Spotlight on Afera Member FFT Group Converting Solutions

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After the company’s 30th anniversary, FFT Group Head of Sales and Project Management Till Sturm discusses the Afera Converter Member’s specialisation in protective and processing films, the importance of sustainability and why Afera Membership is so relevant to the tape industry now.

Till Sturm (Head of Sales and  Project Management FFT Group)One of Afera’s Converter Members since 2019 is FFT Handelsgesellschaft Ph. Schwanbeck GmbH. FFT Group is a German-based, mid-sized converter of flexible materials, with subsidiaries in Austria and Denmark.  With about 100 employees, the company has been a reliable partner to its customers in the field of tailor-made adhesive tapes, surface protective and processing films for over 30 years. 

Two decades ago, FFT Group’s head of sales and project management stepped into the adhesive tapes industry. “During my high school years, I began earning extra pocket money by working at FFT as a machine operator,” explained Till Sturm. “Our founder and CEO Philipp Schwanbeck and I played on the same football team. This was a very valuable, practical experience which stuck me to the industry. Puns aside, it immensely helps me in my daily work, because I can honestly say I know precisely what I am talking about.”

Till Sturm (Head of Sales and Project Management FFT Group)

Their offering

The FFT Group has six locations, with its headquarters located in Stapelfeld near Hamburg, three production sites in Gallin, Lübtheen and Mühlhausen (strategically positioned between Nuremberg and Ingolstadt), and two companies in Salzburg and Copenhagen. FFT serves customers from various industries, including automotive, building & construction, home appliances, metal service centres and trade. “They all benefit from our deep knowledge and experience in consulting, selection and processing of various product groups,” commented Mr. Sturm. “Plus, our longstanding relationships with premium tape and film manufacturers further contribute to our ability to meet their needs.” He said FFT does focus on specific industries, but at the same time, it doesn’t want to become entirely dependent on them: “If the German automotive market catches a cold, we don’t want to come down with the flu!”

Mr. Sturm detailed how FFT processes everything that comes in a self-adhesive roll format. This includes a variety of materials, such as single-sided tapes, a wide range of process and protective films, double-sided tapes, functional tapes, foams and specialty products like mushroom hook fasteners. “The combinations of carriers and adhesives are as diverse as the portfolios of our partners and even broader, and we also create our own material combinations,” he shared.

Their competitive edge in protective and processing films

“We made our first move in the late nineties with protective and processing films,” Mr. Sturm disclosed.  “Since then, we have built an expertise in this area that I have not seen in any European company that does not produce protective films themselves.”

How the market has changed over the years

Mr. Sturm described the years since the start of the pandemic as a rollercoaster ride, requiring maximum adaptability. Initially there was a sudden halt in March and April 2020, when almost everyone transitioned to working remotely, and production ran in staggered shifts. This was followed by a robust recovery characterised by high demand and disrupted supply chains, when material availability took centre stage until the outbreak of the war between Russia and Ukraine in 2022, significantly driving up raw material and commodity prices. The economic situation has recently dimmed, particularly in Germany, and this of course affects FFT’s business.

Philipp Schwanbeck (Owner/CEO) and Axel Schubbert (CEO)

“At the same, however, as a converter, we find ourselves in a sandwich-position with many of our customers,” Mr. Sturm related. “On one side, there’s the tape manufacturer, and on the other, the end user, and in the middle, both our customers and ourselves, typically serving as 1st-3rd-tier suppliers. The tape manufacturers pass on their increased costs entirely to us converters, while our customers are unable to pass them on to their end-users.”

FFT Group headquarter in Stapelfeld/Germany

The trends they see

Mr. Sturm sees a mix of several trends affecting the tape converting business:

  • Sustainability megatrend.  This includes calculating product PCFs, using recycled or biodegradable raw materials, and developing new adhesives. “As FFT Group, we focus on sustainability and the environment,” he said. “So we learn as much as possible from participating in Afera’s events, projects and activities, particularly the Working Groups, such as the one working on liner recycling.”
  • Digitisation of processes.  Operating as lean and efficiently as possible is a significant challenge, as well as the shortage of labour.  FFT therefore strives to automate as much as possible.
  • Formation of converter platforms.  Groups of converters will form increasingly, because the market in Germany and many parts of Europe is very fragmented.
  • Rising customer expectations.  Mr. Sturm refers to this as the Amazon-isation of B2B customers. FFT tailor-makes 95% of its products. Even so, and no matter how complex the request, customers are asking for quotes ever more readily: “They simply expect it, as they would when buying pots and pans in an online shop.”

According to Mr. Sturm, these are all “big challenges which simultaneously offer a lot of potential and new opportunities.”

On learning about Afera

“I heard about Afera several years ago, as our premium partners are all Members and have been increasingly sharing insights gained through participating in Afera’s initiatives,” Mr. Sturm revealed. “Ultimately, it was our long-time companion, Stefan Meirsman of Nitto, who introduced us to the industry collective in 2019.” 

He expects that as an organisation representing the PSA industry, Afera will continue to provide to FTT well-prepared input on topics that are relevant to them—that affect them. Especially now, this means anything related to sustainability, and Afera is covering this topic in multiple areas with its Flagship Sustainability Project. “To tackle sustainability in our industry, we all heavily depend on a leading organisation such as this association,” Mr. Sturm said. 

“In addition to this, Afera’s Annual Conference is a great format for networking and making new connections, all the while ensuring there’s room for some fun.” He appreciates the interesting and informative presentations and the debates and exchange among the players of the entire tape industry value chain, as well as the social events.

For more information, visit FFT Group Converting Solutions here.


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