The business unit Specialty Businesses comprises four sub-segments that serve different markets. These sub-segments are: Building Products; Fiber Technologies; Combustion Technology; and Sawing Wire. The characteristics they all four have in common are their high-end product portfolio and advanced technologies, and their continuous search for lightweight solutions and environmentally-friendly applications.
Building Products develops and manufactures products that reinforce concrete, masonry, plasterwork and asphalt. Fiber Technologies offers high-end products for filtration, heat-resistant textiles, electroconductive textiles, the safe discharge of static energy, and sensor technologies. Combustion Technologies targets heating markets with environmentally-friendly gas burners and residential and commercial heat exchangers. Sawing wire develops and produces core wire and diamond wire for photovoltaic and semiconductor wafer markets.
Building Products represents the largest part of the business unit’s sales. Demand for Bekaert’s Dramix® steel fibers for concrete reinforcement was strong throughout the year. The recently launched Murfor® Compact masonry reinforcement and Fortifix® asphalt reinforcement generated steady growth from a still limited - start-up - production basis.
The Fiber Technologies activities saw a demand drop in diesel particulate filter media due to the slowdown in automotive OEM, offset by increased business in other sectors. The sudden stop of subsidies supporting the coal-to-gas conversion program in China affected demand for gas burners and heat exchangers in the country. The sawing wire market remained very competitive.
The business unit Specialty Businesses reported about stable sales, with significant differences between the respective activity platforms.
Building products achieved +6% revenue growth in 2019. The organic growth (+5%) was equally driven by strong volumes and a positive price-mix and currency movements added +1%. Fiber technologies reported stable sales for the year after a strong fourth quarter and the combustion activities ended the year 4% below the revenue of 2018. Sales of (diamond) sawing wire were limited.
Underlying EBIT doubled to € 52 million at a margin of 12.2%, mainly driven by a strong underlying performance of the building products activities and reduced losses in the sawing wire business. Reported EBIT included one-off elements (€ -18 million) that are mainly related to the closure of the Belgian building products plant and to losses generated by social actions in the Belgian sites of the business unit.
Building Products is targeting new regions with its latest generation of products, including Murfor® Compact for masonry reinforcement, Fortifix® asphalt reinforcement and Dramix® 4D and 5D steel fibers for concrete reinforcement.
We are ramping up production capacity in the Czech Republic and India. Those two locations will, together with Indonesia, act as global export hubs next to a number of smaller production units that address local market needs in, e.g., China, Russia and the US.
Murfor® Compact, Bekaert’s high-performance masonry reinforcement is a sturdy mesh of high tensile strength steel cords, supplied on a roll for thin joint masonry and glued brickwork. The strong structure of the reinforcement controls cracks and strengthens masonry. This lightweight product is easy to handle and install. As the product can be cut to size on-site, there is almost no material loss.
With the buy-out of Maccaferri’s 50% stake in Bekaert-Maccaferri Underground Solutions, Bekaert confirmed its ambition to grow faster in the tunneling market and other underground applications of Dramix® steel fibers for concrete reinforcement.
Fiber Technologies has developed innovative thin metal fibers to reinforce composite materials. Lightweight composite materials are usually prone to explosive and unexpected breaking, which is a current struggle for the composite industry. Adding metal fibers creates a composite material that absorbs more energy, is stronger and electrically conductive. This promising technology brings advantages to segments where impact resistance, durability and safety are essential, without compromising on weight. Bekaert is targeting applications in sports, aerospace and automotive.