In January 2016, Bernd Bielfeldt was made Head of Business Unit Wood, Dieffenbacher. The industry veteran talks about the current state of change in panel production in Southeast Asia.
PFA: WHAT IS THE MARKET FOR PANELS LIKE IN SOUTHEAST ASIA RIGHT NOW?
BB: Panel production in Asia is thriving with about three panel lines coming up in Thailand and another one likely to be in Vietnam in 2016. Southeast Asia has an abundance of natural resources and raw material, which makes it ideal for building a plant in this region. There is also good access to international markets. India, for example, is slowly rising and is becoming a significant customer for these panel suppliers.
Other drivers of growth include rising domestic consumption due to the construction and hospitality boom in various emerging economies such as Vietnam and Indonesia.
PFA: WHAT ARE SOME OF THE MID-TO-LONG TERM TRENDS WE CAN EXPECT IN THIS REGION?
BB: It is likely that plywood companies will start to shift production to composite panels such as MDF or particleboard. This shift happened in Europe and North America over the last few decades. I expect to see Asia moving in the same direction as well. In fact it seems like the region is now beginning to experience change a lot faster.
Plywood has lost its lustre because you need good wood to produce good plywood. As wood land is shrinking and natural resources are depleting, many trees now come from fast-growing tree plantations. These species are less suitable for plywood. Another issue is substituting fresh wood or adding alternative raw materials such as straw, bamboo or recycled wood. In fact, Dieffenbacher inked a deal for a straw-based particleboard line with China Wanhua recently. We have been working on technology for alternative raw materials since wood is becoming scarce and more costly.
However this is not to say plywood will be phased out completely.
PFA: ONCE A PROJECT IS COMMISSIONED, HOW DO YOU CONTINUE TO SUPPORT YOUR CUSTOMERS? HAVE THERE BEEN ANY CHANGES IN THE WAY PLANT OWNERS APPROACH A PROJECT?
BB: Of course we continue to support our global customers with all the services they need to keep the plant running as well as to optimise the functions of existing plants. Even though plant owners have become more knowledgeable and savvy about running the production lines there is still a great value for technological and application-specific expertise Dieffenbacher can add.
We help our customers increase productivity and profitability in many ways across the complete lifecycle of a plant. This includes savings in wood and resin as well as optimising energy costs. We can also help to increase capacity and quality of their products. This is very interesting—and in a good way—challenging. Our customers from Southeast Asia value that our branch office in Kuala Lumpur can provide fast and comprehensive lifecycle support.
PFA: WHAT COMES UNDER YOUR PURVIEW AS THE NEW GLOBAL HEAD OF BUW?
BB: My responsibilities now include the management of products and process knowledge, sales, as well as project realisation around the world. In short, I cover everything from the signing of the contract to the commissioning of the first board and handover of the plant to our customers.
I am a mechanical engineer and I have been with Dieffenbacher for 10 years now. Before that, it was three years at Egger. In total, I have been in the wood-based panels industry for 23 years.
PFA: WHAT IS YOUR PLAN FOR THE NEXT FIVE YEARS?
BB: We have been very successful in implementing our current strategy. We have invented new products – e.g. the new CPS+ press – and other technologies and we have increased market share in many parts of this world including Asia but also in Latin American markets. In the future we will continue investing in areas that matter to our customers. This includes advanced technological solutions, global production capabilities and the delivery of first-class lifecycle services.
This article was first published in Panels & Furniture Asia Nov/Dec.