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The top companies in the worldwide nonwovens industry.

The TOP COMPANIES In The Worldwide Nonwovens Industry

This sixth annual review of the world's 30 largest producers of nonwovens--along with a few Companies To Watch--once again reveals the extraordinary breadth and depth of an almost $6 billion worldwide roll goods business. A number of outside factors, ranging from the economy to the environment, have played a major role in the shaping of the industry the past 12 months.

* Acquisitions among the Top Companies in the Worldwide Nonwovens Industry certainly slowed, yet the 11th largest producer of nonwovens remains up for sale to the highest bidder. Indications are that at least one more major sale may be in the near future.

* Companies say they are sitting back and taking stock of exactly what the buying sprees of the late 1980s have put into their nonwovens technology portfolios. Yet a host of new technologies--ranging from Fiberweb's "S-Tex" to Amoco's "ANCI" to Freudenberg's microfiber nonwovens--continue to fuel technology development into the mid-1990s. And every once in a while a hint of a new technology addition, usually spunbonding or melt blowing, at a major producer comes across our desks.

* The poor economy has severely hurt the automotive, construction and building industries, and with them the suppliers of nonwoven fabrics to these businesses. But for the most part even the companies heavily dependent on these industrial sectors are diversified enough to label 1990-91 as fairly good years for their nonwovens businesses.

* Environmental issues continue to carve up the disposables sector of the nonwovens industry, although admittedly the knee jerk environmental and legislative reactions of the past year have quieted in recent months. Despite the negative press, medical nonwovens remain the fabric of choice in hospitals and coverstock suppliers to the baby diaper business can't make enough nonwovens to satisfy domestic and foreign demand.

* European companies, frustrated by their efforts to enter the U.S. market, indicate they are going to concentrate their efforts on being prepared for the 1992 EC common market. But in the next breath four of the top European nonwovens suppliers either enter into joint ventures with Asian counterparts or announce new Far Eastern capacity expansions to explore that region of the world. Such is the confusing, often contradictory, always evolving world of the top 30 producers of nonwovens, this year a more diverse but better understood collection that ever before.

Today, the top worldwide producers of nonwovens are no longer as dominated by American companies. In this year's ranking only six of the top 10 producers are U.S. owned, with three of the top 10 controlled by European owners and, for the first time, one Japanese company (Japan Vilene) among the world's elite. In last year's survey seven of the top 10 were American companies.

In the entire Top 30 listing, 16 companies are based in the U.S. (including one Canadian company, Dominion Textile, with a significant U.S. subsidiary), 10 are headquartered in Europe and five are from Japan. (A total of 31 companies are listed this year because two companies--National Felt and Troy Mills--tied for the number 30 spot with $40 million in 1990 sales.)

Worldwide production of nonwoven fabrics, according to John R. Starr, Osterville, MA, was 3.5 billion pounds in 1990, which equates to a turnover of slightly less than $6 billion. Together, the top companies account for a reported $5.141 billion in worldwide nonwovens production, a figure that is approximately 86% of the total nonwovens output in the world. That percentage has not changed dramatically in the past few years.

The top 10 producers account for about 58% of worldwide nonwovens production, based on annual turnover of $3.5 billion, with the second 20 (actually 21) accounting for about $1.6 billion, or 27% of worldwide turnover (Figure 1).

The U.S.-owned producers, despite being in the middle of a recession for much of this period, still produce and sell the majority of nonwoven fabric in the world. Including the production of their overseas subsidiaries, U.S. nonwovens companies (those owned by U.S. parent corporations) accounted for $2.7 billion in sales last year, which works out to 45% of the worldwide total and slightly more than half of the output by the top 30 producers (Figure 2). European-owned companies, led by Freudenberg Group in Germany (including its two U.S. operations), had $1.94 billion in annual sales, 38% of the Top Companies total in 1990. The five Japanese companies had total sales of $520 million, about 10% of the production by the leading producers.

An Explanation of the Numbers

The 1990 sales figures offered in this survey are either provided by the companies themselves or are the result of discussions with industry sources and consultants. The figures are based strictly on sales of nonwoven roll goods produced by each company; in some instances there may be a percentage of this figure belonging to converted products sales, but these are a minimum and do not significantly affect the final rankings. The previously mentioned 86% of worldwide nonwovens roll goods production accounted for by the top producers does contain some of these converted products sales but, again, this is not enough to drastically alter the percentages.

In the case of companies that produce a major portion of their sales for in-house consumption, namely Kimberly-Clark, Chicopee and Molnlycke, the figures are accurate estimates based on their capacities and the sales price of their fabrics if they were sold on the merchant market.

These sales totals are meant as an indicator of both performance relative to previous years as well as to their competitors for the most recent year. All sales figures are presented in dollars, with the local currency provided as well. The exchange rate is computed on the average 1990 exchange rate for that currency based on figures provided by the Federal Reserve.

Because of currency fluctuations, some of the sales figures of foreign companies may be distorted from the 1990 Top Companies feature, giving the illusion that their performance was better or worse than it actually was. This is a problem inherent in any international ranking of performance and is best resolved by analyzing both the local currency and U.S. dollar figures. The most obvious case is number one Freudenberg, whose nonwovens sales expanded 9% last year but, because of exchange rate variations, jumped in U.S. dollars from $750 to $950.

This annual survey is in a constant state of revision and updating and we have adopted the policy that we will add new information even if it contradicts in some manner the figures presented last year. For that reason there are a number of instances where companies moved up or down a few places because the 1991 figures are a more accurate barometer of their performance than we presented in 1990.

Examples of this are the worldwide Hoechst nonwovens business, which had reported sales of $200 million in 1990; in last year's survey we gave them 1989 sales of $240 million. This lower 1990 sales figure is not the result of a horrible year; it is the result of more accurate information becoming available. The same is true for Japan Vilene, which contacted us after last year's report to clarify some figures we presented; the result is a jump from number 11 last year to entry into the top 10 in the 1991 survey.

To a lesser extent the same holds true for German producers Sandler and Textilgruppe Hof, the latter of whose numbers dropped from year to year not because of poor performance but because of more accurate numbers now available. The sales figures at Chicopee this year jumped from last year's numbers solely because the 1990 survey did not include all European sales; the $220 million annual turnover is a more accurate barometer of Chicopee's worldwide production.

There are four newcomers to the Top 30 this year. Hollingsworth & Vose, which two years ago reported nonwovens sales in the low $30 million range, was added because it now counts a larger portion of its business as nonwovens. The two needlepunchers tied for the final spot in the rankings had strong enough years in 1990 to break into the rankings. The inclusion of Japanese newcomer Kureha, which had $97 million in turnover last year, corrects a past oversight.

The addition of new companies means three companies have been replaced from the 1990 rankings. The numbers 28, 29 and 30 companies from last year--Bonded Fibre Fabric, Milyon and Lohmann--were pushed out of the top 30 but are nonetheless profiled in a section we call "Companies To Watch."

Highlights of the 1991 Rankings

There were more than a few highlights, along with a few lowlights, in the performances of the Top Companies in the Worldwide Nonwovens Industry in the past year. Each of the current events of late 1990 and 1991 thus far have impacted on the performances of these leading lights of the global industry.

* Looking East: Two years ago most of the European producers were telling of their still unformed plans to expand into the North American nonwovens industry. The reality of entrenched competition, fluctuating exchange rates and a recessionary domestic economy closed those doors to all but a few, such as Lantor and Textilgruppe Hof. So in large numbers the major European producers turned instead to Asia, where a still relatively untapped market looms as the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

In the real world, however, it takes a local company with local knowledge of how to find that rainbow in a virtually closed market. The nonwovens industry has done exactly that and joint venture agreements and expansion plans revealed in the past few months by Holzstoff, Akzo Industrial, Dominion Textile and Corovin are paving the way for the European onslaught into Asia. Freudenberg started up its major Asian production facility in Taiwan this spring. From the U.S. side, Du Pont has revealed plans to expand its "Tyvek" and "Sontara" production into Japan by mid-decade.

* Looking West: To a lesser extent the North American companies are seeking to position themselves in Europe to take advantage of the 1992 common market. Leading these efforts is Du Pont, which now has a European executive overseeing its worldwide nonwovens operations; Reemay, which has drastically expanded its European exposure; Dexter Nonwovens, whose purchase of Storalene last year gave it a more imposing presence on the continent; Foss Manufacturing, which has opened distribution and converting facilities in France; and Dominion Textile, whose new Nordlys unit reported a strong year.

* A Consolidation Mode: Last year bigger was better and everyone was looking to buy everyone else. While that remains somewhat true to a lesser extent, "introspection" seems to be the buzzword for many producers. Perhaps it was the economy and perhaps it was that some companies have been growing so rapidly through acquisitions and new technology additions for so long that it was time to sit back and reassess.

Fiberweb says this time it really is done with its reorganizing and has in place a marketing and management team that will secure its place in the industry of the 1990s. Freudenberg has already secured its place and reports this year that it has finally completed its restructuring and has cleaned up its portfolio. Veratec has completed its assimilation into the International Paper corporate culture and is ready to get past the growing pains of the past few years and set a long term strategic plan in place.

* Getting Used To What They Have: Others are just getting accustomed to their expansions and their new roles as leaders in the industry. Dexter Nonwovens is now a significant player in Europe and seems to have a fairly good handle on its technical capabilities, but it has spent much of the past year assimilating the acquired Storalene technologies and management structure into the Windsor Locks style. "Company To Watch" BFF has emerged from under the yoke of a parent unfamiliar with nonwovens and has set in place a structure to improve its position in the pan-European nonwovens scene. Dominion Textile's Poly-Bond unit in the U.S. grew so fast in spunbonding that it seemingly came from nowhere into the Top Companies; now with its exclusive technology arrangement expired it is taking steps to strengthen is marketing position.

* Resource Refocusing: Radically different corporate philosophies are at work in the instances of primarily captive suppliers Kimberly-Clark, Molnlycke and Chicopee. Molnlycke has headed off into one extreme by committing 100% of its nonwovens production to in-house consumption. K-C is merely continuing a decades-old policy of K-C first, all others second. And Chicopee, under new management direction, has headed in the other direction by declaring itself more available to outside customers, while, of course, retaining its commitment to source J&J affiliate companies.

* The Ultimate Change: And then there is Scott Nonwovens, which, like Corovin a year earlier, has spent much of 1991 wondering whose name will be on its paychecks by the end of the year. An announcement is expected sometime late this summer or early fall. Scott is profiled separately in this feature because it has operated as such for most of 1991; of course, it will be included under its new parent, whether an existing nonwovens producer or a new player to the game, in the 1992 survey.


(millions dollars, 1990 Sales)
Du Pont $600
Kimberly-Clark $340
Veratec $325
Dexter Nonwovens $255
Chicopee $220
Reemay $175
Scott Nonwovens $130
Phillips Fibers $115
Lydall $90

Foss Manufacturing $85 This List includes only companies owned by U.S. corporations. Figures are worldwide nonwovens roll goods sales.


(million dollars, 1990 Sales)

Freudenberg (Germany) $950

Fiberweb Group (Switzerland) $250
Hoechst (Germany) $200
Akzo Industrial (Holland) $125
Lantor Group (Holland) $120
Sandler (Germany) $74
J.W. Suominen (Finland) $61
Corovin (Germany) $55
Molnlycke (Sweden) $53
Textilgruppe Hof (Germany) $53

This list includes companies owned by European corporations. Figures are worldwide nonwovens roll goods sales.


(millions dollars, 1990 Sales) Japan Vilene $186
Asahi $110
Kureha $97
Unitika $65
Kuraray $62

This includes only companies owned by Japanese corporatins. Figures are worldwide nonwovens roll goods sales.


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Title Annotation:nonwoven fabrics industry rankings and statistics
Author:Jacobsen, Michael; Noonan, Ellen
Publication:Nonwovens Industry
Article Type:Cover Story
Date:Sep 1, 1991
Previous Article:Fibers for nonwovens recovering slightly.
Next Article:Veratec.

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