VOL. 10 July ISSUE YEAR 2009
in Vol. 10 - July Issue - Year 2009
Wheelabrator Allevard Sets the Pace in Technological Blasting Solutions
Innovation Center in Mnisek, the Czech Republic
MFN met Tony Prézeau, Innovation Manager of Wheelabrator Allevard to speak about innovation in the abrasive industry and to discuss latest innovations in Wheelabrator Allevard.
(?) MFN: Innovation is one of the most popular issues nowadays. Everybody talks about innovation and the importance of being innovative. Is it really the case in the abrasive industry?
(!) T. P.: I think innovation is a relatively new concept in the abrasive industry. For the last decades, the improvement has been incremental. If we look at Wheelabrator Allevard, we see that the innovation between the 1960s and 1990s was a new approach brought to the abrasive industry. We stepped beyond the traditional role of a product seller to a solution provider with a value proposition rather than standard products. Starting from 2000, we witness a more radical innovation process. Today the solutions we are offering are not limited to abrasives, we offer an all-inclusive package including product, service and training designed exclusively for different applications. We show that blasting, traditionally an underestimated process can be turned into a real value creation step for surface performance enhancement.
(?) MFN: What is the role of innovation in Wheelabrator Allevard?
(!) T. P.: Innovation has always been one of the core values at Wheelabrator Allevard. Today in order to gain a competitive advantage, it is a must to offer effective and innovative blasting solutions for meeting new material and surface requirements. By continuously improving our blasting media, we provide a higher blasting performance. We also offer a leading edge technical assistance with our continuously trained team of experts. In addition to product and service innovation, production processes are constantly being improved, too. All these innovative activities are being realized in our three innovation centers in Austria, Brazil, Japan, France and the Czech Republic.
(?) MFN: Do you think the role of innovation has been affected due to the actual economic context? Has there been any limitation in the innovation activities due to the global economic slowdown?
(!) T. P.: No it has not been affected. On the contrary, innovative activities are gaining impetus. We offer new blasting solutions to our customers who are now more open to disruptive solutions. Old models are constantly being challenged and with our continual emphasis on customer-focused innovation, we help them to turn blasting process into value creation, which is a real competitive advantage during economic gloom.
(?) MFN: You have talked about customer-focused innovation. Can you explain more about this approach?
(!) T. P.: Customer focus is our prescription for the innovation. With customer-focused innovation we take a hands-on approach. By staying in tune with our customers and sensing an unmet need, we apply our technology and know-how to create and add value to their blasting process. We observe customer blasting experience, find out and offer the best fitting technological solution. Each customer is considered unique deserving a unique service. This is why we built a customer-centric culture. Our aim is to exceed customer expectations in pioneering ways.
(?) MFN: What is the impact of this approach in terms of product offer?
(!) T. P.: Concerning the products, for example we are offering a product called Prowheelium, specially developed for surface preparation before coating, painting, enameling and metalizing. This product is a high-performance alternative to hard steel grit in wheel blasting operation. It enables higher cleaning efficiency and higher stability of the operating mix in the machine along with a strong reduction of consumption and machine wear. Our dedicated offers are not limited to surface preparation. We offer a range of premium abrasives specially developed for foundry application, HPG (High Performance Grit). Another Premium product is Stainium, a new range specially developed to provide optimum performance in the descaling of stainless steel sheets prior to acid pickling as an alternative to fine shot commonly used in such applications.
(?) MFN: And what about the services?
(!) T. P.: For us customer service is a process innovation in action. As we all know, it is not enough for customers to benefit from an innovation or a high quality product. They need follow-up and help in applying the process effectively. This is why at Wheelabrator Allevard, customer service makes up an essential link of innovation. We offer a dedicated technical assistance to our customers under the name of Walue, a service package based on four areas of competence:
On-site solutions: enable our customers to develop proficiency in blasting thanks to the experience and in-depth analysis of our technical teams in terms of machines, operative mix, installation efficiency, process results and operation costs.
Test Centre solutions: enable us to test new products and processes, understand sources of defects and customer needs in order to determine the best set of parameters to achieve their objectives.
Training solutions: Internal training involves wheel blasting, air blasting and shot-peening. On the practical level, workshops are organized for machine audits, adjustments and process validation. External training involves numerous programs for workers, technicians and managers with a reference to their real working conditions.
E-solutions: enable an estimation of real costs and assessment of potential profits and help them achieve technically feasible, economic and environment-friendly projects.
(?) MFN: With all these new products and services how do you make sure your sales teams stay up-to-date?
(!) T. P.: We are fully aware that an essential part of Wheelabrator Allevard’s image, the quality of its associated services relies mainly on the skills and motivation of the sales and technical assistance teams. Our group is the first in the industry to set up its own university, Wheelabrator Allevard Sales University (WASU) to improve and disseminate the knowledge and know-how required by the company’s teams throughout the world. WASU provides ongoing vocational training, promotes the pooling of experience, trains and motivates new salespeople. It also aims to further research and development in new services and to evaluate achievement levels and progress. As its “students” are scattered across five continents, WASU relies heavily on the latest e-learning techniques. With this in-house training organization, Wheelabrator Allevard guarantees the same quality of service worldwide and ensures that its customers will receive optimum care and attention regardless of their geographical location.
(?) MFN: How has the customer response been for such an innovative approach offering a dedicated service? Can you give us an example?
(!) T. P.: It has always been very positive. For instance, one of our customers, a major player in the global shipbuilding industry needed to optimize their blasting process in order to increase productivity and efficiency while conforming with the new profile requirements set by International Marine Organization. Our team of experts thoroughly assessed their needs and determined the weak points of their existing process. We offered a product specially developed to improve blast efficiency by optimized size distribution and to achieve consistency in blasting work by regular shape of particles. The process and product we implemented enabled a much more homogenous profile and a lower roughness and was very efficient in removing rust at sharp corners. The customer has noted that our technological blasting solution not only exceeded the expected levels of efficiency in air-blasting but also enabled a significant cost saving in energy, paint consumption and labor and thus major gains on the global surface preparation costs. We are now offering this solution to all our customers having similar needs, the product itself being called Profilium.
(?) MFN: What are the current projects Innovation Dpt. is working on?
(!) T. P.: There are several projects. Our priority remains developing new blasting products and technological solutions but I can’t go into details about them and you will hear about some of them soon. Apart from that, one of our major investments is a unique Centre dedicated to innovation in the Czech Republic to complete the chain between the lab-scale product development and industrial production and sales.
This centre is equipped with a cutting-edge atomization technology and designed to offer a quick and effective response to customer demands beyond the lab-scale product development from the first validation tons to industrial quantities. From melting to heat treatments, all the steps of the process and final selections have been designed to allow a very high flexibility. A wide range of alloyed steel compositions are produced without any risk of cross-contamination.
(?) MFN: What are the key benefits of this Innovation Centre?
(!) T. P.: First of all it enhances our expertise in atomization and processing of small steel particles, in order to create breakthroughs in these fields before transferring them to our industrial production lines and offering their benefits to our customers.
It also speeds up our new products developments. We are now able to offer an accelerated process to our group companies and customers from lab-scale development and production of first industrial batches to the validation of new solutions by our Test Centers or customers.
Moreover this centre opens up exciting new business opportunities. We are no longer limited to a single or few steel compositions; ton-scale batches of atomized products with special chemistries can be tested and produced.
(?) MFN: So, how do you see the future for Wheelabrator Allevard?
(!) T. P.: Being a leader is never an established privilege, we must continuously challenge our offer, our organization and our business model. We must take into account market evolutions since new materials are appearing. I believe a heightened environmental awareness is a driver for more durable solutions. I like to think that Wheelabrator Allevard is not only anticipating the future of the abrasive business but also shaping it.
(?) MFN: Finally what personal satisfaction do you get from the success of Wheelabrator Allevard in the area of innovation?
(!) T.P.: Our blasting processes are at a real crossroads, at the heart of many industrial processes. It is a fulfilling challenge to be in a position to analyze the different needs of our customers, to study their evolutions and by mobilizing all our organization to be able to offer each of them the best technological solutions.
We at MFN would like to thank Tony Prézeau for this interview.
For Information: Wheelabrator Allevard
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