in Vol. 6 - May Issue - Year 2005
Pierre Escolier, Sales and Marketing Director of Wheelabrator Allevard
Wheelabrator Allevard Office in Cheylas, France
From left to right: Gerard Mariotti, France and Benelux Sales Manager, Pierre Escolier, Sales and Marketing Director and Boris Plantin, Operational Marketing Manager
MFN talked to Pierre Escolier, Sales and Marketing Director of Wheelabrator Allevard. Meet the world leader in steel abrasives and understand the reasons for its success: quality, innovation and customer satisfaction.
MFN: We are very happy to welcome Wheelabrator Allevard for the first time in "Metal Finishing News". Pierre Escolier, could you please tell our readers who is Wheelabrator Allevard? How did you get started?
P. E.: Wheelabrator Allevard started as a French-American joint-venture in 1961, with the ambition to become a European leader in the metallic abrasives industry.
It combined the age-old know-how of the steel-workers in the Allevard region in the French Alps, with the latest technology available at that time. Indeed, from the very beginning, Wheelabrator Allevard had two key features: an international outlook and a focus on technology, research and development. The company grew quickly, acquiring other steel manufacturers abroad. Just imagine: in 1961, we started production with a 2-ton furnace at Le Cheylas, our headquarters. Now, Le Cheylas is our largest production site in the world and we operate a 45 ton arc furnace, a large scrapyard and automated packaging facilities.
Today we are a truly global company with operations in more than 30 countries, 150 agents and distributors and 30,000 customers worldwide. Our sales are evenly distributed throughout the world, with a good balance between our traditional markets in Europe, North and South America and emerging markets in Asia. Our global presence allows us to stay close to our customers wherever they are.
MFN: What exactly do you do?
P. E.: Our core business is the manufacturing of steel abrasives. Steel abrasives have many applications: cleaning and de-sanding mechanical parts, surface treatment prior to coating and shot peening. Grit particles can also be used for cutting granite. We are no. 1 in the production of metallic abrasives and one of the leading companies in the diamond tool industry. But, we are much more than suppliers of steel abrasives…
MFN: What do you mean?
P. E.: We offer much more than shots and grits, we offer a global solution: we are committed to serving our customers better by helping them improve their performance and cut down on costs. Shot-blasting may be seen as a simple process but when it is not done properly it can end up costing you a lot of money: poor surface treatment shortens the life-span of the coating , good abrasives can be wasted and there is the risk that the part doesn’t pass the quality control tests. That is why at Wheelabrator Allevard, we work hand in hand with our customers to understand their needs and constraints. Thanks to our test centres, technical assistance and expertise, and specific software tools, our customers are sure to get the best out of their blasting process.
Research and Development to improve the manufacturing and blasting of steel abrasives has always been our priority. We set up our first Test Centre in 1970 in Le Cheylas and since then have conducted over 5,300 tests for our customers. To share our expertise with our customers worldwide, we recently opened a Test Centre in the Czech Republic. Another Test Centre in Brazil is to follow soon. Our Test Centres allow us to reproduce real industrial conditions and to simulate our customers blasting situations. We have a real partnership with our customers. More and more, our customers trust us with their blasting projects from the very beginning. We help them write the specifications for their blasting operations, we advise them in choosing their blasting equipment so they can start blasting right away in optimum conditions with the best quality and the lowest cost. We also carry out training sessions on site or at our test centres to help their operators master all the tricks of the blasting process. To ensure the most efficient blasting, Wheelabrator Allevard also offers technical support material such as comparison charts to help blasting operators compare the use and performance of different products; control tools such as our WA Pack (almen strips control) and many other devices. Maintaining our position at the cutting-edge of technology to contribute to the progress of the blasting industry, and therefore of our customers, is our responsibility as an industry leader.
MFN: So customers are at the heart of your business?
P. E.: Yes, of course! Our goal is to have a long-standing relationship with our customers. Our customers see us as suppliers of blasting solutions. "Quite good" is never good enough for us. Even when everything seems to be going well, we go see the customer and ask "Are you sure you couldn’t do any better?" We have a long-term vision. We look for the optimal, highest-performing solution. To be ever closer to our customers’ needs we have developed our "premium" services where Wheelabrator Allevard takes a formal commitment to improve their blasting process. We help our customers improve their blasting operations on four levels: optimizing assets, improving the quality and reliability of the blasting process, optimizing costs, and reducing the impact on the environment. Our customers benefit from all our technical expertise and assistance. And we can also share our experience in other fields with them, such as the ISO 9001 version 2000 or ISO14001 certification procedures.
MFN: What is the impact of steel abrasives on the environment?
P. E.: We take environment issues to heart. Our production site at Le Cheylas is ISO 14001 approved. Steel shots and grits manufacturing is environment-friendly since the raw material comes from recycled products or products at the end of their life-cycle such as household appliances. Besides, steel blasting is one of the cheapest and most ecological ways to clean parts. It is cleaner than products such as sand, slags or acid. A single grain of abrasive, depending on its type, can be used up to 500-5000 times. Compared to slags, consumption is divided by 30 when blasting with steel abrasives. Besides, at the end of their life cycle, the grains turn into steel dust which has little impact on the environment. And today, steel abrasives can also be used to decontaminate soil and water polluted by heavy metals. That’s a new outlet for steel abrasives.
MFN: You mentioned cutting-edge technology, could you tell us about some new products you developed?
P. E.: In tough market conditions, we believe innovation gives you a competitive advantage. That is why at Wheelabrator Allevard, we’re always on the lookout to develop new products and find new applications for steel abrasives. Recently, we launched a new range of premium abrasives: HPG (high performance grit range), Fergrit and WearGrit .
HPG is designed for specific applications such as de-sanding. It uses a high quality steel which has undergone thermal and mechanical treatment to withstand high throwing speeds (over 100m/s) and avoid fragmentation during impacts. We have a nice success story with one of the major European foundries and HPG. Our customer had changed its blasting process and was unhappy with the quality of de-sanding and the decline in productivity. The introduction of HPG along with training of the operators allowed the foundry to reduce shot-blasting time by 30 percent while maintaining total quality and without increasing the shot-blasting production cost!
We have also launched Fergrit, a new type of high carbon steel media specifically designed for shot peening applications and high-quality surface preparation. Its conditioned angular grains, without sharp tips or edges, optimize peening efficiency and stress effect through a variety of contacts applied to the part with limited roughness. Fergrit also has a longer life cycle than traditional high carbon cast steel shot.
And we have just developed and patented WearGrit, a new metallic composite material where the usual aggregates of a high-performance concrete have been replaced by steel shots. WearGrit shows outstanding mechanical properties and, in particular, very high wear and impact resistance.
MFN: So, how do you see the future for Wheelabrator?
P. E.: Today, we are in an extremely competitive environment. Mature markets, i.e. Europe, North America, and Japan, are under pressure to lower costs and improve quality at the same time. Our role is to help them reach that goal. We are rather optimistic there is still room for innovation and improved performance. We take on the challenge and we’ll help our customers create added-value.
We at MFN would like to thank Pierre Escolier for taking time out of his busy schedule for this interview.
BP no. 3 – 528 Avenue de Savoie
38570 Le Cheylas, France
Tel.+33.4.76 92 92 92
E-mail (Europe, Asia, USA, South America): firstname.lastname@example.org