Rail is top priority
The question is not rail or truck, but rather: How can the respective logistics processes be shaped in an opti- mal manner? We spoke with Thomas Staudinger, Head of Logistics at the Pfeifer Group, about current trends and permanent challenges in his industry.
The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the Achilles' heels of global logistics chains. Container shortages, delays and delivery bottlenecks coupled with increased demand also put logistical strains on the timber industry. Adding to this are perennial issues such as the required reduction of carbon emissions or - which is extremely noticeable – the shortage of truck drivers, which threatens to slow down economy and trade and whose manifold causes Covid-19 only exacerbated. Bang in the middle of these turbulent times, Thomas Staudinger took the helm of the Pfeifer Logistics Department in August 2021. His goal: to continue on the successful path taken so far, to locate future potential and to bring new dynamics into processes and partnerships.
Pfeifer now transports about 1 million tonnes of wood (products) per year by rail. Environmentally friendly rail transport will continue to be promoted, with the company aiming to double it to 2 million tonnes in the next three to four years. Important partners for this are private railway companies such as Salzburger Eisenbahn-TransportLogistik GmbH (SETG), with whom Pfeifer has been working successfully for around ten years.
Their biggest advantage: flexibly designed rail logistics that meet Pfeifer's time- and product-related requirements and a company that doesn't shy away from investing. For example, the SETG team developed a solution to transport 2.5 m logs for the production of packaging timber or logs twice as long equally well.
Of the 1. million tonnes moved so far the majority is accounted for by supply to the plants in Uelzen, Unterbernbach and Kundl. From April 2022, the site in Lauterbach (see info box at the end of the article) will be connected to the rail network. In addition to this major investment in Hesse, Pfeifer is currently also involved in a station project in Pajeov in the Czech Republic, some 10 kilometres from the Chanovice site.
Intermodal transport to Southern Europe is also receiving increased attention. By rail, Pfeifer products are being transported to the Spanish border via Luxembourg. Depending on availability, freight train connections from Germany to northern Italy are also used. Staudinger wants to shift “as much as possible” to rail in an environmentally friendly way.
Logistics Manager at the Pfeifer Group
“We are the last ones that hold our prod- uct in our hands. To a large extent, the hand- over process to our customers shapes the image of Pfeifer.“
Despite the increasing volume of goods transported by rail, Pfeifer will continue to handle part of its procurement and shipping traffic by truck. This is because not all locations or routes (the keyword here is last mile) qualify for a complete transfer to rail.
Staudinger realistically comments on the possibilities of e-mobility in his industry. Pfeifer is naturally following developments in hydrogen technology closely, as well as progress in autonomous driving. “We want to be at the forefront if a system change is initiated by politics." However, logistics companies can already act efficiently and thus sustainably today, for example by fully loading the trucks, intelligent route planning and avoiding empty runs.
The logistics experts at the Schlitz location shoulder special, product-related requirements. Unlike sawn timber or pellets, the cross laminated timber elements have to be loaded in the correct order, often transported on special trucks due to their considerable dimensions and arrive at the construction site just-in-time. Precise load planning and a solid network of (local) hauliers are essential to achieve this feat.
This is where great potential in digitalisation to be able to map the flow of goods internally and externally even more precisely can be found. In line with the frequently mentioned desire for transport tracking, Pfeifer customers will be able to view the status of their orders via the service portal in the medium term, including the time of loading and estimated time of arrival.
Since the construction of the plant in 2008/09, the Pfeifer Group has always wanted to secure the largest of its eight locations in the long term by connecting it to the railway system. The ground-breaking ceremony finally took place in December 2019 and, despite Covid, the complex construction work went according to schedule. The 1.7 km long railway line in the direction of Wallenrod will start operations in spring 2022 with an annual capacity of 400,000 tonnes. Up to one third of the round timber for the sawing line will be delivered by rail in the future. In the final stage, Pfeifer is aiming for closed-loop operation, i.e. transport to and from the site without empty cars. Pfeifer is covering the construction costs of 16 million Euros with the help of subsidies from the Federal Railway Authority and the state of Hesse.
“We are the last ones that hold our product in our hands. The way the handover process to the customer is organised has a significant impact on Pfeifer's image,” Staudinger comments, knowing that his department carries a big responsibility. Therefore, we need reliable transport partners, but we also have to be equal partners to our carriers. For example, by processing the drivers quickly and treating them with respect at the loading terminals. “Ideally, we want the carriers to be happy when they receive an order from Pfeifer. That’s why we will continue to work on our existing, very good relationships,” says Staudinger, actively seeking discussions with transport companies in order to develop profitable solutions for both sides. Despite all the challenges, the logistics professional is confident. Close cooperation with Pfeifer can also open up new opportunities for carriers. And the acute shortage of containers and drivers should also peak at some point: “I expect the situation to ease again by mid-2022.”