A life partner for clean air technology

Scheuch Asia is now almost three years in Bangkok. The office may be new, but Andreas Köck, managing director, says the company is more than qualified to support Southeast Asia’s panel industry with technology for clean air.

Andreas Köck, Managing Director, Scheuch Asia

Bangkok, or anywhere in urban Southeast Asia, is nothing like where he used to live, where the air is crisp and fresh, a luxury for the lungs. And yet moving to the bustling metropolis was his idea.

Three years ago, Andreas Köck saw that Southeast Asia would become one of the fastest-growing markets for exhaust systems and filters. His counterparts in the wood-based panel industry have also recognised this and were swooping in quickly. It was obvious that Scheuch had to have a local office to match up with intense competition in this field.

He says, “I worked out the business plan for Southeast Asia and proposed someone who was willing to go there—me!”

At that time, the proposal was also in alignment with the company’s globalisation strategy. Scheuch was expanding worldwide and had just made two acquisitions in North America.

And Mr Köck was right. The decision was paramount to securing a foothold in the region. In just two years since the office opened, he had signed deals with most of the new panel projects here—six and counting. According to him, it was a combination of perfect timing and luck.

“All the investments in Thailand were coming up just as we opened so we were able to clinch most of these projects.”

In Thailand, Advanced Fibre, Metro Ply, Wisewoods and Vanachai have signed orders. A second ESP has been delivered to Panel Plus. In Vietnam, both Dongwha MDF 1 and 2 are running on Scheuch fibre sifters; Kim Tin has also put in an order for filter systems. (Some older lines in the country still feature Scheuch systems and they are still being serviced with spare parts and advice.)

A good start

The new lines have been running for over six months and feedback is positive: high-performing filters and ducts mean little or no downtime for maintenance, which means the factory can focus on its main goal—producing panels.

“It is definitely a good start,” Mr Köck says happily. “We are capable of offering our customers more, not just technical consulting but service as well. After all, they do demand a certain standard of service, which we are more than happy to provide. Our new service technician recently finished his training and is ready to start.”

The goal, he adds, is to work on a well-defined structure so that Scheuch can support the wood-based panel industry here on a daily basis. To up the ante, a fibre sifter expert from the company’s headquarters in Austria will pay a three-week visit to several MDF installations in the region. As panel production evolves overtime, the expert’s 25 years of experience will be more than necessary to address these changes.

The biggest sense of satisfaction for Mr Köck, however, was being able to convince plant managers to trust in Scheuch’s technology, “and if you do so, you will see the benefits.”

“In all my years in the panel board industry, you can say I sell kilograms of metal. But it is now a personal mission to tackle industrial waste emissions for the client, the people and the environment.

“With all the experience and products we have, I think we can give very good advice in this area. I’m really happy that we were able to convince one customer here to invest in a wet ESP system. My dream is to equip, one by one, all of these lines with the same.”

And it doesn’t take a lot to be convinced. The 42-year-old speaks with a kind of conviction that comes from a well of knowledge, 22 years to be exact. In his early twenties, he started as a shift operator in Kronospan, moved on to become production manager for an MDF line in his hometown and went on to Metso Panel Board as a process engineer before joining Scheuch in 2007. He worked graveyard shifts, put in long hours, travelled extensively and consulted for lines all over the world. He has seen all and done much. He is warm, affable and comes with a matter-of-fact candor that makes you feel like you have known him a lifetime.

It is probably why the young office is so successful; the one helming it has all the credentials. More importantly, he is also serious about building long-term, meaningful relationships in a region that values exactly that.

Investing in innovation

In hindsight, Mr Köck says that doing business here can be complicated and not always easy to understand, but that “if you can adapt, you will do fine.”

In fact, he is doing more than fine. From a one-man set-up in an 11sqm space, Scheuch Asia is now a family of five in a 100sqm office in Asoke.

Apart from supplying the wood-based panel sector, Scheuch also services the energy, metal, cement and flue gas treatment industries. They have been in the air and environmental technology business for 50 years.

But considering the machine is still the same as when it was invented decades ago, exactly how innovative can such technology be?

Mr Köck laughs. It is a fact, but also a massive endeavour to stretch the equipment’s efficacy beyond limits. And here is where Scheuch has pushed through in product innovation to a degree of success. Building technology for clean air is their bread and butter after all. The company funnels huge investments towards research on maintaining–and in some cases, exceeding—machine performance at a lower cost.

“It is a tricky thing, being able to deliver quality at a lower cost. But we have done it, improved versions with the same service guarantee that we offer our customers.”

Indeed, while the fibre board has hardly evolved as a product, what has, is the machinery that makes it. Now, the modern lines are all expected to maintain longer uptime, run faster, and consume less wood and resin. Some of them are even being extended to produce value-add products, laminating, coating or printing for decorative panels and flooring.

Meeting millennial needs

Today, children born in the 1990s—or the millennials—are young adults with high demands on standards of living for themselves and their children. Soon, there will be feedback on a panel’s carbon footprint—What are the environmental and health consequences from using this panel? In turn, this may translate into stricter controls on formaldehyde emission limits on the panel itself.

Mr Köck also works with some of them who have recently stepped up into their family’s panel business.

His advice for these young managers is to follow their heart, cliché as it may sound. “It is a huge responsibility stepping into such big shoes but I’m very sure they will find their way if they listen to the right people. There are so many different voices, you just need to sift through all of it and make your own decision.

“Then again, am I in a place to dish out advice?” he wonders.

He sure is, for he is a man who reflects often on what he has done for himself, his family, the company or community. And he never stops working. After the office lights go out, the family comes in.

“You know kids, they keep this machine running all the time.”

This article was first published in Panels & Furniture Asia [Jan/Feb Issue].