Winoa, world leader in surface preparation and production of steel shot and metallic abrasives, under our main brand W Abrasives, is taking advantage of its 60th anniversary to share with MFN a word about its history, the keys to its success and its future, including its sustainable growth plan. - Interview with Ramesh Krishnan, Group CEO.
(?) MFN: To situate us, could you describe Winoa’s activities?
(!) R. K.: The heart of our business and the reasons our customers know us best, was the production of cast steel shot and grit, globally well-known as W Abrasives, eco-friendly tiny metal balls obtained from a complex transformation process of recycled steel. But, over the past decade, we've expanded our offerings and services to more than just metallic abrasives, including services, technologies, digital tools, blasting parts and equipment, without forgetting a wide variety of media to support our customers.
Our clients carry out three main actions: clean industrial parts, to get rid of their imperfections; shot peen, a process to improve material surfaces, or profiling, to create some specific surface roughness so that the surface can be galvanised, painted, and made fool-proof for variety of applications. For all the above mentioned, we are an ecological friendly alternative to other methods of sandblasting regarding, to the use of non-recyclable media, like garnet, or chemical agents like acid pickling, for cleaning and surface preparation. The automobile and transportation industry in general represent our first markets (around 40% of our business). For example, a car requires the use of about 4 kg of shot through its various components and processes.
As mentioned, beyond abrasive products, Winoa also offers a full range of services and technologies, unique on its market, all dedicated to the optimization of blasting, cleaning and peening processes. This support service is very important for our customers and for Winoa, allowing us to differentiate ourselves favorably from our competitors, which earns Winoa the undisputable status of world leader, with more than 30% of market share. We are one of the very few French Firms with such a global presence and global leadership in fact.
(?) MFN: And these market shares, they mainly come from which industries?
(!) R. K.: We serve almost all manufacturing industrial sectors, vividly the automotive, rail, aeronautics, but also metallurgy, energy, and the manufacturing of capital goods. Winoa supplies steel shot and services to more than 10,000 industrial customers and to major global groups such as Toyota, Airbus, Caterpillar, Daimler... Over the last 60 years, Winoa has developed through growth and acquisitions on four continents; it now has 800 employees who are fixed employees and another 500 – 600 depending on market demands as temporary workers, with a network of 9 factories (Brazil, Canada, South Korea, Spain, Japan, Russia, Slovenia, Thailand, and of course France where the company was created in 1961). This international presence allows Winoa to support its international customers on all levels, with the same quality and performance standards, and to optimize the growth dynamics of each market.
(?) MFN: Since your arrival at Winoa, what have been your impressions?
(!) R. K.: Arriving early 2020, I found a company with a long and nice history and strong values. The new Management embodies the essential characteristics of the company since its beginnings: a corporate culture based on technical and managerial leadership delivering high performance. Together, with the members of the Executive Committee, we successfully and rapidly managed the health, financial and industrial crisis, strengthened our market and financial positioning, and defined the future with “Agenda 2025”, responding to our strategic ambitions. Thus, by leveraging the best of the past 60 years and shaping the future for the next 60 years, we shall maintain our position, setting the bar for the industry: Shaping the future…together with our clients, suppliers, shareholders, partners and above all, with my Winoa Family (all Winoa teams across the world). And thus, AGENDA 2025 will emerge as a holistic roadmap with three pillars of change, ensuring shaping the future together now, to safeguard the future and sustainability of Winoa for at least the next 60 years.
(?) MFN: What do you think has changed in the abrasive world over the past 60 years?
(!) R. K.: Several factors, markets and technologies have changed since our inception. First, our customers and techniques have changed. As an example, the granite cutting market using gangsaw with steel grit to cut granite slabs was once a widely used process, but since then a technology using synthetic diamonds has replaced these processes. Similarly, in the field of transportation, several trends are pushing the replacement of heavy and ferrous steels for lighter alloys such as aluminum or rust-resistant metals like stainless steel.
Then, the technical knowledge of our customers has greatly improved, which has pushed us to improve our offers. Recently, we introduced W Care repair services, as well as more in-depth technical support and programs.
Then finally, manufacturing safety standards have largely evolved! We now manufacture our media following the strictest health and safety procedures, which has led us to be ISO 45001 in all our factories.
(?) MFN: How would you characterize the innovation part of your company?
(!) R. K.: My answer will seem a little classic, but I can assure you that the innovation of our company is totally customer-oriented. It is by adapting and responding to the needs of our customers that we have been able to evolve our business model and innovate.
Each customer faces very different issues in their industrial environments, which are also very different. Faced with these challenges, we must find or develop customized solutions for each of them. A concrete and recent example is the development of a unique technology, called WA Clean, capable of defining the level of cleanliness of a blasted surface. Our field teams have realized that this is a very subjective and specific element to each client, while this parameter is one of the essential elements of quality control. To eliminate this subjectivity, our R&D team has developed a tool capable of defining the level of cleanliness of a surface, and in accordance with ISO standards.
Finally, we encourage the digitalization of this industry, and to continue on the example mentioned, we have adapted this WA Clean technology to use via smartphone and in a more compact format. It is now patented and marketed worldwide. This is the very example of our approach: we solve a customer challenge with innovation.
This adaptability is one of our fundamental strengths and a major asset to evolve in the current market.
(?) MFN: You mentioned that the Winoa future roadmap is based on three pillars. Can you say more?
(!) R. K.: What makes us strong in the abrasive market is our ability to innovate by developing new products, combining services and technologies.
Our first pillar is the OFFER AGENDA of portfolio expansion and innovation which is essentially expanding our offer to our customers of a comprehensive solution that covers all of their surface preparation needs. Winoa as a commanding abrasive supplier, now extends its offer with complementary portfolio of its own and traded products and expands with services to become the leading solutions provider. We are enhancing the “Maintenance & Repair” service, which complements the “Expertise, Tests, Training, Optimization” offer. Obviously, we shall be strengthening our market share position in selective countries as well. Quintessentially, we will serve the clients as a one-stop-shop of surface treatment.
Our second pillar is the GREEN AGENDA of Sustainability: as we know, the world is changing and Winoa adapts its Business Model and anticipates market trends; since our beginning, the process of making abrasives has been a “green” process, we recycle steel massively to produce abrasives, which can be recycled themselves... It’s part of our DNA. Carrying the journey forward, we will deploy our aggressive eco-friendly policy and invest massively to have a neutral carbon emission program, for the good of our planet. On phase one, we are maximizing our waste recovery and recycling programs, in close cooperation with our customers; thus, by producing goods and services in a sustainable way, by limiting consumption and waste, we shall achieve our targets. We need to work on this economic model by finding recycling routes, such as our pilot program in Japan, where we have a high level of circular effect. Our strong commitment to the environment to help build a cleaner world for future generations is undeterred and even more enhanced by this strategic focus.
Finally, our 3rd pillar is the DIGITAL AGENDA: This is based on digitalization and modernizing internally and externally our business. Looking inbound, Winoa will possess cutting edge IT platforms with algorithmic intelligence in production and predictive forecasting processes. We are digitalizing the way we drive business starting from all our internal processes. We shall have the TCO and Value modelling up-to-date.
Our roadmap will implement external digital business model with the integration of the “Industry 4.0” arena, potentially a new division as WINOA-DIGITAL. For this, Winoa needs to reinvent itself with dynamic and creative teams that bring agility and vision ahead to the current model. Additionally, we have been deploying an e-commerce platform that will respond to the growing demands of our customers to enhance e-commerce. This is a business model that will be rolled out in various geographies, to be even more reactive and closer to our customer needs. Our digital Agenda will be key to determine the basis, to secure our successful transition into the era of the “next 60 years.”
(?) MFN: Have we heard that Winoa strives to capture the essence of its story in order to share it?
(!) R. K.: What better evidence than to pause and look back into our history of the last 60 years...and what better teacher for us in how we share the future for the next decades? We have a great respect for our History. And hence we set up a special task with a class team to deepen our archives, narratives and journeys of our former employees, testimonies of great events and “et voilà!”, a great commemorative book was born with a beautiful story…
The Story of dedication and passion of all those individuals who have made Winoa the undisputed leader of abrasives at the global level and shaped the culture of the Winoa family. This is a great story for future generations in our fantastic industry and the foundations that lead to the success, expansion, and sustainability of an industrial leader. The Story of Wheelabrator Allevard to Winoa, evolution of a small-sized company born in Isère that has become a worldwide leader.
We will be delighted to share this story of happiness and accomplishment with all those who have contributed or will contribute from near and far to this great journey, their families, as well as all our partners, customers, suppliers, and investors.
The Story of Us, in our capacities of present, past, and future.
(?) MFN: Thank you for your time and precious closing remarks, Ramesh.
528 Avenue de Savoie
38570 Le Cheylas, France
Tel. +33.4.76 92 92 92