'No doubt paper still has growth potential'
An interview with Erich Kollmar, who firmly believes that the paper industry has a future
Gebr. BELLMER Maschinenfabrik
Machines and equipment for the production of paper
Paper making machinery
Gebr. BELLMER Maschinenfabrik based in Niefern-Öschelbronn has been well established in the paper industry for 175 years. Now, this family-owned company develops and manufactures besides machines and equipment for the production of paper and pulp also separation plants, which are in demand for fruit juice production and in the environmental technology sector. In this interview, Erich Kollmar, who manages the company together with his brothers Martin and Philipp, explains why he firmly believes that the paper industry has a future, which challenges need to be addressed for fully automated production processes and why BELLMER is continuously growing despite the difficult market environment.
Mr Kollmar, could you please introduce your company briefly?
Gebr. BELLMER is a sixth generation family company established in 1842. With our 600 employees, we had a turnover of approx 150 million last year. We develop and manufacture machines and equipment for the production of paper, cardboard, packaging, special-purpose, security and decor paper or fibreboard. In addition, we are a supplier of separation technology, which is in demand not only for fruit juice production, but also for sludge removal from rivers and lakes, drinking water treatment or sludge dewatering.
Which role does paper play for your company nowadays?
A very important one. We generate more than three quarters of our turnover with fibre-based production technology. The last quarter is spread over more than 60 different industrial sectors. Normally, between two thirds and three quarters of the total turnover stems from international projects.
Which synergies do offering both paper and separation technology bring?
In the solid/liquid separation field, we concentrate on small series which differ in size and the materials used. In contrast to papermaking machines, this is, however, not special machinery manufacturing. Papermaking machine projects mostly have a construction time of 12 to 18 months, whereas that of separation technology is often rather three to six months. The parallel execution of shorter and longer projects helps us control the utilization of our production capacities.
Has the demand for paper technology changed over the last few years?
Our customers from this sector traditionally make investments in order to meet higher quality requirements, to offer new functionalities and to achieve savings in cost and resources. A typical project is, e.g., the modernisation of the press section of an existing machine. In dialogue with the customers, we develop a concept, determine on site what needs to be considered during retrofitting and which adjustments must be made for the installation of the new section. Only then do design and construction, the placement of orders for externally manufactured components and finally production start. The paper industry operates in long cycles in which, fortunately, the demand is synchronized neither globally nor within special product groups. This is also a reason why we have been continuously growing for years. Furthermore, BELLMER GROUP stands for absolutely reliable, prompt project execution. During the last 20 years, delays occurred only in two of several hundred projects.
The paper and pulp industry also focuses on modern control technology. How far has this sector progressed towards fully networked, automated production?
Compared to the level of ten years ago, we have progressed pretty far. Compared to other industries, we are still at the beginning. The dream of fully automated production plants is still far from being fulfilled. This is also due to the raw material, because fibres and water are natural products with varying properties. This is also why we have specialized in paper and board and have ended our excursions to the nonwoven sector. Speed, stock consistency, grammage and solidity can change the physical limits in the process abruptly. In the paper and board field alone, there is an enormous variety of input and output parameters, above all since we also have to manage varying shares of recycling paper. In our opinion, human persons will continue to be indispensable for a long time when it comes to getting the most out of a specific fibre material. Networked automation must just provide the best-possible support for them.
More than 60 percent of your projects are about products and services that are not even three years old. What are the priorities of your research & development?
There is a master plan for the continuous improvement of our products and services. We look at them in regular intervals and discuss, so to say, at the white paper what we can improve. Moreover, we listen attentively when customers express wishes and ideas. An important field for innovations is the software-controlled interaction of our aggregates and processes. We have specialists at four locations who design control systems and automation solutions, programme them and put them into operation.
What is automation intended to achieve?
We distinguish between three categories: BellCheck for fast, easy to understand state and fault diagnoses, BellLife for preventive maintenance, and BellSelf for specific paper quality optimizations – e.g., with regard to a homogeneous paper grammage. The aim is to support the customers in the operation of their machines in the best possible way.
BELLMER is growing in a tense market and even put a new plant in operation in 2012. What does the future hold for the paper market that has so often been declared dead?
In any case, paper still has growth potential. However, its designation will probably soon be “fibre-based renewable raw material products” since “paper” sounds dead indeed to outsiders of this industry. If, however, you think of how often you encounter paper in everyday life, annual growth rates of 1 to 3 percent in the various product sectors do not surprise at all. The perception of paper and board changes as well: Who would have bought a simple cardboard box for one Euro at the supermarket five years ago just to transport the shopping home? Such developments have a lot to do with the fact that our recycling chain is working well and is generally known. Another growth driver is the innovative market for special paper. A beautiful example is creapaper, paper made of grass.
Final question: What do you see when you think of BELLMER in 2030?
I hope that it will still be an avid, passionate and customer-oriented company with technologically ambitious products. We should stick to our philosophy to support our customers around the globe with our knowledge and our services as best as possible. Furthermore, the first women of the next family generation have already joined the company. If they feel like it, maybe the seventh generation will already be at the helm at our 200-year anniversary in 2032.
(Interview courtesy VDMA, via PresseBox)
© 2017 IED All right reserved.