Eisenwerk Würth GmbH is a manufacturer of high-quality metallic abrasives founded in 1912. In 2017 the company started working on digitalization and the associated optimization of wheel blasting machines. In this interview, Martin Nevihosteny, Senior Technical Advisor, explains what makes the surface specialist so special.
(?) MFN: What do you do at Eisenwerk Würth?
(!) M. N.: I have several objectives. In searching for new markets and business opportunities worldwide, I travel a lot. In addition, I support our customers, partners and distribution network. Because of my technical background in designing blasting machines, which includes thousands of hours spent with blasting trials of almost any kind for countless applications, I am also Senior Technical Advisor and try to support our customers and partners in all questions, not only related to abrasives, but also the blasting installation and overall blasting process. Personally, I spend approximately 70% of my time supporting customers in optimizing their processes and therefore getting more for their money: improved productivity, higher and consistent quality, reduced machine wear, less headache and more profit.
We are now receiving more and more customer requests asking for advice on which brand and which type of machine they should look for, which kind of equipment, functions and features these machines should have (and sometimes more importantly, what it is not because it is nonsense!). Another important issue is also which specifications the manufacturer guarantees. Luckily (and finally), more customers are starting to develop an understanding of the importance of well process-integrated, stable, and economical blasting operations and are more willing to invest in such products and services.
(?) MFN: Can you tell us what your meetings with clients look like?
(!) M. N.: That depends on the reason the meeting was initiated and to whom I am talking to. If meeting with a procurement manager, of course the discussion is mainly about sales figures. Often procurement managers complain about the abrasive´s price – but often do not consider that the abrasive accounts for less than 15% of the total costs of a (wheel-)blasting process. And in a minimum of 80% of all blasting installations that we inspect, we detect operating errors and ways to significantly and permanently improve the productivity of such an installation, which helps even more to reduce the total costs of a blasting process way more than just buying a cheap abrasive.
And by the way – a cheap (or wrongly chosen) abrasive can only do what it can do.
Meeting with technical personnel (e.g., production engineers), we first try to learn more about their specific process. What are they doing with which kind of machine and abrasive? What are the process-circumstances and what are the expectations with respect to the blasting result? Who are the machine operators; who is responsible for the maintenance? What roll does the blasting operation play in the overall production chain? What are the challenges, what are the problems?
We perform some measurements, take samples and inspect the machine(s) in order to paint a picture of the whole process. The samples we have taken are sent to our laboratory for detailed evaluation to get an idea, how well (or badly) the blasting machine is operated, maintained and what the used abrasive is capable of. This is important to get a full picture of what the status quo is. As soon as we have the lab results, we arrange a new visit with the customer in which we present our results and ideas of what might be the next steps, to fix problems, increase productivity and reduce costs.
As you can now imagine, we invest a lot of time, money and effort in a potential customer. Why? Our philosophy here is simple – we are not interested in selling as much abrasive as possible to a customer. We are interested in long-term partnerships. From our point of view, this can only be achieved if we help the customer regain (or keep) competitiveness. A high-quality process requires high-quality partners who are willing and capable of doing much more than just supplying a tool for a blasting machine. This is what we aim for – being a Part of Your Process.
(?) MFN: Our experience shows that customers pay little attention to the measurements of the shot-blasting process. What do you think this results from?
(!) M. N.: Quite often we still find blasting installations in the far and dark corners of our customers’ production premises. Blasting was (and sometimes still is) the thing nobody understands in detail. It is perceived as the dirty and unpopular process, and is often not in people’s focus, mostly because of a serious lack of knowledge. In addition, there is a huge downside with wheel blasting installations – such a machine faces constant wear, so the machine settings and parameters constantly change. There is a good chance that a properly installed blasting process runs slightly out of shape, just because of silent and undetected wear. It is mandatory to constantly monitor a blasting process and to initiate countermeasures in time before problems start to occur. On the other hand, that requires at least a basic understanding in recognizing the signs of the machine, and is one of our main objectives to get blasting processes back on track. Additionally, Würth offers an extremely powerful tool – the APCon System – to help all users of blasting machines keep on track. This was introduced in 2020.
Teaching customers to improve understanding and also sharing some little secrets to further improve the customer’s processes is a vital part of Würth Solution. We offer half- or full-day training sessions for machine operators and/or maintenance personnel to improve skills and specialize them on “their” machine(s).
In our experience with customer training, we find that these methods have always helped to improve the customer’s blasting process drastically.
In cases where the importance of the blasting process is high, unplanned production-stops occur regularly, and the consumption of abrasives and/or wearing parts seems too high – or there is just the wish to reduce the costs of the process, we have the perfect tool: It´s called APCon!
APCon stands for Abrasive Process Control and is a system of hard-and software components that monitors the very vital process parameters of every wheel blasting machine in real time. APCon is the 24/7 on-duty colleague, never gets tired or sick and has only one objective – keeping a process with constantly changing parameters stable and under control. It refills new abrasive automatically and keeps the very important operating mixture stable. In case something starts to go wrong, APCon informs the person-in-charge by mail and gives clear indications on what the problems are. It also offers a free tuneable logging/reporting function – perfect for internal/external audits and highly valuable for process optimization projects. Additionally, it is a powerful maintenance tool and has many other features.
(?) MFN: Many customers pay attention just to the price. It is the main determinant of the purchase of shots and production components - especially in times of price increases. What do you think this results from? How do you think you can make customers aware that price should not be the main determinant when buying abrasives?
(!) M. N.: Of course, the price is an important and critical part of selecting an abrasive. No one would be well advised to pay an unreasonably high price for a product or a service. But what is the right price? In terms of blasting abrasives this is even more difficult to determine because just by looking at the product, you can´t compare it to others, you can´t see whether it is a high-quality abrasive or not, or whether it is the right product for the application or not.
If you as an entrepreneur (or procurement manager) wish to run your production processes as cost-effective as possible (which should be a kind of natural behavior), there is no other way of knowing the cost of each and every production process. Blasting processes are no exception to this. The keyword here is TCO – Total Costs of Ownership. In other words: what are the costs of buying, operating and maintaining a blasting installation per year, including abrasives, spare parts, energy, waste disposal and of course, labor costs?
Just as an example, the TCO for a typical, mid-sized 4 turbine, two-shift (five-day week) operating wheel blasting machine in a steel processing company is approximately 280.000 Euro per year! The share in cost of abrasives is about 20-25.000 Euro; that´s less than 9%! But using a high-quality abrasive (and yes, this comes typically with a bigger price tag) results in less unplanned downtimes, less spare parts, labor costs, minimized waste disposal, energy and so on. So, it is absolutely worth having a closer look not only at the price of an abrasive, but also at its quality and specification.
Unfortunately, there are too many companies going the easy way by ignoring all this and buying the cheapest machines and consumables they can find, not understanding the problems this may cause in the long run.
(?) MFN: What are the market challenges you see (in terms of surface treatment) over the next 5 years?
(!) M. N.: We are convinced that not just the European market in terms of its demand on abrasives will shrink slightly year by year, simply because of vanishing companies and increased productivity. Survivors will be entrepreneurs who are clever, visionary, and bold enough to read the signs and willing to do the right things. High levels of automation wherever possible; having competent and motivated staff who have a detailed understanding of all processes, enabling the company to produce highest quality products all day long; while contracting external specialists when appropriate to get advice. And – finally - a procurement department in close contact with production, aiming to order the goods that keep the production running on the highest level as cost-effectively as possible.
MFN would like to thank Martin
Nevihosteny for this interview!
Eisenwerk Würth GmbH
74177 Bad Friedrichshall, Germany
Tel. +49.176.626 344 24