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Interview


in Vol. 19 - March Issue - Year 2018
Faster, Better, Cheaper… And Drier? A New Vibro Offering One Year On



Clifford Parr, President, Global Product Group Parts Finishing at Norican Group


Gear in plastic media


In the laboratory

MFN had the opportunity to talk to Clifford Parr, President, Global Product Group Parts Finishing at Norican Group.

(?) MFN: Mr Parr, thank you for taking the time to speak to us. A bit over a year ago, you told us about the newly launched Wheelabrator Vibro offering and your plans for 2017. How did it all go?

(!) C. P.: We set out to shake up the vibro consumables market and build a genuinely alternative offering, which is quite an ambitious undertaking. Specifically, we had to convince potential customers to let us test their processes to show them the results we can achieve with our alternative approach.

I’m pleased to say that the vast majority of customers we spoke to were willing and prepared to give it a go, and we were able to provide them with extremely encouraging results.

Our aim was to prove the concept of Wheelabrator Vibro ahead of a European and eventually global roll-out, and we are on track for doing just that. Sales continue to grow in the UK and we now also have Germany and the Czech Republic up and running with dedicated sales and service support.

We have invested heavily in our test and demo centre in Birmingham, which in 2017, was elevated within the Norican Group to become a Centre for Product Innovation for Mass Finishing, further supporting our scope of operation.

At the start of 2018, we launched the Wheelabrator Vibro range of equipment, covering a broad range of metal finishing techniques, including vibratory and centrifugal, bowl and trough equipment, and wet and dry processes. It was particularly pleasing to receive our first equipment orders prior to the launch, so we are confident that we have put together a compelling OEM proposition.

As customers are not just switching their existing processes to us, but also engaging with us in the development and set-up of new processes, the equipment offering is an important building block that which enables us to offer the total process package.

So in a nutshell, I can report that it’s all going exceedingly well and I’m delighted both with the progress we’ve made in 2017, and the resulting reception experienced in the market.

(?) MFN: When we spoke last time, you said your mission was to show customers that it’s worth considering switching supplier. You were going to prove this through testing. What improvements have you been able to show?

(!) C. P.: As a minimum, we have been able to do what we promised we would do: save our customers money by achieving the same result at a lower cost. As I said last time, that’s the benefit of designing a consumables range from scratch, of starting with a clean slate. How many grades does it really need to serve the various process requirements out there? Not as many as you think, we found, which really affects costs. It’s all in the testing!

For most of our customers, we have been able to not just lower the cost, but also improve the quality of the finish and/or reduce the time it takes to produce the same finish as before. The latter effect caught us a little by surprise. Some of our customers achieved frankly mind-boggling productivity improvements.

(?) MFN: Can you tell us a bit more about these productivity improvements?

(!) C. P.: Typically, we have achieved cycle time reductions of 30% - say from 60 minutes down to 40 minutes. That is very respectable and can have a huge impact on the economics of production. But we’ve also had a case where the customer was able to benefit from a cycle time reduction from 6 hours to 2 hours. That’s a game-changing improvement.

Another area where we can unlock productivity gains is by offering a dry process where it’s appropriate. The fact that, with a dry process, customers don’t have to be concerned with complex liquid handling and water processing can have a significant positive impact on their operations. It does commonly require new equipment though, so it’s something that makes business sense at specific stages of a customer’s own process and equipment evolution.

(?) MFN: Can you tell us a bit more about why you’re offering a dry process?

(!) C. P.: We simply want to be able to offer as complete a range of processes as possible – and for some applications there is just no need to overcomplicate things.

Our customers come from a very broad range of sectors and sometimes their facilities don’t lend themselves to a wet process set-up. If we can prove – through testing – that a dry process can achieve the results they are looking for, then that’s the best solution.

I often feel the bias towards wet processes might be more to do with OEMs’ convenience and interests, offering ample opportunity for aftermarket sales, whereas the focussed dry process is slightly less lucrative for them.

(?) MFN: You’ve only just started, so I assume there are still some gaps in your offering. What are they?

(!) C. P.: We’ve filled many of the few initial gaps we had in our consumables offering, which came up during customer testing throughout the last year. We have the capability to quickly respond to a specific requirement a customer might have that isn’t currently fulfilled, so I think we’re pretty much there on the process consumables side of things although we continue to work on improving our offering.

The bigger issue we’re still working through is certifications and accreditations. Because we’re doing things slightly differently, processes and recipes in sectors like aerospace need accrediting afresh. But our customers are keen to do it and are helping us push for accreditation, as well as carrying out the necessary tests at their end and lobbying higher-tier players in the supply chain.

On the equipment side, while we are starting off with a fairly broad range already, we will no doubt be able to further improve and refine the offering depending on the market response we’re encountering. We’ve been involved in the mass finishing market for decades and are backed by the largest shot blast equipment brand in the world, so we can draw on a lot of expertise and know-how to fine-tune our surface preparation range of equipment for the benefit of our customers.

(?) MFN: With the evolved offering, what do you think is your strength in the market? Why should customers come to you rather than a competitor?

(!) C. P.: First of all, I think our initial value proposition around process consumables is very attractive. Customers benefit from the additional competition in the market and have embraced our "just test it" philosophy. The rationalised range, in combination with our established supply chain activities, has enabled us to offer customers the right consumables for their process at a much better price.

Looking beyond consumables, we are completely agnostic in terms of the technology we recommend to customers. They can come to us with a part, and we will give them the best, most appropriate solution for what they need - to the point that, if we think they shouldn’t be asking for a mass finishing solution at all, but for air blast or wheel blast, we will say so and refer them to our colleagues over at Wheelabrator. We’ve got a lot of surface prep and finishing knowledge and we’re not afraid to use it!

(?) MFN:  What impact has being part of Norican Group had on the evolution of Wheelabrator Vibro?

(!) C. P.: We’re proud to be part of the group with its incredible amount of expertise and its global network. There is so much resource – globally and locally – that we can access on behalf of our customers. We’ve benefitted a lot from this and it has certainly accelerated our evolution.

Then there’s also the strategic backing and commitment we got from the group by establishing us as one of three Global Product Groups.

We and our Norican Group family are serious about parts finishing, and it complements our parts formation and parts preparation businesses beautifully. There’s still a lot of potential for closer co-operation and synergies with the other brands in the family – DISA, Italpresse Gauss, StrikoWestofen and Wheelabrator – which will ultimately benefit our customers.

(?) MFN:  What do you say to customers outside the territories you’re currently serving with Wheelabrator Vibro?

(!) C. P.: I say, pick up the phone. Of course, we want to make sure we have all the support infrastructure in place before we actively promote Wheelabrator Vibro in a new region, but that’s not to say it’s impossible to deliver to these customers through the existing Norican network. It’s always worth a conversation – not least to register their interest.

(?) MFN: What are your plans from here?

(!) C. P.: We’re about to complete improvements to our demo and test centre in Birmingham, which is more akin to a showroom, where customers can see our equipment in action. We can show customers a lot during their visit, and quite a few have used the opportunity so far to spend productive time with us during testing, to really fine-tune their processes and see the improvements with their own eyes.

We will keep building on the infrastructure we’ve established in the UK, with our liveried van fleet and dedicated sales and service team, and will continue with the roll-out across regions either with our own resource or via third party channels as appropriate.

We will expand our equipment offering over time and add new applications where needed. The message is very much: the journey continues.

We invite anyone interested in mass finishing processes to get in touch and come and see us at the demo centre and lab. There’s nothing quite like seeing for yourself what difference a bit of fresh thinking can make to a trusted process.

MFN would like to thank Clifford Parr for this interview!



For Information:
Wheelabrator Vibro
43-44 Gravelly Industrial Park, Tyburn Road
Birmingham, B24 8TG, UK
Tel. +44.121.326 6481
Fax +44.121.328 0652
E-mail: vibro@wheelabratorgroup.com
www.wheelabratorgroup.com/vibro
 
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