espite their financial woes, European converters still serve an expanding market. An indication of this is that label stock manufacturers are still working near to capacity. In the case of release base papers, one of the largest manufacturers — the Ahlstrom group — is actually expanding capacity. It plans to spend €18 million ($23.18 million) at its supercalendered release liner company in Turin and make a similar investment in France. Ahlstrom says that worldwide demand for release papers for self-adhesive laminates and silicone-coated release liners has an average yearly growth of 5 to 7 percent. The main driver is an increasing usage of pressure sensitive adhesive labels, especially for coding purposes.
The group plans to exceed the average market growth in this business and strengthen its global leading position. The investment in PM 8 at Ahlstrom Turin is expected to be completed by January 2006. It includes modifications to several of the machine’s components and the offline supercalenders. They will allow a significant increase in machine speed, bringing Ahlstrom a capacity increase close to 20,000 tons annually. “Significant improvements” in product quality are also expected.
The investment accords with the company’s strategy to increase capacity, product quality and efficiency of PM 8, described as one of Ahlstrom’s cornerstone assets. The company intends to make similar investments at its La Gère operation in France. This is Ahlstrom’s other main site for manufacturing release base papers. In addition, Ahlstrom is assessing opportunities to expand the production of release base papers outside Europe. The group has 5,800 employees and has sales offices and production facilities for speciality paper products and non-wovens in more than 20 countries on five continents. In 2004 Ahlstrom’s net sales amounted to €1.6 billion ($2.06 billion).