KNAUF in Kazakhstan: Quality is Everything
Having successfully managed to overcome the consequences of the recession, the KNAUF Company has an optimistic glance at the future of the Kazakhstan’s construction materials market. Alexander Efimenko, General Director of KNAUF Gyps Kapchagai with DEG’s participation, shares with our magazine the new challenges and opportunities that are opening up for the largest manufacturer of gypsum plasterboards in Central Asia.
Mr. Efimenko, a year has passed since we told our readership about your company. What progress in business development have you achieved over this period?
The last period was not easy; nevertheless, the 2012 performance indicators demonstrated the best results in the history of our company. This is due to the fact that our production lines for production of dry building mixtures and profile reached full capacity in 2012. Despite the fact that the volume of sales of plasterboard, our main product, in 2012 was as that as in 2009–2010, due to a 50% increase in the sales of dry building mixtures, we managed reach to a record high.
In general, the recession laid the foundation for our growth. While other companies were cutting back their output, we were continuing to develop our production. For example, in October, we are to launch into operation an auxiliary mechanical repair unit and a workshop for the production of gypsum binder. Total investment in the new plant is 10 million euros. Of them, 8 million was invested in the past year. This project will make it possible to double the performance results on gypsum, and to raise by 40–70% the output of the finished product.
Last year KNAUF won in two categories of the competition "Choice of the year 2012". What is the key to popularity of your products in the Kazakhstan market?
Welfare of the Kazakhstani people grows. People do want and can afford to live better and to have more comfortable accommodation with a better quality. This means that the time has come for us: While offering a wide range of building materials to various groups of consumers, KNAUF, however, consistently adheres to the policy of high standards. We pay special attention to the product quality. The latter is the same in the market of Europe, and in Kazakhstan. Our factories located all over the world do not differ one from the other. With German equipment and German technologies we automatically receive German quality. We just cannot produce products of a lesser quality.
There is no need today to convince Kazakhstani construction companies of the efficiency (including economic one) of using our building materials. The evidence of this fact is the shortage of KNAUF products in the Kazakhstani market. For example, at the moment, the manufacturing facilities for production of dry mixes in Kapchagai are loaded by 110% of the design capacity. So, the next year we are planning to build one more production shop.
What are the basic principles and mechanisms of management of the quality system in your company?
Experts from the consulting company, which is currently helping us with the certification ISO 9001, believe that this standard was in fact being met for a long time in our company. This is not a surprise, because we did not only adopt German technologies in the employment of equipment and in output, but also copied the management system and document turnover of those applied at KNAUF factories in Germany. For example, in the commissioning of the facilities, we sent two groups of people to get training in Germany and Russia. After that German technologists came to Kazakhstan. The last person of the latter mentioned had been working at our factory for five years and returned to Germany only after he made sure that our specialists are not only fully trained in all know-how, but also are capable to transfer their experience to others.
The main pillar in our work (and this is applicable to all KNAUF businesses) is the quality control, compliance with the set procedures, and strict accountability at all production cycles.
The final result depends not only on the quality of the building materials, but also the professional use of them. How in this context are the training programs of KNAUF developing?
Technical support is one of the strengths of our company. When we started the project in Kapchagai, a consultant from Germany, first of all, advised us to convert a former electrical repair shop into a training center, although, it seemed to me at that moment that the launch of the pit was a much more important task for production. So, the technical support of our products started even earlier than we commenced the plant.
Later on, I got the evidence of the correctness of such approach. Because the most difficulty in the marketing of a new product is to convince the consumers to try this product for the first time, and moreover, to do it exactly as the directions for use require. For this, we had to teach this application to 5 million to 8 million people every year.
Today, our plant has eight training centers that offer programs for the entire range of KNAUF products, designed for both the retail and wholesale consumers. In addition, our ADM-managers engaged in support of sales operate in every region. They devote 70–80% of their time not to sales and interaction with the heads of construction companies, but training of ordinary specialists of those companies in proper application of our products.
To improve the training of personnel for the construction industry throughout the Central Asian countries, we introduced a relevant training standard and developed a special training program. Now local vocational schools and colleges also teach professions specializing in dry building materials. We closely cooperate with the German Society for Technical Cooperation (GTZ), which implements educational projects in the Central Asian region.
What new products of KNAUF deserve special attention, in terms of innovation?
I believe that the strength of KNAUF is in its two mainstays – sheets of gypsum plasterboard and plaster Rotband. The production of plasterboard refers to the mass production and to create innovations here is not a simple task. Although, the example of KNAUF aquapanel shows that this is possible even in our industry. As a non-combustible material, their application in the decoration of facades in Europe is increasing.
As for the dry building mixtures, here to create an innovative product or to add new properties to an existing one is much easier. Here, we also focus on a few "cruising" brands that make the image of the company. Houses are built to serve many years, so one should be careful with the application of super new materials. Quick update of the brands only confuses buyers.
Speaking about the latest trends, our leading factories in Germany and Moscow began manufacturing paste-like building mixtures in tubes. Now these products of the premium class are gaining popularity; thus, we are considering the possibility of launching its production at our plant here.