A New Kid On The Block: An Alternative Approach To Vibratory Mass Finishing Consumables
MFN was able to get an interview with Clifford Parr, President & Chief Operating Officer at Wheelabrator Plus.
(?) MFN: Mr Parr, thank you for taking the time to speak to us. You are here to talk about Wheelabrator Vibro, your new consumables offering. Tell us a bit about it.
(!) C. P.: Wheelabrator Vibro is an alternative vibratory mass finishing consumables supplier, backed by the largest brand of shot blasting equipment in the world. We have been in the business for over 100 years, amassing a huge amount of knowledge and technical expertise across surface preparation applications.
With Wheelabrator Vibro we’re now offering a range of vibratory mass finishing plastic media, ceramic media and compounds – as a high-quality alternative at a very attractive price.
(?) MFN: Why did you make the decision to enter this market? What expertise and credibility do you have in vibratory mass finishing?
(!) C. P.: We are actually re-entering, rather than starting from scratch. Throughout our history, we have either owned or represented vibro consumables and equipment brands and there is a lot of expertise in the organisation.
Until very recently, we held the licence for Walther Trowal in the UK, as we still do in France and Spain. It was the end of that relationship in the UK that got us thinking about an offering of our own. Without the pricing and geographical constraints that come with being a licensee, we would be able to offer a very compelling proposition.
Developing our own vibro offering means that we can continue to serve customers we’ve been serving all these years, as well as offering a one-stop-shop for those who already trust us with their air blast and wheelblast requirements.
We also felt customers would benefit from more choice and competition in the market. Most of us are familiar with the cost and service benefits of switching bank accounts or energy suppliers. It’s the same message here. Switching brings benefits – but there has to be somewhere to switch to.
We have put together a fantastic team of vibro experts who really understand the process and are excited about the opportunity to shake up the market.
(?) MFN: What is new or different about Wheelabrator Vibro then? What are you offering customers?
(!) C. P.: Let’s start with what Wheelabrator Vibro is not: it’s not the same product in slightly different packaging. We wanted to offer a genuine alternative that would improve our customers’ process and/or finish and save them money, while being just as readily available as competitor offerings.
And that’s what we did. With our high-quality consumables and compounds we are able to match or improve any process, at a better price. Our test centre is able to simulate almost any equipment and process, so we can test a customer’s process away from their day-to-day operations and demonstrate how we can improve it and what the savings would be.
(?) MFN: How are you able to do that? What are the downsides?
(!) C. P.: Using our R&D knowledge in all things surface preparation, as well as our global purchasing power, we were able to put together a simplified range of high-quality plastic and ceramic media as well as compounds. We’re not manufacturing the media ourselves – we’re the experts on the process, not on plastics or ceramics – but we’ll buy best-in-class from the best manufacturers around the world, who create the media to our specifications.
Due to the long traditions of the established brands in the market, existing consumables ranges are vast and complex with a special shape, size and material for almost every individual process. We wondered if this was entirely necessary, as it comes with serious downsides for customers in terms of inventory and pricing.
So we looked at the full breadth of applications to come up with a more streamlined range that would fulfil or exceed almost all process requirements, while also being more cost-effective and straightforward.
We spent a lot of time and testing effort on making sure we’ve got a solid range of products to take to market that will cover any customer need. The downside, if you like, is that a customer looking for the exact same media that they’ve always used won’t find it in the Wheelabrator Vibro range. But if they let us test their process, we will find a recipe with our new media which can match or improve the process or finish – or both. And it will be cheaper.
(?) MFN: Are there any gaps in your offering?
(!) C. P.: There are some gaps in the range, when it comes to very niche, low-demand applications, but I consider them temporary. If a customer directly asks us about it, we will respond to that. There are no practical barriers to meeting a specific demand – it’s just not part of the starting range.
The other aspect is certifications. For sectors like aerospace, our consumables do not currently fit the mould of existing process specifications. That is just due to the fact that it’s a new approach, and we’re working hard on getting everything certified. We understand the aerospace, medical and automotive industries inside out and have always been a safe pair of hands for customers in these sectors, so they know they can start talking to us now.
(?) MFN: Why would users of vibro processes want to switch anyway?
(!) C. P.: Only having one supplier means your level of quality and service remains static. A familiar relationship, whilst easy, can lead to a long-term supplier losing the need to always go the extra mile, improve the service, or pass on cost reductions.
Customers should ask themselves: When was the last time I updated my process, or questioned whether it could be better? Am I getting the best finish possible? At the best price? Have I benefitted from any innovations in the market?
We believe our service should remain as innovative and flexible as our product range. We also recognise that every company is different, meaning that each solution is created to match the specific needs of the customer. Competition helps with both these things, so it’s good if customers get the chance to keep us on our toes.
(?) MFN: Wouldn’t they be taking a risk changing the media mix for their process?
(!) C. P.: Not at all. We’ve put the infrastructure in place to take all the risk and hassle of "changing a running system" away from the customer. We simulate, test and calibrate the process for them at our test centre, so we can find the best recipe and prove the benefits and savings before they make any changes to their actual production.
Conversely, you could argue that there is a risk in never changing your process. Technology moves on, conditions and requirements change, the economics of your production change. So it’s worth reassessing every once in a while, to make sure your vibro process is still as good as it can be and you’re not missing out on technological advances.
Our set-up with the vibro test centre means customers can try new things without any risk or disruption and cut out a lot of the unnecessary trial and error.
(?) MFN: How does your testing process work?
(!) C. P.: Wheelabrator Vibro has a dedicated test centre with a wide range of machines. Of course we don’t have every single machine a customer might have, but thanks to the application knowledge and deep understanding of the process we’ve got in the team, we are able to simulate almost any process.
Customers will send us their parts, specifications and machine set-up so we can then test the performance of various recipes and process parameters and offer options depending on customer priorities.
For example, we might be able to achieve the same finish faster, releasing additional production capacity, or we could create a much better finish at the same time. All the options are documented for the customer, so they can make an informed choice before introducing a new media mix in their production.
(?) MFN: Where is Wheelabrator Vibro available at the moment? What are the plans?
(!) C. P.: It’s currently available in the UK, where we have put in place the infrastructure to deliver this alternative vibro offering (the dedicated test centre, for example). We very much see the UK as the blueprint for taking Wheelabrator Vibro to market. The ambition is to make it available in other countries and regions step by step.
Potential customers are invited to get in touch with their local Wheelabrator contact and register their interest.
(?) MFN: What has the response to the launch of Wheelabrator Vibro been so far?
(!) C. P.: We were overwhelmed by the response here in the UK. We expected a lot more scepticism and reluctance, but customers were refreshingly open to giving it a try. We were pushing at open doors.
And it’s not just our customers (although they’re of course the most important) – our Wheelabrator Vibro team is genuinely excited and energised by the offering they’ve created. They’ve all been in the industry for a long time and suddenly the stars align and there is an opportunity to do things differently and make a difference. It’s been a delight to see that happen to our team and we’re looking forward to bringing this energy to new customers and markets. Watch this space.
MFN would like to thank Clifford Parr for this interview!
Wheelabrator Group Ltd.
Head office: Wheelabrator House
22 Edward Court, Altrincham
WA14 5GL, England