Half a century Swiss (Oerlikon) presence to serve the American Textile Industry
A historic breakdown of activities under different ownership in the USA over the past 50 years
Products such as nylon stockings and denim jeans, brands such as Lycra® and companies such as DuPont are global landmarks in US-American textile history. However, for the last 50 years – and this is not an overstatement – two German ‘imports’ have also made invaluable contributions to the success of this region of the textile world so dominant for many years: Barmag and Neumag, today part of Oerlikon Manmade Fibres, with its US activities and subsidiaries.
The American Barmag Corporation and the Neumag USA Corporation have been important cornerstones of our foreign business for many years now – and have been technology ambassadors to the ‘Land of the Free’.
Many things change over time, but some things remain the same. With a service station in Dalton, GA that opened in 2015, Oerlikon Manmade Fibres is making a clear statement about the high value it attributes to customer support in the ‘Land of the Stars and Stripes’. “We wanted to strengthen our service offerings and Dalton is an important step towards achieving this goal”, states Chip Hartzog, President of Oerlikon Textile Inc. in the USA. “And our customers are also investing in this region.”
Exactly 50 years ago, Barmag decided – for the very same reasons – to establish its first US subsidiary. In 1965, the USA was the largest manufacturer of manmade fibres, producing one-third of global output. Barmag’s business activities in the US were still limited to occasional deliveries. In 1958, the company had signed a license agreement with a US partner for the manufacture of extruders and extrusion systems – a new production segment at the time. However, the US market was now awarded ‘special attention’, as outlined in the Barmag company chronicle: to secure its position as a machine supplier, ‘its own company in the USA’ was required, comprising sales, customer service and technical support. As the US textile industry has been traditionally concentrated in the cotton centres in the south eastern states, the economically strong Charlotte site in North Carolina was chosen as the base. From here, the company wanted to show its presence and compete with local players in the USA, Canada and Mexico.
A veritable success story began with the founding of the American Barmag Corporation (ABC) and initially just two employees. Over the three following years, US imports of textile machines rose to a ratio of 27 percent, whereby Germany alone accounted for well in excess of one-third of these imports. The reasons for this were seen in the high quality and performance standards achieved by the German technology. And Barmag also assumed an increasing share of this: over time, successful products, such as the FK4, and later the FK6, the FK6M80 all the way through to the AFK and eAFK texturing machines, polyester and nylon spinning machines, winders and take-up machines, opened up – and then conquered – the hitherto natural fibre dominated US market for manmade fibres.
In the first ten years, the ABC staff had already expanded to include 76 employees. On its own 80,000- square-meter industrial plot, the company site was successively expanded to more than 5000 m2 – providing premises for workshops, mechanical manufacturing, warehousing, offices and exhibitions rooms. In 1968, the US became Barmag’s largest export region and remained in the top group in the following years as well.
In this timeframe, a new player entered the stage: the Neumag USA Corporation was founded in 1989, also headquartered in Charlotte. Two employees were responsible for the US and Mexico markets, while the most important spare parts were stored at the depot for fast delivery. Even decades earlier, the German parent company was, above all, successful as a supplier of staple fibre lines – a status that continues to this very day. The early-1980s saw the beginning of the activity for which the name Neumag is today decisively known in the US: the BCF systems business. US customers were secured in particular for draw-texturing machines for manufacturing BCF carpet yarn made from polypropylene.
In the 1990s, Neumag secured itself a market share of around 40 percent in the US with its BCF busi-ness – above all thanks to the new company in Charlotte. Neighbour and competitor Barmag was also successful: ABC repeatedly reported record sales, increased its staff to 240 employees and influenced the entire US manmade fibre and textile industry with such developments as draw-texturing and fast-speed spinning for POY.
A new age of textiles began at the turn of the millennium. The global textile industry was increasingly shifting to the Far East, with the major players reorienting themselves – also in the direction of manmade fibres. In 2000, the Swiss Saurer Group acquired Barmag and Neumag, with the Oerlikon Group taking over the textiles division of Saurer six years later. During these years, the businesses were consolidated and restructured: Neumag assumed the BCF activities and increasingly focused on the newly-oriented nonwovens division; Barmag concentrated its attention on the filament business. Here, the high-performance technologies of both companies complemented each other and resulted in superior products and, in part, high market shares. To this end, Neumag secured the lion’s share of the entire US BCF market with its S5, S+ and Sytec One BCF platforms and simultaneously supported the increasing pol-yester boom. Today, Neumag is the premium BCF brand throughout the world and is admired by its American customers for its high quality at reasonable costs as well as for its local service and support offerings.
However, the modern US textile market, once the birthplace of many commercial manmade fibres, has reoriented itself – creating a mix of commodities, specialty goods and products for local requirements or goods with high value-added. Sustainability and recycling are playing an increasingly major role. While labour costs elsewhere are rising, certain US regions with low energy costs are once again becoming more interesting as manufacturing sites. Add to this the fact that many of the machines installed over the course of the past 30 years are still in operation.
This creates opportunities for Oerlikon Manmade Fibres with its current tally of 51 employees in the USA. “We are adding BCF, IDY, FDY and texturing capacities in North America and are also modernising equipment delivered many years ago. We recognize an opportunity to better support our industry partners, further decrease their lead times for parts and services and provide highly-specialized repair services to keep them competitive in the worldwide marketplace. This was a primary reason for our investment in the new Dalton Service Centre”, states Chip Hartzog – and adds: “We have been the technological ambassador to the US for 50 years now – and are prepared to continue that tradition.”