Wahlefeld – At home on the world’s rooftops
Two enormous boilers are piled up in the factory hall in Krefeld-Linn. One of them, ordered by Nestlé, is going to Mexico where it will be used to dry milk. The second, a multi-part boiler for drying tobacco leaves has been commissioned by the tobacco industry. Each order is handmade individually. Right next to them, parts are being assembled for the booms of a façade access system. These orders come from Taiwan and the United Arab Emirates.
Metalworking at Wahlefeld in Krefeld goes back more than 100 years. But the success story of Wahlefeld Fassadenaufzugstechnik GmbH is just 17 years old. How so? The company Wahlefeld, founded in 1897, went into bankruptcy in 1995. But Bernd Davids and some other members of staff didn’t give up and made a fresh start in October 1997. Without the help of the mayor at the time, Dieter Pützhofen, and the Sparkasse Krefeld, the new company would not have survived. Yet, thankfully, they were able to preserve the expertise gathered through the decades and transfer it to the new company. Now the initial team of 13 staff has grown into 52.
One striking example of Wahlefeld’s past is the metal facade of Düsseldorf‘s Dreischeibenhochhaus (Thyssen-Haus) of 1957-59, a symbol of Germany’s economic miracle. The Krefeld-based company expanded globally during this time and overextended itself. The new Wahlefeld GmbH gave up the loss-making facade engineering for prestigious objects all round the world and concentrated on three business lines: the most important – as reflected in the company name – is Fassadenaufzugstechnik, or façade access systems. Alongside development and production, the company also services and maintains systems worldwide. The old service agreements of the former Wahlefeld ensured the new company’s survival in the initial years. The third field is the contract plant and apparatus construction. Large boilers, distillers and air heaters are manufactured according to predetermined construction plans. The precise workmanship used for this produces better results than with computer-controlled manufacture. The welding is also a science in its own right. The 52 members of staff include many fitters and welders with years of experience, and the fluctuation rate is almost zero.
But is handmade and individual construction even possible in Germany, where wages are so high? Wahlefeld Fassadenaufzugstechnik GmbH proves that it is – and that it is even profitable. Today, Günter Bräunl is the second managing director, alongside “technician” Davids, and he is responsible for the financial side. In the 1960’s he completed a commercial apprenticeship with the old company Wahlefeld, then he studied business administration and worked all over the world. In October 1999 he returned to Wahlefeld GmbH, and the former apprentice is now the boss. The company now has three shareholders who are all active in the company – something that has a positive effect on the company climate and culture. The company’s competitiveness is derived primarily from the company’s decades-long experience with the products and the excellent craftsmanship of the staff, who also have many years’ experience and are highly skilled. But “Made in Germany” also still has a positive resonance in Asia and the Arab countries. It stands for quality, reliability and always meeting deadlines.
Of course, Chinese providers are trying to force their way onto the market with cheaper products. Australian companies are also significantly cheaper and active in Asia. But many companies that tried the cheaper competition have returned to the reliable Krefeld company and continued their long-term business relationship. Facade access systems are a niche market for which specialist knowledge is needed. And since the architecture of tall buildings all round the world is becoming more complex and original all the time, the facade access systems technology has to be able to keep up with asymmetrical facades. Each facade window has to be reachable. Facade cradles used to be considered something of a necessary evil in the past, but today they not only have to work, but they also have to look good. The technology has been tried and tested and is mature. The platforms themselves weigh between 250 kg and 1.5 tons and have to be maneuvered over facade heights of 40 to 210 meters and more.
Bräunl and Davids are extremely happy with their location in the traditional company home of Krefeld-Linn. The company grounds they have leased provide room for more expansion. The neighboring heavy duty company Bracht takes care of transporting the ton-weight-parts to the nearby Rhine port. The A 57 is in direct proximity to the company grounds and ensures quick motorway access. Düsseldorf airport is also easy to reach. But international communication over the Internet and the phone has been even more important for a long time now, even if it is usually the personal element that counts in the end.
Wahlefeld Fassadenaufzugstechnik GmbH
Tel. 02151 33888-10
Fax 02151 33888-33
As at: September 2014