MANHEIM, Pa.—With a $4 million investment aimed at increasing its coated textile production capacity, Fenner Precision Polymers remains on track to open a state-of-the-art treatment line at an existing manufacturing facility in eastern Pennsylvania.
According to Jack Krecek, divisional managing director at Fenner Precision Polymers, the new treatment line is being added in response to increasing textile demand—especially in the material handling segment—and will use a dipping process to coat the woven materials. The textiles themselves also are manufactured at the Manheim location.
Fenner said it plans to hire several operators to support the growing high-tech coated textile line in the coming year.
"As a division of the Michelin High Tech Materials Business Line, Fenner Precision Polymers is well-positioned to support our customers with production facilities in California, North Carolina and Pennsylvania," Krecek said.
With these textile manufacturing facilities in the U.S., a specialty hose line known as James Dawson in the United Kingdom and facilities in Shanghai, Fenner Precision Polymers produces textiles for critical control bearings in harsh and demanding environments, Krecek said.
The complex coating process acts as a sealant of the woven fabric, filling in voids between the yarns that comprise the textile and promoting better cohesion between the fabric and backing adhesive.
"These extreme condition applications span three major segments, including aerospace (landing gear and rotor components), industrial and earthquake protection," he said.
The new treatment line in Manheim represents part of an integration strategy, in which the company plans to invest in additional capacity to improve lead times and enable growth that the market is experiencing.
The line is expected to bring revenue "in the seven figure range" to Fenner, based on the company's ability to expand into new applications within current markets, and find new vertical markets with the additional capabilities that the line is expected to provide.
Rep. Mindy Fee (R-Manheim) toured Fenner's Pennsylvania operations in September, and said the international company's deep roots in Lancaster County, Pa., are solidified with the $4 million investment.
"Fenner Precision Polymers is a valued international business leader," Fee said. "Our community is home to a diverse pool of highly skilled, dedicated workers. I'm excited about their opportunity to advance Fenner Precision Polymers' work on behalf of its clients in aerospace, distribution, manufacturing and power transmission."
Brian Slingluff, vice president of global sales and marketing at Fenner, said the new coating line will create jobs and revenue for the local economy, and help lift the national economy.
"We are proud and confident about our work and our investment in this community," Slingluff said. "It also helps speed to market the kinds of engineered solutions that allow our clients to innovate and further lift the economy at the national level."
Fenner said it hopes to increase production capacity at all its manufacturing locations across the globe moving forward.
"We have a lot of opportunity for growth in all those markets, and local production capability is very important with these products," Krecek said, noting that Fenner has rebounded "quite well" from the initial impacts of the sudden shutdowns caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
"We were able to develop and maintain a safe environment for our employees while also managing to supply our customers, many of whom were in essential industries like food, agriculture, medical and defense," he said. "We have seen a recent acceleration in all areas of our business, but particularly in material handling."
So when will the coated textile markets see a return to normal?
"I'm not sure anyone can really answer this, and we assume that 'normal' will never look like it did back in February 2020," Krecek said. "What we're focusing on is how to position ourselves for that new normal, so that we can continue to grow our business and deliver for our customers."
Fenner Precision Polymers, headquartered in Manheim and owned by Michelin's High Tech Materials Division, comprises Fenner Drives and Fenner Precision in Manheim (belts and drive train components); James Dawson in the U.K. (hoses); Fabri Cote in California; and facilities in North Carolina and Shanghai, China.
Earlier this year, Fenner Precision Polymers acquired the Los Angeles-based Fabri Cote as part of an ongoing effort to build a more complete coated fabric and technical textile portfolio.
The California acquisition gives Fenner access to Fabri Cote's knife- or blade-coating process, a way of applying an elastomer to a textile with a metered, angled blade that cuts excess coating to a fine measurement. Such precision often is required in the aerospace realm, the firm said, where knife-coating is used to fabricate parts for the aerospace industry because it allows for greater precision "for coating thinner thicknesses that is crucial for aerospace parts due to tight weight and thickness constraints."
"We already have a coated textile line in the U.K., but we run a calender there," Krecek said. "Here in Pennsylvania, we do a dip process for coating textiles, and this (knife-coating) brings a third way of treating woven materials. Now we have all three ways covered.
"We are always looking for bolt-on acquisitions that fit within our current markets, and coated fabrics and textiles is a very important growth area for us."
Fenner Precision Polymers employs more than 800 people globally and supports clients across aerospace, data centers, distribution, food processing, packaging, mining and aggregates, and manufacturing. Product lines include coated fabrics and technical textiles, link belting for power transmission and conveying, keyless locking devices, Eagle polyurethane belting and PowerMax composite products.