Eastman Fires Up New European Production LineNovember 22nd, 2023 by Casey Flores
Fully integrated window film plants have been hard to find in Europe—until now.
In what Eastman Performance Films calls its largest expansion in its history, it has doubled capacity at its Dresden, Germany, manufacturing facility to serve the film market in Europe, Asia and the Middle East. The plant previously had sputtering capacity but the company would ship products from Dresden to its U.S. plant in Martinsville, Va., for the final coating and laminating process. This expansion eliminates that need and the company can now perform that procedure in Dresden.
Europe is the second continent Eastman Performance Films has announced an expansion into in 2023, after having acquired China-based Ai-Red Technology earlier this year.
“These investments in Europe and Asia Pacific, as well as significant investments we’ve made in our digital capabilities and services, will allow us to meet the continued growth we’re seeing around the globe for our window films and paint protection films,” says Erin Bernhardt, general manager of Eastman’s Performance Films business.
Plans for this expansion were first made in 2019, but COVID put them on hold briefly. While there was a question as to whether the plans would become reality post-lockdown, Bernhardt says the answer was clear—they were going to need the extra film.
“This industry had a very good resiliency of consumer demand, and our shops were able to be open pretty well through COVID. We had strong demand at the end of 2020 and the beginning of 2021,” she says, so they pressed on with construction. She adds they’re about 18 months behind the originally planned open date.
COVID wasn’t the only major hit to the German economy during plant construction. On September 26, 2022, the Nord Stream 1 pipeline was destroyed, which contributed to up to 55% of the nation’s energy source prior to the Russia/Ukraine war, according to the Guardian newspaper. Germany is the largest economy in Europe and fourth largest in the world, thanks largely to its manufacturing prowess. In 2022, the country paid more than double what it did for gas in 2021.
This was another hit, but didn’t deter Eastman from proceeding with the plant.
“You worry about the continuity of supply and pricing dynamics and if you’re going to be disadvantaged on your energy supply,” Bernhardt says, noting plants require a lot of energy, but the company takes steps to mitigate energy costs with tactics such as heat recovery—repurposing heat used to form film to also heat up the plant in winter, for example.
Despite the major economic hits, demand is still strong and the European film market is growing, Bernhardt says. That’s especially true for paint protection film, which is the first product rolling out of the expanded plant. Despite being a cloudier continent than North America, automotive film is popular in the southern regions and energy-saving incentives continue to spur architectural film installations.
The acquisition of the film plant in China was the result of global supply chain trends.
“In the world economy what we continue to see is supply chains are becoming more regionalized,” Bernhardt says. “To achieve continuity of supply, people want to source locally.”
Eastman isn’t the only company to expand capacity in 2023. Garware Hi-Tech Films recently completed an addition to its Aurangabad, India, plant while select other industry suppliers are exploring expansion as well.