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New spunlacing line to be added at Suominen.

News at J.W. Suominen Oy, Nakkila, Finland, our 29th largest roll goods manufacturer, centered around a new spunlacing line, which is expected to come onstream this fall. The line, Suominen's third, is wider than previous lines and increases spunlaced capacity by 6000 metric tons. The company will continue to target the medical and high-end wipe markets. Suominen is also working on improving the efficiency of its existing nonwoven lines.

With the addition of the new line, capacity is balanced about 50/50 between spunlacing and thermal bonding. "The new line also keeps us in the lead in spunlacing in Europe," said managing director Heikki Bergholm. Suominen does most of its business--approximately 80%--in Europe, with 20% exported primarily to Asia and the Middle East.

The company continues to focus on three primary roll goods markets-targeting hygiene, medical and wipes markets--and reports progress in each area. Wipes represent one of the newer concentrations at the company; new developments include color capabilities and the development of composites for wipes across the spectrum of applications. Specifically, Suominen manufactures materials for wipes for industrial end uses, automotive applications, the food industry and cleaning and polishing.

"Our wipes materials are flexible in their uses," said Mr. Bergholm. "The three main properties are lint control, solvent resistance and liquid control. All three are important." Wipes make up about 15% of Suominen's nonwovens business and it is the fastest growing sector. "However, there's still quite a lot to do," added Mr. Bergholm of the segment.

The market leader at Suominen, however, is the hygiene sector, which captures about half of the company's business. While penetration is higher and total markets are growing only slightly, Suominen remains committed to the market. It manufactures a complete range of nonwovens for end uses including baby diaper coverstock, sanitary napkin and panty shield coverstock and hospital underpads.

In the medical segment, which holds the other 35% of sales at Suominen, two specific categories are the focus. The first is wound care materials, including compresses and sponges. while the second is material for protective health care apparel. Mr. Bergholm said that new products in the medical area are being developed, although currently the materials are available only in proprietary agreements with customers.

The medical market in Europe differs greatly from the U.S. market, explained Mr. Bergholm, where the majority of fabrics are disposable nonwovens. "In Europe, the medical market is more conservative," he said. "About 80-85% of materials used are conventional textiles. This is not something that is likely to change in the short term." Likewise, without regulations similar to OSHA's bloodborne pathogens ruling in the U.S. and with the fear of AIDS not as prevalent, disposables are not as much in demand. "However," he said, "the percentage of disposables increases every year."

Another focus at Suominen for all three of its major markets has been the development of printing capabilities. "We have a sister company called Ameriplast (located in Tampere, Finland) that produces flexible packaging, as well as other packaging materials, for the hygiene and medical markets," explained Mr. Bergholm. "It also has good printing capabilities, which we can take advantage of. We are combining the capabilities of both companies to meet customer needs," he said.

Concern for the environment continues to play a pivotal role in developments at Suominen, as the company focuses on source reduction. "It is essential to work actively to create materials that perform the same function with less material," said Mr. Bergholm. "In the mid-term, composting and incineration are not the only solutions. The best way is to make a better product."

Commenting on the industry's growing quality focus, Mr. Bergholm said, "We run the company with the Suominen quality system, which was developed with ISO 9002 standards. We have now made the decision to seek certification and while it doesn't change our process, it will be good to have an external stamp of approval." Suominen expects to achieve certification by the end of the year.

Mr. Bergholm also discussed future strategy at Suominen. "We will remain a roll goods producer--we will not try to do any converting-focusing market activities on our three core areas. While there may be possibilities in some other markets in the future," he said, "for now we have made the decision to concentrate on areas where we are already active."

J.W. Suominen Oy P.O. Box 25, SF-29251, Nakkila, Finland 358-39-375400; Fax: 358-39-72419

Worldwide Nonwovens Sales: $55 million (246 million Finnish marks)

Key Personne: Heikki Bergholm, managing director; Jouko Penttila, marketing director; Esa Palttala, production and purchasing director; Dr. Simo Makipirtti, R&D director; Kristiina Lilja, finance

Plant: Nakkila, Finland

Processes: Carded Thermal Bonded (polypropylene, viscose), Hydroentangled (polyester, viscose and blends); also spins own polypropylene and polyethylene fibers

Brand Names: Novein (carded polypropylene for coverstock), Fibrella (medicall and technical)

Major Markets: Hygiene, Medical (wound care, gowns, drapes), Wipes
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Title Annotation:International Top 30
Publication:Nonwovens Industry
Date:Sep 1, 1993
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