Eppingen is not in a part of the world where one would expect to find heavy industry, let alone a world player such as the company Dieffenbacher.
Approached from the Autobahn by minor country roads meandering through agricultural scenery, one is struck by the contrast to the more conventional
industrial cities of north Germany.
The explanation is simple. Jakob Dieffenbacher started with a locksmith business in the town in 1873 and in 1910 moved into the production of hydraulic presses for the fruit, wine and edible oil industries, so that explains the rural
Today the fourth generation of the Dieffenbacher family is running the business, while the fifth is working its way through university to ensure the succession.
Dieffenbacher GmbH & Co KG today is divided into three main business units: wood, forming and operations.
Business unit wood obviously concerns the panel industry.
‘Forming’ concerns the press forming of 3-D items such as car body parts and stainless steel sinks, among many other things, in metal or plastic.
‘Operations’ covers all manufacturing service and logistics for the other two business units.
The company has grown over the years from being simply a press manufacturer into a supplier of complete lines for the panel making industry and it has done this both by internal innovation and by the acquisition of other machinery specialists.
One of the earliest such acquisitions was Schenck Panel Production Systems, which joined Dieffenbacher 10 years ago, bringing with it its expertise in process technology and, importantly, forming for particleboard and MDF lines.
In 2003, Schenkmann & Piel Engineering (SPE) joined the fold, with its expertise in drying proving a valuable addition to Dieffenbacher’s range of competences.
More recently, in 2007, the company bought a minority shareholding in Italian company Instalmec. This filled some more gaps in the ‘inhouse’ product portfolio by adding Instalmec’s mechanical and pneumatic conveying systems, suction, filter and cyclone equipment, rotary valves, dosing and screening systems, separators and gluing systems and blenders.
The latest and perhaps the most significant full acquisition made by Dieffenbacher came this year (2008) with the purchase of a significant part of the former Metso Panelboard company.
This involved two former Metso
locations, at Sundsvall in Sweden and Nastola in Finland.
“This means we now have 75-80% of the panel production line supplied from our own resources,said Günter Natus, technical director, panel division, and a former Schenck employee.
Dieffenbacher’s purchase of the Sundsvall operation led to the return of an old and highly-respected name in the panel industry – Sunds. With the creation of Sunds MDF Technologies AB, this became the new competence centre for the engineering and the supply of complete front-end systems for MDF/HDF plants within the Dieffenbacher Group.
Its portfolio features fibre dryers and ‘Z-Sifters’, a pneumatic transport system and the new ‘EVOjet’ dry resin blending system. Sunds MDF Technologies’ scope of supply also includes complete doorskin lines.
Meanwhile, Dieffenbacher Panelboard Oy of Nastola brought the engineering and supply of machinery for panel handling, raw material preparation and forming for particleboard manufacture from Metso to Dieffenbacher. The complete portfolio features the ‘Lukki’ intermediate storage system and the complete range of ‘ClassiCleaner’ (WBPI issue 5, 2008, p60), ‘ClassiScreen’ and ‘ClassiFormer’ products. The scope of supply also includes small-capacity
single-opening press lines for
particleboard manufacture.
This left energy plants as the only part of the panel factory which Dieffenbacher did not offer from its own resources.
“So we developed the know-how inhouse by employing the right people and formed a couple of strategic alliances and now we have already sold four systems designed by us,said Mr Natus.
The biggest such project so far has been for Pfleiderer at its Russian MDF plant in Novgorod, where it has an 85MW system.
“We supply everything on these projects, from the blowline to the finished, packaged panel and also carry out full erection on site.”
In a further move to strengthen its position in energy plants, this year Dieffenbacher entered into a cooperation agreement with Teaford in the US in which it will use Teaford’s heat energy system in some North American projects. Teaford will also become the manufacturer and installer of SPE’s particleboard/OSB drum dyers in the North American market.
Another cooperation agreement is with Swiss-Combi in its EcoDry system to reduce emissions from dryers. Swiss-Combi holds the patents and Dieffenbacher the licence. The key element of this equipment is the heat exchanger, which Swiss-Combi will supply.
The system employs an air-cooled grate and can utilise a mix of fuels as required. Remote online service is also available if required, as it is for all Dieffenbacher’s panel production lines.
“The pressure on environmental
emissions in the US is intensifying and this means we expect there still to be good business even in the current difficult
market,said Mr Natus.
Ongoing investment at the Eppingen headquarters of Dieffenbacher involves enlarging the manufacturing facilities and refurbishing part of the offices, specifically for the ‘wood’ business unit. This follows an extensive enhancement of the factory in Windsor Ontario, Canada in 2007.
It may seem that the timing of that investment was questionable, but that
factory provided welcome support when certain parts of the CPS continuous presses destined for China were manufactured there when Eppingen was at full capacity and the North American market was quiet.
Also under construction on the Eppingen site is a new warehouse building for the logistics side of the business. With increasing transport costs, this is an important part of the business and involves the efficient movement of parts between the various manufacturing locations and sub-suppliers, as well as to the final customer.
“We have a lot of our annual turnover tied up in logistics and felt that there was room to improve,said Mr Natus.
Another company near Eppingen shares the Dieffenbacher name and that is Dieffenbacher Zaisenhausen. It is a separate company, run by the brother of Wolf-Gerd Dieffenbacher, ceo of Dieffenbacher GmbH, but the two firms cooperate on many projects as well.
Zaisenhausen specialises in short-cycle presses and finishing lines.
At the beginning of November 2008, Dieffenbacher GmbH had an order book stretching ahead for six to 12 months, but neither Mr Natus nor technical director and customer relations manager Bernd Bielfeldt was confident in predictions of the future order situation, given the global economic uncertainties.
“Our educated guess for new orders next year is that there will be no more than 15 complete new lines and probably no less than 10, worldwide, next year. That’s half of the last two years’ annual totals,said Mr Bielfeldt.
While admitting that there had been nothing from North America or western Europe in the way of new lines in the last two years, he pointed out that Russia, China, South America and India had shown some strength and suggested there is still a huge demand to come from Russia.
Looking at per capita consumption in the different regions, North America and western Europe, unsurprisingly, come out on top though the product mix is different, with North America being stronger in structural panels.
“India’s per capita consumption is so small it is hard to calculate,said Mr Natus. “China’s consumption is at 10-20% of western countries but is growing rapidly, mainly in MDF, while Russia is similar but mainly in particleboard.
“So, long-term, there must be huge opportunities for everybody involved, including Dieffenbacher,he forecast.
Dieffenbacher is supplying the first continuous line ever to Siberia, for a company set up by Malaysian-headquartered group Rimbunan Hijau. The customer will produce MDF near Chabarowsk. It used to be involved solely in logging and shipping the logs to China but now Rimbunan Hijau has decided to go into MDF production. Start-up of the CPS press, which is 2.65m wide x 24m long is anticipated in late 2009, with a capacity of 150,000m3/year.
Another Dieffenbacher customer in Siberia is Partner Tomsk, which is also setting up an MDF line, due to be shipped from Eppingen in mid-2009. This one will be 2.95m wide and 38m long, with an annual capacity of 260,000m3.
“They have the resources and the money in Russia. Five to seven years ago, investment was just by western companies and it still is to some extent, but there is a lot of investment by Russians themselves now – some old-established in the wood business and some new to it,said Mr Natus.
Dieffenbacher founded an office in Moscow on October 1, 2004 and now feels that ‘OOO Dieffenbacher’ as it is called turned out to be a good investment,
supporting that promising market.
Eighteen months ago, Dieffenbacher also founded an office in India to be present in that market. “We believe the market will grow and we want to be present with our own people,said Mr Natus, pointing out that all Dieffenbacher’s worldwide offices are staffed by direct employees of the company – they are not agencies – and he feels that this is important.
“Our first continuous press will be shipped to India in the second quarter of 2009 and will be the first in India. It is going to Greenply Industries and will be an 8ft x 28m press with a capacity of 190,000m3/year,he said.
Of course Dieffenbacher already has a factory and sales/service office in China to serve that large market for the company (WBPI issue 4, 2007, p55).
One opportunity for orders in an uncertain future market could be retro-fits/modernisations of existing plants.
Another is almost certainly niche products such as the insulation board line which Dieffenbacher has supplied to German panel maker Homanit, for example. The line is for Homanit’s Homatherm factory in northern Germany. This was under installation in November. Homanit has also purchased a thin HDF line for its Karlino factory in Poland. This will have a capacity of 220,000m3/year.
Some other recent projects for Dieffenbacher include the Gagarin particleboard plant near Moscow, which produced its first board in October. An LVL line, also in Russia, produced its first billet in October for MLT of St Petersburg.
Meanwhile, Kronospan Jihlava, Czech Republic, produced its first particleboard in August and, said Mr Natus, was running at nominal capacity after one week – the fastest start-up Dieffenbacher has ever had.
In Japan, the Okura particleboard line also achieved acceptance in October, while in the US, Louisiana-Pacific’s oriented strand lumber (OSL) line at Houlton, Maine, which employs a special steam-injection press, received acceptance in September.
To ensure a continuing ability to carry out its manufacturing business, Dieffenbacher employs 50 apprentices at any one time and has a dedicated training area in the Eppingen factory where apprentices learn their skills on a range of sophisticated machines. This not only ensures a continuing supply of skilled people but is also important in an area of relatively low population to encourage young people into their local industry.
The company carries out its own research and development and testing in Eppingen and can also carry out tests for customers, for instance on a new raw material for panel production, in its laboratory within the production area.
Dieffenbacher is still a 100% family-owned company and achieved a turnover of e290m in 2007 (the figure in 1980 was e36m), with 70% exported. It employs around 1,000 people worldwide.
The headquarters may be in a rural location in southern Germany, but it is clear that Dieffenbacher is an industrial concern which operates truly globally.