Passion for Timber

CLT production in Schlitz starts in May 2019

Value creation deepened with future product CLT

Building with wood in general and with cross laminated timber in particular is the future. Pfeifer sets the course at its Schlitz location: Using state-of-the-art facilities, the location will start production of 50,000 m³ of finished CLT (= Cross Laminated Timber) in mid-2019. In line with market demand, full operation is scheduled to double to 100,000 m³. This will make Pfeifer the fifth-largest CLT producer in Europe in an instant.

Rarely before has a mega-trend changed the international construction industry this massively in such a short time: CLT experienced a growth of 17 percent annually since 2008. Globally. The Pfeifer Group reacts correspondingly to the massive market demand and invests 25 million Euros in a state-of-the-art CLT production at the Schlitz location to integrate cross-laminated timber competence into the Group. Expansion phase 1 creates 55 NEW JOBS. The neighbouring Lauterbach location will also serve as the central supplier for Schlitz. Investments amount to a figure in the tens of millions. Timber talked with CLT Project Manager Josef Dringel about the motivation behind and the framework conditions of the company’s entrance into the promising CLT market, choosing a location and the future product range.

Josef Dringel is the Managing Director of the two Czech Pfeifer locations in Chanovice and Trhanov, Project Manager of CLT production in Schlitz and since 1 January 2018 serves as the Managing Director of Pfeifer Timber GmbH together with Michael Pfeifer.

CLT has been a topic at Pfeifer for a couple of years now. What motivated you to start production now?

Dringel: First of all: Numbers speak for themselves. The cross-laminated timber market has developed much more dynamically than forecast and even the most optimistic predictions of industry insiders have become reality. Let's say ten years ago, we could not have imagined that. Additionally, CLT is in demand around the world. Additionally, CLT is in demand around the world. Timber construction will continue to grow on a global scale due to demographic and social developments – the keywords being housing shortages in crowded urban centres, the flexibility and aesthetics of wood as a material, energy balance and CO2 storage. Much has also been done in terms of product standardisation. All these factors have led Pfeifer to enter CLT production. The project started in early 2017. The timing is perfect. Pfeifer finally turns into a full-service provider in the timber construction industry.

What kind preparatory work was done so far, also when it comes to distribution?

Dringel: First of all, we had to answer the question of whether CLT is a product that suits us in principle. This could be largely confirmed, because with glulam, construction timber and solid timber panels, we are already an important supplier of structural timber construction products. CLT complements our product range with a fast-growing product and strengthens our market position. CLT suits us very well. But we have to integrate it into our established production and sales structures or create new ones. CLT or CLT elements are not produced as standardised commodity or warehouse items, but in a purely order-related manner. The customer structure is also different. However, the retail market will remain our main contact for this new product. In some cases, sales can be carried out via existing structures and cooperations. As a second tier, we plan to work directly with partners from the trade and industry on a project-related basis.

The order processing in the CLT segment requires appropriate engineering, strong – also digital – networking and high-precision logistics. How will Pfeifer handle this?

Dringel: Our aim is not to build a large engineering office. The interface between production or work preparation and sales will be an internal service department. In addition to classic order processing, this unit will provide the necessary technical support. In addition, we will outsource engineering services to technical partner offices, while competent product managers will support our customers and the Pfeifer field service team in the implementation of orders and projects. We see continuous IT networking of the entire order processing process, combined with fast response times to customer inquiries and transparent processing as a key success factor. When it comes to logistics, we can rely on our proven, highly efficient structures.

Michael Pfeifer

CEO PFEIFER GROUP

„Contrary to glulam which we mainly deliver to key European countries, CLT is in demand around the world. That’s why now is the perfect time to enter CLT production.“

CLT opens up completely new application possibilities and creative perspectives for architecture and the entire construction industry.

What made you decide for Schlitz as the location?

Dringel: It was clear that Pfeifer would carry out this project in Germany in the immediate vicinity of the Lauterbach saw mill in order to be able to increase the added value by processing sawn timber. In Schlitz, the entire infrastructure with all production halls, external areas, an order picking warehouse and heating and sawn timber drying facilities is already in place, which reduces investment and running costs enormously. In addition, we are located centrally in Germany, Europe's most important market, and in the heart of the core markets and not far from booming markets such as Great Britain and Scandinavia.

The plant will be expanded in two stages. Could you tell us a little bit about them?

Dringel: In stage 1 we will achieve a capacity of 50,000 m³ of finished CLT, which corresponds to a sawn timber input of approx. 65,000 m³. In the 2nd stage, the capacity will be doubled to 100,000 m³. The investment required for full operation is manageable, and we are already setting the course for this. After a start-up and optimisation phase, the highly automated plants are planned to be operated in three shifts. Due to the long delivery times of the machines already ordered, commissioning will take place in May 2019. Overall, we are creating 55 new jobs in Schlitz in the first stage of expansion.

Let’s talk about the product range: What dimensions of CLT / CLT elements will Pfeifer offer?

Dringel: As newcomers, we want to make the best possible use of our new facilities. That is why we will produce large-format panels in the most common dimensions, as wall, ceiling and roof elements. This covers 85 to 90 percent of the market demand. We clearly see ourselves as a supplier of high-efficiently manufactured raw boards that meet market requirements in terms of quality. We process spruce and pine sawn timber into CLT with a maximum width of 3.10 m, a maximum length of 14.5 m, a thickness of 6 to 30 cm and three to seven plies. Everything will be offered in three grades namely industrial, visual industrial and visual, each with sanded surface. We don't want or need to go wider, higher and longer. However, there is the possibility of further individualisation, for example by introducing solid timber panels from our own production as the top layer for more surface diversity.

Market competitors supply ready-to-use elements with doors, windows, etc. already built in. To what extent is Pfeifer going to expand or broaden the degree of prefabrication?

Dringel: We clearly see ourselves as a supplier of high-efficiently manufactured raw boards that meet market requirements in terms of quality. These are joined to order in our modern CNC joinery centre by machine and – for special requirements – also by hand, including openings for doors and windows, millings, cut-outs and apertures for electrics, pipelines, etc. After order picking and stable packaging, we horizontally transport the ordered CLT elements to the customer or client in exactly the order in which they are needed on the construction site. We are aware that the degree of prefabrication will continue to increase. For this reason, we are already engaged in cooperation talks with partners to achieve a further step in the deepening of value creation for certain standardised applications.

What are the main areas where you think CLT products will be used? After all, cross laminated timber is already referred to as the "concrete of the future".

Dringel: A term I don't like, by the way. In addition to solid wood construction, solid mineral construction or steel construction will continue to have its justification in the future, depending on the requirements placed on the project or object, if criteria such as fire, noise and noise protection are taken into account. In these fields, hybrid technologies must be further developed, i. e. various building materials with different strengths must be combined to form a building system, thus opening up new possibilities for architecture. As always, it’s in the combination, also from an aesthetic standpoint. The main areas of application for CLT will certainly be multi-storey buildings such as residential buildings, commercial buildings (offices, hotels), municipal buildings such as schools, kindergartens or nursing homes and much more. Especially these areas are well suited for standardised building, and we want to advance this standardisation.

Further applications are extensions or upgrades of any kind and dimension in urban environments. And let’s not forget about private residential construction.

„CLT is the most innovative product in the Pfeifer Group’s value creation chain and harbours the largest future potential.“

Josef Dringel, Project Manager of Pfeifer CLT Schlitz

How does the market react to Pfeifer CLT?

Dringel: Very positively. CLT is currently in short supply due to the high demand. We are even receiving inquiries already. Of course, it's a little early for that.

You have been working with cross laminated timber for more than 15 years. What do you personally find fascinating about this material?

Dringel: CLT combines the many advantages of wood with technological achievements that enable a high degree of prefabrication and rapid, safe construction. These benefits are matched by global demographic developments that suggest sustainable growth in timber construction. Thanks to CLT, there are virtually no limits to the height and architectural design possibilities of wooden buildings. That is why I consider cross laminated timber to be one of the greatest innovations in the building industry. This makes CLT an important future product.

Images ©: shutterstock.com: Alexandre Zveiger, alamy.com: Michael Doolittle
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