in Vol. 5 - September Issue - Year 2004
Creating Value for Customers
Emmanuel Sertain, Business Development Manager for Surface Treatment
Emmanuel Sertain and Francis Della-Vedova, Test Center Technician
Production Facility in Le Pontet, France
Interview with Emmanuel Sertain, Business Development Manager for Surface Treatment, Saint-Gobain ZirPro
(?) MFN: Could you tell us about your business?
(!) E. S.: Firstly, let me thank you for giving me the opportunity to present our business and our goals regarding impact surface treatment.
Saint-Gobain ZirPro manufactures and sells the shot-blasting media of Société Européenne des Produits Réfractaires (SEPR). SEPR, a Saint-Gobain subsidiary, is the worldwide leader in products manufactured by electro-fusion from metallic oxides, such as refractory blocks used to build glassmaking furnaces. Using this manufacturing process, we created beads and grains for surface treatment applications. With more than 20 years’ experience and a sustained research effort, we have built a solid base of expertise.
(?) MFN: How is your department structured?
(!) E. S.: Under the direction of our General Manager, Olivier Maris, we have recently changed our organizational structure. The main change has been the creation of Business Development Managers for each of the department’s businesses. Olivier Maris appointed me to head of the surface treatment business; my deputy is François-Xavier Abadie, Product Manager. The Business Development Managers’ main responsibility is the definition and implementation of the business strategy. I am responsible for this insofar as surface treatment is concerned. There are many challenges ahead.
(?) MFN: What does the ZirPro Department actually manufacture?
(!) E. S.: We manufacture and sell a variety of surface treatment media. These are mainly ceramic beads with a vast range of applications, covering everything from basic industrial needs to sophisticated solutions to meet clients’ unique requirements.
(?) MFN: Could you tell us a little about the field of application?
(!) E. S.: We are present, for example, in the tool cleaning sector for manufacturing industries. This includes automotive and glass industries, stainless steel treatment, shot-peening and peen-forming of hardened steel, titanium, aluminum treatment and plastic deburring. In the aeronautical sector, our flagship product, Zirshot, is recognized by international standards AMS, MIL, SAE, and NF.
(?) MFN: What are the characteristics of these beads?
(!) E. S.: Electro-fusion is a unique and truly original process. The ceramic beads manufactured using this process behave in a very particular way. Their shape, dimensions, and hardness are unaltered by use. Loaded in a customer’s machine, these ceramic beads retain the same properties and effectiveness throughout their entire service life. For example, to treat molds, we reduce wear and so improve service life.
(?) MFN: Are there any other advantages?
(!) E. S.: There are many other advantages. Ceramic beads are environmentally friendly. They considerably reduce the amount of dust generated, which significantly improves machine operators’ working conditions. The quantity of waste is also reduced accordingly. All of these are considered very important today.
(?) MFN: What is the effect of these media on the projection equipment itself?
(!) E. S.: The smooth surface and moderate density of our ZirPro ceramic beads reduce machine wear and hence reduce our customer’s costs. I could list all the advantages, but let me just say that our main focus is creating value for our customers.
(?) MFN: Could you be more specific?
(!) E. S.: Surface treatment is increasingly at the heart of our customers’ processes. Its impact is often important, if not essential, for finished product quality, especially for finishing applications. It is also critical for performance, in cases like fatigue resistance in shot-peening and cost when replacing a chemical process or increasing production throughput in integrated operations. The list is endless. We always seek to maximize one or many of these aspects for our customers. It’s not always straightforward, as the equation has more than one unknown. We have to work closely with the customer throughout the decision-making process.
(?) MFN: How do you go about this?
(!) E. S.: Let me just reiterate that ceramic beads are truly original. So, to prove the performance and benefits we claim, we have to run tests at our facilities or at our customers’ premises. In both cases, when applying this technology to industrial operations, we can provide all the assistance necessary to optimize machine settings. This is often crucial, and we have set up a technical and sales structure specifically for this purpose. Our teams operating worldwide, backed by the expertise center here in France, are at the heart of this structure.
(?) MFN: You said that you carry out tests at your facility. How does this work?
(!) E. S.: About five years ago, we set up a test center. We have installed two air-blast and one wheel-blast machine. This equipment is representative of what is used in the industry. We use it to carry out initial tests, validate the best products, and define the optimum application conditions. These tests are often run in the presence of customers with whom we have an open discussion so we can jointly achieve their goals.
(?) MFN: Could you give us some examples?
(!) E. S.: Many tests have been carried out which are now commercial successes. Others, such as the industrial development of pre-stressed treatment for turbine blades, precision springs, wood and stainless steel finishing treatments, are still in the industrialization stage. We have also brought to light some very interesting results from our work for the cookware industry. All these tests help us and our customers make headway in understanding products and their potential applications.
(?) MFN: How has this test center enabled you to progress?
(!) E. S.: Our products are and must be associated with optimum machine settings. Our tests enable us to understand better the effect of certain parameters on bead behavior and the end result using Zirblast or Zirshot. This then puts us in a position to make utilization (machine setting) recommendations. We are also in a position to advise customers, as we know how the media behave in projection machines. Finally, the competence and expertise of the team heading this test center is world-renowned.
(?) MFN: What are your projects for the future?
(!) E. S.: Saint-Gobain ZirPro is committed to a strategy of growth and innovation. Growth will be achieved through the expansion of our distribution network, particularly the choice of motivated partners. Working closely with equipment manufacturers is also important, as they often trigger user projects. For innovation, we focus on two main areas: the search for new applications for existing products, and the development of new products.
(?) MFN: What new applications?
(!) E. S.: Through numerous tests, we have proven the benefits of using ceramic beads over angular media. We have demonstrated that ceramic beads result in totally unique roughness profiles.
These profiles provide improved coating adherence while reducing the quantities needed. This means financial savings for the customer.
(?) MFN: Is this property exclusive to ceramic beads?
(!) E. S.: Yes, it is exclusive to ceramic beads whose aspect and shape do not change, as I said earlier. This is not the case with other media.
(?) MFN: What new products do you have in the pipeline?
(!) E. S.: We are developing a new bead size distribution. It will be finer for high-tech applications. We have also developed a new ceramic grain that can be used in wheel blasters. We also have many other projects underway in cooperation with partner manufacturers, and, in some cases, with universities. Our main strength lies in our worldwide sales and distribution network providing close contact with end-users.
(?) MFN: Where are you located?
(!) E. S.: We have a truly worldwide presence. Our network of ZirPro agents is present in all industrialized and rapidly growing countries. We are on a daily lookout for new local partners whose knowledge of the professions and customers is essential to our expansion. Growth is self-perpetuating: it assures the development of our company, our customers and our distributors. It’s a win-win situation. Being a member of Saint-Gobain also has several advantages: we benefit from the available infrastructure; the presence of and access to manufacturers that are leaders in their respective fields; and, finally, the Group’s image and notoriety. We also have the advantage of being a small team in this structure and so are able to be highly responsive.
(?) MFN: How can you be contacted?
Any customer can contact our network. We also take part in a variety of trade shows and other major events: SITS and Le Bourget Air Show in France, the Hanover Trade Show in Germany, the ICSP, to name just a few.
(?) MFN: How do you see the future?
I am optimistic about the development of ZirPro`s technology. The business is increasingly professional and the customers are increasingly demanding. It’s good that we have a line of products that meet their requirements. It’s also good for our customers, who derive both benefits and value from our products. Finally, it’s good for our partners who have helped us and who also stand to gain in terms of growth.
(?) MFN: A final word?
(!) E. S.: Once again, I would like to thank MFN for this opportunity. As you will have noted, we have set our sights very high. We all believe in the future of this technology and its benefits all around. The applications and the industrial sectors are extensive; the only limits on our ambitions are our creativity and imagination.
We at MFN would like to thank Mr. Emmanuel Sertain for taking time out of his busy schedule for this interview.