Hardly ever, and as a rule, the Rupp Report does not discuss specific people. However, if a person is exceptional, there is no doubt that the author should write about it. The man to talk about is Gerold Fleissner who is celebrating his 90th birthday, and is most possibly one of the most eminent and influential personalities of the last century in the global textile machinery industry. And let’s also include his lovely and charming wife Elisabeth, who was, and still is, his life companion.
The celebration of this event is the right time to look back at an enterprise that influenced many people and products in the global textile industry. The Fleissner company was founded 1848 by Johann Christian Fleissner in Bohemia, Germany. In the next generation, Karl Fleissner began to produce steel constructions, lifts, centrifuges, household washing machines, dyeing equipment and other textile machinery.
From 1929 on with Gerold’s father Hans Fleissner, machinery for textile drying became the preferred sector and Hans developed the first perforated drum dryer and applied for a patent. This is where the through-air principle originated. More patents were granted to the company, and the name Fleissner became a global trademark. After the turmoil of World War II, the world wasn’t the same anymore. However, Hans Fleissner again founded the company anew from 1948 to 1951 in Egelsbach, Western Germany. An important step occurred in 1968, when Hans Fleissner handed over the company to his sons Heinz and Gerold. Heinz was responsible for the commercial management of the business, Gerold for the technical aspects.
In the mid-1960s, man-made fibers such as polyester, nylon, polypropylene and acrylic were developed. Fleissner already was successful in the rayon industry for many years, and this experience allowed Fleissner to breakthrough as the biggest global supplier for staple-fiber lines. In 1965, the North-American branch office of Fleissner Inc., in Charlotte, N.C., was founded.
After the death of his brother Heinz in 1984, Gerold took over the management of the entire company. The increasing importance of the Asian market forced Fleissner to open an office in Beijing, China, in 1993. By that time, Fleissner was represented with its own offices and other commercial agencies in more than 80 countries worldwide.
In addition to the already expanded portfolio for man-made fibers, wool, woven and knitted goods and carpets machinery, Gerold Fleissner, with the support of his Vice President Alfred Watzl, continued develop nonwoven offerings. Fleissner became one of the leading manufacturers of processing lines for the nonwovens industry.
The development of the AquaJet hydroentanglement system allowed a completely new generation of nonwovens to be produced. A 100-centimeter (cm)-wide complete pilot line was installed in the technical center in Egelsbach to run customer trials at speeds of up to 500 meters per minute (m/min). To complement the portfolio, Fleissner acquired the Mohr company in Ansbach in 1995, becoming a leading producer of installations for the production of fiberfill wadding webs.
The perforated drum-drying equipment, of which more than 40,000 drums already were operating, was further developed and optimized. Gerold Fleissner achieved the development in a revolutionary manner with the high-tech through air drum to meet the high requirements of modern production lines. This opened a new production field for Fleissner; the drying of air-permeable filter papers and soft-tissue for toilet paper and kitchen rolls, with speeds of up to 3,000 m/min.
With entrepreneurial spirit and a vision, Gerold Fleissner strengthened the company`s position on the world market through several cooperation agreements. Contracts were concluded with United States-based Beloit for the delivery of complete tissue lines and with Denmark-based Danweb for the production of complete airlaid nonwoven lines.
An agreement struck with Georgia Pacific to use their patent for the production of hydroentangled sandwich products featuring fiber layers and airlaid pulp layers, made this such sandwich technology available to Fleissner customers for the exclusive production of low-cost standard and flushable wipes.
With the cooperation of world famous machinery suppliers, Fleissner was able to supply complete turnkey lines. Gerold Fleissner also attached special importance to today`s demands for machinery with advanced process control systems and non-polluting technology.
Gerold and Elisabeth Fleissner did not have a successor. That’s why they decided in 2003, to sell the company to Zimmer AG in Frankfurt. Zimmer operated for more than 50 years in the area of plant engineering for the polymer- and fiber industries. In 2006, Zimmer sold Fleissner to Trützschler GmbH in Monchengladbach, Germany. The rest is Trützschler history and was many times reported by The Rupp Report.
However, Gerold Fleissner continued to run Fleissner Nonwovens Ansbach, the part of the Fleissner business that was not sold to Zimmer. He concentrated on complete conveyor belt oven lines for drying and thermo bonding of waddings. Because of his age, Fleissner finally decided to liquidate Fleissner Nonwovens Ansbach in 2009.
On October 9, 2014, Gerold Fleissner will celebrate his 90th birthday. There are probably not many people that left such an impressive mark on the path of the textile machinery industry in the 20th century. Gerold Fleissner was a restless inventor, business man, leader of his company, but also is a human being and a personality of the highest class. He was always present up to the last minute at a machinery show, when other so-called important directors had already left the fairground to catch the next plane back home. And there was no show without his wife Elisabeth. She kept Gerold’s options open so he could fully concentrate on the company’s welfare. However, Elisabeth was also a great support to the company itself. The author remembers very well entering a Fleissner booth and being greeted by Mrs. Fleissner. She came along to shake hands, smiling and said: “Welcome Mr. Rupp. Sit down, please. Now you need a nice soup, you look hungry and exhausted.” She personally brought the soup to the table, sat down, and waited until the soup, cooked by her, was eaten. Never did she leave the table. And the pleasant chat continued with a cup of tea or coffee and “something sweet” as she used to say. Elisabeth Fleissner also will celebrate her 90th birthday in November.
Happy Birthday, Mr. and Mrs. Fleissner. The world of textile machinery was a little bit brighter when you were present. May you enjoy another wonderful decade together looking back on a rich and fulfilled life.
Jürg Rupp and the whole team of Textile Industries Media Group.
September 9, 2014