Since the New Year traditionally is a time to look back and ahead, let’s do just that with a manufacturer once important to the region, Albany International Corp.
With roots in the paper-making industry that stretch back nearly 120 years, Albany International left its namesake hometown three years ago to be closer to an emerging business segment — engineered composites — in Rochester, N.H.
The company is an international leader in the production of custom-designed fabrics and belts used in the machines that manufacture paper products. But that business, while still lucrative, is considered “mature” with little room for significant growth.
On the other hand, growth in engineered composites — high-strength, low-weight alternatives to metal — could explode as Albany International works with aerospace and defense customers on advanced composite parts, such as fan blades for next-generation jet engines.
In November, just days after reporting a disappointing third quarter because of soft sales in the paper machine clothing line, Albany International finalized an agreement with French aerospace firm Safran that should spark sales in the years ahead.
The two companies created a new venture under which Albany Engineered Composites — the composites business in New Hampshire — will exclusively supply Safran with so-called 3D-woven composite parts for a high-efficiency aircraft engine known as LEAP. The engine, being developed by CFM International, a joint partnership of Safran and General Electric Co., will be used in new Boeing and Airbus planes.
Joseph Morone, CEO of Albany International, told analysts in November that the manufacturers’ plans for the new engine point to a steep production climb beginning in 2016 that could reach as many as 1,800 units annually by the end of the decade.
For Albany International, Morone said, “Essentially, we’ll have to ramp from very low rates of production to 30,000 blades per year in a little more than two years.”
The company’s full-year revenue from LEAP in 2018 could be double its potential in 2016, Morone said. “Once the production ramp begins, our revenues will grow faster and to higher levels than we had been anticipating,” he said.
Morone, who took the Albany International helm in 2006 after stints as a college president and as a business school dean, closed manufacturing operations in the Capital Region and elsewhere and sold off ancillary businesses developed from its work in textiles.
Even the massive, well-kept plant on Broadway in Menands that housed its corporate headquarters and manufacturing operations for so many years was sold. The last Albany International workers recently vacated the site, a portion of which will be redeveloped into high-end apartments.
Marlene Kennedy is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in her column are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Reach her at email@example.com.