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Spunbonding steering Stearns' future.

By supplying the North American nonwovens market almost exclusively, Steams Technical Textiles, Cincinnati, OH, the 26th largest nonwoven roll goods manufacturer, has carved out and maintained a very successful nonwovens niche. It made the decision this year to add a new technology, strategically positioning itself in the business of the future.

Spunbonding is the technology in question and the newest news at Steams, with the planned addition of a new line in early 1994. "At Steams, we have always tried to offer a variety of nonwoven capabilities," said Morley Thompson, Sr., president. "This installation of spunbonded capacity, which will be split between polyester and polypropylene, continues a Stearns tradition of having the ability to offer a variety of nonwoven technologies to a great many specialized markets. The machine gives us increased flexibility."

Several market areas should profit from the addition of spunbonded technology. Some of the new capacity-specifically lighter weight polyester products--will target the filtration business that supplies air and liquid filters and the furniture segment (durable goods). Various other niche polypropylene markets, including specialized animal care products, will also be served by the new production. Healthcare and hygiene applications are areas of future consideration, with underpads just one example.

Stearns is also upgrading and expanding its thermal bonding capacity at its Trenton, Ontario facility in response to increased business interest. While not incorporating any new machinery, the expansion will showcase increased volume and improved quality. The increased production--expected on-line by the fourth quarter of this year--is not earmarked for any one specific market but will supply increased demand across the board.

While the company began as a battings and stuffing supplier in 1846, it has since branched out to serve a melange of markets. "Here at Stearns, we have a lot of niche businesses," explained Mr. Thompson. In addition to the above mentioned markets, other leading segments are healthcare, laundry and specialty areas. In the healthcare arena, because the company supplies class 3 medical products such as swabs and incontinent products, the company has felt little impact from OSHA's bloodborne pathogens ruling. Stearns has also been involved in the laundry segment for more than 16 years and, despite various rumors to the contrary, has no plans to change that.

Stearns is also active in the automotive area, although with the development of additional market segments in recent years, this segment is no longer as large as it once was. The company's Brampton, Ontario, Canada facility supplies the automotive roll goods material; sales have held steady at approximately 10% of the company's total nonwovens sales.

Overall, nonwovens sales for 1992 were up approximately 3-4% at Steams, to an estimated $68 million. "While we did see a lot of transfer of business, with market share lost to less expensive paper products in certain areas, we have seen increased use in other areas that require better products." The filtration segment, particularly higher efficiency materials, is one area where there has been increased demand. "In total, for 1992, the pluses outweighed the minuses," said Mr. Thompson.

An established part of Stearns' corporate policy involves close co-operation with customers. "We have developed a profile with many of our customers in that we are constantly working with them to develop better or improved products," said Gene Busby, vice president. "We bring the best technologies to them to create the best possible product."

On the international scene, Stearns remains one of the few North American companies with little or no exports. "We have a full plate right now with our North American markets," explained Mr. Thompson. The company did not, however, rule out international dealings in the future. Stearns is divided into three main businesses--the Consumer, Industrial and Filtration Groups. Of these, the Industrial Group continues to be the largest, with 55% of the total business. The Consumer Group has increased its share of the business to 35%, while the Filter Group held steady at 10%. The addition of spunbonded capacity will have an as yet undetermined effect on these ratios, but the new capacity is designed to augment current production and not replace any existing products. The filtration segment in particular may see an increase in the amount of business at the company. Converting remains a specific sideline interest for Stearns, one the company would like to see grow. It currently produces sanitary, incontinent and wet wipe products for use as private label store brands. While the past year has seen the converting side increase by more than 50%, the entire converting operation is not yet 15% of the total nonwovens sales. As a converter, Stearns is especially careful not to compete with its fabric customers at the end product level.

Last but not least, quality is an area of emphasis at Steams, with a Total Quality Management program already established. The entire Steams workforce has been through a two day training session and every employee is assigned to quality teams to search out further improvements. "Customers have been recognizing the efforts and several have established joint quality programs with us," explained Mr. Busby.

In conclusion, Mr. Thompson emphasized the position Stearns has held for many years. "We are a North American nonwoven textile manufacturer," he said. "Period."

Stearns Technical Textiles 100 Williams Street, Cincinnati, OH 45215 513-948-5273; Fax: 513-948-5281

Worldwide Nonwovens Sales: $68 million (almost all North America)

Key Personnel: Morley Thompson, Sr., president; Morley Thompson, Jr., vice president, operations; Charles Mason, purchasing; Tom Grau, research and development; Michael Lutes, Canada; Gene Busby, Consumer; Bob Duke, Health Care; Joe Bierschwal, quality

Plants: Cincinnati, OH (heavyweight specialty nonwovens, needled and spray bonded technologies, highloft consumer products); Red Bank, OH (distribution and converting); Camden, OH (fabricating for Filters Div.); London, KY (lightweight card and bond nonwovens); Montreal, Canada (heavyweight specialty nonwovens, needled and spray bonded technologies, highloft consumer products); Trenton, Ontario, Canada (lightweight coverstock, fabric softener substrate, thermal bonded); Brampton, Ontario, Canada (highloft, spray bonded for automotive applications); also fusible coating at Cincinnati and London sites.

Processes: Thermal Bonded, Needlepunched, Spray Bonded, Resin Bonded, Print Bonded, Highloft, Spunbonded

Major Markets: Absorbent Products, Fabric Softeners, Filtration, Medical, Automotive, Apparel, Consumer Products
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Title Annotation:International Top 30; Stearns Technical Textiles Co.
Publication:Nonwovens Industry
Date:Sep 1, 1993
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