Dieffenbacher’s future is secure in family hands

17 July 2013


Dieffenbacher GmbH Maschinen-und Anlagenbau used Ligna 2013 to hold a press conference for selected magazines, when Wolf-Gerd Dieffenbacher set out the current position, and future aims, of his family’s business

This year marks the 140th anniversary of the foundation of the Dieffenbacher company in Eppingen, southern Germany, where the company still has its headquarters.

Of course, the group of companies today would have been unimaginable to the founder, Jakob Dieffenbacher, in 1873, with its global presence and its turnover of €415m in 2012. But it is still 100% family-owned, with two main divisions: The Wood Based Panel Division and the Forming Division (mainly in the automotive sector).

"Continuity, reliability and tradition are all things to be conserved, while we are still growing pretty fast," said Wolf-Gerd Dieffenbacher. "Is that the right model? Yes, I am sure it is."

The president and chief executive of Dieffenbacher GmbH Maschinen-und Anlagenbau stated clearly that the family business has no intention of selling the company to anyone, or indeed of taking any investment partners. "We will remain a family company," he affirmed.

On that subject, Mr Dieffenbacher took the opportunity to introduce the fifth generation of the family to enter the business - his son, Christian Dieffenbacher, who is 30 years old and will formally join the company at the beginning of 2014. Christian Dieffenbacher has graduated in economics and engineering and worked outside the family business in a consulting role for the past 18 months. He will initially work in technical sales, based at the Eppingen headquarters.

As he pointed out himself, Christian Dieffenbacher is no stranger to the business he is entering, having grown up with it all his life. In fact, Ligna 2013 was his seventh - he started attending the event at the age of 16. Between school and university, he said he also worked for the family business overseas, on the build-up of a new panel line in China, and has visited many customers and exhibitions over the years, as well as working in Canada for a period of time.

Wolf-Gerd Dieffenbacher said: "I am now 61 years old and in recent years have been concentrating on our organisation and on getting good people throughout the business.

For instance we will build a new organisation in the US and I will bring our Canadian and US operations together - that will be my responsibility.

"I see growth in North America and we want to increase our engineering capacity there. We can, and will, grow internationally and already half our just-over 1800 people are not based in Germany, but in Finland, Sweden, the US and Canada, Czech Republic, China, Russia, India, Australia and Malaysia. We also decided over a year ago to be more active in Africa and will set up an office there, when we find the right location."

Like many engineering companies these days, the biggest constraint on Dieffenbacher's growth everywhere is in finding the right people - especially engineers - who are in short supply, even in Germany.

"We have a lot of new products, many of which were introduced at Ligna 2011 as a concept and most of which are now out in the market," continued the chief executive.

Cost-saving is a major focus of the panel making industry, especially since the global economic crisis, but also with the everincreasing cost of raw materials.

Glue costs are a particular focus and with this in mind, Mr Dieffenbacher said the company has introduced EVOjet M for MDF lines and EVOjet P for particleboard lines.

EVOjet M has already been successfully established in the market, but EVOjet P was introduced to the public for the first time at Ligna 2013 in May and is said to pay for itself in under a year in the average line.

"Both systems give huge savings in resin and I'm glad we invested a lot of money in this area since we bought the patents from Flakeboard a few years ago," said Mr Dieffenbacher senior.

The other main raw material cost is of course wood and Dieffenbacher presented its recycled wood preparation concept at Ligna, having Maier size-reduction equipment and the ClassiCleaner within its product range. The ClassiSizer has also been a success for the company, having sold 60 machines since the last Ligna (2011).

"This machine is ideal for recycling and the recycling business is definitely part of our future strategy," said the ceo. "The potential is still not fully realised and we are continuing to develop the machine and we see other applications for it."

Dieffenbacher has also recently signed a cooperation agreement with logyard specialist company Holtec, in the Logyard Alliance, to maximise the benefits of both companies' specialist equipment.

Another cooperation agreement has been signed with Carmanah Design and Manufacturing Inc, to take advantage of each others' expertise in the OSB manufacturing industry in particular, with Carmanah's 100- year involvement in strander and other technologies.

In another area of cost saving in wood, Dieffenbacher has invested a lot in making particleboard lighter, said Mr Dieffenbacher, such as its project for IKEA-owned Swedspan. Of course many would consider the 'flag ship' product of the Dieffenbacher group to be the iconic CPS continuous press for panel production and this has undergone continual improvement, including the introduction of heat to the mat much earlier than before, explained Mr Dieffenbacher. Also, he said that to give better accuracy, particularly when pressing lightweight panels, more push/pull cylinders can be added to the press.

Probably one of the most significant of the several takeovers made by Dieffenbacher was that of Shanghai Wood Based Panel Machinery Co Ltd (SWPM) in Shanghai, China, in 2009. This brought a wide range of panel manufacturing machinery, from chippers to refiners to multi-daylight presses, among others, and including, at the time, the only continuous press made outside Germany, albeit four-feet, not eight-feet wide.

This 'ContiPlus' press has proved popular, initially in China, but subsequently in other parts of the world, including one purchased by Vanachai of Thailand (see p24 in this issue). "Since we took over SWPM, we have more than doubled the turnover of that company," said Wolf-Gerd Dieffenbacher.

A completely new departure for the company came when he decided to "keep my engineers busy" during the quiet times of the financial crisis by getting them to develop a digital printing system. The goal was good resolution on a large-volume line, using waterbased ink.

The first such line was installed in addedvalue panel maker Homanit's factory in Germany and ran well, said the ceo. However, after a year of running, there were no more orders and the project appeared to falter. Then, after further development another order was received, together with a lot of interest from the industry, he said.

"This proved that we can really do new things," said the ceo. "We are more used to large machinery - our heaviest CPS is 2,500 tonnes - but we can also successfully produce printing lines like this."

Another new departure for Dieffenbacher has been its entry into the pellet making market, with a completely new press designed to produce up to 20tph of pellets in a modular system.

"For four or five years, at the beginning of the recession, things were not looking so good, so I concentrated on developing new products and I'm glad I did," said Mr Dieffenbacher. "Now we have a lot of orders on hand."

So Dieffenbacher has quite dramatically increased its range of products for the wood panel industry in the last few years, both by acquisition and by the internal development of new ideas and technologies.

Now this 140-year-old company will have a new member of the Dieffenbacher family, Christian Dieffenbacher, joining its ranks to ensure it continues its progress into the future as a family-owned business.

SWPM ContiPlus continuous press at Vanachai, Thailand
Wolf-Gerd Dieffenbacher (left) and his son Christian Dieffenbacher at Ligna 2013
Founder Jakob Dieffenbacher
A Dieffenbacher CPS press entry
Dieffenbacher energy plant
The company’s Eppingen HQ