“Impossible” Doesn’t Exist For Geissbühler
Switzerland-based finisher of technical textiles has invested heavily in R&D as well as in new production and peripheral equipment.
Jürg Rupp, Executive Editor
With the new Brückner finishing line, water-based as well as solvent-based coatings can be applied.
Saving The Future
In 2007, Geissbühler was acquired by the Cilander Group, one of the prominent finishing companies in Switzerland. "For Cilander, this acquisition was the next step to secure its position as a competent partner for technical textiles; and for Geissbühler, to secure a sustainable future," explained Managing Director Kathrin Bohnenblust in an exclusive interview with Textile World .
Until 2007, the company was led by the eighth generation of the Geissbühler family. "Today, we are an independent daughter company of the Cilander Group. We now have 21 people working in the company and have invested 5.5 million Swiss francs in production and peripheral equipment," Bohnenblust said.
Kathrin Bohnenblust has served as Geissbühler’s managing director since 2007.
Large Product Program
Geissbühler finishes a broad variety of woven fabrics for various technical textiles end-uses including upholstery fabrics for trains and buses, fabrics with flame-resistant finishes for airplane seats, and Kevlar® mesh fabrics for sports car bodies; as well as glass fabrics for architectural purposes, fire blankets and protective gloves. Other end-uses include protective shells for buildings, tents, tarpaulins and awnings, roller aprons, sun protection, filter fabrics, and also coated high-fashion apparel fabrics. For example, Geissbühler finishes fabrics for Indian turbans. The list can be extended at will. In 2000, the company finished the first world's first textile postage stamp. "This product had to be treated like a bank note — it has a certain value," Bohnenblust explained with a smile.
This Swiss postage stamp, the first textile postage stamp in the world, was finished by Geissbühler.
After 20 years with the company, Bohnenblust became managing director in 2007. In her own words, she is a "career changer" and a person with many interests. She loves animals, her house and the garden; and is also active in local politics. And what is the personal challenge in her work? "Well, basically, the focus of my efforts is to secure jobs. Job security is the big challenge for us all and is associated with the corporate philosophy: We never say 'no' in our job; we always try to find a solution," she said.
"I don't think one should look too much into the past. However," she continued, "there are two events that were and are important for the long-term existence of Geissbühler: on the one hand, the acquisition by the Cilander Group in 2007; and on the other, the purchase of a Brückner coating line [from Germany-based Brückner Trockentechnik GmbH & Co. KG], which opened up completely new application areas for our company."
Geissbühler produces some 1.4 million linear meters per year. And these are real linear meters — often, the fabric width goes up to 600 centimeters (cm). The year 2010 was very good for the company, and its fortune lasted well until October 2011. Then, the market calmed down a little bit. "But we are still at a good level," Bohnenblust said. "Some 30 percent of all products are exported to the European Union. Glass fabrics for architectural uses as well as fabrics for aircraft seats are currently the top runners."
In 2011, Geissbühler produced 224 new developments and brought them to the market. "This is the result of our corporate philosophy," Bohnenblust said. "In our laboratory, the word 'no' doesn't exist. In the lab, we want to find solutions. Flexibility stands above all." And what is the minimum quantity for a new product development? "Not that much," she added. "The average is 1,000 meters for a new product."
Such a wide product range requires an extremely flexible production system concept. "That's why we decided in 2005 to go forward," Bohnenblust said. Geissbühler is working according to a Brückner plant concept. Some 10 years ago, Bohnenblust heard the name Brückner for the first time. "At that time, we were still working with two lines. After the decision in 2005 to put in a new flexible system, we created a well-defined system profile. The system concept should allow us to work not only with paste coating, but also with wet and dry laminating. Moreover, Swiss environmental standards must to be fulfilled." After a comprehensive test procedure, Geissbühler decided to buy a Brückner line.
"You know," Bohnenblust said, "one of our strengths is the ability to coat. With the new machine, water-based coatings as well as solvent-based coatings can be applied. This is thanks to the web guide roll direct coating processes on textile fabrics and films, but reverse coating processes on transfer paper also are possible." Therefore, she said, there is great flexibility to execute various production processes such as:
- direct coating on textile fabrics and films;
- reverse coatings on transfer paper;
- impregnation and immersion coatings;
- dry and wet laminations of membranes and fabrics, for example, films; and
- independent production of membranes.
With the purchase of the Brückner plant, the annual production capacity of Geissbühler could be doubled, and the throughput time in the two-shift production reduced. And what about the environmental impact, as the Swiss standards are quite high? "Yes," Bohnenblust said, "the coating line was completed by a thermal exhaust air cleaning system that is able to clear about 15,000 normal cubic meters (Nm3) clean air, relative to 0°C. In addition, the energy released by this purification process can be used to heat the tenter frame dryer and the production hall.
"The exhaust air flow inside the tenter frame, particularly with solvent-based coating systems, requires absolute precision, expertise and experience to meet the energy technical requirements," Bohnenblust continued. "With these criteria, a perfect energy concept was implemented, which ensures an optimum utilization of energy. We can work on the plant up to 320-cm working width, even with solvents, as they are eliminated completely in thermal afterburning, and the air released into the atmosphere is absolutely inert."
The coating line is equipped with a thermal exhaust air cleaning system, mounted on the roof of the production hall.
Among other major criteria was that the temperature distribution had to be absolutely uniform over the entire dryer length and width. According to Bohnenblust, this temperature accuracy is a vital requirement for a high quality of the coatings during the drying and curing process.
Since November 2009, Geissbühler has been working with the new Brückner production system. What is the experience up to now? "During the negotiations and the erection of the plant, we were impressed by the willingness of the Brückner people to implement our wishes 100 percent," Bohnenblust said. "This is our first truly modern finishing line. Everything has gone smoothly, and we've never faced any problems. And the benefits are enormous: economic efficiency, quality and extreme flexibility of the system allow us to produce more articles than ever before."
The Correct Decision
Bohnenblust sees the future of the company mainly in the technical textiles sector. "If one compares the situation today with that of 10 years ago, there is an ever-increasing price pressure for traditional products such as apparel fabrics. However, the pressure is much less for us, because we are specialists. Therefore, our range has grown even further in the direction of industrial applications."
And have the expectations been met? "Definitely," Bohnenblust said. "The Brückner equipment allows us the opportunity to incorporate our own ideas, which gives us an important competitive advantage. You can also see it this way: The new plant is the main reason for the continuing growth of our company." And what are Bohnenblust and her staff doing to be successful in the future? "Well, we have proximity to the market, and we take the customer seriously. And, as I said before, the word 'no' doesn't exist in this company."