The Pfeifer Group to finally become a full-service supplier to the construction timber sector

The future of building lies in timber construction, in general, but in particular with cross laminated timber. The Pfeifer Group is setting the course for the future at the Schlitz site: Going into operation with an annual capacity of 100,000 m3 of finished CLT (Cross Laminated Timber) at full capacity, the Imst based family business is set to become the fifth largest CLT producer in Europe. The investment amounts to a total of € 25 million.

From mid-2019, production of finished CLT is set to start up at Schlitz in Hessen, Germany, with an initial annual output of 50,000 m³. This corresponds to an approximate timber usage of 65,000 m³. The anticipated market demand indicates a doubling of capacity, following a ramp-up and optimisation phase to full operation. The Tirol based timber company is investing €25 million in a state-of-the-art CLT production facility in Schlitz, in the immediate vicinity of the Pfeifer site in Lauterbach. This site will also act as the central supplier for Schlitz. “For Pfeifer, this investment is a further step towards consolidating and expanding our market position. With our range of glulam, solid construction timber and solid wood panels, we are already a key supplier of structural construction timber products. With CLT coming on stream from mid-2019, we will be adding a high-growth product to this range, enabling us to finally become a full-service supplier for the construction timber sector,” noted CEO, Michael Pfeifer, in explaining the strategic motivation behind this long envisaged step to integrate cross-laminated timber expertise into the business group.

Everything according to plan Preparatory measures, such as the dismantling old machinery and altering various buildings are already in hand, and all the new machines have been ordered. As Josef Dringel, the CLT project manager at Pfeifer, reports: “Everything is going to plan. However, because of the high capacity loading of the machinery suppliers, we are faced with long delivery times, so that commissioning will first take place in May 2019.” The key suppliers for the new machinery include: TC-Maschinenbau (mechanisation), Ledinek (planing machines), Weinig (finger jointing), Microtec (scanner), Oest (glueing station), Minda (press technology), Hundegger (joinery machining centres), Imeas (sanding machines).

Cross laminated timber is composed of three to seven cross laminated layers of softwood boards.

Ideal time to enter the market There has hardly ever been a mega trend like this that has changed the international construction industry in such a short time: with 17% annual growth since 2008 for CLT. Worldwide, 90% of the total CLT production takes place in Europe, the majority of which is based in Austria (currently 60%) and Germany (currently 24%). By 2021, the annual production volume will reach a total output of 1.3 million cubic metres, according to forecasts! In comparison, output in 2016 was 680,000 m³. “We have been watching the market for a good ten years. The market for cross laminated timber has developed much more rapidly than forecast. In addition, CLT is in demand throughout the world. So now is the ideal time to get started,” comments Josef Dringel.

Schlitz site to be maintained Though CLT production was originally planned at the Lauterbach site, in the final analysis, the decision on revitalisation of the former shuttering panel factory in Schlitz, which was closed in 2017, was not difficult to make, as Michael Pfeifer reports: “In order to be able to increase added value by further processing of sawn timber, it was clear that Pfeifer should realise this project in Germany, in the immediate vicinity of the Lauterbach sawmill. The entire factory infrastructure also already exists at Schlitz, including all the production halls, the outside marshalling areas, an order picking warehouse and the heating or wood drying equipment, which significantly reduces the investment and running costs. In addition, the plant is centrally located in Germany, the most important market in Europe, as well as being the hub for the key and virtually booming markets, such as the UK and Scandinavia. In the first phase of its expansion, the Pfeifer Group will be creating 55 new jobs. Following a ramp-up and optimisation phase, three-shift production operation is planned.

Large format with finishing operations For Pfeifer CLT, spruce and pine, dried and planed slats, sorted according to strength and grade, will be used together with formaldehyde free polyurethane (PU) resins. CNC joinery operations, according to customer specifications, will occur in the joinery machining centre as well as sanding. The dimensions to be processed: range up to 3.10 m wide and 14.5 m long with thicknesses from 6 to 30 cm and three to seven laminated layers. “As a newcomer to the market, we want to make the best possible use of our new facilities. That is why we will be producing large-size unfinished panels, with finishing to the most common dimensions, as wall, ceiling and roof elements. This covers 85 to 90 percent of the market requirement,” for market entry, according to CEO, Michael Pfeifer.

Networked order processing Production of Pfeifer CLT will be solely against customer order, which poses new challenges in engineering, sales and logistics. Josef Dringel explains the organisation: “Our goal is not to build a large engineering design office. An internal service department will form the interface between production and/or job preparation and sales, and in addition to traditional order processing, it will also provide any necessary technical support. In addition, we will outsource engineering services to partner engineering offices, while specialist product managers will support our customers and the Pfeifer field service team in implementing orders and projects. We regard end-to-end networking of IT systems over the entire order processing procedure, combined with fast response times to customer inquiries and transparent execution, as the key success factors. “Trade and wholesale suppliers remain the key contacts for this new product, but a second leg is also planned, based on projects and direct cooperation with partners from business and industry. With respect to logistics, already proven, highly efficient structures can be relied upon.

Images ©: Alexandre Zveiger, Michael Doolittle