Albany Int’l puts focus on composites

After serving paper mills for 123 years, Albany International Corp. believes it might soon be known

After serving paper mills for 123 years, Albany International Corp. believes it might soon be known as more than just a paper machine cloth manufacturer.

With high fuel prices forcing jet manufacturers to replace heavy parts with lighter-weight versions, Albany International is increasingly focusing its paper clothing weaving skills on aerospace composites, such as landing gear braces for Boeing’s massive 787 Dreamliner.

As the Menands company’s core paper machine clothing business recovers from a sharp downturn in 2006, the bets executives made that year on the aerospace industry appear to be paying off. And at a time when Albany International’s paper machine clothing business is shrinking in the Capital Region, its Albany Engineered Composites arm is growing in Texas.

“We now believe AEC has the potential — and it is important to underscore the word ‘potential’ — to be significantly larger than the $150 million enterprise that we envisioned a year ago and to become a second core business of the company,” Albany International President and Chief Executive Officer Joe Morone said in a Monday conference call announcing the company’s fourth quarter results.

In 2006, Albany International acquired two composite companies — Aztex in Waltham, Mass, and Texas Composites in Boerne, Texas. It combined those companies, along with Albany International Techniweave in Rochester, N.H., to create AEC.

Although the paper and airplane industries may seem very dissimilar, the process that goes into making the machine clothing and aerospace composites is not.

“There’s a correlation between the two if you think of it in terms of weaving technology,” said Albany International spokeswoman Susan Siegel.

Texas Secretary of State Phil Wilson last month announced AEC will receive a $1 million state grant, which will go toward the expansion of the Boerne plant Albany International acquired in 2006. AEC plans to bring 337 new jobs and a $41.6 million capital investment to the Boerne area, north of San Antonio.

AEC ended 2007 ended last year with $30.5 million in revenue, and it could become a $150 million business by 2015, Morone said. So far, AEC customers have been limited to small aircraft, such as the Eclipse 500 Very Light Jet.

That jet’s Albuquerque, N.M., manufacturer, Eclipse Aviation, later this month will hold a grand opening ceremony for its Northeast factory service center at Albany International Airport in Colonie. AEC makes 47 advanced composite parts and subassemblies for the Eclipse VLJ.

However, with a new wave of long-haul jetliners preparing to take to the air, the aerospace composites market is projected to increase to $27 billion in 2016 from $5 billion this year. AEC is working with Messier-Dowty in Velizy, France, to develop the landing gear braces for Boeing’s long-delayed Dreamliner.

“It will be our performance in pursuit of the development opportunities created by this second wave that will dictate whether, by the end of this decade, we are viewing AEC as a healthy and important part of the Albany portfolio of business, or as something altogether more significant than that,” Morone said.

Albany International executives spent most of last year rolling out an aggressive restructuring initiative, which included the elimination of 225 jobs at paper machine clothing operations in East Greenbush and Menands.

The aim of that restructuring was to return Albany International by the end of last year to the profit levels it realized during the second quarter of 2006. On Monday, Morone said “we have substantially achieved this objective.”

The manufacturer’s net income for the fourth quarter rose 27.9 percent to $7.94 million.

Categories: Business

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