"We have already arrived in the construction industry 4.0!"

Interview with Volker Weidemann, Managing Director of Befer GmbH

Befer GmbH is considered an expert for precast concrete elements
Befer GmbH is considered an expert for precast concrete elements

Concrete will continue to be an indispensable building material in the future, Volker Weidemann, Managing Director of Befer GmbH, is convinced. The company from Saxony-Anhalt focuses entirely on prefabricated concrete elements, which are used in a wide variety of application fields, ranging from bridge construction to the erection of industrial halls and residential building segments. He explained in an interview with Wirtschaftsforum what impulses this can also have for the construction industry in general.

Wirtschaftsforum: Mr. Weidemann, while your sister company, Tunnel-Ausbau-Technik GmbH, focuses on the production of segment arches for tunnel construction, the focus of Befer GmbH is on precast concrete elements. Where do your products eventually get used?

Volker Weidemann: Fundamentally, we can best showcase our core competencies where things become specific and demanding. The fields of application for our products extend across various sub-segments of the construction industry: For instance, we engage in the production and assembly of filigree floors, which are then complemented with in-situ concrete on the construction site, and we manufacture concrete columns required for the erection of industrial halls. For the exterior, we produce, among other items, formwork-smooth stairs for stadiums or parking garages, which are mostly equipped with anti-slip steps and are immediately walkable after installation, as well as angle walls and wall panels with heights ranging from 60 cm to about 4 m – these are primarily used in the fortification of terrain jumps. Moreover, we produce elevator shafts and balconies, which not only flow into new buildings but are particularly in demand within the context of renovation and upgrading of existing buildings. For optimum thermal insulation of residential properties and industrial halls, we also produce respective triple-layer walls, which contain insulating materials in the core between an inner and weather shell of concrete, allowing for the construction of an energetically high-value building.

Befer Production Facility
The company has successfully contributed to over 1,000 construction projects

Wirtschaftsforum: Which brings us to the crucial question of sustainability – does concrete, as a building material, have a future at all considering its CO2 footprint?

Volker Weidemann: Concrete will remain indispensable in many application areas looking ahead – just think of fire escape stairways, fire protection, and escape routes. But also, the structural integrity of steel halls reaches its load limits in the event of a fire at temperatures above 500 °C, so that concrete elements with integrated reinforcing steel bring considerable advantages in this context. Buildings with high foot traffic and special security requirements such as railway stations and exhibition halls face similar problems. Moreover, the specific CO2 footprint of a particular construction measure must always be considered in its respective context and weighing up the possible alternatives: For example, the demolition and subsequent reconstruction of a building often have a worse CO2 balance than the use of recycled concrete. Because while the individual building materials in concrete-free construction methods often cannot be separated from each other at all or reprocessed with reasonable effort – think of composite thermal insulation systems made of styrofoam or building materials contaminated with wood preservatives – in the case of comprehensive renovation or even demolition measures of a building consisting of layered insulation and concrete, all components can easily be recycled separately. Especially against the backdrop of climate change, the excellent heat and cold storage capacity of concrete walls is becoming increasingly important, which can release the coolness of the preceding night on hot summer days. And not to forget: The CO2 footprints of cement and concrete themselves will continue to improve through numerous innovative efficiency increases and the use of precast construction/modular construction methods.

Wirtschaftsforum: What distinguishes the manufacturing processes of Befer GmbH in this context?

Volker Weidemann: Our appeal as a competent partner to our clients is based, not least, on the fact that we have long since arrived in construction industry 4.0. Thus, we plan our elements with all collision points completely in 3-D, which allows us to always have the finished components virtually in front of us and to pass them on in digital form to both our own manufacturing staff and the BIM systems of our customers. The once-entered 3-D data then flow directly into our CNC woodworking machines in our production, which automatically produce the appropriate formwork. This enables us not only to ensure a cost-efficient production of all key components but also to consistently eliminate many potential sources of error.

Wirtschaftsforum: Is this also a significant advantage in the context of the pervasive shortage of skilled workers?

Volker Weidemann: Our high-tech approach certainly makes us an interesting employer for young people who are accordingly tech-savvy. At the same time, thanks to our high degree of manufacturing, we can offer pleasant, bright, and weather-protected workplaces – in contrast to the often harsh conditions that prevail in wind and weather on construction sites. Especially in light of the current market correction, which is particularly affecting the single and two-family home segment, a further shift towards more extensive pre-manufacturing under controlled conditions in the factory could be an important key to positively influence the market with the cost advantages thus created. In the end, not only the construction industry benefits but also the clients through lower prices and the construction workers through pleasant working conditions. We see this as an important and sustainable impulse for the future.