Newsletter #2 | An interview with Alexander Braun

“In order to get a premium coaster with the best possible properties, you need wood as your raw material”

Name: Alexander Braun

Job title: Head of Board Production

Hobbies: Spending time with his family, playing on his soccer team, going to sporting events, and traveling

Age: 38

Joined KATZ in: 2007

Alexander Braun is what you’d call a homegrown KATZ natural. After graduating from high school and spending a year as an emergency services volunteer, he would go on to join KATZ as an apprentice in Weisenbach, where he would spend three years learning the ins and outs of the work done by paper technologists. However, his educational journey still had legs at that point, and so the now father of two would decide to get a dual-studies major in Paper Technology at the Karlsruhe campus of the Baden-Württemberg Cooperative State University. This step would see him join premium specialty paper manufacturer Koehler, where he would complete the vocational training side of his dual-studies major and acquire a comprehensive understanding of everything having to do with the production of paper and board products.

How did you end up working at KATZ?

Well, after getting my dual-studies degree in 2013, I came back to Weisenbach to join KATZ once again, except as a project and process engineer this time. And since I had roots here in the Murgtal region and was already familiar with the company, the processes, and especially the people in Weisenbach, I knew that this was where I really wanted to be. Then, in 2016, I got the chance to take over management duties for our board production operations.

What does your role at KATZ entail?

As the head of Board Production, I’m responsible for our board production operations, which extends from our woodyard, where we store our most important raw material, to our equipment, which includes sheeters and roll cutters. And as you can probably guess, this includes organizing everything, monitoring our production process, and being in charge of our team members. But the overarching goal is always to make wood pulp board with a consistently high level of quality.

Where does KATZ get the raw materials for its wood pulp board?

Our main raw material is spruce, and we get it from regional sources – primarily in the Black Forest. And that’s not just through lumber suppliers, but also straight from the forest, that is, we have freight forwarders bringing us wood directly from there. Part of the reason for this is that it’s a way for us to make sure that the wood is of very high quality, which is a vital factor when it comes to making our wood pulp board. The wood needs to be fresh, have the right moisture content, and be correctly sized.

The wood we get comes from sustainable forestry and certified and controlled sources, and it’s a specific type of wood: pulpwood with a small diameter that comes from thinning, management, and forestry operations at commercial forestland in our region. Here at KATZ, we process this valuable raw material to get wood pulp, which is the most important raw material for our board products.  Not only that, but it can also be recycled for use as a valuable raw material even after being used in coasters, for example.

What kinds of things are unique when it comes to making wood pulp board?

Well, the biggest challenge is the raw material itself. Wood is a natural product that we can’t really do much to influence, and pulpwood in particular has properties that vary depending on the season of the year. It can be frozen in the winter or too dry in the summer, and this, together with other conditions, has an impact on the quality of the corresponding wood fibers and the quality of the pulpwood as a whole. But you can compensate for that. One example of how we do that is that we store wood felled in the spring in a wet condition so that we can use it later on in the summer. In other words, it’s important for us to be able to recognize various material qualities and take the necessary countermeasures in order to keep the level of quality consistent. And to help with that, we have quality checks that are carried out several times a day.

What makes KATZ wood pulp board stand out?

The key characteristic behind our wood pulp board is its large volume, and this results not only in a high-strength lightweight product, but also in a high degree of absorbency. Now, what’s important to mention is the fact that this volume can only be achieved with the wood pulp we make ourselves. Other materials, such as cellulose, simply do not have the ability to deliver these properties. Moreover, our board, with its two top layers, features a high degree of whiteness and is extraordinarily smooth, which ensures that printing results on our coasters are always superb. And of course, there’s the fact that it’s as natural as can be: water, spruce wood, and starch, which makes it super easy to recycle.

What does the future look like for wood pulp board? What kinds of challenges are out there?

I can tell you that one challenge, without a doubt, will be whether we’ll still be able to get enough raw material with the right quality in the future. The use of wood as a raw material is always received skeptically, and doubly so when people hear about trees being cut down, so what we really need to do is educate people about what we’re actually doing: What does sustainable forestry mean for us and our environment? For instance, productive forests sequester CO2 from the atmosphere much more quickly, which makes them an important and effective tool in the fight against climate change.

And if you ask us, right now you definitely need pulpwood as a raw material in order to get premium board and a premium final product with the best possible properties. But even then, we’re still open to new approaches and are always on the lookout for alternative materials. For instance, annuals might be one potential alternative, and it’s something we’re already checking out.