As you exit the southbound motorway into Leutkirch, in southern Germany’s Allgäu region, the Alps rise in the background like a perfect paperchain. You can feel it straight away: this is a holiday destination. Just a few kilometres from the motorway exit, before you reach the town centre, you will see Pfleiderer’s Leutkirch plant stretching out to your left. This is a site with a storied history and the best perspective on the future. Text: Guido Klinker Photos: Pfleiderer Deutschland GmbH
“We’ve got a tight-knit community here,” says Plant Manager Diethard Singer – and looking around the plant and speaking to the people there, it’s hard not to share his point of view. There is an almost tangible sense among the staff of identification with their workplace. “It could be because a lot of things are different here,” he explains. “We are one of the biggest employers and clients, and offer a range of specialities for anything related to wood-based materials.”
› Impregnated materials: 40 million m2 › HPL: 4.5 million m2 › Melamine Faced Chipboard: 12 million m2 › Raw particleboard: 400,000 m2 › PUR and PVA glue elements: 1 million
The award of the contract for the construction of the coating plant at the Leutkirch site represented a milestone for the staff following years of uncertainty – as Jürgen Schnarr, Chair of the Works Council and member of the Pfleiderer Group’s Supervisory Board, is very much aware. “Our colleagues are proud to work here and know what they are capable of. The fact that they and we were entrusted with the construction and operation of the new plant was a very important signal,” he adds. Mr Schnarr has been at the site for more than two decades, and is familiar with its workings down to the tiniest detail. “We know that Pfleiderer is a good employer. But many of those who have been here the longest can still remember the days when we were almost going bankrupt, after which there was always uncertainty as to how important Leutkirch was to the Pfleiderer Group. That uncertainty has now died down.”
This development was also big news to Leutkirch municipality. Diethard Singer and his team stay in regular contact with the mayor and the local council, for a number of reasons. The 200,000 m2 plant site with the distinctive chimney at its centre – 100,000 m2 of which has been built on – is surrounded by the town itself. Just outside it, normal citizens live in their homes and take trips into the town centre. It is impossible to ignore or fail to notice the large plant. As such, it is important for the site to maintain a good, open relationship with its neighbours. On top of this, Pfleiderer is one of the top three employers in the region, and has business dealings with more than 290,300 local businesses. The fact that the people here know so much about the industrial company is also important in terms of the area’s tourism infrastructure. In autumn, CenterParcs is due to open its doors in Leutkirch, drawing thousands of tourists to the region.
1956 ZEFA was taken over by KRAGES, initially under the name ALOPAL, later as Thermopal
1983 Foundation of Thermopal Dekorplatten GmbH & Co. KG
1999 All Thermopal shares incorporated into Pfleiderer AG
2013 Company renamed Pfleiderer Leutkirch GmbH
The Pfleiderer plant is an attractive place to work for many people who are just starting their careers, and “working at Pfleiderer” has a good reputation in the area. One young person who was determined to get an apprenticeship with wood-based panel manufacturer is Leonie Häberle. Now in the third year of her industrial business management apprenticeship, she moves to a new department every two to three months to gather further experience,
JÜRGEN SCHNARR, Chair of the Works Council
Bird’s eye view of the Pfleiderer plant in Leutkirch
alternating the work with her college classes. “As well as the technical side of things, I also get to learn a lot about the material we work with here – all the different types of wood,” Leonie reports. She is also fascinated by the HR department and all the legal matters they deal with. She would love to keep working at Pfleiderer in the long term, and looks to have a good chance of doing so. As in many areas, qualified new recruits are a rare commodity in Allgäu, so the demand for the skills of young people like Leonie is certainly there. “This is why we have gone back to offering full apprenticeships in every career for the past three years. We used to run our apprenticeships for technical career paths together with two other companies,” says Plant Manager Dieter Singer. 22 young people are currently studying to become chemicals lab staff, IT technicians, electricians, mechanics and management assistants in Leutkirch. “This gives us the opportunity to get to know young people and foster their loyalty to our company,” Mr Singer says.
The Leutkirch site boasts a workforce of around 500 employees. Almost every area of the plant works in three shifts, some of them even on Saturdays and Sundays. This shows just how well business is going, but it also comes with its own risks. “Many of our staff find shift work difficult, especially the younger ones,” reports Jürgen Schnarr, Chair of the Works Council, who has worked shifts himself for more than 20 years – and is quick to emphasise that he likes doing so. The Works Council sees the occupational health and safety initiative headed by Technical Director Dirk Hardow as an important signal that the company wants to make the jobs it offers more attractive and ease the burden of shift work.
LEONIE HÄBERLE, apprentice
Aside from MDF, the Leutkirch site produces the entire range of products for which many other companies in the market require individual sites. The plant produces 40 million m2 of impregnants – and 4.5 million m2 of HPL last year. 12 million m2 of directly melamine faced chipboard were shipped from the Leutkirch plant in 2017, together with one million PUR and PVA glue elements and more than 400,000 m2 of raw particleboard. And this is exactly where the company plans to make its next big investment. The current driers in the raw particleboard plant will be replaced, which makes the Leutkirch plant much more competitive compared with other Pfleiderer sites with higher levels of raw particleboard production. “In terms of our future, this step is just as important as the awarding of the contract for the lacquering technology,” Mr Singer and Mr Schnarr both stress. “The Executive Board have been aware for some time of how flexible, fast and adaptable we are,” says Dietmar Singer with a wink.