Company History

Raising the bar within the field of HVAC/R 

 

When FabricAir launched the world’s first fabric duct in 1973 it became a gamechanger. It is the story of how a small company, based in Denmark, grew to become a world leading innovator within HVAC/R, with customers all across the globe and sales offices or distributors in all major regions.

 

The genesis of a new air dispersion technology

 

The era of modern fabric ducting began in Denmark in the early 70s as a collaboration between the Danish Meat Research Institute and a company within the Electrolux Group, called IPS Dansk Presenning A/S, that manufactured tarpaulins. IPS Ventilation grew out of IPS Dansk Presenning into a separate company that through the years became FabricAir as we know it today.

 

FabricAir Through the Decades: The 70s

Prior to the establishment of IPS Ventilation there had been scattered attempts at creating fabric ducting. Entrepreneurial employees across the globe had covered air inlets with e.g. duvet covers, pillow cases or even coffee bean bags to dampen the drafts in cold workspaces. These initiatives were never formalized, and the materials selected were health hazards; a breeding ground for all sorts of bacteria.

In 1973 the first modern fabric duct was installed in a slaughterhouse in Denmark. This was the result of a joint innovation project between the Danish Meat Research Institute (DMRI) and IPS Dansk Presenning A/S, a company in the Electrolux Group.

Denmark has a strong tradition in cooperatives, and DMRI was set up as a research and development foundation by the slaughterhouse community to further innovation within the art of meat processing.

The Danish meat processing facilities were experiencing a high number of employee sick days due to the drafts inside the work area. The high velocity freezing airflows created an unhealthy work environment, causing colds and other deceases among the staff. DMRI thus approached IPS Dansk Presenning A/S to design an air dispersion sock that would lessen the draft issues but not create a breeding ground for bacteria.

A fabric duct would not cause condensation, which is a primary factor in microbial growth. Conventional metal ducting had an array of shortcomings in these cold meat processing environments incl. condensation, corrosion and general hygienic challenges e.g. washabilty; whereas the fabric was fully washable and wouldn’t corrode.

The new fabric duct concept turned out to be an unprecedented success. Through different permeabilities in the fabric surface, the engineers could control the airflow, creating even air dispersion with much better air distribution across the room. By distributing the cooled air along the entire length of the room, they lowered the air velocity, thus minimized draft, without compromising product safety. The targeted airflows resulted in a more homogenous temperature across the plant despite the lower air velocity. The results were better product hygiene as well as much higher employee comfort despite the freezing temperatures of the cold rooms.

With two simple ideas in mind, “make it better & make it easier”, the technology was refined throughout the decade and IPS Ventilation became a department in its own right. The demand for draft-free, hygienic air dispersion solutions was massive. In 1978 the first fabric air dispersion system was installed outside the meat processing industry and by the end of the 70’s, fabric air dispersion technology had gained international traction across many industries and application types.

 

The Birth of a Global Company

 

The initial fabric duct project purpose was to decrease sick leave in meat processing facilities, while not lessening the product safety aspects. The success was evident. It became the beginning of a whole new way of thinking within HVAC/R, product safety and employee comfort – FabricAir was born!

 

FabricAir Through the Decades: The 80s

The initial 1973 prototype, developed as a joint project between IPS Dansk Presenning A/S and the Danish Meat Research Institute (DMRI), was a success. The concept worked above and beyond expectations; but of course, the engineers didn’t just stop there. The potential was huge and throughout the decade, the new air dispersion technology was thoroughly explored. Airflow patterns, fabric types, suspension solutions were all new focal points and not long after the initial success, the new subsidiary in the Electrolux Group, IPS Ventilation A/S (precursor of FabricAir), was established to further the product development process.

News of the technology quickly spread and IPS Ventilation began its internationalization adventure. The technology was introduced to a number of new markets and by the mid 1980’s, the new fabric air dispersion solution was also introduced in the United States. Up until this point, the new technology had mainly been used for refrigeration purposes, but the US market was primarily interested in HVAC solutions. Through research and development, the technology was advanced and in 1989 FabricAir launched a new flow model – the NozzFlow™.

NozzFlow™ was a cutting-edge new air dispersion solution, which enabled an unprecedented degree of accuracy and precision in airflow design. The conical plastic nozzles enabled the engineers to create precise directional throws that allowed heated air to reach the occupied zone, creating a better mixing without causing drafts.

The new Fabric Air Dispersion Technology provided by IPS Ventilation stood out from the conventional solutions by creating a more even air dispersion with higher occupant comfort and more hygienic properties than was known in any other solution at the time. Competitors began to appear on the market for textile-based ducting and the company emphasized being at the forefront of innovation to make it better and make it easier.

By the end of the 1980’s, IPS Ventilation was established as the world leader in the manufacturing and distribution of fabric air dispersion systems.

 

A decade of innovation and ownership changes

 

As the 80s progressed into the 90s, internationalization, new applications and innovation set the agenda. Research & development was the focal point with new fabric types and flow models launched throughout the decade. The ownership structure changed several times, before IPS Ventilation finally became an independent company.

 

FabricAir Through the Decades: The 90s

Brian Refsgaard, the current CEO and owner of FabricAir, joined the company in 1990, Sales- and Business Development Manager. He took part in catalyzing the international growth and innovation strategy that characterized the decade.

In 1995, FabricAir became the first company in the industry to qualify for ISO 9001; a testament to the consistent, high quality products and services and continuous improvements, as well as a certification of the adherence to quality management principles and a strong customer focus.

Throughout the decade new flow models and fabric types were developed. The Trevira fabric series were introduced in 1993. PerfoFlow™ was added to the selection of surface flow models in 1994. In 1995 two new directional flow models were added to the program: SonicFlow™ and OriFlow™. All of these new flow models build on the principles of draft-free air distribution and high occupant comfort that had made the new technology world famous.

FabricAir® Trevira is a woven fabric made of permanently flame-retardant fibers. It is a permeable fabric ideal in application with strict hygiene requirements, such as the food industry or pools.

PerfoFlow™ is a laser perforated surface flow model with perforations that cover between 25% to 100% of the total surface area of the duct. It is typically used in industrial applications, e.g. for make-up air, when precision is not as important as volume.

SonicFlow™ consists of rows of laser cut, small to medium sized orifices each covering up to 1/12 of the duct surface area, enabling a directional throw without causing drafts. This flow model is often applied in e.g. retail or sports facilities with medium ceiling heights, to create the ideal comfortable induction.

OriFlow™ is a directional flow model with larger laser cut orifices that enables medium to high velocity directional air flows, typically used in warehouses, distribution center or industrial applications with high ceilings.

In 1997 the first official subsidiary was established in the United States. The same year, Electrolux sold IPS Dansk Presenning A/S incl. the department IPS Ventilation (precursor of FabricAir) and the rest of Jonsereds to a capital foundation. It became the beginning of a new period in the company’s life that ultimately led to becoming its own company.

In 1998 Jonsereds, incl. the IPS Ventilation department, merged with Stavdal ASA from Norway. They were introduced to the Norwegian stock exchange only to be withdrawn a year later, when they were acquired by Veidekke.

The end of the decade marked a new beginning for FabricAir. 26 years after the first fabric duct had been introduced, the department became an independent company under Veidekke - IPS ventilation A/S.

 

Global Financial Crisis Leads to Growth and Expansion

 

At the turn of the millennium, the newly independent IPS Ventilation A/S was finding its foothold. The decade became a turning point in the company’s history with new subsidiaries, new ownership structure and the onset of a global financial crisis, which turned out to be a crock of gold for an innovative alternative technology in an old-fashioned industry like the construction sector.

 

FabricAir Through the Decades: The 00s

In 1999 Veidekke had separated the fabric air dispersion division from the remainder of Jonsereds and created an independent company, called IPS Ventilation A/S. The newly independent company continued its international expansion and in 2002 the UK subsidiary opened.

Continuous product development led to the introduction of a new non-permeable fabric line, the FabricAir® Poly. This is an economical fabric primarily used in heavy industrial applications to disperse isothermal or heated air.

The global demand for fabric-based air dispersion solutions was steadily increasing and by 2002 the original Danish production facilities were struggling to keep up with the ever-growing demand. The search for a future-proof solution was initiated and brought FabricAir to Alytus in Lithuania; a town renowned for its high-quality textile product manufacturing facilities. In 2003 part of the production was moved to Alytus at a new local subsidiary – the UAB FabricAir.

When Veidekke decided to sell the company of in 2005, Brian Refsgaard acquired it and changed the name to FabricAir A/S to create a globally consistent brand. Brian had been with the company for 15 years and he had a unique in-depth knowledge of the products and technology. Simultaneously with the acquisition it was also decided to move the remaining part of the production to the subsidiary in Lithuania.

With the new visionary ownership in place, the company was geared for growth. Together with the team, Brian lifted the company into the 21st century through a renewed focus on refinement and innovation. Keeping two simple ideas in mind, “make it better & make it easier”, the team set out to develop the portfolio through market focused research and development. Two new fabrics were introduced in 2006: FabricAir® Combi and FabricAir® Glass 220.

FabricAir® Combi is the most versatile line of fabrics. It is exceptionally strong and durable and comes in permeable as well as non-permeable options. It comes with an optional anti-microbial coating and it is even rendered ideal for Cleanroom Class 3 applications. The fabrics are Oeko-Tex 100 certified attesting the absence of harmful substances.

FabricAir® Glass 220 is a non-combustible fabric made from glass fibers. It has a working temperature range from -60°C to +200°C [-76°F to 392°F].

New subsidiaries followed over the next years: FabricAir GmbH in Germany and FabricAir Turkey A.Ş. The onset of the global financial crisis in 2008 turned out to be an advantage to the company.

The construction sector was deeply affected by the crisis. The traditional industry and conventional solutions were abandoned in the name of value engineering, as the various stakeholders sought more efficient and economical technologies. Fabric-based air dispersion technology was – and still is - a natural alternative to the traditional metal ducting. Significantly quicker to install, lower in investment and with a much shorter lead time the technology quickly became much more popular among architects, consulting engineers and contractors worldwide.

The All-in-One suspension was introduced in 2009, as a duct accessory allowing the dispersion system to stay open when the air is turned off. It became an immediate success, with clear advantages in many applications. It creates a more aesthetic look and prevents the ducts from hanging low in the room when the system is off.

 

Raising the bar within the field of HVAC/R

 

When FabricAir launched the world’s first fabric duct in 1973 it became a gamechanger. It is the story of how a small company, based in Denmark, grew to become a world leading innovator within HVAC/R, with customers all across the globe and sales offices or distributors in all major regions.

 

FabricAir Through the Decades: The 10s

45 years ago, a new technology heralded a whole new way of thinking in the industry and it became the beginning of an ongoing adventure for FabricAir. Fabric ducting has proven its worth. The technology has been refined over the years as new applications were added to the list, but the core remains the same: creating healthy indoor environments for people and products to thrive, through optimal air engineering technology and costs-efficient alternatives to conventional solutions.

The decade began with the launch of a new flow model, MicroFlow™. It is distinguished by a very short near zone, typically less than 300mm, which makes high air change possible without drafts and thus a very high level of occupant comfort. This new solution builds on advanced laser cutting technology and it practically makes the ducts maintenance-free when the system is supplied with the appropriate pre-filter. The particles that flow through the filter, will also flow through the laser cut micro-perforations, preventing particles such as dust or mold from settling inside the duct.

In 2011 yet another gamechanger was introduced - the JetFlow™ - offering the longest throws of any flow model on the market. Conical jets accelerate the air streaming through the duct, making this ideal in heavy industrial applications that require a high air change or in production halls with high ceiling where heated or isothermal air needs to reach the occupant zone.

In 2012 FabricAir AS in Norway was established to cater to the growing Scandinavian market. In the following year, a new line of economical fabrics was introduced – the FabricAir® Lite. This is a series of strong, non-permeable fabrics that offer anti-microbial and anti-static options.

FabricAir (Qingdao) Co. Ltd. was established in the fall of 2016 as a response to a vastly growing Chinese market, where especially high cold storage application solutions are in high demand. FabricAir had won a court case against an illegal competitor infringing on the company’s copyrights and this sparked a momentum in the local market.

In 2017 the Alytus-based production facility was once again expanded with a 30% increase in capacity to meet growing global demands. A new R&D department and AirLab lab was established to invest in further product development activities, as the company continues to set the industry standards and raise the bar for air dispersion and indoor air quality.

This year has marked a significant increase in sales subsidiaries. At first FabricAir España S.L. joined the group as the 9th subsidiary in the family. Shortly thereafter FabricAir BV followed along with FabricAir Sweden. The German subsidiary, which had been dormant over a period, was revitalized with new talents and FabricAir is looking stronger than ever.

On September 1, 2018 FabricAir celebrated its 45-year anniversary. It has been an era of change and innovation throughout four and a half decades since a local Danish project ended up creating a whole new air dispersion technology. This does not mean the company has grown old and grey!

As we turned the milestone we did so with renewed energy ready to create the future of air dispersion!

 

The Future of Air Dispersion

Over the past 45 years, FabricAir dispersion technology has become globally renowned for its flexibility and core benefits like draft-free, condensation-free, noiseless, corrosion-free and hygienic. With a proven track record and as leading experts in field of air engineering technology, FabricAir continues to set the global industry standards to be at the forefront of HVAC/R innovation and indoor climate solutions. 

As the famous Danish physicist Niels Bohr once said: “it is difficult to predict, especially the future”. However, going forward FabricAir prepares for the future of air dispersion through investments in R&D, production facilities and a growth-oriented sales strategy.

The future will likely bring an increased focus on indoor air quality and work environment improvements across the world. FabricAir ducting can play an important role in creating the optimized indoor environments of tomorrow. The technology offers unprecedented precision in airflow patterns compared to conventional solutions, which means greater occupant comfort and lower running costs.

Sustainability is a growing trend worldwide, not just within construction. The FabricAir ducting technology itself is already working toward a greener future, as the lower pressure drop, precise design of airflows and ideal induction patterns of the current technology can lower the running costs of an air dispersion solution by up to 40%. But there are many ways to additionally support this development. Companies like FabricAir has a social responsibility to put pressure on the supply network, encouraging the development of even more sustainable fabric types and production methods.

Last year FabricAir invested in a new R&D AirLab and CFD solutions to continue technological refinement. Sustainability, longevity and waste management are areas of interest and the fabric-based air dispersion technology of the future offers many opportunities in this respect. Innovation will play a significant role going forward.

With renewed focus on innovation the company already looks forward; it applies futuristic methods in the production and product development. Each order is custom engineered using proprietary 3D software and CFD to optimize the complex airflow calculations and ensure the ideal air dispersion patterns for each application. State-of-the-art laser cutting technology ensures intricate micro-perforation patterns to optimize airflow. Production methods are scrutinized for optimization from design, through cutting, sewing, and packaging. Continuous Quality Control helps to decrease waste and optimize subprocesses. Modern production management techniques ensure that the company is geared for future growth.

The technical flexibility of the fabric-based air dispersion technology combined with environmental aspects and economic advantages makes FabricAir the preferred partner to architects, developers and contractors worldwide. Solutions cover a wide range of applications incl. food, sports, Industrial, retail and public areas, education, medical, offices and comfort in general.

Conventional metal solutions are costly and not as environmentally friendly as fabric ducting; hence, the growth potential of the fabric ducting market is still significant. Despite the obvious technological advantages, fabric air dispersion represents less than 5% of the global market for ducting.

In the process of future-proofing the company, Brian Refsgaard has set the scene through a growth-oriented sales strategy. Fully owned subsidiaries pave the way, by offering close proximity to the local markets incl. sales support, technical support, installation support and maintenance support in local languages.

Through the past 45 years the technological progress has been momentous. From hand cutting each piece to advanced laser-cutting technology. From a selection of only a few fabrics to a full range of fabrics covering anti-microbial, anti-static and non-combustible options in addition to the flame-retardant permeable and non-permeable standard options. From a single office in Denmark to 11 subsidiaries and more than 180 distributors worldwide.

It’s anyone’s guess what the future brings; however, at FabricAir they believe in increased use of robot technology in the production; in optimized production processes; in new technological discoveries; in new types of joining’s; in revolutionizing fabrics that can render the ducts completely maintenance-free, bacteria-free and even more suitable for cleanroom and offshore applications. Through a continued focus on R&D the company will set scene for tomorrow’s air dispersion solutions.

FabricAir invented fabric ducting and the company continues to be the forefront of HVAC/R innovation and indoor climate solutions.

FabricAir is the future of HVAC/R.