Gardeners have many qualities. Their patience, their eye for detail, their willingness to start all over again every spring and their perseverance in the face of setbacks.
Elly Van Overmeire uses all these talents in her garden and at Xella. Based in Antwerp, she is Head of Innovation and Product Management for Northwest Europe. She is currently working on several innovative projects. The development of new building materials such as highly insulating AAC blocks and an improved thermal kicker course in calcium silicate (CS), the deconstruction of old autoclaved aerated concrete (AAC) and the reduction of CO2 emissions along the lifecycle of Xella’s AAC and CSU products.
"We want to help builders implement the EU Energy Directive with a new, insulating CSkicker course block," says the native Belgian. "At the same time, we are working on how to dismantle and recycle autoclaved aerated concrete panels that are up to 40 years old." But that's not all: "We're also looking for measurement methods to calculate the CO2 emissions of new products. She is particularly proud of two projects from the past. "Buildings with Ytong are now twice as energy efficient as they were ten years ago. And the hydrophobic Ytong kicker course now protects hundreds of buildings from thermal bridges.
Elly Van Overmeire knows Xella like the back of her hand. 29 years ago, she joined Ytong as a young civil engineer. She had just graduated from Gent University. Xella didn't even exist then. It is fair to say that she learned the business from the ground up, experiencing good and bad times in the construction industry.
For almost 30 years, the Flemish woman has been looking for new ideas in various roles. "It has always been important for me to think about new developments together with customers, construction consultants and sales colleagues. Only if all the channels involved are brought together at an early stage can we bring the right product to market at the right time," she says. But that alone is not enough for long-term innovation. "I also keep an eye on all the important developments in standardization, new EU building directives or regulations for energy efficiency of buildings and nowadays sustainability. After all, even the best idea is doomed to failure if it doesn't meet the desired standards. That can be a bitter pill to swallow.
In Van Overmeire's view, something else is particularly important for an innovation-driven company like Xella: effective networks. "When you've been with the company as long as I have, you have a relationship of mutual trust with many colleagues. That opens a lot of doors, and some questions can be clarified quickly," she says with a smile, having seen Ytong and Xella grow. "This not only helps us implement our ideas more quickly, but also benefits our customers, for example when it comes to dealing with damage to buildings.