Introduction of the new Quality Management Department

Passion for Quality

In order to remain one step ahead of its competitors in the highly competitive wood industry, Pfeifer makes full use of all quality control and assurance measures. In addition, since 2019, a three-person team has been focusing on the entire value chain in order to optimise processes and products and establish a high level of quality awareness on all levels of the company.

Andreas Schmid, head of the Quality Management department, and his two team members Diana Mehlan and Lucia Wolkersdorfer serve as a link between production and sales and strive to achieve a sustained improvement in product quality within the company on a daily basis. One of their tasks is to guarantee product quality in accordance with customer expectations.

In order to meet qualitative requirements, it is necessary to identify weak points and potential for improvement at the various stages of the processing areas. To achieve this, methods and tools from quality management are applied. In accordance with the principles of business viability, implementation is carried out jointly with the departments concerned. Our professional data management and systematic documentation make every step traceable across all locations.

“The main goal of our department is to establish an understanding of quality at all levels – from production staff to management”, Andreas Schmid sums up.

While he is pulling the strings and encourages exchange between the plant managers, Diana Mehlan and Lucia Wolkersdorfer have split the demanding product portfolio: While the former acts as quality manager for wood chips and chip blocks, the latter contributes her expertise in sawn timber and further processing products.

Everything to produce the best block

The effort Pfeifer puts into ensuring lasting outstanding quality is demonstrated by the example of the pallet block. “Our customers expect dimensionally stable, durable blocks for stable pallets. We are constantly analysing how to positively influence and guarantee these properties, for example by using different glue compositions,” Diana Mehlan explains. In order to be able to test new formulas independently of ongoing production, a separate test press and a separate glue mixing plant for product trials are now available in Lauterbach.

“We put every test block through its paces to see how it behaves in terms of water absorption, nail extraction resistance, etc. At each of the three block production sites we have a laboratory for production control and further test series. We also work together with an external test laboratory for largescale tests.”

With these efforts, Pfeifer is moving away from pure manufacturer status and positions itself as a source of know-how that is actively involved in research and development. Andreas Schmid underlines the advantages of starting right at the product development stage: “The quality of a chip block depends, among other things, on the type of wood, drying, swelling, gluing and additives. Our test facility allows us to vary with pressure and additives, and in the laboratory in Lauterbach we analyse shrinkage, swelling and evaporation. This enables us to quickly derive results, draw conclusions and optimise the product from day one in terms of customer requirements”.

The product is optimised in our in-house laboratories to suit the customer's needs.

How to: Sort and refine

The latest scanner technology is used in the sawn timber sorting plants to ensure consistent and uniform quality from all plants. The scanner enables precise detection of wood defects such as discolouration, cracks or insect infestation at top speeds. The sawn timber is then divided into different quality classes according to its qualitative appearance. So far, so good – but it is still people who take a wide range of parameters into account to ensure that the machine is set correctly.

At the new production site for cross laminated timber (CLT) in Schlitz, Lucia Wolkersdorfer and the production department have worked out quality criteria for the colour and X-ray scanner used for quality and strength grading. Both in the area of machine-assisted sorting and in the area of purely visual sorting by highly qualified sorters, random checks, so-called re-sorting, must be carried out. Our aim is to always comply with the sorting sheet that is valid throughout the Group. “If the evaluations show that certain sorting errors occur particularly frequently at a location, we can react with specific training courses”, Wolkersdorfer explains the approach of accompanying the employees and providing methodically competent support.

Andreas Schmid believes that scanner technology is the key to optimum material yield and maximum quality. Thus, the technology can already be used to optimally feed the round timber into the sawing unit. Such a controlled quality right from the first working step has a positive influence on all further processing products, as Schmid explains: “The aim is to use the right product for the appropriate finishing stage in order to optimise machine utilisation, produce fewer rejects and obtain a homogeneous end product.”

“This benefits all customers and puts us ahead of our competition.”

Combining man and machine power

Pfeifer is committed to the implementation of modern quality management based on holistic principles. Errors should be detected early – even before a possible complaint. “It is important to us that work is carried out based on the results of our analyses. When everyone involved understands that quality is not just work, but also brings great benefits, we take that decisive step forward,” Wolkersdorfer explains. Her colleague Mehlan has a similar point view: “We do not want to set standards and processes that are not put into practice. This is why we also talk directly to the employees in production about proven and improvable processes.”

Despite the great potential for optimisation through technical innovations, wood remains a natural product and people are an essential factor for economic success and satisfied customers: “For instance, we rely on product training for the sales office and field service to increase employees' awareness of realistic product descriptions across the entire product range,” Wolkersdorfer explains. Technology and people are closely intertwined in this understanding of quality management. Upgrading technology to keep pace with modern times is also becoming a sine qua non in the wood industry, which will result in a fundamental change, especially in long-established organisations. The increasing proportion of women and the need for family-friendly working models will also have a strong impact on the timber industry in the future. However, the most important prerequisite for quality is and remains the passion for wood as a raw material, the “Passion for timber”.

About the people

Andreas Schmid

graduated as a sawmill master in Rosenheim and continued to become a technical business economist. After a 4-year stay abroad as production manager, he spent 13 years working for a well-known German sawmill group in the position of plant manager and later managing director. After two years as plant manager at Pfeifer in Unterbernbach, he became the plant manager of the Lauterbach site in June 2019. He is particularly interested in targeted location development, integrating the ideas and potential of all employees. As head of the saw experts' circle, he promotes the regular exchange of information between all plant managers in order to take advantage of synergy effects. The experience gained from this in terms of plant optimisation, know-how transfer and market observation are of great benefit to him as interim head of Quality Management.

„The main goal of our department is to establish an understanding of quality on all levels – from production staff to management.“

Diana Mehlan

completed the master's degree in forestry and wood science at the TU Munich and gained first insights into the Pfeifer universe as an intern. In October 2017 she joined the Unterbernbach site as a trainee. She spent a year and a half there, gaining insight into all departments, including the Block division, for which she has been responsible as Quality Manager since spring 2019. She also brings her passion for future-oriented thinking and acting to the newly formed hybrid Innovation Team.

„Together with our employees we want to develop standards and processes that are put into practice.“

Lucia Wolkersdorfer

After her bachelor's degree in forestry at the TU Munich, she went on to study for a master's degree at the University of Applied Sciences Salzburg / Kuchl, and wrote her master's thesis in cooperation with Pfeifer (graduation in June 2019). As a recent graduate engineer in wood technology, she came to the BSH plant at the Imst site and participated in quality management projects before taking up the position herself. Her area of responsibility includes sawn timber and the entire range of finishing products.

„When everyone involved understands that quality brings great benefits, we take that decisive step forward.“

Thorsten Kaiser

Head of Quality Management starting in 2020

Customer requirements have increased steadily over the last 10 years. For me, good quality management means meeting these needs, without neglecting productivity along the entire value chain. I look back at 25 years of experience in the wood industry which I will utilise in my new position.