Tamfelt Oyj Abp History

Address:
PB 427
Tampere
FIN-33101
Finland

Telephone: 358 3 363 91 11
Fax: 358 3 356 01 20

Website:
Public Company
Incorporated: 1942 as Tampereen Verkatehdas Oy - Tammerfors Klädesfabriks Ab
Employees: 1,384
Sales: EUR 126 million ($135 million) (2003)
Stock Exchanges: Helsinki
Ticker Symbol: TAF
NAIC: 313210 Broadwoven Fabric Mills

Company Perspectives:

Tamfelt is known globally as a reliable, innovative, and competent supplier of technical textiles. The company's vision will be realized by investing in customer service, personnel, quality, efficient machinery, and productivity.

Key Dates:

1797:
Governor Ernst Gustaf von Willebrand begins wool manufacture on his estate at Jokioinen, Finland.
1938:
The mill is acquired by Axel Wilhelm Wahren.
1852:
Wahren rents the mill to Axel Israel Frietsch, who moves the mill to Tampere in 1859 and renames it AI Frietsch & Co.
1863:
The mill defaults to the Bank of Finland, which sells it to a group of investors who change the name to Tampereen Verkatehdas Osakeyhtiö.
1882:
Tampere mill launches production of industrial felts for the paper industry.
1936:
A new production plant is built for industrial felts.
1942:
The company is listed on the Helsinki Stock Exchange as Tampereen Verkatehdas Oy - Tammerfors Klädesfabriks Ab.
1956:
The company begins exports of technical felts.
1965:
The company begins production of filtering fabrics.
1981:
A new technical textiles production facility is introduced, ending production of consumer grade wool and textiles.
1984:
Tamfelt acquires Viira Oy.
1986:
Tamfelt enters the United States with the acquisition of Draper Felt Company of Massachusetts.
1989:
Tamfelt establishes Formtec Inc. in Georgia and begins producing forming fabrics for the U.S. market.
1998:
A filter fabrics production subsidiary is established in Brazil.
2000:
A joint venture subsidiary begins production in Tianjin, China.
2002:
Tamfelt establishes U.S. distribution agreement with Andritz-Ahlstrom.

Company History:

One of Finland's oldest companies, Tamfelt Oyj Abp is also a major European producer of technical and industrial textiles. The company's core product line focuses on producing a full range of paper machine clothing. These products are used to transport paper web during the production process, offering "dewatering" and forming functions, as well as protection for the paper-making machinery itself. The company's products including forming fabrics, press felts, shoe press belts, and dryer fabrics. Tamfelt products are marketed under several branded lines, including Transmaster Open, Ecostar, Tambelt, Tamfil, Silverstar, Unistar, among others. Tamfelt operates two plants in Finland, the 60,000-square-meter mill at Tampere, producing press felts, dryer fabrics, belts, filter fabrics, and carrier ropes; and the 20,000-square-meter mill in Juankoski, focused on the production of forming fabrics. Tamfelt's international operations include plants in Portugal, through subsidiary Fanafel, which is Europe's leading producer of laundry felts with an 80 percent market share; in Brazil, where the company specializes in wet filtration products for the mining industry; and through its joint venture plant in Tianjin, China. Finland accounts for the largest share of the group's sales, at more than 38 percent, while the other Scandinavian countries add 10 percent. The rest of Europe contributes nearly 29.5 percent of group sales, while the North American market adds 9.5 percent to sales. Tamfelt is listed on the Helsinki stock exchange. In 2003, the company posted sales of EUR 126 million ($135 million).

Founding Finnish Industry in the 19th Century

The invention of the first weaving machines in England at the end of the 18th century, coupled with the development of the steam engine, introduced the first modern manufacturing techniques and inaugurated the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century. Finnish manufacturing, as in much of the Scandinavian region, remained mostly undeveloped until then, with the production of goods restricted to craftsmen within the guild system.

The late 18th century, however, saw the emergence of a new type of "manufacturer," in which the owner of a mill was not necessarily a craftsman, or even directly involved in the production process itself. The new manufacturing class evolved in part from the noble class, itself under threat from new democratic and revolutionary ideas. In Finland, then under the control of the Swedish monarchy, a number of the manufacturing groups that appeared during this period grew into dominant positions, both within their markets and in the country's economy as a whole. Such was the case with the Fiskars and Hackman groups, and with a maker of textiles based in Turku province that formed the basis of the later Tamfelt group.

The origin of Tamfelt traced back to 1797, when Ernst Gustaf von Willebrand, then governor of Turku province under the Swedish monarchy, was given permission to set up a water-driven textile mill on his estate in Jokioinen. Willebrand sought to take advantage of the large sheep herd on the estate, producing wool using the new machinery being developed in England at the time. Willebrand installed two of the English-type weaving looms on the estate and production began that year.

Willebrand's factory burned down in its second year. Yet by 1800 the mill had been rebuilt and re-equipped, with new weaving looms and a carding machine, which represented an important advance for the nascent textile manufacturing industry. The mill continued production through the first decade of the 19th century, but faded with Willebrand's death in 1809. Soon after, Finland came under Russian control.

The Jokioinen site was revived in 1838 by Axel Wilhelm Wahren, who went on to become one of Finland's most noted industrialists. By the middle of the 1840s, the Jokioinen mill had become one of the largest in the country. The mill's growth, however, was hampered by inadequate water supply, a situation that led Wahren into dispute with local authorities. Wahren left the company in 1852, having by then founded a new cotton mill in the town later known as Forssa.

Operation of the Jokioinen site was leased to Axel Israel Frietsch, who began looking for a means of overcoming the mill's water shortage problem. By then, the town of Tampere had become an important industrial center in Finland. Tampere had two important features attracting industry: located between the Nasijarvi and Pyhajarvi lakes, the rapids ran right through the city, offering a good supply of water power. In addition, Tampere was a "free" city, having been granted an exemption from import duties under Swedish rule. Frietsch began building a new mill in Tampere, which opened in 1859 as AI Frietsch & Co.

The United States had by then become the world's major supplier of cotton. Yet the Civil War severely disrupted cotton imports. Cotton prices shot up as only small quantities of cotton, chiefly from Egypt and India, remained available to the Finnish market. By 1863, Frietsch had declared bankruptcy and the mill was taken over by the Bank of Finland. In 1869, the mill was sold to a group of prominent Tampere-based industrialists, including Axel Wilhelm Wahren and Carl Zuhr.

Zuhr became the mill's manager, and the company was renamed as Tampereen Verkatehdas Osakeyhtiö, Finnish for Tampere Woollen and Worsted Mill. The company remained one of the country's most prominent wool and textiles mills. Yet, Zuhr's interest increasingly turned toward a newly developing Finnish industry, paper.

That industry had been undergoing its own revolution since the mid-19th century with the development of the first papermaking machinery, which used wood instead of cotton or cotton rags as primary material. Finland's large forests made it ideally suited for paper production, and Tampere had boasted a modern paper mill since the 1840s. The rise of the industry, and the increasing sophistication of papermaking machinery created a need for support materials, especially felts, used both as a protective layer between the paper and the machinery, and as means of "de-watering" the paper. Zuhr became interested in reorienting the company's production toward machine felts in the late 1870s.

Zuhr was succeeded by Carl Gustaf Angonius Dahlbom, a Swedish native, who became determined to carry out the reorientation envisaged by Zuhr. Dahlbom found an ally in Axel Wahren and together they convinced the company's other shareholders that the company's future best lay in developing itself as a manufacturer of specialist products, starting with technical felts. The board agreed, and production of felts for paper industry started in 1882. In 1887, that operation became a separate division, Tammerfors Kaldesfabrik.

The initial years of production were fraught with technical and other difficulties. As reported in Tamfelt's 2000 Annual Report, "The new product line, in itself one of the toughest within the weaving industry, was the source of great trouble for many years. Products that turned out badly, claims and heavy damages, before even a satisfactory manufacturing skill was achieved. In spite of many hardships Mr. Dahlbom continued to develop the product with admirable energy. He took advantage of the experiences gained, and by investigating the way foreign mills made their felts he enhanced his own knowledge and the skill of the workers. Thus the machine felts of the company started slowly to gain foothold in the domestic market."

The company faced a number of other difficulties in the decades to come. A second fire destroyed the mill in 1888. Although it was rebuilt soon after, the mill once again suffered damage by a flood in 1889. The company made it through World War I; in 1918, during the civil war that followed the Soviet revolution, Tampere became the site of the final battle between the White and Red armies. Although Finland gained its independence as a result, the company's warehouse was destroyed.

Felt Force in the 1950s

Wool, yarn, and textiles remained the company's chief product focus into the second half of the 20th century. Nonetheless, the company's felt production began to grow steadily, boosted by the construction of a new, dedicated plant in 1936. The company was once again hit hard by war, when bombing raids caused heavy damage to its plants. The shortage of raw materials also cut into the company's production. During this period, the company listed its shares on the Helsinki Stock Exchange, taking on the name Tampereen Verkatehdas Oy - Tammerfors Klädesfabriks Ab.

Emerging from World War II, Tammeren now found itself confronted with new competition, in the form of cheaper, foreign-produced wools and a steady stream of new types of textile materials. Yet the strong growth of the Finnish paper industry helped counterbalance the group's dwindling wool sales, as demands for its technical felts and other textiles increased steadily through the 1950s.

The other Scandinavian markets were experiencing a similar boom in paper demand, and by 1956, Tammeren was able to begin exporting its technical textiles for the first time. Soon after, the company began exporting its felts into the rest of Europe and elsewhere in the world.

By the early 1960s, felt production had overtaken the company's wool and consumer textiles operations. The growing focus on technical textiles was highlighted by an extension of the original felt mill at this time. Meanwhile, the company had begun seeking new outlets for its technical expertise and in 1965 began producing filter fabrics as well. By the end of the decade, the company had outgrown its original location.

Construction of a new facility took more than a decade to complete, but by 1981, the company had shifted its machinery and employees to its new and larger manufacturing plant. Not all of the company survived the move, however--at that time, the company decided to leave behind its wool production and transform itself into a focused technical textiles group. As part of that process, the company changed its name to Tamfelt in 1981.

Focused Technical Textiles Group in the New Century

The newly focused Tamfelt now began to expand its operations. In 1984, the company acquired Viira Oy, based in Juankoski, adding that company's forming fabrics capacity. The move helped Tamfelt develop into a full-line paper machine clothing group.

Tamfelt next turned to the United States, where it bought Draper Felt Company, based in Canton, Massachusetts in 1986. The acquisition gave Tamfelt a new felt production facility as well as a springboard into the U.S. market. In 1989, the company extended its U.S. production to include forming fabrics when it established a second subsidiary, Formtec Inc., in Peachtree, Georgia.

Tamfelt also sought expansion in Europe, and in 1990 the company bought a majority share of Portugal's Fanafel Ltda. The addition of Fanafel not only added to the group's technical textiles capacity, but also brought it new operations in the production of laundry felts, giving Tamfelt the position of European leader for that product segment.

Tamfelt's international extension continued into the turn of the century. In 1998 the company established a new subsidiary in Brazil, Tamfelt Tecnologia em Filtraçao Ltda. That company began producing filtration fabrics specifically for the Brazilian mining industry.

The following year, Tamfelt formed a joint venture with Tianjin Paper Net in Tianjin, China, called Tamfelt-GMCC Paper Machine Clothing Co. Ltd. Production at the new facility began the following year, giving Tamfelt entry into the fast-growing Chinese paper industry. In 2001, the company acquired full control of Fanafel.

Not all of the group's effort went toward expanding its operations. In 1997 the company shut down Formtec's Georgia site and moved that operation to its Juankoski facility, in part in response to shrinking paper industry demand. In 2002, however, the company strengthened its U.S. presence again through a distribution agreement with Andritz Ahlstrom Inc. While not the largest in its field, Tamfelt remained an important Scandinavian technical textiles producer and one of Finland's historic industrial groups.

Principal Subsidiaries: Fanafel Ltda. (Portugal); Tamfelt - GMCC (Tianjin) Paper Machine Clothing Co, Ltd. (China); Tamfelt Corporation Juankoski Mill; Tamfelt PMC, Inc. (United States); Tamfelt Tecnologia em Filtraçao Ltda. (Brazil).

Principal Competitors: E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Co.; Saint-Gobain SA; ESTAR OU; Toray Industries Inc.; Kanebo Ltd.; Collins and Aikman Corporation; InterTech Group Inc.

Further Reading:

  • "Andritz-Ahlstrom in New Partnerships," Solutions-for People, Processes and Paper, January 2002, p. 9.
  • "Tamfelt Corp.," Pulp & Paper, August 1995, p. 114.
  • "Tamfelt Oyj Cuts Nine Jobs," Nordic Business Report, March 12, 2003.
  • "Tamfelt Reports Net Sales of EUR 131m," Nordic Business Report, February 13, 2002.
  • "Tianjin Paper Net," Pulp & Paper International, December 1999, p. 12.
  • Toland, Justin, "Pressing Issues," Pulp & Paper International, March 2003.

Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol.62. St. James Press, 2004.