Passion for Timber

Interview with Bernd Gusinde, Technical Sales Manager at Pfeifer CLT

“I feel very closely connected to our product.”

In the autumn of 2019 the Pfeifer Group will start producing the future material of cross laminated timber (CLT) at its Schlitz (D) site. The plant’s first stage is designed for a capacity of 50,000 m³ of CLT annually while the second one – which will start operating in late 2020 – will double that to 100,000 m³. From the off, this launches Pfeifer into the top 5 CLT manufacturers in the world.

 Bernd Gusinde has been Pfeifer CLT’s Technical Sales Manager since January 1, 2019. In our interview he elaborates on the many challenges of market positioning, his personal passion for the material and an industry that focuses on solid wood around the world.

Let’s begin: In your opinion, what makes CLT so exciting as a material?

Bernd Gusinde: In a nutshell, it’s the product’s simplicity – cross laminated panels with enormous potential that allow even demanding building challenges to be implemented efficiently and sustainably.

What are your tasks as a technical sales manager?

Bernd Gusinde: Essentially, my area of responsibility is split into two fields. For one, I see myself as a classic product manager: I coordinate all of product-related activities involving Pfeifer CLT internally and externally to ensure the desired market success. This includes creating product strategies in coordination with the management, product marketing as well as advertising, planning and accompanying product development, among others together with research entities, universities and trade associations. Furthermore, my tasks include active market research and analysing customer demands, closely monitoring the competition and supporting the Sales Department with key accounts and customer events as well as consulting activities with architects and engineers. The second aspect includes establishing and heading the Technical Office and Technical Sales Departments when it comes to product consultation, calculations and order processing.

CLT is entering all aspects of the building industry. The pre-manufactured, dry construction method with short construction time yields massive advantages compared to traditional building materials.

In summary, it seems to be a range of tasks that not only require expertise but also passion for the product. What does it mean to you personally to take on the challenge of making Pfeifer CLT market-ready, starting from scratch?

Bernd Gusinde: Let me put it like this: I grew up with CLT. I have been dealing with it my entire career – ever since I started my first job in 2000. I was able to closely accompany and get to know its development from all sides as an engineer, a sales person, a designer, builder and user. And yes, this experience resulted in a strong passion – almost love – towards this product. The challenge of establishing Pfeifer CLT as a new player on the market together with my dedicated team is both pleasant and extremely exciting. I want to throw in my past experiences as best as I can and hopefully, do a few things better than the competition.

At 50,000 m³ of finished CLT annually in the first and 100,000 m³ in the second stage, the IT-served logistics represent the most important part of project handling

WWhat makes Pfeifer CLT stand out?
How is Pfeifer positioning itself on the CLT market now and in the future?

Bernd Gusinde: We won’t reinvent CLT, but we definitely want to lift the product onto a new level in terms of production, processing, quality and reliability. Pfeifer CLT is supposed to reflect the traditional Pfeifer values such as efficient and cost-optimised production using state-of-the-art production systems as well as a quality that more than meets the demands towards load-bearing timber elements and covers most of the market’s / customers’ requirements. Using IT supported processes we want to streamline processing to the largest extent possible while providing top product service. Not least we want to score points with one of our core competences – logistics – to guarantee swift and on-schedule delivery. In summary we aim to set an as-of-yet non-existent standard for CLT or at least, to strongly impact it.

In spirit, you thus follow a mass customisation approach?

Bernd Gusinde: Yes. To achieve this, however, we will have to continue optimising our processes and procedures and implement innovative information processes that will help us achieve this goal (admittedly not an easy one) and defend it in the future.

IT optimised project processing

The human factor: Despite all the support from state-of-the-art IT, a good pool of qualified personnel is required to control and monitor the above processes. Specially trained employees are assigned to each process step.

1) Acquisition and offer creation

Orders are conventionally acquired via the existing sales network of the Pfeifer Group, especially by field staff. The latter is reinforced by technically trained employee who can provide more detailed consultation – supported by the Technical Office in Schlitz. Offer creation and order processing is mainly done with the help of IT, supported by the specialised TimberTec ERP system.

2)  Order processing

Data and information are prepared in the system for ordering in Production. Close coordination and communication with the customer is an essential part of this process step. The IT system also serves as an interface to Production and Logistics which efficiently reduces additional costs.

3) Production

The entire production process is also controlled by the integrated IT system and utilises all optimisation options – from raw material management to packaging the finished CLT boards. The complex production is once more subdivided into individual processes: Slat sorting, finger jointing, planing, CLT panel preparation, pressing, joining, cosmetics, scheduling.

4) Logistics

The best CLT panels are useless if they can't be brought to the right place at the right time. At 50,000 m³ of finished CLT annually in the first and 100,000 m³ in the second stage, the logistics represent the most important part of project handling. For scheduling, packaging and loading, an entire hall equipped with a semi-automatic crane is available at the Schlitz location. In stage 2, a total of 50 to 70 lorries will be individually loaded there per week. The IT system records and automates individual panels, packages and entire loads. The electronically recorded loading papers and documents keep customers up to date about their orders.

Bernd Gusinde

TECHNICAL SALES MANAGER at PFEIFER CLT

I am not worried at all when it comes to sales. The environment couldn't be better. CLT is experiencing a boom and continues to crow.

Your CEO Michael Pfeifer likes to summarise your international customers’ feedback to the launch of CLT production at Pfeifer with the words: “They’re all waiting for us to start.” Do you share his optimism?

Gusinde: Absolutely. I am not worried at all when it comes to sales. The environment couldn't be better. CLT is experiencing a boom and continues to crow. Solid building activities in our core markets and growing acceptance for timber construction in general add to that. Pfeifer offers an extremely solid base and a structure that makes things easier. From this perspective, I don’t have the feeling that I am tasked with establishing something “from scratch”. Internally, the management fully supports the project, too.

What are your target markets in the short, medium and long term?

Gusinde: Due to the central location of our CLT plant in the middle of Germany, our main focus naturally is on this country. What’s more, it makes entering the market easier thanks to Pfeifer’s existing customer base. Apart from Germany, we would like to quickly establish ourselves on the Italian and Swiss markets. After all, Pfeifer already has a strong presence in these countries. In the mid-term we want to expand to our European neighbours of France and the BeNeLux countries, but also Great Britain and Scandinavia. There, CLT has been growing steadily, even sharply. CLT is a highly international product. We are already receiving inquiries from Australia and the US. This is why we will continue to closely monitor developments in these countries, in Eastern Europe, Asia, and overseas. Particularly because large capacities for CLT are developing there which may in turn impact our core markets.

What existing and new customers do you want to cater to?

Gusinde: First of all, our existing retail customers. For those, the product CLT also presents certain challenges – regarding customer consultation on the market, adequate processing of inquiries in terms of order calculation and providing information and plans for order processing. If possible and requested, we would like to also provide support in this area. Besides, we particularly want to focus on large processors, timber construction companies and carpentries with their own joining systems which we can provide with raw panels, but also with fully or partly cut panels, tailored to specific projects. In addition to our classic customer groups, architects, engineers, developers and investors move into focus when it comes to selling CLT. We aim at providing individual project consultation and support to establish Pfeifer CLT as a product as early as possible in the design and tender phases.

Foto-Credit: Michael Doolittle / Alamy Stock Photo

Contrary to the rest of the Pfeifer product portfolio, CLT presents entirely new challenges for the Pfeifer Group. What are those?

Gusinde: The biggest difference to the Pfeifer Group’s other products is the fact that CLT is looked at much more in terms of the individual project, which strongly influences the entire offer and order process. Every project has different requirements which must be taken into account when it comes to consultation and offer calculation. Another new aspect for Pfeifer is the – mainly order-specific – made-to-order production of CLT elements and – apart from the actual production – further refinement in the form of individual cutting and joining. This requires much more extensive work preparation and production efforts. On top of that we will usually deliver directly to construction sites in a just-in-time manner which also requires individual organisation and coordination of the logistics process between the plant and the customer. In summary, one of our main challenges will be to ensure maximally cost and time efficient order processing at high levels of individuality.

Could you briefly outline the sales structure for Pfeifer CLT?

Gusinde: Naturally we first want to utilise our existing network and sales structures, especially in the field of constructive timber construction products such as glulam, solid timber boards and also start selling CLT through those. In terms of consultation and customer care on the market, we will have to hire additional personnel. CLT is a product that requires a lot of explaining. It’s all about statics, building physics and installation and we as a producer have to provide certain levels of consultation on these aspects. To this end, we are currently reinforcing our field sales team with employees that received special CLT training. In addition we are currently establishing our Technical Office at the Schlitz location. This team will provide technical advice, pre-measurements and construction suggestions, offer processing information and clarify technical possibilities with our Production Department.

The only things preventing CLT’s breakthrough are laws that are disadvantageous to building with timber and overly complicated regulations and rules. And a standard for the product.

Bernd Gusinde,
TECHNICAL SALES MANAGER 
at Pfeifer CLT

Foto-Credit: Timbory / Haas Group

This new Technical Office at the Schlitz location is also highly significant in terms of project-related order processing. What are this department’s tasks?

Gusinde: After all, we also want to optimise the projects internally to be able to produce with maximum efficiency. In order to receive order information and design documents from our customers we need CAD know-how in Work Preparation. On the basis of this we have to create loading plans, provide customers with release plans in the form of individual part drawings and program our joining system. We will try to get as much information on this from our customers in a well-prepared way. Yet, in practice – and especially with small orders – it is common to generate these services in-house to a certain extent. When it comes to larger projects and complex designs, however, we will refer customers to a network of specialised partner offices that will prepare the documents for them.

Raw material supply – in other words the fact that the Schlitz plant is supplied with sawn timber by the neighbouring Pfeifer sawmill in Lauterbach, must be a significant competitive advantage. What benefits does this production-related and organisational axis yield within the corporation?

Gusinde: The operation of a CLT production system relies on secure and high-quality raw material supply. Together with our Lauterbach-based sawmill we have a created perfect synergy which yields massive benefits in terms of efficiency and material utilisation. Furthermore, this allows us to guarantee seamless quality assurance. The Lauterbach plant cuts regional wood at the quality and quantity we require, pre-sorts it and delivers it by means of exceedingly short routes. The raw material from Lauterbach is mostly dried in Schlitz.

After his carpentry training, Bernd Gusinde, 47, studied Construction Engineering in Munich (D) and Nottingham (GB) as well as Industrial Engineering in Kaiserslautern (D) and St. Gallen (CH).

The stages of his career: Merk Holzbau (Aichach/D, today: Züblin Timber), Mayr-Melnhof Holz (Reuthe / Gaishorn/A), 6 years of self-employment in a Lindau-based timber construction engineering and design office together with 3 partners. Technical Sales Manager at Pfeifer since January 1, 2019. Together with his wife (who’s an architect) and 3 children, Bernd Gusinde lives in Kühbach bei Unterbernbach/D. In a CLT house of course.

In your opinion: What sectors of the building industry harbour the greatest potential for CLT?

Gusinde: CLT is entering all aspects of the building industry. In recent years (in parts fuelled by the current situation on the housing market) investor projects such as multi-story residential and office buildings have been increasingly adding to individual single-family homes and communal lighthouse projects such as kindergartens and schools. And this is where I see the greatest potential in the years to come. For buildings of this type, CLT offers a quick and economical construction method. Apart from that the field of redensification – especially in metropolitan areas – is becoming more and more interesting. In this field the pre-manufactured, dry construction method with short construction time yields massive advantages compared to traditional building materials.

Does this material really have what it takes to become the “concrete of the future”?

Gusinde: The only things preventing CLT’s breakthrough are laws that are disadvantageous to building with timber and overly complicated regulations and rules. Another thing missing is a standard for the product like it exists for glulam. Currently all manufacturers require their own European Technical Assessment (ETA) for their CLT which makes things more difficult for architects and engineers. And once the boundary conditions for the use of sustainable building materials are politically entrenched (for instance by promoting CO² reductions or connecting loans to sustainable criteria) CLT will surely become the “concrete of the future”.

Thank you for the interview!

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