Thinking in Circles — and Cycles

Agro International’s A.Next pocket coil line offers circular manufacturing solutions.

Agro International sees a bright future for its full line of innerspring products, one that can be drawn in a vast series of circles.

A pocket coil emerges from this coil-making machine at Agro International.

Call those the “circles of innerspring life.”

Having served long and useful lives in service of sleepers around the world, pocketed coil units are shredded and separated into their components, including fabrics, adhesives and steel. And then those components are readied for new lives. 

While Agro is a conventional German spring maker, the company is now specializing in circular product manufacturing. Agro melts the steel wires, shapes them into wire rod and then turns them into drawn wire, which is re-used in new innersprings. 

In addition, the company melts the fabrics and adhesives, turns them into granules and reshapes them into like-new products. Those three products (springs, fabrics and adhesives) come together in a new pocketed coil unit, and the process goes on. And on.

This is circular thinking, as these products are created from a circular manufacturing process, but it is also a way of “thinking in cycles,” according to company officials at the family-owned coil manufacturer. In business for almost three-quarters of a century, Agro is now looking for many more years of service to the mattress industry.

A key to that future is the company’s A.Next portfolio. These innersprings represent what’s next from this manufacturing giant, which operates a factory that encompasses more than 431,000 square feet of production space in Bad Essen on the North German Plain.

The A.Next program reflects the industry’s need to embrace circular manufacturing solutions, the company says.

“The ever-increasing waste problem, finite resources and growing legislative demands are causing us all to rethink,” says Dominik Meyer, chief executive officer of Agro. “This means not only to actively promote recycling processes but also to think and work in continuous cycles to support an environment that is worth living in, now and in the future.”

Expertise in recycling

Over the past two decades, Agro has developed an expertise in recycling. Every one of Agro’s products can be recycled, and the company has demonstrated its commitment to recycling by developing its own recycling machine.

“But this is no longer enough for us,” Meyer says. “As a pioneer in our business, we develop solutions of the highest quality that make circular processing possible for all types of innersprings. We are motivated by the idea of creating the conditions that allow a new innerspring unit to be made from used ones — with no loss of quality. This is how sleeping comfort of the next generation is created in the truest sense.”

Given Agro’s sustainable product portfolio, its spring customers around the world can choose pocketed coils fashioned from either polyester- or polypropylene-based fabrics and adhesives, which can be melted and reused.

Agro’s first circular pocket unit was the A.Next Uni – Pocket PES, which features two recyclable and reusable base ingredients — steel and polyester. The pockets for the steel springs are made of polyester fabric, and those pockets are held together with polyester adhesives.

That product earned the German Award for Sustainability Projects 2021, a new award administered by the German Institute for Service Quality. Winners are selected by a jury of business, science and media members.

Agro’s circular pocket unit won the award in the process/recycling category. The company describes that unit as “our first fully cradle-to-cradle ready pocket innerspring solution — a milestone in innerspring development.”

But not stopping there, Agro has added two more products to its A.Next portfolio.

The A.Next Uni – Pocket PP is a circular pocket unit using conventional polypropylene fabric that’s combined with an innovative polypropylene-based adhesive. When those components are ready for another cycle of product life, they are separated from the wire coils, melted and then reformed into like-new components.

That product won the German Award for Sustainability Projects in 2022. 

Another spring arises

Agro describes its A.Next Arise product as the first pocket coil based on recycled polypropylene fabric, which reduces carbon dioxide emissions by 70% per kilogram compared with virgin material, according to the company. Again, the fabric and the adhesive are both polypropylene-based and can, after separation from the wire coils, be melted and reused without further separation.

Agro executives Dominik Meyer, left, and SabineGrothaus accept the German Award for Sustainability Projects 2021, which Agro won in the process/recycling category for its A.Next Uni – Pocket PES unit.

“We can proudly announce that our pioneering work on developing circular innerspring solutions called A.Next has been brought to success,” Meyer says. “We are the world’s first innerspring manufacturer now offering a completely circular product portfolio, including established pocket innerspring systems. All of our products from our production site in Bad Essen are made of components — wire, fabric and adhesive — that can completely return into the production cycle.”

Agro’s formula for success is “a mixture of German engineering and quality and state-of-the-art technology,” he says. That combination optimizes plant efficiencies and supports the company’s vision to develop products for the markets as they stand now, and as they will evolve in the future.

“We are striving for long-term business relationships and have a strong focus on our customers’ needs, offering expert advice and a service-oriented approach with regard to product management and development, order processing, production planning, and warehousing and logistics,” Meyer adds. “In addition, we work on solutions for mattress recycling together with our customers.”

He says Agro combines the entrepreneurial values of a traditional family business with the forward-looking business approach of a successful corporation operating on a global scale.

A rich history

Agro is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of innersprings for the mattress and upholstery markets, exporting its lines to more than 70 countries. Products include classic Bonnell, LFK and pocket innersprings, as well as innersprings offering edge support. The company can tailor products to meet special customer and consumer needs, and it can also produce innersprings for high-volume customers. All of its products can be rolled and folded to support efficient logistics and new distribution channels.

Founded in 1948 by businessman Friedrich Grothaus in Bad Essen, Agro built its spring business from strategic investments and decades of steady growth.

Friedrich’s son, Wolfgang Grothaus, joined the company in 1979. At that time, Agro employed a dozen people and operated six innerspring machines. Under Wolfgang’s leadership, Agro made several major moves.

Over the next decade, Agro opened a new production plant in Bad Essen, boosted its production capacity and began expanding internationally.

Agro has taken several steps to vertically integrate its production. In 2004, it established its own steel wire plant, Agro Steel Wire, and five years later, it formed a company to manufacture machinery replacement parts, Agro Tooling Systems. Those moves put two key suppliers on-site.

In 2017, Agro’s global expansion plans brought the company to the United States. It set up A&S Innersprings USA, a joint venture with Spain’s Subinas Group, in Windsor, Connecticut, just outside Hartford, the state capital.

Further strengthening its vertical integration, Agro acquired a production site for nonwovens earlier this year. That site, in Germany, recently started production.

Wolfgang Grothaus transferred the majority of his shares in Agro International to his children Sabine and Christian Grothaus in 2014. Today, Sabine Grothaus manages the company with her father.

Together they oversee about 900 employees for a company group with operations in Europe, North America and Latin America.

“As a family business,” Meyer notes, “sustainability and generational thinking is part of our DNA. Therefore, we have promoted sustainability with both our products and our processes for many years, and we are committed to sustainability for the long term.”

And the circles of innerspring life continue.

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