. According to executives, sales of clothing, medical materials and air conditioning materials have been increasing slowly, while sales in industrial and automotive markets have decreased. Additionally, Japan Vilene's performance was hurt by currency fluctuations, the European recession and natural disasters, including the major Japanese earthquake and tsunami of 2011 and flooding in Thailand.

Currently, $387 million of sales are conducted in Japan while $127 million are in North America, a 9% decrease) and $47.7 million are in Asia, a 24% increase.

In 2011, Japane Vilene established a new filter company in China and an automotive floor-mat manufacturing site in Mexico called VIAM Mexico.

The Chinese filter company, which Japan Vilene has established jointly with Freudenberg, is called Freudenberg & Vilene Filter Inc. in China, with both companies having an equal share. This company has already manufactured and marketed filters in Suzhou and Changchun, China, and a third production site is being established in Chengdu, in the Midwest region of China, where automotive and industrial markets are growing.

VIAM Mexico, which Japan Vilene owns fully, will begin making floor mats in October to serve U.S. and Japanese automotive makers that have established manufacturing bases in Mexico.

14. Companhia Providencia

Parana, Brazil

www.providencia.com.br

2011 Nonwovens Sales: $260 million

Key Personnel:

Herminio Freitas, president and CEO; Eduardo Feldmann, CFO; Alexandre Domeque, commercial director; Romeo Bregant, engineering and technology director, Fabio Kryzanovski, operational director

Plants:

Sao Jose dos Pinhais-Parana, Brazil; Pouso Alegre-Minas Gerais, Brazil; Statesville, NC

Processes:

Spunbond, SMS, meltblown, laminated nonwovens, printed nonwovens

Brands:

Kami, Protect, Protect Advanced, Protect Ultra, Kami-Soft

Major Markets:

Medical, agricultural, furniture and bedding, towel and coverlet, hygiene, filtration, wipes

With a new line up-and-running in Pouso Alegre, Brazil, and another one set to come on-stream in Statesville, NC, Brazil's Companhia Providencia is poised to increase its global output by 40% (40,000 tons) this year, reaffirming its spot among the top spunmelt manufacturers in the world.

This expansion comes after significant growth has already been recorded by the Parana-based company. In 2011, Providencia reported sales grew 16.2% to $260 million thanks largely to an 11.7% volume increase.

These increases can be attributed to the start-up of Providencia's first U.S. line, based in Stateville, NC, which came on-stream in late 2011. The new line not only added 20,000 tons to the company's operations, it also established its first manufacturing base outside of Brazil. In announcing the formation of a U.S. base in 2010, Providencia said the site would ease the strain on its Brazilian operations in meeting supply to North America, which already accounted for 20% of sales.

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And, it appears the new line has been a success, already reaching record outputs. A second line is already on schedule to be completed by the end of 2012, bringing another 20,000 tons to the North American markets, according to company documents.

Meanwhile, back in Brazil, Providencia completed work on a second production line in Puoso Alegre in June, adding 20,000 tons and tripling output at the site. This $63 million investment was announced in 2011 when executives said it would meet domestic market demand in the disposable hygiene and medical products segments.

Executives described the investment as a means to bolster its South American operations. "By the end of 2012, the region will account for more than 70% of the company's production capacity," says Herminio Freitas, CEO.

The Brazilian nonwovens segment has grown by an average of 10% over the past five years, greater than the 5% growth reported in the overall economy.

"We chose Pouso Alegre because it is a site which is logistically well placed to receive raw materials and rapidly meet the needs of our customers," Freitas says. "As well as having the advantage of already operating in the region, we also have access to a local reservoir of experienced labor."

Elsewhere in Brazil, Providencia operates an eight-line site in Sao Jose dos Pinhais, Brazil. While the company invested ambitiously in this site in the late 1990s and early 2000s, adding a new line nearly every other year, a line has not been added at this site recently as Providencia has instead focused on expansion elsewhere in Brazil and in North America.

As the company continues to invest in Brazil and the U.S., the former continues to be its largest market, representing about 60% of sales. This figure is expected to decrease as U.S. investments come on-stream, bringing the percentage of domestically made goods down. Still, the company expects growth to remain the strongest throughout Latin America.

15. First Quality Nonwovens

Great Neck, NY

www.firstquality.com

2011 Nonwovens Sales: $250 million

Plants:

Hazleton, PA; McElhattan, PA; Wuxi, China (planned)

Processes:

Spunmelt, spunlace

Applications:

Hygiene, medical

Recent news for forward integrated nonwovens supplier First Quality includes a Chinese investment plan. The company is moving forward with an ambitious expansion plan--a two-line facility in Wuxi, China, which will be the company's first operation outside the U.S.

According to executives at the tight-lipped nonwovens producer--which also makes diapers, feminine hygiene items and other consumer goods for the private label market--the company's investment in China is a clear demonstration of its commitment to the global nonwovens industry and its dedication to satisfying the needs of the domestic Chinese market by providing innovative and high quality products.

The first line is scheduled to be operational next year. It will be a multi-beam Reifenhauser machine incorporating the latest technology and enabling First Quality to provide premium nonwoven material to the hygiene and medical markets throughout Asia. Details on the second line will be announced in 2012.

Meanwhile, in the U.S., the Great Neck, NY-based company is said to make about 100,000 tons of spunmelt nonwovens at two plants in Pennsylvania and is rumored to have recently added two spunlace lines to its operation to fuel growth in the private label wipes segment. Much of this output supplies First Quality's massive private label business, which includes the former Covidien/Tyco diaper business purchased by the company in 2008, as well as its own interests in the private label feminine hygiene and adult incontinence market.

As First Quality continues to vie for a top spot in the disposable diaper market, it is unclear how much of its new Chinese investment will feed an expansion of its consumer products into Asia.

In other news, First Quality began making spunlaced nonwovens last year on a 3.6-meter-wide Rieter hydroentanglement line, which will reportedly feed its private label baby wipes business. The company is said to be adding a second line to this operation already. First Quality had previously concentrated its nonwovens business only on spunmelt technology. The company's eighth spunmelt line was added in late 2008. Beyond nonwovens, in August 2010, the company's baby care arm, First Quality Baby Products, LLC, said it would modernize its absorbent hygiene manufacturing facilities in Macon, GA, which was acquired with the Covidien deal.

16. Asahi Kasei

Osaka, Japan

www.asahi-kasei.co.jp/asahi/en

2011 Nonwovens Sales: $246 million

Key Personnel:

Toshio Takanashi, general manager, Nonwoven Fabrics Division; Katsuhiko Hinamoto, general manager, Spunbond Fabric Sales; Tetsuya Nakamura, general manager, Bemliese Sales

Plants:

Moriyama and Nobeoka, Japan

Processes:

Spunbond, meitbiown

Brands:

Eltas, Bemliese, Microweb, Smash, Precise

Major Markets:

Coverstock, wipes, gauze, packing, white blood corpuscle removing filters

On an annual basis, Japan's Asahi Kasei can make 13,000 tons of SMMS; 13,000 tons of polypropylene spunbond; 5,500 tons of polyester spunbond; 3,500 tons of nylon spunbond; 4,500 tons of cupra spunbond; 2,000 tons of compound spunbond nonwovens; and 200 tons of meitbiown nonwovens. Additionally, its Thai subsidiary, Asahi Kasei Spunbond Thailand (AKST), will start making spunbond nonwovens this month. Announced in 2011, this subsidiary will initially be able to make 20,000 tons of SMMS material per year and expansion could happen as early as 2014, depending on market conditions. The new site will serve Southeast Asia and India (60%), China (30%) and Japan (10%). End-use markets will be topsheets and backsheets for diapers.

According to Nonwovens Industry Far East correspondent, Kin Ohmura, polyester and nylon spunbond nonwovens showed favorable trends in 2011. Sales of Smash, Asahi's polyester spunbond nonwovens, increased in coffee filters due to its excellent thermoforming characteristics. Meanwhile, nylon spunbond nonwovens have been used as the packaging medium in a chemical-based, portable body warmer. Demand for this product has increased since the 2011 Tohoku earthquake in Japan and Asahi has increased production in line with this demand.

Bemliese, the cupra spunbonded nonwovens, has also performed well in 2011, largely in the skin care, face mask and sanitizing wipes markets where increases have offset softness in the technical windshield wiper maker. Demand for this product in skin care applications has been particularly strong in overseas markets such as China and Korea but domestic demand has also been consistent.

17. Buckeye Technologies

Memphis, TN

www.bkitech.com

2011 Nonwovens Sales: $239 million

Key Personnel:

Marko Rajamaa, senior vice president, Nonwovens; Michael Brown, nonwovens sales manager--Americas and Far East; Norbert Busch, nonwovens sales manager--Europe and Middle East

Plants:

North Carolina; Steinfurt, Germany

Processes:

Airlaid

Buckeye Technologies announced record sales for fiscal year 2012 even as its nonwovens business reported lower shipments. While total corporate sales increased 2% to reach $895 sales, the nonwovens division said sales were down from $264 million to $239 million for the year. Income within nonwovens decreased from $13.7 million to $11.7 million.

"Fiscal year 2012 was another year of record sales and earnings," says chairman and CEO John Crowe. "During the year, we continued to generate significant cash flow, allowing us to invest in high rate of return capital projects, return cash to our shareholders through dividends and share repurchases and essentially eliminate our debt. With a strong operating performance and actions taken to address underperforming assets, we delivered a return on invested capital (ROIC) in fiscal year 2012 of 16.5%, well above our cost of capital. While Buckeye is well positioned to continue to increase shareholder value, we believe that global economic uncertainty may generate a headwind for us in fiscal 2013."

As 2012 comes to a close, Buckeye will complete its plan, announced in June 2011, to close its Delta, British Columbia, Canada facility. When the closure was announced, Buckeye executives said the decision was made because it no longer made sense to operate the facility because of its unfavorable location relative to customers and raw material suppliers, as well as low capacity utilization. In 2010, the company had consolidated the site, which had been open since 1997, from a two-line operation to one, but this measure failed to make the facility cost effective.

Since the announcement was made, Buckeye has been transferring output from the Delta site. While some will go to Steinfurt, Germany, the bulk has gone to Buckeye's plant near Charlotte, NC.

Once the Delta closure is complete, Buckeye will operate only two sites--one in North Carolina where it operates a massive line with a capacity of 50,000 tons per year and another in Steinfurt, Germany. Buckeye had operated a facility in Cork, Ireland but closed that site in 2004.

In more recent divestment news, Buckeye sold its Merlin converting business in January 2012 to National Tissue Company, LLC and sold its Cotton Linter Pulp production in Brazil in June. At the time of these sales, executives announced proceeds would benefit strategic operations.

While nonwovens has not seen full blown capacity expansion recently, the company remains intent on its growth. One area where the company is quite bullish is in the flushable wipes market. In 2011, Buckeye launched a flushable wipe substrate--AIR-spun Flushable. This airlaid nonwoven substrate is designed for use in moist toilet tissue applications, a market Buckeye views as a strong growth prospect.

"AIRspun Flushable was designed to meet the performance criteria of our customers including the flushability guidelines set forth by the nonwovens industries associations in North America and Europe," Crowe says. "Additionally, the product is made predominantly with our own fluff pulp cellulose from renewable materials, so it fits well with our continued sustainability efforts."

Meanwhile, in personnel news, in July the company announced it was restructuring its executive management team following the announced resignation of president and COO Kristopher Maula, as well as the closure and sale of companies like Merfin.

Steven Dean, senior vice president and CFO, has been promoted to executive vice president, CFO; Douglas Dowdell, senior vice president, Specialty Fibers, has been promoted to executive vice president, Specialty Fibers. Terrence Reed, vice president, Human Resources, has been promoted to senior vice president, Human Resources.

18. Fibertex Personal Care A/S

Aalborg, Denmark

www.fibertexpersonalcare.com

2011 Nonwovens Sales: $229 million

Key Personnel:

Mikael Staal Axelsen, group CEO; Mette Due Sogaard, CTO, Denmark; Anders Sogaard, COO, Denmark; Kenneth Mynster Dolmer, CCO, Denmark; Claus Svanberg, CFO, Denmark; Peter Andersen, CEO, Malaysia; Peter Bach Sigvardt, COO, Malaysia; Ong Soo Fen, CFO, Malaysia

Plants:

Three lines in Denmark, three in Malaysia

Processes:

Spunbond/spunmelt

Brands:

Comfort, Elite, Dual

Major Markets:

Hygiene--applications within baby diapers, feminine care and adult incontinence

In 2011, Fibertex Personal Care began operating independently from Fibertex Nonwovens, which also made the Top Company ranking this year at number 35 (see page 88) . With facilities in Denmark and Malaysia, Fibertex Personal Care continues to make strategic investments, priming its operations for future growth.

Recognizing great potential in the developing Asia-Pacific region, the company has been expanding capacity in Malyasia, installing a third line in November of 2011, which will add about 22,000 tons of capacity per year. Mikael Staal Axelsen, group CEO, says he expects the line will be running at full capacity by the end of 2012.

The company also announced a $55 million investment in a fourth state-of-the-art production line in Malaysia that will increase total capacity by 30%, to 70,000 tons per year, over the next two years.

The Malaysia division performed very well in 2011, according to the 2011 annual report from parent company Schow & Co. Capacity utilization was high and production efficiency was satisfactory throughout the year. The challenge moving forward will be to utilize the greater production capacity while manufacturing products of high and uniform quality on a consistent basis.

Overall, Fibertex Personal Care's revenue increased from DKK 1.24 billion in 2010 to DICK 1.31 billion in 2011, driven by higher selling prices that were triggered by higher raw materials costs, the company says. However, earnings fell, due in part to weaker sales in Europe in the first half of the year.

Volumes declined during the year due in part to "changing buying patters of certain major customers, and certain Middle East markets were affected by political unrest in the region, causing a drop in sales," the annual report states.

While the company sees limited growth opportunities and strong price pressures in Europe, Asia represents solid opportunities for organic expansion in the coming years. "There is a clear overcapacity of spunmelt right now," Axelsen says of Europe. However, the company continues to develop value-added products at its Denmark facilities.

"We are looking to make our products more attractive in the market but in principle it's also important to cope with this over-capacity," notes Axelsen.

In its annual report, the company says it expects to generate revenue of about DICK 1.5-1.6 billion in 2012, pending changes in raw material costs, which have since stabilized.

As for company achievements to note, Fibertex Personal Care received a Business Partner Excellence Award from Procter & Gamble in 2011, which is given to top suppliers. This was the company's third such award. Axlesen says the recognition represents the company's commitment to high quality and service. "This is where we see our key strengths," he adds.

In April 2012, P&G also issued its environmental sustainability scorecard, which is designed to rate suppliers on key sustainability metrics across their supply chains. Fibertex Personal Care was among 17 companies that received the highest possible score.

This latest recognition from P&G exemplifies the company's focus on the environment. Fibertex Personal Care has made a significant effort to reduce its energy consumption and to change its processes in order to convert its heating source from electricity to natural gas.

The company's focus on energy consumption and cost savings has reduced carbon emissions per kilo of finished goods by about 20% over the past 10 years. The company is planning additional energy-saving projects for 2012 at factories in Denmark and Malaysia.

Additionally, as much as 95% of waste from production is reused, and the rest is incinerated for energy recovery purposes. The company intends to continue mapping its environmental footprint, applying lifecycle analysis and other tools to reduce its impact further.

In other company dealings, Fibertex Personal Care's joint venture (15% ownership) in Germany, Innowo, recently installed a second production line. The nonwoven printing company offers highly specialized, value-added prints that can be applied directly onto nonwovens in various applications via highly advanced technologies, says Axelsen.

19. Toray Advanced Materials Korea

Seoul, South Korea

www.torayamk.com

2011 Nonwovens Sales: $224 million

Key Personnel:

Y.K. Lee, president and CEO; W.S. Chun, vice president/head of fiber division; Hitoshi Takeuchi, senior director/fiber division; W.C. Hwang, senior director/fiber division; J.N. Kim, president of TPN; Y.K. Kim, president of TPJ

Plants:

Korea, China, Indonesia

Processes:

Spunbond PP (SS, SSS, SMS, SSMMS, SMMMS, bicomponent), PET (embossed and needlepunched)

Brands:

Livsen

Major Markets:

Hygiene, medical, protective apparel, industrial specialties, agricultural, upholstery, filtration, construction, geotextile

Sales surged 20% at bray Advanced Materials Korea (TAK) thanks to the successful startup of a second spunmelt line in Nantong, China in early 2011. The company's second Chinese line added 20,000 tons of capacity to the Chinese operation, bringing the total output to 38,000 tons per year. A third line is currently ramping up and expected to add another 20,000 tons. This third line makes Toray Polytech Nantong, the Chinese company, the largest supplier of spunbond nonwovens in China, allowing the company to capitalize on the region's strong growth potential.

"We estimate that the Asian market is growing for high quality polypropylene spunbond by more than 10% due to high demand for baby diapers," says Evan Lee, deputy general manager of the fiber marketing team. "This has made many polypropylene spunbond makers expand capacity to dominate in the growing Asian market and do more business in the Asian market. But we have a strong relationship with our customers and a good sales network that can continue to grow."

Elsewhere in Asia, TAK established an Indonesian company, Toray Polytech Jakarta, in 2011. At the time of the investment, executives said Indonesia was chosen because of its large population and strong economic growth.

The new site's first line, a five-beam polypropylene-based spunbond line is expected to be complete in March 2013, manufacturing 20,000 tons of nonwovens per year and significantly broadening TAK's footprint in Asia. "Once we finish this expansion, TAK can cover all of the Asian countries more promptly and safely from our three production sites in East Asia, China and South Asia," says Lee.

TAK's original manufacturing operation in Gumi, South Korea, manufactured 43,000 tons of polypropylene spunbond nonwovens for the hygiene market in a number of Asian markets, including Japan, Korea and China. While the company has not made any plans to expand its Korean factory recently because of the region's maturity in the polypropylene spunbond market, on the other hand, the company has operated its second polyester spunbond line for the geotextile, construction, filtration and other industrial markets since August 2012.

All of this investment is being driven largely by growth in the Asian economy, Lee says. "Because personal income in China, Indonesia and Vietnam is increasing quickly, the baby diaper market in Asia is also growing so quickly and this makes diaper makers invest aggressively. They want to have a better supply chain to meet their expansion plan."

Aside from adding two large lines to come on-stream, with 40,000 tons of capacity in China and Indonesia, TAK has not made any concrete expansion announcements yet. However, Lee did say the company will continue to invest at its sites in China and Indonesia until 2020 and a new investment in another emerging market is being examined. For now, success in China and ASEAN will be a top priority.

"We have more than 21 years of experience and know-how in the spunbond business and our mother company, Toray Group, has an excellent overseas network, which has helped our success," he says. "Among the global hygiene markets, there is not any other place like China or the ASEAN regions where the diaper business is growing so fast. That is why we chose those sites."

20. Mitsui Chemicals

Tokyo, Japan

www.mitsuiscom/jp

2011 Nonwovens Sales: $219 million

Key Personnel:

Kensaku Takahashi, general manager, spunbond fabrics division

Plants:

Yokkaichi and Iwakuni, Japan

Processes:

Spunbond, meltblown, needlepunch, thermal bonded

Brands:

Tafnel, Syntex

Major Markets:

Coverstock, geotextiles, oil absorbing materials, air filters, wipes, agriculture materials, household materials

Annually, Mitsui Chemicals produces 40,000 tons of polypropylene spunbond nonwovens on five lines and 9,000 tons of SMS on one line--all in Japan. Additionally, MHM, the company's Thai subsidiary, makes 30,000 tons of SMS on two lines.

The company's latest line, which produces 15,000 tons per year, was added in Japan in April 2012. Additionally, the company has established a Chinese subsidiary in December 2011. The first line in this subsidiary, which also produces 15,000 tons per year, is expected to start operation in December 2013 in Tianjin. Once this line is complete, the company will have manufacturing assets in Japan, China and Thailand, giving it greater access to the entire Asian region. This will allow the company to capitalize on increased demand for diapers in Southeast Asia and China.

The new Chinese line will match the same high quality as Mitsui's assets in Japan to meet demand for sophisticated diapers whereas the lines in Thailand make more general-purpose nonwovens. According to reports, Mitsui chose to make varying grades of nonwovens in China and Thailand due to free trade agreements between the countries that have reduced import duties. This allows the two sites to supply each other depending on market needs.

A producer of polypropylene polymers, Mitsui is able to make unique nonwovens, superior to competitors that use similar Reifenhauser technology, executives say. This gives the company an advantage in markets like baby diapers, feminine hygiene items, adult incontinence and medical.

21. Colbond

Arnhem, The Netherlands

www.colbond.com

2011 Nonwovens Sales: $210 million

Key Personnel:

Orwig Speltdoorn, managing director; Bart Austin, deputy managing director; Mike Holt, interim CFO; Marc Krauth, global business director, Floor Coverings and Building & Industry; Steven van Herreweghe, director sales and marketing, Civil Engineering loop Klaasse, director human resources; Paul Desmet, director HSE

Plants:

Emmen and Arnhem, the Netherlands; Obernburg, Germany; Asheville, NC

Processes:

Extruded, spunbond, thermal bonded and specialties

Brands:

Colback, Enkamat, Enkadrain, Colbonddrain, Enkagrid, Enka-Spacer, Enka-Channel, EnkaRetain & Drain

Major Markets:

Flooring, automotive, filtration, roofing civil engineering, building and various industrial applications

While Colbond executives do not release their annual nonwovens sales, they would say that 2011 sales showed healthy double digit growth compared to 2010. This was particularly true during the first half of the year when demand was at a high level across virtually all its key markets. In the second half, Colbond witnessed some slow-down, but shipments and sales were still at a very satisfactory level--a trend that has continued this year, according to managing director Orwig Speltdoorn. "We are facing a number of macroeconomic challenges in Europe, but benefit from the recovery of the North American housing market," he says. "Also, strong demand in Asia-Pacific, especially during the first months of 2012, has contributed to Colbond's sales growth."

Also contributing to this sales growth are product leadership as well as innovation in processes, services and products, which add value to existing and new customers, Speltdoom continues. Sales growth came from new products like Colback Green, which reached full commercial scale last year, as well as Colbond's ability to tailor products to suit specific process requirements.

Moving forward, Colbond's merger with Bonar Technical Fabrics, another company owned by Low & Bonar, is expected to influence earnings positively by exploiting synergies existing in both businesses. The new company will create a more global organization with the scale and capabilities required to grow in emerging markets and reinforce the group's positions in Europe and North America. "Synergies in our organization and approach to market will create opportunities to react even quicker on changing market demands," Speltdoom says. "In the short run, our sales are expected to take advantage of cross-selling potential. Also, our new business development programs will benefit from the enriched technology base and expertise available in the joint business."

Announced in March, the merger has not impacted the day-to-day operation of Colbond's industrial nonwovens business in existing markets. However, examples of expected synergies have already been seen. In civil engineering Colbond has already started to take advantage of one sales and customer support network, offering a full package of high performance geotechnical products. Meanwhile, in industrial markets, the wider global reach has provided the company with a stronger platform for the generation of market knowledge to prepare the next phase of the global expansion of the group.

Getting back to Colbond's existing business, the strongest growth was seen in flooring and building where the company has been able to exploit the benefits of its product leadership position, particularly in carpet tiles, which continue to be the strongest growing segment.

Launched at Domotex 2011, Colback Green has completed its full commercial year and executives report that demand for this backing, which is made of 100% recycled content, has stabilized at a high level. "Colback Green has become a strategically important product for an increasing part of our customer base. Building on the success of Colback Green, environmental sustainability has remained a key driver in our innovation programs in North America and Europe," Speltdoorn says.

Colbond is hoping to build on this success with Colback Pro-floor, a new backing that delivers benefits during carpet manufacture and service life alike. Based on a new polymer composition, Colback Profloor facilitates softer tufting, improved stitch holding and optimum dimensional stability of the finished carpet. After extensive testing by several key customers, the product was introduced for the first lime to a wider public at Domotex this last January and is now running on full commercial scale. Colbond is already planning its next flooring innovation to be launched at next year's Domotex show.

Colbond's North American flooring buisnes is also benefitting from additional yam spinning capacity in Asheville, NC, which was completed as planned in the first quarter of 2012. According to Speltdoom, the investment not only increased capacity but also created new manufacturing capabilities, including the processing of new polymers and recycled raw materials.

Speltdoom describes growth in automotives as satisfactory, but he admits this growth has slowed somewhat due to the shift of demand for car brands in Asia. In North America, Colbond was able to benefit from the recovery of the local automotive market while business has remained stable in Europe.

According to Speltdoom, Colback offers many benefits to automotive makers when it comes to maximizing product performance. Colback Pro is a backing for molded tufted car carpet designed to facilitate the manufacture of complex geometries at minimal molding cycles and still delivers excellent stability for the finished carpet. As a lightweight, yet high performance carrier it contributes to a reduction of the total cost and delivers environmental benefits.

Also strong has been demand for Colbadc and Colfors in roofing, underpinning product leadership value proposition. Here, Colbond supplies high performance reinforcements for waterproof bituminous roofing membranes, which has benefited most from the new capacity that has come on-stream in the Netherlands in the first quarter of last year.

Colbond's civil engineering business has grown despite the somewhat sluggish European construction market. According to executives, soil reinforcement and consolidation businesses have developed satisfactorily, especially in structural drainage. In North America, the company was able to secure major erosion control projects with reinforced variants of its Enkamat erosion prevention mat.

The most important activity in Colbond's building segment recently was the acquisition of the Germany-based Xeroflor International in March 2012. The company, which will continue its operation as Xeroflor Green Solutions, is a pioneer in the development of pre-vegetated green roof systems, which are distributed through a network of exclusive license holders. "By bringing together the product development and technology expertise of Xeroflor with the organizational resources and worldwide sales network of Colbond, Xeroflor Green Solutions is expected to grow substantially during the coming years," Speltdoorn says. "Key drivers will be product differentiation and diversification targeted at new market segments as well as geographic expansion."

The Colback filtration business has also developed steadily as leading filter media manufacturers confirm the specific properties of Colback make it particularly suitable for use as a filter medium support layer and prefilter. "In close cooperation with a number of key customers we have optimized our product and service offering for this market. The share of Colback in the filtration market is growing underpinning the success of these efforts," Speltdoorn explains.

22. Pegas Nonwovens

Znojmo, Czech Republic

www.pegas.cz

2011 Nonwovens Sales: $203 million

Key Personnel:

Frantisek Rezac, CEO; Frantisek Klaska, technical director; Marian Rasik, CFO; Rostislav Vrbacky, production director

Plants:

Znojmo and Bucovice, Czech Republic

Processes:

Spunbond, meltblown, SMS, bicomponent

Major Markets:

Hygiene, agriculture, healthcare, ecology, furniture, building, protective apparel, industrial

As it awaits the startup of its first foreign investment, an Egyptian production facility, Czech Republic-based Pegas Nonwovens reported an impressive 12% jump in sales last year. Growth was attributed largely to the year-on-year increase of polymer prices and the startup of the company's latest Czech production line, which began operation during the third quarter. At the same time, earnings measured by EBITDA increased 2.4% thanks largely to the new product line, which offset a slowdown in demand in the European nonwovens industry during the last quarter of the year.

Currently, the majority of Pegas' business is conducted in the broader European area but growth is expected to come in developing regions--something the company has prepared for by investing in the aforementioned Egyptian manufacturing site, which is set to become operational in the second half of 2013, according to CEO Frantisek Rezac. "To date, the entire project is proceeding according to the time schedule," he says. "The new line moves the company from its current position as a major European nonwoven textile manufacturer to a company with a more global scope of operation and a focus on fast growing developing markets."

Already, Pegas is considering a second line at the site in 2015-16, although no final decision will be made on this investment until closer to the date.

For now, all of Pegas' nonwovens are made on nine lines at two plants in the Czech Republic. The company's latest line came on-line on schedule during the second half of 2011, featuring the most advanced technology that Pegas has had at its disposal to date and will strengthen its position as one of the technological leaders in the nonwoven textile production segment. "Apart from increasing our production capacity of ultralight materials, this technology makes it possible for us to offer our customers new bicomponent nonwoven textiles and other special materials, which are planned to go into commercial production this year and in the years ahead," Rezac explains.

Reporting that the company sold out nearly 100% of its capacity this year, including the new line, Rezac adds that he is not phased by the onslaught of spunmelt capacity coming on-stream to target the global hygiene market. "The majority of Pegas' business is done in the broader European area where supply and demand is more or less balanced with just a minor overcapacity," Rezac says. "New capacity installations should not significantly impact Europe but rather other regions, so we do not expect any changes in our core markets in the short or medium term. Besides, transportation costs to some extent limit the possibilities of imports into Europe."

Currently, 52.7% of its sales are conducted in Western Europe while 43.5% are targeted at Central and Eastern Europe and Russia. Only 3.8% of sales are made beyond Europe, a percentage that will increase once the Egyptian site comes on-stream.

"Pegas has in-depth knowledge and know-how in the business environment in the Czech Republic and Europe as a whole," Rezac notes. "Indeed, the new localization of a production facility outside of the Czech Republic has brought on new challenges."

To meet these challenges, Pegas will rely on its expertise in constructing new facilities and production lines and will hire qualified local personnel to operate them. Now, as the company gets its feet wet with global expansion, it will continue to look for investment opportunities to fuel its growth, as well as its expansion outside of the Czech Republic. "The aim of the company is to follow its key customers to areas of their production facilities expansion," Rezac explains. "We perceive the Egyptian project as a good ground for further projects of similar scope, however, at the moment we have to successfully finish this first project."

23. Jacob Holm Industries

Basel, Switzerland

www.jacob-holm.com

2011 Nonwovens Sales: $192 million

Key Personnel:

Foul Mikkelsen, chairman; Stephen Landon, president and COO; Finn Schoning, group controller; Richard Knowlson, global product development director; Alexis Porcher, global commercial manager; Ginny Casstevens, vice president, sales and new business development--Americas; Chip Holton, vice president, Operations USA; Gilles Hourlier, vice president, Operations--France

Plants:

Candler, NC; Soultz, France

Processes:

Hydroentangling

Brands:

Lidro, Rough N Soft, TAU

Major Markets:

Personal care, home care, hygiene, packaging specialty and technical industrial applications

Sales continued to climb at Jacob Holm Industries in 2011. The Swiss nonwovens producer with manufacturing sites in Candler, NC, and Soultz, France, reported sales increased 16% to $192 million due largely to a changing product mix, favorable exchange rates and raw material pricing.

"Our ability to produce lightweight substrates with high functionality continues to drive our success in the hygiene market specifically within diaper component and feminine hygiene applications," says Stephen Landon, president and COO. "In addition, our lightweight capabilities have proven successful in the wipes category by allowing our customers to offer premium, lighter weight wipes to the market at a lower cost without compromising quality. These combined successes have allowed us to capitalize on many opportunities within the global market."

Some other factors influencing success include the ability to offer alternative, more cost-efficient fibers such as regenerated cotton, as well as the ability to supply premium, lighter weight products matching or exceeding product specifications, he adds.

Currently, about 65-70% of Holm's overall capacity is sold into the global wipes market while the balance is primarily sold into the hygiene market for diaper components and feminine hygiene applications. While efforts to diversify beyond wipes have been strong in recent years, Holm continues to develop new products in its core wipes business. These include 100% synthetic wipes with an apertured or smooth surface for disinfecting applications, a variety of premium lightweight wipes that range from 30-40 gsm using specialty fibers and a new range of 100% cellulosic/sustainable products.

This has helped Holm in wipes, which Landon still describes as a global growth market, albeit one with very pressurized margins, particularly in developed markets. "Converters are constantly looking for cost savings and this provides a need for constant product reinvention," he explains. "The market also seems to have segmented into specific tiers of premium and low cost wipes with innovation and differentiation being valued in the premium tier."

Meanwhile, Holm has expanded its processing capabilities beyond lightweight hygiene applications to deliver mid- to heavyweight products for industrial applications like automotives, apparel and furniture, areas that have traditionally used needlepunch fabrics. In the lightweight hygiene category, Holm continues to push the lowest basis weight limits that spunlace can supply, now targeting 20 gsm and lower, in order to compete with alternate nonwoven technologies while providing spunlace performance.

Efforts like these have helped Holm continue to grow during the past several years without adding new capacity. The company's most recent investment, a large line in North Carolina, was added in 2006, and has been running at sold-out status for several years, but to date the company has announced no final plans for a second line at the site.

According to Landon, in 2011, the company reviewed a few specific acquisition opportunities, which did not close. Instead, the key for Jacob Holm has been, and will remain, maintaining a bench-mark capability in target market segments of premium wipes and hygiene. "Specifically, this has involved upgrading existing lines to process many alternate fibers and lightweight spunlace for hygiene plus the reduction of waste and energy consumption," he adds.

This strategy also encompasses Europe, where a focus has been on both innovation and operational efficiency. "In an overcapacity marketplace, it has been critical to differentiate and at the same time we have invested to ensure our lines remain competitive with the very latest technology," Landon adds.

While Jacob Holm provides a breakdown of sales from its manufacturing bases--the U.S. accounts for $91 million while Europe $101 million--it will not provide information on its global scope. However, the company says it has seen promise in Latin America as well as in certain Southeast Asian markets.

Meanwhile, the company has restructured its North American sales team to focus and grow its presence in both North and South America as it supports the rollout of next generation premium wipe products. Additionally, the company has increased its North American sales team to focus on new market opportunities for industrial applications where it sees its ability to process 100% synthetic fiber products at high efficiencies as a strength.

"Jacob Holm continues to invest heavily in product development activities and to differentiate itself it in its core wipes business, its growing hygiene segment, as well as supporting new industrial opportunities," Landon continues. "Additional resources were added to the product development group in both North America and Europe and higher levels of machine trial times were made available."

24. Union Industries

Masserano, Italy

2011 Nonwovens Sales: $184 million

Key Personnel:

Matteo Moltrasio, vice president; Luigi Cassano, managing director; Alessandro Taramasso, commercial director

Plants:

Masserano and Biella, Italy

Processes:

Spunbond, spunmelt, carded, thermal bonded, apertured

Brands:

Spundouce

Major Markets:

Hygiene, wipes, medical, agricultural, industrial

Sales increased 25% to [euro]132 million ($184 million) for Masserano, Italy-based Union Industries due mainly to the continued allocation of a new production line, which came on-stream as planned in the third quarter of 2010 and started making nonwovens mainly for hygiene applications during the fourth quarter, as well as increased raw material prices.

The new line, a state-of-the-art Reicofil spunmelt line, added 24,000 tons per year to Union's operation, bringing its total output to 84,000 tons per year.

With the European nonwovens market seeing an overcapacity situation in many commoditized areas, Union has been focusing on adding specialty applications to its traditional products. "Union is focusing on specialties, aiming to bring innovative products to the market," says Matteo Moltrasio, vice president, adding the company will evaluate a development plan in the early months of 2013, considering global nonwovens consumption.

In addition to growth, Union Industries has focused on improving the environmental footprint of its operation. In fact, one major goal achieved by the company from January 2011 is sourcing 100% of the energy consumed from renewable sources, Moltrasio adds.

25. Toyobo

Osaka, Japan

www.toyobo.co.jp

2011 Nonwovens Sales: $164 million

Key Personnel:

Shigeki Tanaka, general manager of spunbond division; Akio Oda, president

Plants:

Tsuruga, Iwakuni and Shiga, Japan

Processes:

Spunbond, needlepunch, resin bonded, spunlaced, thermal bonded, stitch bonded

Brands:

Volans, Ecule, Bonden, Kurelock, Dynac

Major Markets:

Geotextiles, roofing sheets, carpet backings, automotive interiors, automotive filters, needlepunch carpets, hot melt bonding sheets, plaster bases

Production capacity of polyester spunbond nonwovens at Toyobo is 12,000 tons per year. Kureha, a subsidiary of Toyobo, produces resin bonded, needlepunch, thermal bonded and spunbond nonwovens with a capacity of 7,000 tons per year. Yuho, also a subsidiary of Toyobo, has made needlepunched, spunlaced and stitch bonded nonwovens with a capacity of about 3,000 tons per year.

Polyester spunbond nonwovens made by Toyobo are largely sold for automotive applications. Sales have been mostly flat during the last year despite the recovery seen during the second half.

Kureha also sells a large amount of nonwovens for automotives and has been affected by a reduction in domestic demand caused by an increase in overseas production. This has led Kureha to focus on new product development.

One area of success has been in automotive filters, a product Kureha makes in both Japan and Thailand, which aids in supply to China. Additionally, the company plans to begin manufacturing of automotive filter material in Taiwan by the end of 2012, which will also supply the Chinese market.

26. Vita Nonwovens

London, U.K.

www.vitausa.com

2011 Nonwovens Sales: $159 million

Key Personnel:

Joe Menendez, Vita Group CEO; Wim Wamier, Vita Nonwovens CEO

Plants:

Belgium, France, Sweden, U.S.

Processes:

Drylaid, chemical bonded, thermal bonded, needlefelt, through air bonded, impregnation

Sales increased slightly to $159 million at Vita Nonwovens amid volatile raw material prices and stable volumes and market shares, as the company continued to focus on product diversification throughout all of its core markets.

In hygiene, this focus led to the launch of a new generation of acquisition and distribution layer material, branded Slimcore, in April 2011. In building and construction, Vita developed insulation materials under the Infinso and Enguard brand names in Europe and the U.S, respectively; and new wheelhouse liners and underbodies have been developed for the automotive sector. "All of this new product development has contributed to margin improvement," explains spokeswoman Alison Vesey. "The nonwovens division anticipates further innovation-driven growth in these segments during 2012 despite the challenging macroeconomic environment."

In 2011, earnings were slightly weaker for Vita Nonwovens due to rising raw material prices. To help support itself, Vita Nonwovens--in addition to product diversification--was able to raise prices to some extent.

With manufacturing sites in Indiana, North Carolina, Texas, France, Belgium and Sweden, Vita Nonwovens continues to operate on a global platform, a fact that has helped its business weather macroeconomic pressures. For instance, while furniture and bedding saw weakening demand in traditional markets like the U.S. and Western Europe, sales to Eastern Europe were strong. Likewise, hygiene sales continued to increase in new territories like the Middle East and North Africa.

The developed world has also seen its share of triumphs, including North America, where Vita's strong management team has allowed it to remain successful even in the downturn, Vesey reports. "Constant focus on markets and customers has led new business development initiatives into automotive and insulation markets. This, coupled with lean management programs, waste reduction efforts and improved supply chain efficiency initiatives has enabled the business to drive forward, despite the economic conditions."

In recent months, Vita has taken measures to boost this business further with investments at its site in Fort Wayne, IN, to support growth in the automotive industry. These include an extension of the company's capacity and converting capabilities.

Meanwhile, in Europe, the group continues to focus on new lean management programs, waste reduction efforts and improved supply chain efficiency to drive margin improvements and mitigate raw material and energy price increases. In addition, Vita has made a number of investments at these sites to help grow its business with more differentiated value added products, which has proven to be a sound strategy, according to Vesey.

27. Georgia-Pacific

Atlanta, GA

www.gp.com

2011 Nonwovens Sales: $152 million

Plants:

Green Bay, WI (two facilities)

Processes:

Airlaid, carded

Brands:

Airtex, Dritex

Major Markets:

Baby wipes, industrial and food service wipes, feminine hygiene, absorbent cores, tabletop, medical, moist toilet tissue, meat packaging

The year 2012 has been all about divestments for Georgia-Pacific (GP). In January, the Lucart Group finalized the takeover of GP's tissue and airlaid business in Italy, changing the company's name to Airtissue srl. Additionally, GP finalized the sale of its European tissue business to SCA in 2012. According to executives, consumer tissue represented 60% of European tissue sales while away-from-home sales represented 30% and personal care products like cleansing pads and wipes accounted for about 5%.

Still, GP, which has been owned by Koch Industries since late 2005, continues to operate a sizable business in North America. While it is certainly best known for its paper and tissue businesses in both the retail and away-from-home sectors, the Atlanta, GA-based company is one of the world's most successful users of airlaid technology. Its output targets both its own end product business as well as external businesses in the baby wipes, industrial and food service wipes, feminine hygiene, absorbent core, tabletop, medical, moist toilet tissue and meat packaging segments.

Meanwhile, GP's nonwovens business, which centers on airlaid technology, has continued to perform well by improving its production and reducing costs despite challenging raw material prices.

The company benefited from existing contracts, put in place before raw material prices escalated, which kept their impact in check. Additionally, Georgia-Pacific has been successful in unearthing new market segments for its airlaid technology that had been using other materials. These markets were typically using technology that was more expensive than airlaid but the company was able to show how pulp can perform just as well at a lower cost, according to executives.

Successful efforts included reduction in emissions, improved wastewater treatment systems and improved energy efficiency.

28. Andrew Industries

Manchester, U.K.

www.andrewindustries.com

2011 Nonwovens Sales: $150 million

Key Personnel:

John Lewis, president, Southern Felt; Mike Konesky, vice president, Sales & Marketing, Southern Felt

Plants:

South Carolina, China, U.K., India

Processes:

Needlepunch, thermal bond, chemical finishes

Brands:

Fiberlox, Microfelt, Checkstatic, Powertech, Powerlox, Pleatlox

Major Markets:

Filtration, technical felts, laundry products

Global economic conditions were blamed for stagnant sales at U.K.-based filtration media maker Andrew Industries last year. Despite modest growth in new products around the company, sales were reported flat at $150 million.

"The baghouse market remains highly competitive and some areas have rebounded nicely since the recession of 2008," says John Lewis, president of Southern Felt, Andrew's U.S. arm. "The asphalt market remains slower than normal due to the lack of spending on highway infrastructure. Other high temperature markets such as PPS will become more active as utility companies upgrade facilities to meet new air standards put fort by the EPA."

In the U.S., Southern Felt has operations in North Augusta, SC, while in China, Andrew operates as China Felt and has recently acquired a business in Wuxi. Andrew's U.K. operations are known as Andrew Webron. Nearly all of its business targets the baghouse filtration market, however, in 2011 the company diversified its business through the acquisition of Ahlstrom's dust and automotive filtration business in Bethune, SC, and Wuxi, China. According to Lewis, the acquisition has also given Andrew a strong foothold in the liquid filtration market, specifically automotive transmission filter media.

Meanwhile, in its core needlepunch business, Andrew is adding a state-of-the-art needlepunch line at its Southern Felt site in North Augusta. This $5.5 million investment is part of a continued effort to add capacity as well as invest in the latest equipment innovations. Also in North Augusta, Andrew's Bondex business has broken ground and will expand its facility to include a coating and laminating line for electrical insulation and specialist packaging products that complement its thermal bonded products. Meanwhile, in the U.K., Andrew Webron invested in ePTFE laminating equipment last fall, giving it the ability to offer high quality ePTFE membrane laminated felts and fabrics in Europe.

In China, Andrew continues to operate two manufacturing plants: China Felt, which it established in Qingpu seven years ago; and Andrew Wuxi, which was purchased from Ahlstrom. Since buying the Wuxi site in March 2011, Andrew has invested heavily in the site where improvements include a state-of-the-art needlepunch line specifically for PTFE filter media. "This was a very significant investment that enables us to be the leader in the fast growing PTFE filter media market in China," Lewis says. "We have also diversified into the liquid filtration market in Wuxi where we made felts for automotive transmissions."

While the Chinese market has cooled significantly, Andrew still expects to see growth of 5-8% annually (compared to 10-15% previously).

Beyond China, the next spot on Andrew's radar is India, where it intends to open a converting operation. This facility will produce filter bags, made from both felt and fiberglass, for the growing India market, which is strategically important to Andrew due to demand for high quality filter bags as well as huge market growth potential.

In terms of technology, Andrew has been seeking ways to diversify its business and plans are now underway to expand into hydroentangling. The company's first 3-meter-wide hydroentangling line will likely come on-stream in mid-2014, allowing Andrew to bring innovative filtration products to the global market. "We will certainly focus on niche markets where we can excel and our filtration expertise can be fully utilized," Lewis adds.

28. Textilgruppe Hof AG

Hof/Saale, Germany

www.textilgruppehof.com

2011 Nonwovens Sales: $150 million

* including sales from Indian joint venture

eswegee Vliesstoff GmbH

Hof/Saale, Germany

www.eswegee.com

Techtex GmbHVliesstoffe

Mittweida, Germany

www.textilgruppehol.com

Hof Textiles, Inc.

Lincolnton, NC

www.textilgruppehot.com

Key Personnel:

Harald Stini, managing director; Detlev Kappel, managing director of Techtex and global sales director eswegee, Technical Nonwovens; Lothar Hackler, president of Hof Textiles, Inc.

Plants:

Hof/Saale, Germany; Reichenbach, Germany, Mittweida, Germany; Lincolnton, NC

Processes:

Drylaid, thermal bonded, needlepunched, saturate bonded, stitchbonded, spunlace

Brands:

Variopoint, Unipoint, Unisoft, Zetafelt, Zetastitch, Zetafil, Zetawatt, Florbond, Zetabond, Zetajet, Zetatherm, Zetamold, Maliwatt, Malivlies, Kunit, Multiknit eswegee 2000 series, Bassopoint

Major Markets:

Acoustics, automotive, filtration, roofing, industrial, interlinings

Overall sales growth for Hof's nonwoven division continued in 2011 for all market segments, according to company management. While the economic environment--especially in the automotives sector--allowed for growth, the company's corporate strategy in terms of investments and capacity expansions has also paved a path to gain future market share, says Harald Stini, managing director.

"Other reasons for our success in 2011 were our strong customer commitment and close relationships through a year of high demand, particularly in the automotive area," says Detlev Kappel, managing director of Techtex and global sales director of eswegee. "Whereas some of our competitors struggled to fulfill their delivery commitments to their customers, Hof was able to stick to its customer agreements and delivery schedules."

Major challenges in 2011 included a significant increase in the cost of raw materials, notes Stini. "However, we managed together with our customers to achieve a win-win-situation by external balanced price adjustments and internal savings through higher productivity and alternative material solutions."

The company's Hof plant ran up to capacity in 2011 for all nonwovens technologies (binder-bonded, thermally-bonded, needle-punched). New products include lightweight needle-punched nonwovens for automotive applications and other industrial markets such as filtration and construction, as well as new lightweight interlining styles designed to keep up with the latest fashion trends for fabrics.

The spunlace plant at Reichenbach ran 24 hours per day, seven days a week and products designed for industrial applications have been well accepted by the market. "Due to our own tailor-made machinery, we are able to run products from 35-400 gsm," Kappel notes. "The specific fiber orientation contributes to good coverage at low weight and enhanced acoustic properties, which is requested for final automotive parts."

"Corporate plans for capacity expansions for all technologies both at Hof and Reichenbach are on the table and will be decided by our management within 2012," says Stini.

The company's interlining business stabilized and will be a strategic market segment in the future, says Stini. "Although market conditions for Europe are not very rosy, we are convinced that not all demand can be covered by Asia. And with our joint venture in India we have all the prerequisites needed to grow further, especially in Asia Talking about India, we can also add that further market growth was achieved with our joint venture in 2011 and we still see more opportunities for the forthcoming years."

Significant building investments and capacity expansions were implemented in 2011 at the Techtex stitchbonded plant in Mittweida, Germany. The company increased capacity for all technologies utilized, Malivlies, Maliwatt, Kunit and Multiknit. Applications for this overlapping stitchbonded technology include interior facings for trim parts such as headliners or package trays, as well as foam replacement styles in car seats (under the woven seat fabric and/or under leather).

BMW, Audi and Mercedes brands have recognized the specific features of this product line, which provides good air permeability, less fogging, comfortable seating climate, recyclability and cost savings compared to other sandwich constructions, the company says. Hof has also developed a new product group that can be laminated under genuine leather as well as for PUR artificial leather seats.

"Stitchbonded nonwoven for cable harnessing in automotive is another strategic market segment where our products provide good abrasion resistance, acoustic and insulation features," notes Kappel.

Hof has also undertaken plans to position itself within the Chinese automobile market, which has become the largest globally in terms of production units. Due to confidentiality reasons, specific plans may not be released until later this year.

Hof Textiles Inc., based in Lincolnton, NC, is a nonwovens supplier of thermal and acoustic components for the North American automotive industry. Innovation and growth are supported by numerous investments in new technology and capacity to increase the value of Hof nonwovens for customers, resulting in strong 45% growth for the company's core automotives business.

Demand in the North American automotives industry for advanced thermal and acoustic componentry nonwovens continues to be strong and the company says it will continue to respond with major investments in additional capacity and new innovative products. According to Lothar Hackler of Hof Textiles, the business will double current production capacity within the next 18 months to support aggressive growth targets.

30. Propex holdings

Chattanooga, GA

www.propexinc.com

2011 Nonwovens Sales: $140 million

Key Personnel:

Michael Gorey, president and CEO, Ralph Bruno, executive vice president, Sales and Marketing; Martin deVries, executive vice president and CFO

Plants:

Ringgold, GA

Processes:

Needlepunch Major

Markets:

Geosynthetics, flooring, furniture and bedding, automotive, agri-culture, laminates, vinyl substrates, sorbents

An adjustment in production demand, a relocation and an investment for growth are among recent headlines issued by needlepunch producer Propex Operating Company. Just last month, the Chattanooga, TN-based company announced it had retained the services of The Highland Group, a global consulting firm with expertise in implementation and operational excellence.

"Earlier this year, we introduced the new Propex logo and new tagline, 'The Evolution of Infrastructure," says Ralph Bruno, executive vice president of sales and marketing. "To enhance the acceleration of this initiative, we have retained the services of the Highland Group."

The Highland Group will assist Propex in gathering input through in-person visits and phone interviews with key market stakeholders. Together, the Highland Group and Propex will decide how to combine products, brands, engineering services and a world-class distribution network.

A leader in needlepunch technology, Propex is owned by a private investment fund managed by Wayzata Investment Partners, a Minneapolis, MN-based private equity firm. Wayzata purchased Propex in 2009 after a restructuring process. Under this new ownership, the firm has continued its strategy of aggressively pursuing business opportunities in existing markets.

One recent development was the launch of Gridpro Biaxial and Uniaxial geogrids for the geosynthetics market. These geogrids are manufactured to meet all industry specifications and help build on Propex's promise to deliver the most complete portfolio of products to the industry.

Also included in Propex's geosynethics range, which is manufactured in Ringgold, GA, are woven and nonwoven erosion control products.

In June, the company announced it was adjusting its production schedule in response to weakness in the geotextile market, caused by lower precipitation levels, a few abnormal weather events and reductions in military and government spending.

"As part of our strategic growth initiative, balancing production levels with marketplace demand will help to establish discipline in the geotextile and infrastructure markets that we serve," says Mike Gorey, president and CEO.

Beyond geotextiles, Propex serves the flooring, furniture, bedding, automotive, agriculture, laminates, vinyl substrates and sorbents markets.

Within roofing, Propex launched its Opus Roof Blanket at the 2010 International Roofing Expo in New Orleans, LA. This blanket, which was in development and testing for the last six years with constant feedback from roofing contractors, creates an entirely new category in roofing underlayment.

"Unlike felt paper and plastic sheeting underlayment, Opus Roof Blanket was developed with roofing contractors in mind," notes Bruno. "The unique composition of Opus gives it the most slip-resistant surface technology, meeting a top concern for roofing contractors. Additionally, the one-of-a-kind 'blanket' surface makes it easy for roofers to snap a chalk line."

In addition to these benefits, Bruno says roofers can expect to see many more advantages versus felt paper and plastic sheeting underlayment when they use Opus on their next job. "Opus is lightweight and easier to work with, cleaner with less wasted material, provides more coverage per roll and is faster to install."

Meanwhile, in the carpet backing area, Propex was awarded a U.S. patent in March 2010, showing that its latest technology provides improved performance, a plush feel and many other advantages that offer value to both its customers and the consumer.

With the market-leading brands Actionbac and Polybac carpet backing products, Propex is the largest independent backing producer in the industry. Polybac primary backing provides a dimensionally stable foundation for superior tuftability, pattern definition and versatility. Actionbac carpet backing effectively provides long-term stability in almost any carpet installation and is crucial in extending the life of the carpet.

Innovation remains the anchor of Propex's success in providing high performance materials and solutions for the flooring industry.

In other news, in July, the company relocated its headquarters to warehouse row in Chattanooga, TN, a series of restored warehouse structures transformed into a contemporary destination for modern fashion, urban design, loft-style offices and gourmet dining.

"As a global company headquartered in Chattanooga, we are very pleased to be moving into the heart of the city and region, by relocating to Warehouse Row," Gorey says.

31. Lydall

Manchester, CT

www.lydall.com

2011 Nonwovens Sales: $134 million

Key Personnel:

W. Leslie Duffy, chairman of the board; Dale Barnhart, president and CEO; David Williams, president, Performance Materials

Plants:

Rochester, NH; Saint Rivalain, France; Green Island, NY; Heerlen, The Netherlands

Brands:

AppLY Mat, Arioso, Biotherm, CRS Wrap, Cryo-Lite, LydAir MG, LydAir MB, LydAir SC, LyPore Defender, LyPore MB, LyPore Sc, LyPore XL, Lytherm, ManniGlas, Solupor Membrane

Major Markets:

Specialty insulation, high-efficiency air and liquid filtration media

Executives at Lyda11 continue to be encouraged by the long-term opportunities within the company's Performance Material segment. Net sales in this segment increased by 9% to reach a record $134 million in 2011.

Particularly strong was the industrial thermal insulation business, which was driven by global demand for capital project investments in the cryogenic and thermal and insulation markets, according to executives. Within the Industrial Filtration business, Lyda11 is partnering with one of its customers to market Arioso membrane, which will enable the product to make significant gains in market acceptance.

Opportunities for Lydall are mainly driven by markets engaged in product and technology development that are demanding higher levels of filtration performance. Additionally, opportunities exist for geographic expansion in filtration and insulation in regions including Eastern Europe, South America, India and China. These regions continue to invest in infrastructure improvements and demand more, from their filtration and insulation applications.

In new product news, Lydall's Arioso high performance air filtration composite media was chosen as the premium filter media in a range of high efficiency fume extraction filters being produced by a prominent filter manufacturer in the U.K Fume extraction filters are used to remove fine particulate matter that is contained in smoke and fumes generated by laser/plasma cutting and welding operations. The filters engineered with Arioso are designed to remove even the finest particles to provide cleaner air discharge in the workplace and the environment.

New product development has always been a priority for Lydall Performance Materials across all of its market segments. In filtration and separation, the company offers LyPore and LyPore Defender microglass media and LyPore Unity, a microglass series that is optimized for coalescing. More specifically, in air and industrial filtration, LydAir microglass media and Arioso high performance composite filtration media are both critical components of clean-air systems in a number of areas. Meanwhile, Lydall's filter media for the biopharmaceutical, medical, food and beverage, specialty process and drinking water industries include microglass, meltblown and synthetic grades for removing particles ranging from bacteria to large sediment. Lyda11 recently expanded its Solupor membrane series, which is based on ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene. These new grades perform at high flow rates in venting and air/gas line filters.

Within specialty insulation, Lyda11 products include Manniglas fiberglass papers, appLY Mat needled fiberglass mats, Biotherm biosoluble ceramin paper and Lytherm ceramic paper for a variety of cavity gasket, sealing and surface protection applications in the home appliance, industrial HVAC, energy and petrochemical markets. Additionally, the Cryotherm and Cryolite super insulation products perform at the opposite temperature extreme in cryogenic containment vessels for liquid gas storage, piping and transportation.

In personnel news, in July, David Williams was named president of the Performance Materials business. Before joining Lyda11, Williams held a 20-year tenure with Saint-Gobain, a building materials company and leading producer of high performance materials and glass containers.

32. Procision Custom Coatings

Totowa, NJ

www.pcc-usa.com

2011 Nonwovens Sales: $132 million

Key Personnel:

Peter Longo, chairman and COO; Scott Tesser, president and CEO; Rich Noble, CFO and treasurer; Dan Kamat, vice president, Industrial Textile division; Shaile Dusaj, director industrial marketing and sales; Keith Martin, industrial business vice president; Gerry Welkley, national sales manager; Dave Reaman, director filtration services

Processes:

Needlepunch, thermal bonded, chemical bonded, high lofts, heat activated adhesive coatings, specialty finishes and composites

Major Markets:

Apparel interlinings, automotive fabrics, medical, fabric softener substrates, furniture and bedding, filtration, vinyl substrates, home furnishings, wipes, hygiene, footwear, roofing and construction, filtration

For the first time in company history, industrial-related sales were greater than apparel sales in 2011 for New Jersey-based Precision Custom Coatings. Thanks to increased growth in mattress, filtration and automotive applications, industrial sales comprised about 60% of the company's $132 million in sales last year, according to president and CEO Scott Tesser.

"Business has been good; everything we put into place has worked for us," he says.

This growth will continue as the company waits for a new air-laid line--PCC's first foray into this technology--to come on-stream next year. This new line will make highloft nonwovens for bedding applications and can also offer increased flexibility in some filtration areas. It will be constructed in FCC's Totowa, NJ, facility where a needlepunch line was recently closed after the company upgraded its existing lines to increase capacity. "We are making the same amount of fabrics using fewer lines," Tesser explains. "We had a good year last year and we decided it was time to invest in some capital improvements."

PCC first entered the filtration area three years ago when it converted two former apparel-related lines. Last year, the company added a brand new line for filtration, which allowed it to expand its focus beyond HVAC into other filtration markets. Recent developments have allowed FCC to penetrate more sophisticated areas like higher MERV rating areas and paint filtration.

Meanwhile, mattress and bedding applications, where PCC is able to command a higher price per yard than in other application areas, continues to expand thanks to the addition of new products like non flame retardant filler cloths and printed flame retardant nonwoven ticking materials.

PCC's third major business, automotive, has had a good year thanks to recovery in the U.S. market, where FCC does all of its business. Because most of its products are premium level, FCC was able to avoid some of the challenges faced by other suppliers during the past few years and is now broadening its activity into some acoustical areas for cars, according to Tesser.

While its industrial businesses continue to thrive in New Jersey, the apparel side of FCC's business, which only a few years ago dominated the business--accounting for upward of 90% of sales--is performing well in Asia. PCC currently operates three manufacturing sites in the Chinese apparel market, which Tesser reports remains steady, accounting for 40% of sales last year.

33. Suominen Nonwovens

Nakkila, Finland

www.suominen.fi

2011 Nonwovens Sales: $131 million

Key Personnel:

Jean-Marie Becker, executive vice president, Suominen Nonwovens; limo Hiekkaranta, vice president, Sales; Juha Jokinen, vice president, Business Development, Mimoun Saim, vice president, Operations Europe and Sourcing Larry Kinn, vice president, Operations Americas; Laurent Pennequin, vice president, Finance and Administration; Roberto Pedoja, vice president, Innovation, Technology & Investments

Plants:

Bethune, SC; Green Bay, WI; Cressa, Italy; Mozzate, Italy; Nakkila, Finland; Windsor Locks, CT; Alicante, Spain; Paulinia, Brazil (scheduled to become part of Suominen in the third quarter of 2012)

Processes:

Spunlace, thermal bonded, carded, hydroentangled

Major Markets:

Wipes, medical, hygiene

In 2011, Suominen Nonwovens transformed itself from a small, one-site nonwovens manufacturer into the world's largest maker of spunlaced nonwovens with sites spanning the globe. This transformation was achieved through the purchase of Ahlstrom's former Home and Personal Care, or wipes, business in a [euro]170 million deal.

With manufacturing assets in Wisconsin, Connecticut, South Carolina, Brazil, Finland, Spain and Italy, Ahlstrom's wipes business reported sales of about [euro]291 million per year, more than four times Suominen's 2010 nonwovens sales which were reported at [euro]59.1 million.

While the deal (excluding the Brazilian operation) did not close until late October, Suominen Nonwovens sales already received a nice bump in 2011, increasing from [euro]59.1 million to [euro]102 million ($130 million) last year. Pro forma sales for the period are estimated at [euro]375 million ($485 million).

"The acquisition will virtually quadruple the size of the business adding significant volumes in North and South America and Asia, as well as in Europe and the Middle East," says Alistair Brown, director of marketing and communications. "We cannot make an estimate of 2012 sales but we anticipate retaining and growing the business of both the merged companies."

The wipes market remains highly competitive, globally, but at the same time, shows volume growth of between single and double figures in various geographies around the world, Brown adds. "By remaining flexible in our operations and providing products to our customers, wherever they are in the world, from geographically spread locations we expect to keep Suominen Nonwovens at the forefront of the global nonwovens wiping market and to extend its presence in other segments."

As it works to integrate two businesses, Suominen has already had to take some measures to improve performance. In June, the company announced it would close two lines at the original Suominen site in Nakkila, Finland, where it would also streamline administrative and support staff, impacting about 76 employees. According to executives, these measures will impact one thermal bond and one spunlace machine and lead to a write down of about [euro]3 million, which will result in improvement of the site's overall profitability.

"As part of our announced Summit Program, instigated to return our business to profitability, we made a decision to streamline our Nakkila operations in order to improve this situation and, at the same time, to make our total operational platform more ideally suited to meeting our global customers' volume demands," Brown explains.

Meanwhile, all of the acquired plants are operating as planned. The Mozzate, Italy, plant experienced the temporary closure of one production machine as a result of a fire, but it is back to business as usual. Due to bureaucratic difficulties, the acquisition of the Brazilian site has been delayed, but executives expect to complete the phase of the purchase by the end of the third quarter.

The combination of Suominen and Ahlstrom brings together a number of brands, including Hydraspun flushable substrates and Biolace eco-friendly nonwovens. The integration of these brands has been seamless, reflecting Suominen Nonwovens'strong presence and activity in the sustainable nonwovens market segment. The company will continue to support, grow and develop these brands throughout the world. As for technologies, the acquisition of the Home and Personal Business area from Ahlstrom has been completely complementary to Suominen Nonwovens, according to Brown, and, in no way, duplicates available technologies. "Additionally, the technical and operational expertise from both sides has melded very well to use experience in different technologies to jointly develop all our operational and new product development activities," he adds.

This joint expertise will help Suominen Nonwovens--as the needs of its customers change--strive to create sustainable and environmentally-friendly solutions to customers' needs and to seek increasingly effective products. In fact, Suominen's total global growth strategy revolves around its corporate guiding principles of trust, expertise and partnership.

"In combination with flexible, global operations and the broadest range of technologies and processes available from any company in the wiping arena, we are confident that we have all the right resources in place to make our growth strategy achievable," Brown concludes. "Suominen Nonwovens is the leading global manufacturer of nonwovens for wipes and we will continue to strive to remain so. Our expertise in nonwoven technologies will also allow us to look at other market segments where that expertise and our assets enable us to produce differentiated and value-adding new products."

34. Hassan Group

Istanbul, Turkey

www.hassangroup.com

2011 Nonwovens Sales: $128 million

Plants:

Istanbul and Tekirdag, Turkey

Processes:

Web Forming Technologies: airlaid, carded, spunlaid; Bonding Technologies: needle punched, air-through bonded, calender bonded, chemical bonded, resin bonded

Brands:

Hygenius, for ADL (acquisition distribution layer) from Merkas--for baby diapers, sanitary napkins and adult incontinence products; Polybond spunbond

Lines:

More than 15 nonwoven web forming lines and more than 50 converting and finishing lines, including several other extrusion, film and lamination lines in the group companies. Additionally, Hassan Group converts nonwoven waddings and interlinings in its own quilting and home textiles divisions. Trade, insurance and construction are other activities of Hassan Group.

Applications:

Artificial leather (backing), automotive, carpet (underlay), construction (geotextiles), filtration, footwear, furniture and bedding, household (wipes), hygiene and medical, ready-to-wear, technical textiles, white goods (isolation)

(For the full report on Hassan Group, see page 97.)

35. Fibertex Nonwovens A/S

Aalborg, Denmark

www.fibertex.com

2011 Nonwovens Sales: $126 million

Key Personnel:

Jurgen Bech Madsen, CEO; Henrik Kjeldsen, CCO; Lars Bertelsen, COO; Henrik Eigenbrod, CFO; Keld Lauridsen, group R&D manager; Bjarne Knudsen, CEO, Czech Republic

Plants:

Denmark, the Czech Republic, France and South Africa

Processes:

Needlepunch, spunlace, impregnation, coating and a range of finishing technologies

Major Markets:

Acoustics, automotive, bedding composites, construction, filtration, flooring furniture, geotextiles, home and garden, horticulture

Fibertex Nonwovens was separated from Fibertex Personal Care in 2011 so that the two businesses, which had become very different over time, could operate independently in their key markets. "The separation enabled each company to focus on and communicate its strengths and values to the market," says Jorgen Bech Madsen, CEO, Fibertex Nonwovens. "The transition has progressed as scheduled and well."

Today, Fibertex Nonwovens manufactures nonwovens for many different product applications. Global business segments include: automotive (insulation of engine compartments, car ceilings, door panels, trim panels and acoustic solutions); construction (geotextiles, building and composite materials, as well as do-it-yourself products); industrial (furniture, bedding, carpets and flooring and the med-tech industry); filtration (air, liquid and odor filters) and acoustics; wipes (wet wipes for the consumer market and specialist products for the industrial market).

The company has a strong position in a number of areas with significant growth perspectives, Madsen notes. "Apart from the considerable growth in global demand for products for the automotive industry we expect to see a range of major infrastructure projects and construction works take large amounts of geotextiles in the coming years both in Europe and in the global growth markets."

Fibertex Nonwovens generated revenue of DKK 726 million in 2011, compared to DKK 413 million in 2010. The improvement was mainly due to the acquisition of French nonwovens manufacturer Tharreau Industries, which specializes in developing products for the automotive industry and for industrial applications.

Tharreau contributed DKK 260 million to consolidated revenue from the date of takeover in May, according to the 2011 annual report for Fibertex Nonwoven's parent company Schow & Co. Tharreau has been renamed Fibertex Nonwovens S.A.

The acquisition has not only strengthened Fibertex Nonwovens A/S but also generated substantial synergies for both companies, according to Madsen. "The objective of the acquisition of Tharreau Industries was to accelerate the strategic development of Fibertex Nonwovens to become a European market leader and create a strong platform for geographical growth. Since the acquisition we have focused on the integration of Fibertex Nonwovens S.A. in Fibertex Nonwovens A/S. Today, Fibertex Nonwovens has 98.8% of the shares in Fibertex Nonwovens S.A."

In terms of the company's strategic direction for the future, Fibertex Nonwovens intends to become the leading, globally positioned supplier of nonwovens with value added and cost-effective solutions to the automotive industry, industrial end uses, construction and composites industry, filtration, specialty wipes and medical end uses, says Madsen.

Other goals include increasing profitability and earning power through innovative solutions, technological leadership and, as a benchmark supplier, having strong value proposition to deliver solutions at competitive costs throughout the value chain.

Meanwhile, Madsen notes the importance of supporting his company's customers' geographical expansion in growth markets, and will aim to deliver sustainable and profitable global growth through a robust business platform. An example of this is the company's recent expansion into South Africa where it will make needlepunch nonwovens for geotextile and automotive applications.

According to the 2011 annual report, Fibertex Nonwovens has focused its efforts on adapting to the current competitive market situation. "The company has supported these efforts by increasingly working the markets, winning marketshare in its core business areas while also improving the sale of products for the composite industry and of specialist high-value products."

The company has also identified a number of new business opportunities for 2012. "In terms of R&D and innovation, the company has built a strong product portfolio supporting the long-term strategy of increasing the proportion of high-value products." At the time of its annual report, Fibertex Nonwovens expected to generate revenue of around DKK 900 million.

36. Unitika

Osaka, Japan

www.unitika.co.jp

2011 Nonwovens Sales: $122 million

Key Personnel:

Hiroshi Yoshihara, general manager, nonwoven fabrics; Tetsuya Yoshimura, general manager, spunbond fabrics sales

Plants:

Okazaki and Tarui, Japan

Processes:

Spunbond, spunlace

Brands:

Manx, Eleves, Appeal, Wiwi, Alcima, Terramac, Cottoace

Major Markets:

Agriculture materials, carpet backings, geotextiles, cable wraps, wipes, storage bags, coverstock, roofing sheets

Nonwovens sales were strong for Japanese producer Unitika thanks to steady shipments to the construction and civil engineering segments. However, profits were down because the company failed to account for rising raw material and fuel prices.

In terms of capacity, Unitika makes 22,000 tons of polyester spunbond nonwovens per year in Japan while spunlace output is 5,000 tons. Additionally, the company's Thai subsidiary, Thai Tusco, makes 5,000 tons of polyester-based spunbond nonwovens per year, and its joint corporation with Marusan Industry, UMCT, can make 5,000 tons of the material per year.

In 2011, Thai Tusco was damaged by flooding in the region and production on two of its lines was halted. One line reopened in March 2012 and the other started up again in April. During the closure, Unitika's Japan sites picked up the slack so customer supply was not impacted. Tusco has become an important foothold in the overseas market for Unitika and executives have considered expanding this site.

In Unitika's spunlace business, the market has been favorable as the demand for wet wipes is increasing and the company is looking into expanding its marketing activities into China.

37. The Jofo Group

Guangzhou, Guangdong China

www.jofo.com.cn

2011 Nonwovens Sales: $120 million

Plants:

Guangzhou, Weifang, Shandong, China

Processes:

Spunbond, meltblown, SMS

Major Markets:

Hygiene, medical, industrial

By year's end China's The Jofo Group will start up its new 3.2-meter wide, multi-beam Reicofil-4 spunmelt line and a separate finishing line in its Weifang plant in Shandong, China. Representing a reported $60 million investment, the new line will join an existing 4.2 meter Reicofil-4 multibeam line at the Weifang plant, which will be able to make more than 30,000 tons of material after the second line is complete. Jofo will target the rapidly growing disposable hygiene and medical application areas in Asia with the new capacity.

Jofo's current nonwovens capacity is more than 55,000 tons, and the company has production facilities in Guangdong, Shandong and some other areas in China. The second Weifang line and other ongoing projects will bring the company's total capacity above 100,000 tons by the end of 2012.

Jofo plans to continue investing in adding new capacity as well as research and development in the nonwovens areas to forge core competence in supplying premium nonwovens to disposable hygiene, medical, geotextile, industrial and other application areas, according to executives.

The Jofo Group was established in 2000 with the goal of becoming one of the world's largest nonwovens producers. The company currently owns 10 subsidiary companies in Guangdong, Shandong, Hubei, Sichuan and Hong Kong and has annual sales of about RMB 800 million ($120 million).

Based in China, Jofo sells its nonwovens all over the world. Processes include composite, meltblown, SMS and spunbond for hygiene, industrial and geotextile applications.

Through a joint venture agreement with Weifang Investment Corporation, established in 2007, Jofo spent a reported $50 million on a 4.2-meter Reicofil 4 SS line capable of making 16,000 tons of nonwovens per year.

According to the companies, Jofo Weifang ultimately plans to operate at least eight advanced spunmelt lines with a total production capacity of more than 150,000 tons, making it one of the largest nonwovens producers in Asia for the hygiene, medical and protective apparel markets. Additionally, the venture plans to set up a research and development center for hygiene and medical applications in Weifang with financial support from the Chinese government.

Since 2000, the company has operated Shandong Jofo Nonwoven Co., a maker of spunbond, meltblown and SMS composite nonwovens located in the New & High Technology Industrial Development Zone in Dongying, Shandong Province.

In 2001, the company introduced the STP third-generation, improved twin-engine production line from Italy and the matching Kusters hot rolling mill from Germany. Its annual production capacity for spunbond polypropylene silk nonwoven fabrics is 7,000 tons; in 2004 Shandong Jofo introduced a Reifenhouser meltblown nonwoven fabric production line with an annual output of 3,000 tons of PP or PET. Meanwhile, it introduced Kilsters hot rolling mill compound facilities and adopted the unique one-and-a-half-step processing techniques to provide world-class SMS compound nonwoven fabrics to its clients.

In addition to the hygiene market, where Jofo offers light-weight, soft spunmelt nonwovens, other core markets include medical and industrial protective apparel, automotive, furniture and bedding materials, filtration media, agricultural and horticultural and geotextiles.

38. Nan Liu Enterpris

Kaoshing, Taiwan

www.nanliugroup.com

2011 Nonwovens Sales: $118 million Key

Personnel:

C.S. Huang, chairman; H.S Huang, president; M. Yang, vice-president; Sam Chang vice-president; Paul Cheng, general manager; Bernard Kerstens, commercial director (overseas business)

Plants:

Kaoshing, Taiwan; Pinghu, China

Processes:

Spunlace, thermal bond, air-through bond, needlepunch

Major Markets:

Hygiene, medical, wipes

Since 1978, Nan Liu Enterprise, Kaoshing, Taiwan, has been serving a number of hygiene markets. As it debuts on Nonwovens Industry's top company report at number 38, Nan Liu recently announced plans to become a publicly traded company by early next year.

Nan Liu's core businesses are hygiene and medical nonwovens and cosmetics. To continue its growth in these segments, Nan Liu has recently begun construction on a 6.2-meter wide spunlace line that it says will be the widest in the world. "This jumbo line will meet the rapidly increasing demand for wet wipes in China and other areas of Asia but also strengthens the company's position on the worldwide market," says Bernard Kerstens, commercial director (overseas business). The company expects production from this line to begin the third quarter of 2013. It will be located in Pinghu, China--near Shanghai--where the company already operates a 4.5-meter wide spunlace line.

Kerstens says this investment responds to strong growth in East Asia, particularly China, where wet wipes have seen an annual growth rate of approximately 20% in the last five years. "We expect that the rapid growth rate in China would continue for the next five years in view of the continued increase in personal income," he says. "Moreover, increasingly people realize the convenience of using wet wipes. This is also true for many other spunlace applications."

The new line will bring Nan Liu's spunlace capacity to 28,000 tons. Present chairman C.S. Huang established Nan Liu at Kaohsiung in southern Taiwan in 1978. The company originally sold standard household goods but soon began making coverstock materials for diapers and sanitary napkins. After adding its first two nonwoven lines, the company's operation accelerated. In 1985 the company passed the requirements of the Japanese Food Sanitation law, opening a door for exports to Japan, Southeast Asia and gradually the rest of the world.

Other nonwoven lines followed (thermal bond and needle-unch); in 2000 Nan Liu bought its first spunlace line, as well as wet wipe converting equipment. A second location housing nonwovens production was opened near Kaoshiung and a large cleanroom workshop was installed for the development and manufacture of cosmetic facial masks, cream and liquids. Combining its spunlace know-how with biotechnology, Nan Liu began making cosmetic facial masks and cosmetic remover wipes. The company registered the brand name SilkSoft used for its cosmetic and nonwoven fabrics.

"In the domestic Taiwan and mainland China markets, Na Liu now holds an important position in baby wipes and cosmetic facial masks products. Both in these markets and internationally it has become a major converter of finished wet wipes as well as one of the largest Asian producers of spunlace roll stock.

In 2005, Nan Liu embarked on its first foreign investment in Pinghu, China. With a total investment of nearly $40 million including new thermal bond/air-through bonding and spunlace lines as well as wet wipe converting equipment and a 4,500 square meter biotechnology workshop.

"The existing spunlace line at Pinghu is the widest one in Asia with 4.5 meter width," says Kerstens. "Built primarily to produce low-linting woodpulp/polyester spunlace, it is geared to the needs of producers of surgical gowns and drapes as well as producers of low-lint industrial wipes."

Nan Liu claims to be the first Asian producer to offer spunlace fabric that allows producers of surgical garments to meet European and U.S. standards simultaneously (EN 13795, AAMI-2), adhering to manufacturing practices and cleanliness needed in the hygiene, medical and cosmetic fields.

Looking forward, Nan Liu hopes to expand its reach into India and Russia as a publicly traded company in Taiwan. The company announced last month it expects to go public next year, a move that will help it improve its global profile.

"By becoming a publicly traded company in Taiwan, we will feel that we have a higher duty, more responsibility and more pressure to perform better," Kerstens says. "It should make it even more attractive for excellent people to join us. Secondly, financially, we feel we could attract more investors, get more support and get access to cheaper investment means from the financial world--higher profits and new major investments being the main objectives."

39. Spuntech

Upper Tiberias, Israel www.spuntech.com 2011 Nonwovens Sales: $113 million

Key Personnel:

Rob Stollar, global vice president, sales and marketing Ron Broshi, vice president, new product development; John Rank, director, sales and marketing

Plants:

Tiberias, Israel; Shamir, Israel; Roxboro, NC.

Processes:

Hydroentangled spunlace

Major Markets:

Wipes, hygiene, medical, industrial, filtration

Despite challenging market conditions, N.R. Spuntech sales continued to grow in 2011. The company, which was profiled three years ago for the first time in Nonwovens Industry's top company report, reported sales for 2011 of 432 million shekels, or $113 million, versus 397 million shekels in 2010. Spuntech continues its focus on growth in specialty engineered and value-added spunlace fabrics with more emphasis on sustainable products.

In 2011, Spuntech secured several sizable contracts with large branded customers for products going into the automotive, personal care and home care disposable markets. Ibis has allowed Spuntech to continue its organic growth and maximize capacities worldwide.

"We are proud of our accomplishment in making the U.S. operation a success over the past few years," says John Rank, director of sales and marketing. "We are also proud of the additions to our capabilities in Israel that provides a more uniform and better performance product."

Currently, Spuntech's sales are split between North America, South America, Europe and Asia, where it serves wet and dry wipes, medical, technical, filtration and engineered fabrics markets. Spuntech continues to review opportunities in emerging markets to further its global expansion. Describing spunlace nonwovens as the fabric of choice for most of its customers, Rank reports that demand remained strong for high quality spunlace nonwovens throughout 2011. Spuntech lines run at maximum capacity globally

40. Kuraray

Osaka, Japan www.kuraray.co.jp

2011 Nonwovens Sales: $112 million

Key personnel:

Takashi Nakajima, president, Kuraray Kuraflex

Plants:

Okayama and Saijo, Japan

Processes:

Resin bonded, thermal bonded, spunlaced, meltblown, steam jet

Brands:

Kuraflex, Microflex, Flextar

Major Markets:

Coverstock, wipes, medical and household materials

Kuraray Kuraflex and Kuraray Saijio are the two companies included in Kuraray's nonwovens businesses. Kura-ay Kuraflex makes thermal bonded, spunlaced and resin bonded nonwovens with a total capacity of 10,400 tons per year.

Steam jet nonwovens (Flextar) capacity is 1,000 tons per year and Kuraray Saijio makes 1,800 tons of meltblown nonwovens per year. As for Kuraflex Ibaragi, which made spunlaced nonwovens, was dissolved in November 2010. Kuraflex Ibaragi, a joint corporation with Pigeon, made 3,500 tons of baby wipes per year but executives decided to stop this operation because of pricing issues caused by lower priced imported products.

Within the Kuraray business, product development has been ongoing in spunlace, steam jet and meltblown areas. Spunlaced nonwovens is the largest percentage of technologies but to date the company has not yet considered overseas expansion.

Currently, the company is only operating its meltblown operation at 50% and is looking into new market areas like face masks or filters to increase output. Within steam jet, inroads have been made into the medical market as well as in construction materials, but the company is not yet satisfied with sales levels in these segments.

41. KNH

Taipei, Taiwan www.knh.com.tw

2011 Nonwovens Sales: $100 million

Key Personnel:

J.C. Tai, chairman and owner; Vicki Tai, president; George Wang, general manager, China operations; Alvin Hu, technical vice president; Kevin Chen, assistant vice president of business development

Plants:

Taipei, Taiwan, Shanghai and Chengdu, China

Processes:

Air-through bonding, thermal bonding, meltblown, airlaid, nee-dlepunch, spunlace

Brands:

Carnation brand for hygiene; Co-Fiber for industrial specialty products Major

Markets:

Hygiene, industrial, agriculture, geotextiles

Sales continue to rise for KNH Enterprises. The Taiwan-based maker of nonwovens and converted products for the hygiene market credits growth to the ramping up of a third spunlace line as well as investment in Western China. In 2011, nonwovens sales reached $100 million, up from $90 million the year before.

"A lot of the growth is because of our new spunlace line and we have gotten some new customers,"says Kevin Chen, assistant vice president of business development. "North America is also becoming a big market for us."

Within the spunlace business, the majority of KNH's sales revolve around wipes and medical applications but the company is making efforts into new areas like feminine hygiene. Entry into this market, while difficult, is being helped by the advancements line number three can offer. These include patterning, which can make the spunlace, resemble a fabric more closely, as well as the addition of pulp, lessening KNH's dependence on the volatile rayon market.

While KNH is holding off on adding any additional spunlace capacity, it has been working on broadening its global footprint through a new facility in Western China, which could be followed by a facility in the middle region of China. The initial focus on these expansions will be carding technologies, which will allow KNH greater expansion in China.

Beyond disposables, filtration is emerging as an important market for KNH where facial masks, water treatment facilities and semiconductor applications are emerging as important areas.

"The challenge with filtration is it can be a problem to penetrate the big markets so we must really keep looking at a new product," Chen says.

As it continues to focus on new markets like filtration, medical or home care, KNH has the advantage of being a truly global company with roots in Asia. This will allow the company to capitalize on growth in Asia as an experienced local producer, a strategy that will not be without its challenges.

"There are definitely a lot of new players--more competition--but we have our niche as a provider of nonwovens but also a converter of end products," Chen says. "We are not just selling nonwovens, we are offering proven solutions with our expertise."

42. Dounor Nonwovens Neuville

Neuville en Ferrain, France

www.dounor.com

2011 Nonwovens Sales: $92 million

Key Personnel:

Christophe Willot, president; Hugues Cavrois, sales director; Stephanie Hoyas, research and development, communication manager

Plants:

Neuville en Ferrain, France

Processes:

Spunbond, spunmelt, proprietary technology for nonwoven landing zone

Brands: Hysoft, Hymelt, T-Bond, Softech

Major Markets:

Hygiene (adult care, baby care, feminine care, nonwoven for backsheet lamination), medical, industrial

New to this year's report is French nonwovens producer Dounor Nonwovens, which got its start in carded thermal bonded nonwovens in 1986 and branched out into spunbond in 1992, later adding spunmelt technology in 1996. Since that time, the company has invested steadily in Reicofil-based spunbond and spunmelt technology for hygiene and medical nonwovens. Last year, sales surpassed $92 million.

Today, Dounor operates six spunbond/spunmelt lines at one site in Neuville en Ferrain, where it makes 40,000 tons of nonwovens per year. Ideally located near major European port areas, this facility allows Dounor to serve all of Europe, where 85% of its business is done, as well as its customers in the Middle East and North Africa, where the remaining 15% of sales are conducted.

In terms of market penetration, about 85% of goods are sold to customers in the health and hygiene market, including adult incontinence, baby care, feminine hygiene and medical applications, while 15% targets filtration and other industrial applications.

The company's latest investment came ons-tream in the last quarter of 2011. This new line reportedly makes fabrics with lower basis weights to meet the needs of the hygiene market.

"Our customers are challenging us more and more to find ways to offset continuous raw material increases, requesting more economical products," says sales director Hugues Cavrois. "This continuous downgauging process without losing any features--and if possible with even better specifications--gave us the direction to innovate and pushed us to invest in the latest technology."

New developments for Dounor include Softech spunbond nonwovens, which combine softness, strength and uniformity. Available in ultralight weights, the product answers the call for more attractive economic requirements. Additionally, Dounor has developed, in partnership with French diaper closure specialist Aplix, new landing zone material made of 100% nonwoven materials.

To view the Top Companies Report online, including an interactive chart with past and present sales figures, visit www.nonwovens-industry.com

To access an interactive sales chart on Top Companies past and present, visit www.nonwovens-industry.com

Visit Nonwovens Industry online for more International News

Visit www.nonwovens-industry.com to read the September issue online, along with the complete Top Companies Report.
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Author:McIntyre, Karen
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Date:Sep 1, 2012
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