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The Rupp Report: Andritz Is Tackling The Nonwovens Markets

Jürg Rupp, Executive Editor

It can be said without exaggerating that nonwovens are gaining ground constantly in the global textile markets. Over the years, production line and the raw material quality has improved considerably. Today, nonwovens — mainly spunbonded, spunlaced and needlepunched — have a firm place in the markets. The quality and appearance of the final products have improved so much that the nonwovens industry has transformed parts of itself from serving disposable markets to serving durable and even niche markets.

Spunbonds With Overcapacity Problems
In this context, needlepunched nonwovens are playing mostly in different application sectors than are spunbonds and spunlaced materials. However, even these two technologies do not always cover the same end products. For quite a long time, spunbond production lines were at the top of the ranking list, as their output is bigger by far than that of any other production technology. However, that output has become a problem these days. Massive overproduction capacities hinder the current success and also the current negative price structure of spunbond products.

Spunlace With Enlarged Applications
On the other hand, with even more sophisticated machinery, spunlaced material is gaining more ground thanks to more flexible technology and production lines. One reason is the quantum leap toward a much more textile-like touch and appearance. Since 1995, the annual growth rate has been 8 percent. According to the International Association Serving the Nonwovens and Related Industries (EDANA), Brussels, and the Association of the Nonwoven Fabrics Industry (INDA), Cary, N.C., the spunlaced market in 2011 totaled 820,000 metric tons divided among the following end-uses:

  • Wipes 75 percent
  • Surgical gowns and drapes 9 percent
  • Coated & laminated 8 percent
  • Industrial 6 percent
  • Protective apparel 1 percent
  • Medical 1 percent

One of the current market leaders in this segment is Austria-based Andritz AG, with three daughter companies: Küsters, acquired in 2006; Perfojet, 2010; and Asselin-Thibeau, 2011. The companies supply nonwovens technologies from web forming to finishing. According to the management, Andritz offers more than 70 percent of all nonwovens production technologies in-house. The strength of this conglomerate is the combination of know-how of the three companies:

  • Andritz Küsters, based in Krefeld, Germany, has extensive know-how and references in calendering and wet finishing processes, and has sold more than 2,500 calenders and 24,000 deflection-controlled rolls around the world.
  • Andritz Perfojet, based in Montbonnot, France, has sold more than 180 machines and complete spunlace production lines worldwide. The company claims to have a 60- to 70-percent market share in spunlace production lines. It recently delivered a 660-centimeter large production line — the world's first such line — to a customer.
  • Andritz Asselin-Thibeau, based in Elbeuf, France, designs, builds and supplies turnkey drylaid nonwovens lines including cards, crosslappers, drafters and needle looms.

Andritz provides complete production lines for hygiene, household, filtration, agriculture, construction, geotextiles, automotive and other applications. It also supplies individual machines, rebuilds and modernization strategies, including in-house automation solutions. The Andritz companies no longer serve the traditional apparel fabrics business.

Sharing Technology
The Rupp Report talked to Andreas Lukas, vice president of Andritz AG and head of the nonwovens business, to learn about the company's new structure. For Lukas, the main advantage of this setup is the ability to share technology among the members of this group. "Our main focus is to create added value for our customers by staying close the markets and the customers," he said.

RR: What are the — let's call them internal — targets for each member of the Nonwovens Group?

Lukas: Well, this is quite clear: the integration of each company into one strong entity. By talking to one another, we take the best ideas of all people and combine them in a new enterprise, providing new and fresh ideas for the customers and the markets.

RR: You put together people from Germany and different parts of France. How did the staff react to these acquisitions? Are you happy so far with the outcome?

Lukas: Yes, I am. We are having a unique opportunity to have so much concentrated know-how. This opens new opportunities: Our people like the idea of working in a bigger company with more possibilities for each individual person. We are not only sharing technologies, we are also sharing success.

New Spunlace Technical Center
Last week, Andritz Perfojet welcomed the media to attend the opening of a new technical center in Montbonnot. The center is committed to high-performance spunlace production; and is equipped with the latest innovations for carding, hydroentanglement, dewatering, impregnation, low add-on, and drying technologies. The opening and blending section comes from France-based Laroche, and can process any type of fibers including man-made, natural, or blends. The Andritz Perfojet neXline spunlace pilot line has been designed "to meet the highest demands of the spunlace market." It is said to support nonwovens producers in their research, product, and process development.

Three Andritz core technologies are included this new pilot line: the Isoweb TT card from Andritz Asselin-Thibeau; the Andritz Perfojet Jetlace hydroentanglement system; and the Perfodry 3000 through-air dryer. The card is designed to process material for a wide range of products, and has an output capacity of up to 700 kilograms per hour (kg/h) with a machine direction:cross direction (MD:CD) ratio ranging from 1.5 to 3.5. The hydroentanglement unit is equipped with patented injectors that generate high-quality water jets for highest performance. According to Andritz, these injectors combined with the Micro Perforated Sleeve (MPA) improve bonding and enable an energy consumption reduction of up to 80 percent compared to conventional mesh sleeves. The energy-efficient through-air dryer removes moisture at the rate of up to 1000 kg/h at high throughput speeds. The configuration of the pilot line will allow production of webs weighing from 18 to 500 grams per square meter at a production speed of up to 400 meters per minute.

Closer To The Customers
In the interview, Lukas mentioned several times that proximity to the customers is essential for success. With an export share of 90 to 100 percent for Küsters, Perfojet and Asselin-Thibeau, Andritz is strongly committed to be as close to the customers as possible. For example, the company has built a service center in Wuxi, China, to serve the Chinese customers on-site and to provide the same technology.

What does Lukas expect from this assemblage of companies for the future? "Well," he smiled, "we expect a higher performance if three companies join their power and know-how into one unit. This will certainly allow us to strengthen our market position."

And what about future acquisitions? "May I quote James Bond: 'Never say never,'" he said. "However, it could happen, but it's not a necessity at the moment."

The next event is planned for May 2013: the opening of the new Andritz Asselin-Thibeau technical center in Elbeuf. Once thing is certain: there will be much more to talk about at Andritz in the future.

March 19, 2013