This year marks the 70th anniversary of PUR specialist, Kleiberit. Grown to become a global leader and innovator of PUR adhesive systems, Kleiberit’s impressive milestone coincides with the company embarking on a ground-breaking 10-year vision: a €40m investment plan that will see Kleiberit double its capacity and increase both the speed and flexibility of its operation.
Kleiberit began trading in 1948 in Ebenhausen, Germany. Its primary focus was on classical white glue for the woodworking market. The advent of plastic windows prompted a move into adhesives for use with PVC, then, in the 1980s, the focus shifted towards polyurethane hot melts – and it’s this niche that Kleiberit has really made its own.
“You don’t lose your history. A big share of our business today is the woodworking industry, and it’s the main part, but we do not see ourselves only as a woodworking company,” explains Achim Hübener, managing director of Kleiberit Germany. “We have outstanding expertise in polyurethane adhesives – hence our slogan, Competence PUR – and this is where we believe we can add value to the business of our customers because we understand polyurethane chemistry.
“For the last 20 years it’s been the key focus of our development. Rather than looking at a particular market segment, we would rather look at the chemistry behind it so today, we manufacture polyurethane hot melts for the automotive industry, for the textile, bookbinding, building and, of course, the woodworking industry.”
The adhesive specialist – that has had a subsidiary in the UK since 1992 – openly admits to not striving to be all things to all men.
“We only supply B2B,” says Achim. “We start with small carpenters but we also go to the big companies in the industry. Our strength lies in the development capabilities we have here, in the manufacturing capabilities we have and in the technical expertise we can offer our customers. These are our three main cornerstones.”
Its focus on PUR could be seen as a missed business opportunity to some but for Kleiberit and its 18 daughter companies situated around the world, its continual commitment and expertise in this area continues to drive the business forward and has seen Kleiberit’s worldwide share of the polyurethane adhesives market reach almost 20%.
Achim attributes much of Kleiberit’s success to the hands-on experience of its sales engineers, who spend much of their time working alongside production staff in the factories of Kleiberit customers. “They are not only able to give you a price, or discuss a package that works for you, they are able to run the machine in your factory,” he says.
“They will run our glue on your machine and demonstrate what, in our opinion, are the best settings to get the best mileage out of the product, the best coating out of the product and the best adhesion performance out of the product.
At Kleiberit’s headquarters in Weingarten, it also has a large scale application centre with industrial-size machinery – a resounding nod to the company’s ongoing investment into research and development. Achim explains: “If you want to put your foil on a full 8 x 4ft sheet of the type you are using, we can do that here. We will not ask you to cut it down to A4 so we can show you the glue works.
“We ask for a pallet of your boards and we will cover them in industrial conditions using industrial scale machines. It alleviates a lot of trialing on your machinery and prevents any interruption to your production. There is no need for up-scaling because we have proven the production on an industrial scale.”
Keen for Kleiberit’s customers to get the most out of its product range and benefit from its team’s exceptional experience in adhesives, customers can also visit the application centre with new materials where Kleiberit’s experts will work with them to find the perfect solu-tion for their manufacturing needs. Achim adds: “This is a real benefit of Kleiberit as a partner. Customers can come here and get good support, good service and a good product.”
The close relationships Kleiberit has with machinery manufacturers around the world also aids its continual success. “You cannot produce products in isolation,” says Achim.
“We work with major machinery companies who let us participate in their innovation so when they bring out a new machine, we already have the glue that works with it. An example of this is the hot coating story that we developed with Barberan: we had the PUR to provide a perfect bond to melamine; Barberan had the machinery to provide the benefits of a perfect optical finish.
“That was the idea behind hot coating: it combines PUR technology and lacquering, and the result is a finish with very high abrasion resistance – enough to use on dance floors – but a softer, more elastic feel from the PUR when you walk on it.”
This insightful approach to business was behind the acquisition of Dekora PUR in 2014. The Hot Coating company can now conduct full scale production trials and technology demonstrations at a moment’s notice, whilst also producing panels for would-be investors who might want to start supplying product ahead of installation of a line of their own.
The company is manufacturing for several regular kitchen clients in Germany who want the Hot Coated product, proving the point that Dekora PUR isn’t just a demonstration facility that’s polished meticulously for visitors and opened on demand – it’s a fully fledged production business that’s running two shifts a day.
Being pro-active in developing new packaging options for smaller users has also helped Kleiberit open new markets for its products. “With quality becoming more important in the market, we are seeing more demand from small companies who are interested in using PUR, but many don’t have the volume, or the people to run their edgebanders in three shifts,” says Achim.
“They are not interested in buying 200 litre drums but they want the quality to compete, so we developed different packaging that fits their requirements. We have developed different formats for use with specific machines, but we also have something that’s easy to use and can be left in an open gluepot without the need for nitrogen blanketing, pre-melters, or drum unloaders,” he continues.
The new blister tablet pack is one of a range of alternative packaging options like stand-up pouches and others. “We don’t just look for the chemistry of the product, we look for the application and try to solve problems with the packaging,” Achim says. “In effect, we’re creating new markets. The small packages are even ideal for people who have machines that take 2kg in a pre-melter when they need a little extra at the end of a shift but don’t want to start a new 20kg drum.”
The innovations don’t stop there. Kleiberit has also been instrumental in driving the market towards Isocyanate-free products with its Micro Emissions range. Social responsibility is becoming a fundamental part of manufacturing and the demand for ‘green’ products amongst furniture manufacturers has led to the development of a whole range of Micro Emission, which are now available through Kleiberit UK.
It’s exciting times for the global adhesive brand and with its new investment plan set to commence in the second quarter of 2019, it’s full speed ahead for Kleiberit. Achim adds: “Tailor-made products are around 85% of our business and customers want one week from order to delivery. That’s easier if you have your own warehouse for raw materials and finished products, and can control your own logistics.
“We will soon be able to run the quantities with a turnaround of 6000 pallets every 10 days thanks to our latest investment plan. Whilst we can look back over our 70 years and feel proud of what we have achieved and the boundaries we have broken, now is the time to look forward.”
And what of Brexit? Achim’s pragmatic approach reflects the company’s seven decades of experience that has seen it work through countless global hardships and financial crises. “The UK is a developed and advanced market in terms of manufacturing technology and it’s a good fit with our strengths in industrial applications. It’s been very successful for us and whatever happens with Brexit, we believe in the market. It will be business as usual and no interruption to supply.
“Support, working in partnership with customers, that will stay the same. As for the exchange rate, we are used to currency fluctuations. As soon as you decide to become global – and more than 80% of our business is outside Germany – fluctuation in exchange rates is a normal part of your business. You can’t predict it, so you deal with it.”