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Lantor Group.

Lantor Group

Verlaat 22, P.O. Box 936 NL-3900 AX Veenendaal, The Netherlands (31)8385 51868; Fax (31)8385 50577

Worldwise Nonwovens Sales: $120 million U.S. Nonwovens Sales: $20 million Key Personnel: Roel Lubbinge, chief executive, acting managing director Lantor BV; Dries Kooijman, group technical director; John Brooks, president, Lantor Inc. (U.S.); Phillip Butler, managing director, Lantor of Australia; John Hall, managing director, Lantor U.K.; Chuck Lai, general manager, Lantor Hong Kong; H.J. Lee, president, Lantor Korea Plants: Lantor bv--Veenendaal, The Netherlands; Lantor U.K.--Bolton, U.K.; Lantor of Australia; Lantor Hong Kong; Lantor Inc., Bellingham, MA; Lantor Korea, Seoul Processes: Dry Laid, Hydroentangled, Needlepunched, Thermal Bonded, Composites, Chemical Bonded Brand Names: Firet, Firet Coremat, Lantorine, Firet TP, Lantor, Lantor Cube, Surfcoat, Asphalt Eater Major Markets: Medical (dressings, swabs, waddings, drapes, gowns, tapes); Wipes, Air and Liquid Filtration, Automotive, Interlinings, Protective Clothing, Military Defense, Electrical, Cable Wrap, Construction, F.R.P. Construction Notes: Quickly becoming one of the leading international producers of specialized industrial nonwovens is Lantor Group, whose worldwide sales reached $120 million last year and are expected to expand once again even in a difficult economy in 1991. An emphasis on core businesses and a global strategy have allowed the company to become diverse enough to withstand recessionary pressures in one market because of strong demand in another.

A prime example of Lantor's technical and global expansion is its recent joint venture with Ergon Nonwovens, Jackson, MS, that will allow Lantor to be the exclusive European distributor for Ergon microfiber nonwovens. The products included under the joint venture arrangement will continue to be manufactured by Ergon in the U.S., but plans for a jointly owned manufacturing plant in The Netherlands are already in the works. "We see it happening in three to five years, probably earlier rather than later," Dennis Wood, vice president, Ergon Nonwovens, said at the time. "It depends on the interest in Europe," he added, where melt blown nonwovens are not necessarily as accepted as in the U.S. The new facility will most likely be in Veenendaal, where Lantor is headquartered.

"I see us coming with production in three years," Roel Lubbinge, chief executive at Lantor Group, told NONWOVENS INDUSTRY. "It is a different technology for us that we like a lot. The start has gone very well and we have invested some capital in it already." He was referring to an almost $1 million special lamination machine it is installing.

Ergon views the joint venture as a logical expansion of its market. Lantor, on the other hand, obviously sees the Ergon link as the most effective way to bring new technology to its European base. Ergon currently markets oil sorbent products in Europe through its own subsidiary, Ergon Environmental Fabrics, Oldenzaal, The Netherlands, and will continue to do so. The Lantor joint venture, on the other hand, targets two primary markets--air and liquid filtration and medical products. In addition, composites will definitely be a target of the joint venture.

The other technical focus at Lantor currently is the continued growth of the hydroentanglement line at its Lantor U.K. unit. Originally installed two years ago, it will produce 20-25 million sq. meters of spunlaced fabric this year. "We want to produce real specialized materials, but the capacity of the line is so huge that we have to run the commodity products as well because we can't afford the downtime," Mr. Lubbinge said. "We will eventually produce more specialty products on it." The company already has plans to invest in a new web former for the line.

The most recent innovation out of the U.K. unit is called "Hyglow," a spunlaced polyester and cellulosic nonwoven made specifically to meet the color performance requirements of British Standard 6629, which ensures that the highest standards of visibility are achieved. What makes Hyglow different is its relatively low production costs compared with a durable textile garment.

Hyglow can be used to produce semi-durable, short life garments such as yellow jackets for high visibility application by construction workers, police and emergency personnel and others who work in traffic hazard areas and need the visibility protection. Consumer applications include high visibility exercise garments.

According to Lantor, Hyglow offers several benefits to garment manufacturers. It is flatter than most traditional fabrics and so the laying up process can be completed relatively easily, allowing more layers to be processed at one time. Hyglow is promoted as convenient to cut, simple to sew and non-fraying, making conversion a simpler process as well. Lantor is also developing composites combining hydroentangled fabrics with other nonwovens.

One of the most interesting aspects of Hyglow is the branding and positioning of the material in a specific end use market. It is a prime example of the move away from "roll stock" production to engineered fabrics. In this respect it is similar to another Lantor product, its highly successful "Lantor Cube," which, following extensive research and development, provided a solution to a problem and has now won a significant market share in the worldwide hospital autoclave market. The Lantor Cube is used to check whether a hospital steam sterilization unit is working correctly.

Spearheading U.S. Movement

Late last year they started answering the phones at the former Lantor Fiber-Taxis offices in Bellingham, MA with a simple "Lantor," effectively marking the complete assimilation of the American venture into the global Lantor Group. It has been a two year move that has had nothing but a positive impact on the previously struggling producer of needlepunched nonwovens.

Under the guidance of president John Brooks, who was brought in after the acquisition to breathe new life into the faltering business, Lantor Inc. has developed a reputation as a needlepuncher with unique capabilities to work with specialty fibers for specialty applications. Now, with a huge new needling line up and running this summer and products already being exported to 22 countries, the former domestic producer is positioned to further expand as a worldwide supplier.

In the past two years, Lantor has been able to reestablish its reputation in the domestic business through a management reorganization, a commitment to customers, quality and on-time deliveries coupled with significant capital investment and refurbishing and rebuilding production lines, but it is the installation of the new Morrison-Berkshire loom in July that will fuel its next step. The six meter wide, 1200 stroke a minute loom has been designed to produce a full range of filtration products, but on a more specialized scale than currently available.

"We are trying to achieve a machine line that would be start to finish a complete production unit. We are striving for a width and consistency profile unmatched in the industry," Mr. Brooks told NONWOVENS INDUSTRY during an interview in the Massachusetts offices the day after the line was started up.

The goal of the new line is to raise the stakes in producing needled filter fabrics. "We want to make it harder for supplier who are in the automotive area to get into specialized filtration areas when the automotive business goes flat," he continued. "We want to force even commodity items to have a higher profile consistency."

Lantor now has more than $20 million in annual sales and 1991 should rebound from a poor first quarter. This is up from a reported $13 million turnover two years ago and reflects the company's remarkable turnaround as its European parent's foothold in the U.S.

"There is no place from the Lantor point of view to be a commodity products driven producer," Mr. Brooks said in explaining the unit's current focus. "We will continue to provide commodity products to customers because a broad product line with one stop shopping is essential, but our strength is now in developing specialties."

One of the more recent results of this specialty leaning is a unique new product called "Asphalt Eater," billed as a "revolutionary air filtration felt designed specifically to collect asphalt dust." The needled fabric is a composite of "Nomex," "P-84" and "Ryton" specialty fibers and is said to be 25% more efficient than the purely Nomex felt currently used by industry. The product is utilized in road construction applications by asphalt suppliers who are now using more of the less costly reground asphalt; the existing Nomex fabric design has gradually been shown to be effective with applications using an increasing amount of reground asphalt.

While the Nomex fiber remains the backbone of the product, the P-84 offers a high collection efficiency with the ability to retain the small dust particles generated when regrind is added to the asphalt mix. The Ryton Sulfar fiber adds to the fabric's stability. Manufactured in 14 oz. sq. yard with an air permeability of 25-35 cfm, the woven scrim reinforced needled nonwoven is available plain or singed on one surface.

A key concept taking shape along with the capacity and technology expansions at Lantor is that of partnerships with its suppliers and customers, something that Mr. Brooks also refers to as "borrowing and sharing resources." It is a system that works well in all directions. "From a marketing and strategic standpoint we are not big enough to have all of the resources we would like to have, and neither are most of our customers and suppliers," he said. "We are not fiber technologists and our customers have given up trying to be roll goods textile people. Borrowing resources is what makes the partnership process work."

The coming months at Lantor, once the ownership question is resolved, may include an expansion into the southern part of the country with an additional production line. Higher distribution costs and a desire to separate the company's commodity production from its developing microfiber and coating technologies support the concept of a southern expansion. "The mentality to produce microfiber, sophisticated coated fabric and superfine denier products, which are part of our development right now, requires a different hourly production workforce mentality," Mr. Brooks said. "The idea is to separate the two technologies by keeping coating and microfibers separate from the mundane."

The Future Is A Question

While the ownership question is resolved (see attached sidebar), Lantor Group will continue to concentrate on extending the reach of the core businesses for which it has expanded capacity in the past two years. As a start, the company has made the decision to focus on the most profitable areas. "We have gotten rid of a lot of products where we made no money," Mr. Lubbinge said.

"In Europe we are consolidating, in the U.S. we want growth and in the Far East even more growth," he said. "In Europe we are concentrating on the core businesses for spunlaced, especially in the U.K., and in Lantor b.v. (Holland) we are focusing on |Coremat' cable wrap and general applications, especially with the new Ergon venture and the new capabilities we have." Lantor's efforts in the Far East will continue to expand in its interlining business, which is benefitting from increased coordination between its Australian, Korean and Hong Kong units.

In the U.S., a market he calls "especially important," Mr. Lubbinge said an excellent 1990 will turn into a good 1991 as the new line begins to show results. "We have enormous spare capacity that we have to grow in the U.S. It has to happen, because with the new loom we have made a serious effort at this market."

Questions Surround Lantor Ownership

Following the acquisition of Lantor's former parent Tootal by Coats Viyella earlier this year there has been considerable speculation within the nonwovens industry as to whether Lantor will be the next nonwovens company to be put on the sales block.

Coats Viyella, a $3.5 billion (2.2 billion [pounds]) U.K. company whose strength is in industrial and consumer thread, has no other nonwovens-related holdings and is not accustomed to the highly capital intensive nature of the nonwovens business. With the Lantor unit not a neat fit, there is a very good chance it will choose to divest what is a relatively small portion of its business in order to concentrate on its core activities.

As of press time Coats-Viyella was reviewing the Lantor business with an eye on making it available for the right price. An announcement on its availability is expected this month.

Lantor officials have stressed that any divestiture would ideally include all of the Lantor companies, including Lantor Inc. in the U.S. and Lantor Far East. "One of our strengths is our global marketing and distribution, something you

have to have today," Roel Lubbinge, Lantor chief executive, said in a recent interview. "The synergy is in the technology, in the ability to exchange knowledge worldwide in a global business."
COPYRIGHT 1991 Rodman Publications, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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

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