Despite the corona crisis all three lines at Simbach were running at 100%. But even with this high level of production our stocks were still reduced by almost a fifth from February to August. The German market really over-performed.
What were you doing before working for Knauf Insulation?
I was born in Lübeck in the north of Germany which is further away from Simbach than most other places in the country. I started my professional life as a hotel manager at the Sheraton Group and this led me to manage IT projects throughout Africa and the Middle East. By the early 1990s I was working for hotel chains near Salzburg in Austria and Bad Birnbach, Lower Bavaria, near Simbach. I settled down here and started a family. In 2002 I was given the opportunity to start my career in the insulation industry at Heraklith, which became Knauf Insulation four years later.
What have been the greatest challenges of 2020?
We went live with a new production gluing line at the beginning of 2020. The products from this line were from a new portfolio for the German market and sales exceeded expectations. Despite the corona crisis all three Lines at Simbach were running at a 100%. But even with this high level of production our stocks were still reduced by almost a fifth from February to August. The German market really over-performed.
How was the plant impacted by COVID-19?
The corona crisis hit the district of Simbach very hard. During the first and second wave, the infection rate was among the highest in Germany. In addition to the plant administration and staff, the Knauf Insulation Central Europe team — customer service and other supporting departments — are also located here. It was a tough task to adapt to the crisis.
What actions were implemented?
We immediately started using masks, were careful to social distance and avoided contact with others as much as possible. Customer Service and other departments soon started working from home and for several weeks even some of the plant administration staff had to set up a home office. Plexiglass was installed at the reception offices of the plant entrance as well as in the shipment department and loading department. All planned visits by external visitors were cancelled and all appointments were handled by Skype.
Was it challenging to find masks and disinfectant?
During the early days of the first wave of COVID-19 in spring, our plant purchaser had to work hard to search for disinfectant and masks because at this time these types of goods were only being produced in Asia. He found a pharmacy with disinfectant 110 km away in Rosenheim and the plant manager’s assistant went to collect it. We then filled smaller containers with disinfectant that could be distributed to our colleagues. We also found two local mask suppliers in Simbach and Passau who could deliver quickly. Using this stock we were also able to supply our sales teams in Germany, Austria and Switzerland.
What important lessons were learned during this time?
We will continue to prioritise online meetings because they work well and save time and money. We also saw, for the first time, the successful impact of people working from home.
How has your plant been changed by COVID safety requirements?
All hygienic rules and security measures concerning COVID will be kept in place. Many habits have changed — such as avoiding handshakes and following strict hygiene standards — and these will be maintained after the crisis. So far, our teams have successfully navigated the corona crisis with no infection at all. However, the situation is not over and infection rates in the district of Simbach are still too high. Our colleagues have learned from the crisis and adapted quickly to the demands of the first wave of the pandemic. This flexibility will be important as we continue to face ever-changing challenges. We cannot afford to drop our guard.
What measures were introduced to keep your team As Safe As Home?
Hygienic rules were introduced and overseen by the managers and supervisors. We reduced the number of employees that could meet in each office, installed new safety equipment and introduced international DASH measures — focused on distancing, air circulation, surface cleanliness and hygiene to all areas. Our management, plant manager and our working council have developed a corona-staged plan so that every employee is aware of the infection situation and the safety measures that apply to specific areas such as canteen operation, home office working and business trips. The plan is transparent and works well.
What is your future ambition for the site?
Our Simbach Vision, that we created in 2020, is clear: “We are Heraklith, we are the benchmark for Wood Wool and an integral part of the Knauf Group. We are a strong team and we will achieve this vision with our four pillars: occupational safety, order and cleanliness, sustainability and quality.” This vision is communicated widely to all our colleagues at Simbach and is on display on the wallboard of our Continuous Improvement corridor.
What recent sustainability successes have been important to the plant in terms of waste management?
Our new extraction and recycling system was launched in the second week of 2020. During the production of Heraklith Wood Wool multilayer panels, material dust is produced that previously had to be disposed of in landfill sites. The separated Rock Wool dust is now collected and transported to our Rock Wool plant in St Egidien in Saxony. As a result, approximately 1,700 tonnes of Rock Wool production dust every year ends up back in the production process as recycled raw material. This is a great achievement of close collaboration between two plants with different technologies and another important contribution to driving a circular economy.
Karl-Heinz has been the Supply Chain Manager at Simbach since 2002. The plant, the biggest of our two Wood Wool sites, is based 110 km east of Munich, 65 km north of Salzburg and geographically well-placed to serve our customers throughout Germany as well as in Austria and Switzerland. The plant also provides products to the Netherlands and Scandinavia.