By Edward C. Gregor, Editorial Board Chairman, International Filtration News
Leading in technical fabrics for around 190 years, Sefar has been setting filtration media standards worldwide as a problem solver with an absolute customer focus. A privately held company that is still comprised of the original seven family companies that merged in 1907, Sefar’s sustained success comes down to its ability to innovate in the production of some of the world’s most sophisticated precision fabrics for industrial use.
Sefar produces precision monofilament yarns, fabrics, filter components and ready-made products for filtration and separation, ranging from component applications for healthcare, automotive, acoustic, aerospace, and appliance, to processing applications such as chemicals, minerals, food, environmental, life science/pharmaceutical.
Being vertically integrated in identified critical process steps, (yarn, fabric weaving & finishing, component fabrication), Sefar ensures that what it delivers to the market meets quality standards. The start of the production process is yarn at Monosuisse, which is among the world’s leading producers of a wide variety of synthetic monofilaments for industrial use, as well as a recognized producer of fine, high-tenacity multifilaments for technical applications. Yarn production is accomplished in Switzerland, Poland, Romania and Mexico. Sefar’s fabric weaving and finishing centers of excellence are located in Switzerland, Romania and Thailand and incorporate proprietary processes developed over decades. Combining this with Sefar’s global network of subsidiaries and manufacturing centers in 26 countries on 6 continents, it can quickly and efficiently help customers achieve results in their industrial processes and applications.
Sefar is committed to ensuring optimal and practical use of their products by supplying leading-edge technical application support. Sefar’s experience and knowledge has steadily increased through its decades of experience. The company’s regional competence centers are located in China, Southeast Asia, Australia, America and Europe.
Recently I had the opportunity to interview Christoph Tobler, CEO of Sefar Group. The following includes highlights from our questions and answer session, which provides some insight on what has enable Sefar to play a leading role throughout its many years in industry.
Ed Gregor: Strategically, any thoughts of expanding the filtration business beyond monofilament fabrics and component parts?
Christoph Tobler: As a global leader, with one of the largest vertically integrated technical fabric manufacturing organizations in the world, Sefar has a large invested base from yarn production, through weaving and finishing into fabrication. The core competence has been built on our ability to produce very precise holes, and the frame of these holes have always been perfect monofilaments. Consequently, our core business has been to provide solutions utilizing woven monofilament material for a very broad range of industries.
We still see great potential going forward in this direction, in particular since we can develop our own yarns and apply our proprietary finishing technologies resulting in better and more consistent performance in the final woven fabric material. Bringing these advances in woven fabric together through our expertise in technical fabric handling and fabrication also opens new application opportunities as we work with our customers to seek solutions to today’s challenges. We are convinced that this avenue remains our main playing field for many years to come.
Nevertheless, we continue to explore alternative woven designs utilizing other technologies such as multifilament yarns to produce certain fabrics in support of our core customers. Sefar has always refrained from producing or processing staple fibers. Stable fiber yarn never matches the evenness of a monofilament. In addition, the dust from lose, short fibers, associated with these products is not compatible with the production of perfect square holes, where a single piece of dust or a lose fiber can block the perfect square openings in our mesh.
On the horizon, we see new applications to apply our core expertise. We have invested resources in developing smart fabrics for applications such as heating, shielding, sensing, lighting, and photovoltaic applications. These new high-tech fabrics are produced on the basis of metallic and polymeric monofilament yarns.
Ed Gregor: What does Sefar do best to differentiate itself as a supplier in filtration?
Christoph Tobler: We have several advantages to offer to our customers around the world. On the one hand, we have filtration specialists in 26 subsidiaries on all continents, giving us the closeness to our customers and their production sites. This is key to understanding their requirements and to responding to their questions and needs in a professional and timely manner. Furthermore, Sefar is backward integrated into the yarn manufacturing through the Monosuisse companies. This allows us to develop new yarns as the market demands them, bringing new performance into the fabrics. We can tailor a product from the choice of polymer to the final product on the equipment at the customer site.
Ed Gregor: Are there any special efforts being made in the biopolymer media area at the moment as disposable media?
Christoph Tobler: Our integrated yarn manufacturing company, Monosuisse, is constantly experimenting with new polymers. We do this in close cooperation with research institutes, allowing us to be early movers. Sustainability is a key value of the Sefar Group, and biopolymers are a major step towards a more balanced use of resources. Monosuisse currently produces and sells polylactate yarns, which are biodegradable. The challenge of this polymer still is the limited durability over time until it starts to lose the physical properties. A major use for these yarns currently are tea bags and containments to hold fruit or vegetables.
Ed Gregor: From your seat for a wide variety of filtration applications, would you care to mention any growth areas that seem to be emerging?
Christoph Tobler: Just have a look at some megatrends in the world … We see an increasing need for cleaner water and air, and stricter requirements for recycling. Some of these challenges can be addressed with woven media, or woven media in combination with a depth media. Besides that, the increase of the life expectancy of the world’s population automatically is another mega trend and calls for more and better medical services, requiring filtration media satisfying the tough medical standards. And last but not least, the source of energy will change from fossil fuel to renewable energy, opening large opportunities for mesh in the fields of solar panels, fuel cells and storage devices.
Ed Gregor: Most media suppliers do not sell both filtration media and fabricate filter parts for concern with competing with their customers. How has Sefar been successful doing both?
Christoph Tobler: We consider fabrication as one of the powerful sources of differentiation and a sign of dedication to supplying the best solution to the end-user. In many cases, the end-users of our fabricated items are industrial customers and they prefer a partner that understands their processes and needs from A through Z. Sefar is such a partner and can supply them the best value for the money by starting from the right choice of polymer, applying the best suited weaving pattern and finishing it with a solid fabrication. There is one clear line, however that we have drawn – we do not diversify into processes that are readily available in the market, such as injection molding for filter components. For activities like that, we partner with the top players in the respective industries to deliver the best finished product to the end-user.
Ed Gregor: What have been the more important filtration technical advancements or manufacturing capabilities for Sefar in recent years?
Christoph Tobler: Filtration only with woven media has its limitations due to the minimum particle size and retention capability. This has led us into combining different media with our woven material to come up with a better filtration solution. An example is the fuel filter, where a felt material is ideal for its dirt holding capacity. A woven monofilament mesh could not fulfill this job on its own. On the other side, there is a considerable risk, that fibers from the felt become lose and are drawn into the fuel line, eventually clogging the injection nozzle and damaging the engine. By enclosing the felt with a layer of monofilament mesh on both sides we prevent lose fibers from getting into the fuel line, while still keeping the dirt holding capability of the felt. We believe that in the future, more and more such smart combinations of material will be demanded to efficiently solve filtration challenges.
Ed Gregor: As the medical, diagnostic test kit and pharmaceutical markets continue to grow, what does the future hold for Sefar in this area?
Christoph Tobler: Continued increase of aging of the world’s population inevitably leads to higher medical expenses and thus demand for medical material and medication. In the developed world, innovation will additionally drive growth, such as the “flow-stop” media Sefar developed for infusion sets. Further growth will also come from developing countries, where until now only basic medical filtration material was used – if any, but the population demands higher quality from medical treatments. This opens the opportunity to roll out existing solutions in mass markets such as India and China. Overall, we expect to see more new application opportunities in the general healthcare industry as new portable medical devices are developed, global healthcare standards and pharmaceutical demands continue to rise to meet the changing demands of the marketplace.