The month of March 2019 saw us visit Germany for a tour of hot water heater and heat pump manufacturer Stiebel Eltron’s head office, their factories throughout Germany and ISH Messe in Frankfurt, the world’s largest trade fair for the water and HVAC industries. Representatives from Connekt Plumbing were me, Matt Kirkbride and our Project Manager Matt Patton, (yes Matt’n’Matt, which we were referred too when introduced to anyone on the trip).
The first part of the trip involved a stopover in Dubai in the UAE. Here we researched commercial plumbing, including the use of foreign construction labour, plumbing materials and local construction safety standards in one of the world’s most rapidly urbanising cities. The place is truly an architect’s paradise, and whilst our experience in Dubai was an eye opener, with large to mega multi-storey construction sites on every street corner we turned, I couldn’t help but feel like the place is the most reactive city I’ve ever seen, with large power line structures sprawled everywhere across the outer parts of the city, and learning that only recently did they actually have a sewerage processing plant within the confines of the Dubai City Council! Yep, that’s right, a modern mega city that up until recently was storing sewerage in common holding tanks, only to be sucked into fossil fuel burning tanker trucks and taken out into the desert for processing (what the??). I believe they eventually had to installed a processing plant after E. coli breakouts and bad media coverage of a city that was expanding at a faster pace than its infrastructure.
Next, we were off to Germany and the first stop on the Stiebel Eltron tour (after a night in Frankfurt) was Hoxter in central Germany. Here, we visited Stiebel’s Energy Campus and main production factory in a neighbouring town called Holzminden. The factory tour was impressive, I mean, the amount of quality and precision that goes into their products was no surprise (being Germans), but more so we were taken away by their production technology, autonomous processing and the effort that goes into each individual part. It certainly gave me as a plumber a better appreciation for the final product. The Energy Campus itself sits separate from the main factories but was just as impressive. The building is visually a typical German architectural specimen, but it also holsters state of the art building services technology, producing more energy than it needs through use of domestic hot water heat pumps, heating hot water heat pumps, natural air ventilation and solar PV. And yes, employees that work at the Energy Campus who own electric cars have the capability to fully charge their vehicles at work and transfer excess energy into their houses when they get home at night. Of course, they’d have to make sure they had enough energy left in their car to get to work the next day J.
Stiebel Eltron’s plastics factory in Eschwege was the next stop on the tour, a little town that is smack bang in the middle of geographical Germany. We were equally impressed by this facility and the amount of autonomous technology, but also that the factory can’t currently keep up with global demand for its produces. Even with a large expansion already in construction and due to be completed in May 2020, they will still not keep up with demand, a good problem to have when you’re making money I suppose!
After the Plastics factory tour we headed off for a 4-hour bus ride to Heidelburg, a typical German city 1.5 hours south of Frankfurt. Though not really plumbing related other than a bus full of plumbers and plumbing consultants, we had a chance to relax here, network with the tour group and take in the beautiful city. The city of Heidelburg was one of the only cities in Germany that was not destroyed by the allied forces in WWII, so mostly remaines in its original heritage condition.
The last leg of the trip involved 3 days at ISH Messe 2019 in Frankfurt, the world’s largest trade fair for the plumbing and HVAC industries. There was a lot to see here, 12 multi-level buildings full of all the latest and greatest plumbing and heating technology, too much to mention in this blog, but here’s 3 things we learnt from 3 days at ISH 2019:
- Australian Watermark and WELS certification requirements keep us behind the global market, particularly European innovation. Most of the latest technology that has taken off in Europe has simply not arrived in Adelaide or Australia due to the company choosing not to invest in the certification process (market share elsewhere may be great already with no need to further expand) or importers / merchants having not yet discovered the product or not invested in the process. Bummer.
- Heat pumps are the way of the future, no doubt about it. That’s domestic hot water heat pumps, commercial hot water heat pumps and heating hot water heat pumps. The technology in this area is amazing, particularly around the Stiebel Eltron units. Fossil fuel burning technology will be a thing of the past, at some point in time. Again, there’s some great tech and brands that have not yet landed in Adelaide or Australia but watch this space.
- Smart phone or tablet integration with individual plumbing, heating and ventilation items is not far away in Adelaide and Australia, with most major equipment and tap brands already offering the platform to use with some of their products. Imagine controlling your hydronic heating remotely anywhere from your smart phone, or turning a bathroom shower off from your kitchen when one of the kids is taking too long in the shower. Expensive automation systems (which a lot of the time are the first thing that gets deleted from the scope when the building is over budget) will no longer be the only option here and you’ll be able to opt for a cheaper specific control on individual plumbing and hydronic heating items by the manufacturer.
The 2-week R&D trip finished here, with a 20-hour flight back to Adelaide. In summary, apart from drinking plenty of beer and eating a lot of tasty German food, the trip was jam packed full of industry research, product research, product training and global business networking. We also met some great contacts from all across our own domestic market, which we’ll be sure to keep in touch with. Connekt Plumbing is sure to benefit from the learnings of this R&D trip.
Thanks for reading and check-in next month for our April 2019 blog!
Happy plumbing J.