Newsletter #3 | An interview with Markus Fehrenbach

“Our board is a true all-rounder with hidden talents”

Name: Markus Fehrenbach

Job title: Product Development Manager

Hobbies: Model railroading, cycling trips and tours, and cooking with his wife

Age: 55

Joined KATZ in: 2023

Packaging is part of Markus Fehrenbach’s DNA. The Freiburg native and product developer, who has a 20-year-old daughter, has seen his long career take him through every nook and cranny of the packaging industry ever since he finished his studies. His first stop in this journey was folded box production, an area where he completed his apprenticeship as a packaging technician before attending what today is the Stuttgart Media University (HdM) at the Stuttgart Technology University of Applied Sciences and getting a science degree in Packaging His goal: Gaining a foothold in sales with his engineering background and providing technologically sound advice and support. This would see him gain ample experience in an extremely diverse range of companies in the packaging sector, going from cardboard manufacturers all the way to enterprises specializing in paper-based and cardboard-based packaging solutions.

How did you end up working at KATZ?

I’ve been fascinated by paper and packaging and their ins and outs for a very long time now, so they’ve been part and parcel of my professional career all along. As you know already, the packaging sector is very diverse, not to mention that it’s one of the biggest industries in Germany. And sure, you can use all kinds of materials like glass, metal, and plastic for packaging, but the ones that have always held my interest the most have always been the fiber-based ones: paper, board, and cardboard. With wood pulp board, I’m now becoming familiar with yet another exciting material that features special properties that make it a great option for things like packaging, advertising, and technical applications. That goes from soundproofing underlayments and building insulation for residential building projects to liquid and oil absorbent pads, so I really think that there are a lot of opportunities out there for working together with industry specialists who can profitably use our board as a natural material in their products.

What does your role at KATZ entail?

I’m continuing our product development work at KATZ. My predecessor, Scott Treick, is now enjoying his well-deserved retirement, but successfully initiated and drove an extremely wide range of projects and partnerships for many years before that. My focus since I joined the company back in October of last year was to really familiarize myself with all that work. After all, product development is not just about our processes when it comes to papermaking and processing, but also about the necessary vision to know which applications can benefit from our fiber-based material and pave the way for an enthusiastic reception among end customers and processors in the corresponding industries.

On top of that, product development also includes product management, so I’m constantly in close contact with Sales, since they are already in direct contact with existing and potential customers. In fact, these are the sources from which we can learn about developments and trends on the market and identify opportunities for adapting our products and material to new needs.

What does the product development process look like?

Well, what you usually have at the beginning is someone with an idea or need. On top of always keeping an eye out for interesting solutions and approaches, I’m always listening to ideas from our team members so that we can then work on a potential solution together with Production, Koehler Group Innovation Management, and/or external partners. We make sure to learn about potentially useful partnerships and test materials, processing methods, etc. Then, if the results we get meet our expectations, we analyze the commercial viability of those results and then talk to potential customers to see if we can start a partnership from which we can both profit. Now, that sounds very quick, so it’s worth pointing out that this kind of development process sometimes takes multiple years and milestones.

Right now, our processing operations are mostly focused on making beverage coasters, but there’s still plenty of potential for new applications that would help us make full use of our entire value chain. 

What does the future look like for wood pulp board? What kind of product developments do you think are possible in that area?

Wood pulp board is a true all-rounder. It has a wide variety of useful properties, and that means it can be used for an extremely broad range of applications. It absorbs liquids and holds them inside while remaining very dimensionally stable. It reduces noise. It has extraordinary lamination and printing properties. It can be separated very easily for recycling when used in composites. In other words, those are all properties that need to be promoted for suitable applications, and that’s exactly what we’re planning to do. To tell you the truth, I feel that our material is often underestimated, and there’s work to be done there. 

What kind of development potential do you see when it comes to beverage coasters?

I think we can definitely keep refining things in terms of design and look. Right now, we’re looking at various types of fiber pulp that would result in a more striking and unique look, with one example being pulp made from grass fibers. This development could give our board products, and our beverage coasters as a result, an additional boost in terms of our image as a company that cares about sustainability if a large number of consumers see the resulting product as an expression of environmental friendliness and natural ingredients. As you may know already, a single beverage coaster will be within view of a guest in the hospitality industry for at least 30 minutes, and for our customers in the beverage industry, that means that it’s the perfect advertising tool for conveying messages to end customers, whether those messages be related to sustainability or to compliance with the German Beer Purity Law. Needless to say, having a natural product convey those messages would be the cherry on top, so expanding our range of products this way would be a great way to complement our wood fiber coasters.