Tomasz Baranowski, president of the Balex Metal Group, a leading manufacturer of composite panels, construction metal sheets, metal roofing tiles and Thermano polyurethane thermal insulation boards in Central Europe, tells us about making a breakthrough on the thermal insulation market in Poland.
In USA and most countries of Western Europe, polyurethane boards account for up to 60% of the entire insulation market, while in Poland this market share is now at 2%. This share is expected to increase tenfold in the next 2 years and 3 years later every other house will be insulated with PIR boards. Thermano is a Polish product that entered the market first and became a symbol of those changes.
The cream-coloured cube that you hold in your hand looks very mysterious.
This is a sample of the Thermano insulation material. Our product ensures up to two times better thermal insulation performance than the popular insulators present on the market in Poland, as well as many other material advantages. Thermano is a product that perfectly fits the new national and EU regulations regarding the widely understood energy policy. I refer to the significant increase of thermal insulation requirements for new buildings – not just single family homes, but also office buildings, industrial halls, large-format stores or agricultural buildings. Thermano belongs to the category of products that are safe for the natural environment and recyclable. Changing requirements give rise to questions not only regarding the method of insulating buildings, but also the project completion costs. To illustrate: in 2010 the mineral wool layer on a flat roof could be 15 cm thick, now it must be 20 cm thick, but in 4 years it will finally be 28 cm. This generates costs due to the necessity of purchasing more materials. This does not apply to Thermano.
Is it difficult to break through the tradition of familiar materials that have been used for years?
Polyurethane insulation has been used in the construction industry for a long time. In other countries, e.g. in Germany or the United Kingdom, this product has been known for years. It was realised a long time ago that an investment in good and durable thermal insulation pays off quickly. In our part of Europe things are changing too. I think that many people still remember how much power it took 20–30 years ago to heat flats with leaky windows and poor insulation.
The progress in the field of construction material has also occurred in our country. Good thermal insulation not only offers high savings, but also goes in the same direction as Europe, which is climate protection. The lowering the power consumption will significantly contribute to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere. It is worth noticing how the modern construction industry shows increasing interest in “green buildings”.
To what extent are the experiences of the West relevant in Poland?
There can be only one direction of changes. This is a versatile material that brings real benefits to everyone. For residential buildings, the primary advantage is of course the high insulating power of the material. For large-format and industrial structures, another important factor is the very small weight of the boards, which is beneficial for the entire support structure of the building and facilitates transport to the construction site. The installation system that is easy and quick enables reducing labour costs, while the nearly zero absorption allows installing Thermano under any conditions. For agricultural buildings, in turn, our product will provide better thermal conditions for breeding, resulting in higher milking yields, better reproduction and faster weight gain.
It sounds convincing, but do you see any concerns related to this product?
An important problem that we face are the customs of contractors, designers and employers. It is typical of new product categories, so two years ago we have introduced an education programme for the construction industry. For that purpose, we have created the Balex Metal Construction Academy project. In our training centre, we hold theoretical and practical sessions on using new thermal insulation materials. We have managed to train more than 1000 contractor teams so far. Both in the Academy and during workshops, we share our knowledge with architects. This year also want to introduce sweeping communications targeted at the employers themselves. We also attach high hopes to promote Thermano among the customers to the mighty promotional campaign that should be expected in April.
Following the history of the Balex Metal Group, it could seem that there are no products that you would not undertake to manufacture. At the beginning there were metal roofing tiles used in residential buildings, then the time came for composite boards used to construct halls and large-format structures, and finally – thermal insulation.
Indeed, the product range of Balex Metal is wide and diverse. This is the basic element of our strategy, thanks to which we have been on the market for 25 years and we are still progressing. Each year, we deliver 12 million square metres of wall and roof materials, which generates PLN 660 million in revenue. Market confidence is also very important and we are regarded as a reliable partner. For example, the Balex Metal Group received the “Złoty Płatnik” (Golden Payer) certificate and multiple Forbes Diamonds.
We are consistently implementing our vision of development. This may sound trivial, but throughout the years we have been making a titanic work to monitor the market and new trends emerging very closely, while continuing to introduce new products. We spent a large part of our capital on investment. We constructed new plants. Not more than a few months ago, we bought a new factory in Slovakia, which increased to five the number of our manufacturing sites, of which two are abroad. We have great plans related to further investment in innovation and new technologies. I am sure that our know-how will soon result in more interesting construction products.
Balex is the largest manufacturer of composite boards in Central-Eastern Europe. What is the meaning of the motto “We build together” not just for the customers, but also for the employees of the company?
We are developing dynamically and this motto expresses it as well. Only in 2015, we hired more than 100 new employees. We are continuously expanding our potential, not only in technological, but also in personal terms. A professional staff is the basis for the development of every business.
Modern products are associated with high prices. What is it like in your case?
Our national feature is practicality. I have many times encountered the opinion that the Polish market is difficult for foreign investors. We are regarded as customers that make purchasing decisions in a very distinctive manner. Smart shopping is a commonplace in the construction industry, in which the customer makes calculations for many years.
It is true that the one-off cost of investing in efficient materials is slightly higher than the cost of materials with worse performance, but the difference is not large. In the long term, it translates to considerable benefits. We, Poles, have perfectly mastered the skill of spending our hard-earned money effectively. When making the decision to begin making thermal insulation of polyurethane, we were thinking in the same categories. We wanted to create a product, of which the purchase will be considered as an investment for many years.
In that respect, businesses are not different from private investors. We appreciate good brands, not only in fashion or motoring.