in Vol. 8 - July Issue - Year 2007
Wheelabrator Allevard – Always At The Forefront Of Improvement And Innovation
Pierre Escolier, Sales and Marketing Vice President of Wheelabrator Allevard
Interview with Pierre Escolier, Sales and Marketing Vice President
(?) MFN: What differentiates Wheelabrator Allevard from its competitors?
(!) P. E.: We are not just a company that sells abrasives. Our combination of the appropriate product with an exclusive service provides a solution that contributes to the overall improvement of the abrasive process.
As world leader, excellence has always been our goal: our sales teams are first class, customer care is paramount, and emphasis is given to methodology and the competence and training of our staff, not to mention our constant search for progress in terms of innovation.
(?) MFN: What major changes have been made recently and why?
(!) P. E.: The impetus to make changes was twofold – on the one hand, the dynamic team of managers brought new ideas to the fore and on the other, the in-depth customer survey that we carried out 2 -3 years ago gave us concrete feedback.
We set about identifying the steps that would consolidate and improve our position as international leader. From our worldwide customer survey, we were able to identify their expectations for the next 5 years and to establish areas where we could provide improved support and service.
As I said just now, Wheelabrator Allevard has always strived for excellence. Our new CEO, Yves Barraquand, redefined the main goal as excellence in four areas:
The first is customer care – here we pay particular attention in the field of marketing and operational activities to ensure that everyone in the company is aware of and concerned about customer’s needs and expectations.
The second is methodology – we have launched the Himalaya Operation that applies Lean Six Sigma methodology to a variety of projects.
Third, training was also targeted with the launch of our WA Sales University. And last but not least, innovation and research are a focus of attention shared by several departments.
A general goal was also set – the relocation of industrial activities should be treated as an opportunity for growth. As a result, we have made significant investment in plants and training in a number of emerging countries where we were not adequately represented, giving us the capacity to address those markets. The aim is to be able to accompany customers in any country with the same level of expertise, products and services across the world.
To achieve this, the same tools are used everywhere. The WA Test Centres in the Czech Republic, Brazil, Japan and France and the creation of the WA Sales University ensure that all teams throughout the world have the required level of knowledge and competence.
(?) MFN: In which countries are you investing?
(!) P. E.: The sales and support groups have been expanded in Russia, India, China and Mexico. We are investing in countries where our customers are establishing their business and plant capacity is also being increased to enable us to address these emerging markets.
One example is the production plant that is under construction in Russia. It is a logistical challenge as Russia is a country of vast proportions stretching over 11 000 km and 9 time zones. The site of the plant is Kurgan - a city with a population of 350 000, situated less than 100 km from Kazakhstan. The site was chosen for logistical reasons – good rail connection, electrical power for the furnace, gas network and qualified manpower. Russia also has good quality scrap metal, which is the essential raw material we need. We are also lucky to get extremely good support from our local partner and we expect the plant to start production early next year.
(?) MFN: How can you help your customers reduce their costs ?
(!) P. E.: First, we have improved the technical services that we provide our customers. Three years ago, the Technical Assistance and Internal Training service was created (TAIT). This provides a structure to our technical assistance to our customers around the world and gives technicians the possibility of exchanging information and best practice solutions. TAIT has been progressively applied to all W Abrasives plants and additional technicians have been recruited in places where the representation was inadequate. We are thus able to enrich our service provision and launch products more rapidly and more effectively.
We have also created the “Nuggets Committee”, whose task is to propose products that will contribute to the improvement of customers’ costs. The main objective of the “Nuggets Committee”, created at the end of 2005, is to develop and launch new products and services adapted to specific applications. These new products are called “Premium” and are accompanied by testing in the field with a service that is more sophisticated than normal: this is the Premium Offer, which guarantees results after an audit of the blasting line, establishing the technical and economical objectives, choice of products, full support during industrial trials and on-site training.
The Committee is comprised of a mixture of expertise from production, sales, marketing and test centre staff. It has already ensured:
The worldwide marketing of HPG, developed for foundry applications and already used by major car manufacturers.
The launch of Stainium, a new family of Premium steel abrasives developed to provide optimum performance in descaling stainless steel sheets. Customers using this product are the major producers of stainless steel.
The development and launch of Profilium, a Premium product for air blasting surface preparation.
Future Premium Products, under development today, will focus on wheel blasting surface preparation and shot peening applications.
(?) MFN: Are you worried about competition from countries where the costs are very low ?
(!) P. E.: Even if the price difference of the product is significant and appears to be low elsewhere, the real total cost of the complete abrasive process for the customer is systematically higher with the low-cost products. This has been demonstrated in individual cases by our objective data base of technical comparatives (on site or at our Test Centres) and the WA Cost software.
The main explanation is the difference in quality of the products – their lifetime and abrasive efficiency. The difference in consumption can compensate in most cases for the difference in price and cause an increase in costs as a result of the waste generated. In addition, the properties of our products and their stability guarantee an efficiency of abrasive quality that the low-cost abrasives cannot rival: since the productivity of the process is reduced, the costs of energy, labour and spare parts are all increased where mediocre quality products are concerned.
In countries that offer low-cost abrasives, enormous difficulties are also encountered in terms of logistics and packaging. Customers find that deadlines are not respected, there is no follow-up and the packaging does not stand up to the rigours of transportation. Low-cost producers do not offer a service to their users, which is an important part of our offer throughout the world and is an essential element in the optimisation of the quality and cost of a process (together with training, continuous follow-up of teams, etc.)
(?) MFN: Why have you created a new logo and a new brand?
(!) P. E.: We decided to refresh our visual identity and our image by creating a new corporate logo. Wheelabrator Allevard remains the name of the group and covers the activities of both abrasives and diamonds. However, the abrasives activity of Wheelabrator Allevard is now identified by W Abrasives, which will encompass all the values that have assured the success of Wheelabrator Allevard.
W Abrasives is a worldwide brand, guaranteeing our customers an easier identification of our products and services throughout the world. W Abrasives benefits from the expertise of Wheelabrator Allevard and positions itself as the only brand able to bring its customers total solutions for blasting and granite cutting.
W Abrasives offers four areas of competence in terms of services, which are reflected in the four logos:
-On site solutions – including the Premium Offer, a unique Premium product line and a wide range of exclusive services.
-Training solutions – through seminars organized in our Training Centres or customized in the field.
-Test Centre solutions – to simulate and fine tune any change proposed to customers in their blasting process.
-E-solutions – through a database of documents to be used by the sales force for technical and cost calculation support.
(?) MFN: Earlier you mentioned The Himalaya Operation - can you tell us what it is and what is different from previous methodology applied by Wheelabrator Allevard?
(!) P. E.: W Abrasives is determined to stay world leader in the abrasives market and in order to do this, we must maintain the high quality of our products and services – we wish to ensure that there is continuous improvement. W Abrasives decided to introduce a strict procedure based on the well-known Lean Six Sigma methodology.
The Lean Six Sigma is not a revolution for us as we have always believed in continuous improvement through all stages of a project. However, the aim of the Himalaya Operation is to perfect the quality of our products and services and to give our customers complete satisfaction and to optimise production costs. Customers benefit from the resulting quality of this rigorous procedure in terms of cost reduction.
The aim is for W Abrasives to stay at the top, to reduce customer costs, to give satisfaction and to provide quality products and services. W Abrasives is ISO 9001 certified, but this certification does not include the cost factor. The Himalaya Operation applies that additional element to our abrasive activities worldwide.
Several projects have already been launched in our European, North American, Brazilian and Asian subsidiaries. The projects vary in terms of goals and complexity, but the methodology is the same for all projects with resources adapted to suit the project complexity.
Each production site has identified an area of improvement and named a leader in charge of the project. The project and objectives must first be defined, a measurement made of where we are today and what can be done, the possibilities are analyzed, the solutions are put into place and tested, finally a check is made to ensure that the solutions are working and that they will continue to work in the long term. An example of the current projects is the improvement of gas consumption in the furnace in Brazil.
There are 14 plants and this equates with the 14 peaks of the Himalayas. Hence the name!
(?) MFN: Wheelabrator Allevard has recently undertaken a humanitarian project. Why?
(!) P. E.: The financial results of Wheelabrator Allevard have improved considerably over the past few years. Since 2003, Wheelabrator Allevard has seen a 35% increase in volume of abrasives. This increase in business has enabled the WA Group to undertake a humanitarian project in India.
The criteria used to select a project were: to help children, as they are the future of the world, in a developing country where Wheelabrator Allevard is represented. Wheelabrator Allevard is collaborating with the association PLAN International and has initially agreed a 5-year contract. PLAN International will take charge of a project on behalf of WA and the first project will start in July 2007 working with children in New Delhi who have been abandoned on the streets. This first project will run for 3 years.
Wheelabrator Allevard is financing the project, but its employees are also encouraged to participate – with donations or with time on a voluntary basis.
Wheelabrator Allevard intends to undertake more projects in the future and is considering a themed project that encompasses several countries simultaneously
We at MFN would like to thank Mr. Pierre Escolier for this interview.
WA Abrasives Test Centers:
The first W Abrasives Test Centre was created in 1971 in Le Cheylas, France, with the aim of testing products and methods to establish the best possible process for customers. The next Test Centre to be built was in Japan and it is currently being expanded. The Test Centre in the Czech Republic has been active since 2005, while the most recent one in Brazil has been fully operational since January 2007. W Abrasives Test Centres are designed to reproduce real industrial workshop conditions. Tens of industrial tests are performed in each Test Centre every year, the majority of which are carried out in the presence of customers.
WA Sales University:
WA success has always been closely linked to the skills and motivation of sales and technical assistance teams. There is a constant need to train internal teams in both the technical and commercial fields.
Wheelabrator Allevard has always valued training, but now a structure is being established to ensure all teams and new employees around the world are trained to the same high level. A new generation of sales persons needs to be trained to ensure that expertise and knowledge is not lost. In particular, the new commercial teams in emerging countries require training to Wheelabrator Allevard’s high standards.
WA Sales University initiative was conceived by top management and is managed by the Corporate Operational Marketing Department. It is a new ambitious project to enable the best possible training and support to sales and technical assistance teams. In October 2006, an internal committee was created to launch the project to work on the content. Over the next 12 months, the project will evolve and go live.
The objectives of WA Sales University are to organize training and motivation of new generations of sales people, to provide continuous training of sales teams and development of new services, to evaluate skills and progress and to establish a common identity within the group for the quality of services and competence.
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