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Frank Heislitz
Frank Heislitz

Interview with Frank Heislitz

We look for solutions that meet future needs of customers and society

Freudenberg Performance Materials is a leading global manufacturer of innovative technical textiles offering differentiated value propositions to a broad range of markets and applications. Paulami Chatterjee speaks to Dr Frank Heislitz, CEO, to know how Freudenberg is fairing in the highly competitive world of technical textiles.

TT: What are the main business areas for Freudenberg Performance Materials?

Freudenberg Performance Materials is a leading manufacturer of technical textiles and serves customers across the world. The company is active in a broad range of markets such as apparel, automotive, construction, energy, filter media, healthcare, hygiene, building interiors, shoe and leather goods as well as specialties.

TT: Are acquisitions and collaborations with like-minded companies in the pipeline?

As far as acquisitions are concerned, Freudenberg is constantly looking to broaden its technology and materials expertise. Whenever the company sees the need for additional technology to significantly expand an existing market or develop a new market, it looks for matching options that can usefully complement or be combined with its existing technologies. One example is the acquisition of Polymer Health Technology in 2015, a leading polyurethane foams specialist for advanced wound care. With this, Freudenberg expanded its product portfolio in the field of medical technology.

TT: What are the innovations that Freudenberg is working on at the moment?

One example for Freudenberg's current R&D activities is our work in automotive applications. To meet the needs generated by the changes taking place within the automotive industry, Freudenberg provides a wide range of materials for new applications in e-mobility-starting from new lightweight products like acoustic pads and underbody shields, and moving into entirely new areas. For example, Freudenberg has recently industrialised the production of gas diffusion layers for fuel cells.

What are the innovations that Freudenberg is working on at the moment?
TT: Where do you stand in the world market today as a manufacturer of technical textiles?

As a global leading manufacturer of technical textiles for a broad range of markets, Freudenberg Performance Materials is the world leader in interlinings for the apparel industry and technical textiles for the construction industry. We also hold a leading position in most of our other markets such as carpet backings. This success is based on the company's innovation strength, broad technology platform and local presence in all our global markets.

TT: Which are the decisions you have taken to remain competitive in the TT business?

Based on Freudenberg's deep technology expertise, the company is constantly looking for solutions that meet the future needs of our customers and society. One example is the use of recycled raw materials. Freudenberg was an early pioneer of PET recycling. We were already using recycled PET bottles as raw material for our products back in the 1990s at a time when they where still considered waste. Freudenberg has been using recycled materials in its products ever since. Today, the majority of Freudenberg products contain sustainable rPET fibres.

A current example is Freudenberg's engagement in the healthcare sector. Due to ageing societies, more people suffer from chronic diseases like diabetes. In 2015, Freudenberg expanded its technology platform to include foam. This means that the company is now in a position to offer innovative multilayer wound dressings that reduce the overall cost of care by improving healing performance, reducing product complexity during manufacture and simplifying the supply chain.

Which are the decisions you have taken to remain competitive in the TT business?
TT: What is the driving force behind the nonwovens market?

One major factor driving the nonwovens market is sustainability. In response to the growing demand for sustainable products, Freudenberg is constantly working to help our customers make more sustainable products and improve their environmental performance.  

One way in which we are doing this is by replacing traditional products with new sustainable products. An example is the company's comfortemp fibreball padding eco for outerwear. This is the world's first padding made from 100 per cent recycled fibreballs and replaces conventional products without compromising on top performance.  In addition, Freudenberg is replacing more virgin raw materials with recycled raw material in existing products. For instance, Freudenberg tuft backings are now made from almost 90 per cent recycled fibres, yet still provide the same high performance than conventional versions. 

What is the driving force behind the nonwovens market?
TT: The technical textiles industry in the developed world is maturing and growth is expected to be moderate. Your views, please.

Most technical textiles manufacturers focus on specific mass markets like hygiene or apparel. As a result, they simply match technologies with market requirements. This focus often comes at the cost of limited technical capabilities. In contrast, Freudenberg sees a growing trend in many specialty and industrial markets, where customers are demanding solutions that combine different functionalities in one new product: for example, nonwovens that offer both excellent breathability and high water resistance. Because we have the broadest technology platform in the market, Freudenberg is able to create new multi-layer solutions that combine various functionalities. The company sees this as a big opportunity to support our customers in several of our key markets and in new markets, like e-mobility.

TT: Technical textiles is technology-intensive. How much is your company investing in R&D for the development of TT products?

Innovation is central to the Freudenberg Group's success. This is underlined by R&D expenditure: in 2019, the Freudenberg Group invested 34 per cent of sales into R&D.

TT: The TT market has many good players. What are your product differentiation strategies?

Freudenberg Performance Materials works with the broadest technology platform in the market. Dry laid, spun laid, wet laid, melt-blown, foams, knits and webs are our base technologies, which we combine with a wide variety of coating and finishing technologies. This enables Freudenberg to precisely tailor product offerings and characteristics to specific customer needs. In addition, our customers benefit directly from Freudenberg's global footprint. With 23 production sites in 13 countries and more than 100 sales offices worldwide, we are close to our customers in all our main regional and global markets.

TT: According to you, what potential does India have in the global TT market?

India is a market with great potential for Freudenberg. The company has been doing business in this country for decades and is aware that India offers further potential. As a result, Freudenberg is already running multiple different projects to explore further opportunities, for instance in the apparel market. (PC)

TT: Which are your most revenue generating technical textiles applications?

In terms of revenues, Freudenberg Performance Materials benefits particularly from the apparel, automotive, building interiors and construction markets, as well as from specialty applications. Market segments that embrace megatrends like the ageing society and e-mobility already have future potential for this reason alone, especially automotive and healthcare.

TT: What sustainable practices do you employ in each stage of the manufacturing process?

With our "footprint and handprint" model, Freudenberg pursues a far-reaching approach to sustainability that has an impact right down to our customers' processes. "Footprint" is how Freudenberg improves its processes and equips its plants to make production as resource-efficient as possible. "Handprint" relates to the way Freudenberg's many products and services directly enable our customers to improve the efficiency of their own products. This is where Freudenberg contributes to a positive handprint. Both footprint and handprint focus on resource efficiency with the goal of becoming more sustainable. The most important areas in this respect are materials, waste, energy, emissions, water and health.

Published on: 09/07/2019

DISCLAIMER: All views and opinions expressed in this column are solely of the interviewee, and they do not reflect in any way the opinion of technicaltextile.net.


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