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Vol. 15
July Issue
Year 2014
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Interview


in Vol. 15 - July Issue - Year 2014
Conquering Surface Treatment Market From The Country In The Heart Of Europe



Mojca




For this issue of MFN magazine, we interviewed an executive director of FerroÈrtaliè International, a rapidly growing company from Slovenia, specialized in manufacturing custom-made surface treatment systems. We talked about the evolution of the company, technological solutions they have mastered, and the director’s views on market trends and surface treatment industry in general.

(?) MFN: We noticed FerroÈrtaliè has been very active these past few years in establishing its FerroECOBlast trademark within the surface treatment industry. How would you as an executive portray your company and its employees?

(!) M.C.A.: We are an enthusiastic group of highly qualified professionals in the surface treatment business, fully dedicated to fulfilling unique demands of our clients. 50 years of experience and expertise in the industry makes us a reliable partner with satisfied customers all over the world.

Although we are not the biggest company in our field, we do not shy away from taking on big, technologically challenging projects and delivering unique solutions for the most complex tasks. Over the years, custom-made solutions have become our bread and butter, and albeit 50 years might be a long period to some, we feel like it is only the beginning.
 
(?) MFN: Let me use this opportunity to congratulate you on behalf of MFN magazine for the 50th anniversary of your company's existence. You have come out of the financial crisis stronger than ever. What is your formula for success in these turbulent times?

(!) M.C.A.: First of all, it was never easy to begin with. My grandfather started the company as a small workshop within the system where there was only a handful of private businesses nationwide. My father then made a breakthrough, consolidating it on a company level, and now it is my turn to continue steering it past the reefs of the global market.

However, to answer your question - by watching companies lose their markets during crisis and eventually go bankrupt, we wanted (and needed) to do something different. Instead of downsizing and general cost-cutting, we invested heavily in R&D and in further education of our employees, encouraging them to use their theoretical and practical knowledge to think out of the box and create products and services that exceeded expectations of our clients. We upgraded our marketing and after-sales services to create a package that we believe is second-to-none in the industry. All of those efforts led to successfully finished projects and satisfied customers, which gave us great references that helped us attract new clients. Since the strategy worked so well, we have continued to follow it in the present time.

(?) MFN: You have mentioned the rough start your grandfather had to overcome within the socialist economic system. On the other hand, Slovenia lies in the heart of Europe, relatively close to all its major markets. How did these factors influence your success?

(!) M.C.A.: Losing the majority of our markets overnight in 1991 definitely made us stronger in the long run. We had our backs against the wall at the time, and it was just sheer determination and persistence that kept us afloat. We quickly acknowledged that in order to survive, we had to be better than our competition in every way possible.

Regarding the geographical position of Slovenia - it undeniably helped us a bit. Luckily, we have good transport connections by road, rail, sea, and air, which helps us reach our clients and partners relatively fast. Due to our history and geographical position, we are also familiar with business practices and cultural differences in various parts of Europe, which can also be of value in making business.

(?) MFN: FerroECOBlast offers a diverse production programme, ranging from basic sand blasting to advanced shot peening and ultra high-pressure water blasting systems. According to our information, the strongest part of your product range is the Robotic & Automated surface treatment solutions. Would you agree with this assessment?

(!) M.C.A.: You are right, customized automated and robotic solutions are surely our strong point and something we are very proud of, but I would not lessen our achievements in other technologies that round out our production programme. We have been very active in mastering shot peening, as well as further developing soda blasting, UHP water blasting, dry ice cleaning, and sand blasting solutions. We do not want do diminish the relevance of any of those technologies.

(?) MFN: You have indicated the importance of investing in R&D during a  financial crisis. What is your approach to R&D? How do you cope with strict standards of the industry and increasingly demanding expectations of your clients?

(!) M.C.A.: Thanks to various R&D activities, for which we spend up to 50% of our profit yearly, and our in-house laboratory and test center, FerroÈrtaliè can offer a solution to every surface treatment problem. Our engineers are constantly developing new solutions and prototypes, and for them to be able to keep up with the technological evolution of the industry, we have to provide them with the possibilities of progressive education, and sufficient software/hardware support.

Constant investing in R&D ensures improved quality of our machines, safe work, optimization of work processes, and optimal selection of materials. We are also cooperating with numerous Institutes and Faculties in fields that affect our technology. Our latest research activities in cooperation with the National Institute of Chemistry are directed towards achieving optimal surface roughness together with elimination of surface organic contaminants, with the technology that is particularly applicable in developing innovative production line for interior blasting of water heaters. All of those efforts are reflected in superior technological solutions that meet all of the standards in the industry through audits, and ultimately enable our clients to be one step ahead of the competition.

I personally am very proud of our R&D department and its engineers who constantly endeavor to improve our products through rigorous, methodical testing. We are fully aware that only knowledge can ensure future development of our company and consequently the ability to achieve clients' requirements. Our management also tries to continually develop our integrated systems and solutions that help us speed up important decision-making processes. This allows us to be even more market-oriented and responsive.
 
(?) MFN: You said you have been very active in mastering shot peening solutions. It has not been overlooked that you are cooperating with respectable companies in this sector that is known for its strict requirements. How do you tackle these issues?

(!) M.C.A.: We are determined to continue developing innovative systems using our product and process laboratories so the next step is to build state of the art shot peening cell and equipment. We are presently in the final stage of purchasing an industrial hall close to our headquarters where we will build a robotic shot peening cell, laboratory, and production line for interior blasting of water heaters that will primarily be used for R&D, and to some extent, to offer services to our clients.

Regarding shot peening systems we already manufacture, I can highlight our problem-solving of total control of the system and all its variables. For this issue, we equipped our robotic shot peening cell with Proficy HMI/SCADA - iFIX. Robust SCADA engine provides a wide set of connectivity options, open architecture, and highly scalable and distributed networking model. This system, which is also used in various industries, was an ideal solution for our project because it offers functionality of typical HMI such as simple manual data entry and validation to very complex SCADA-like batch, filtration, and distributed alarm management. The aforementioned software also complies with industry standards, making it ideal as part of a more IT-focused, real-time data management system. iFIX provides an overview of total operations cycle; it enables faster, more intelligent control, and visibility into system operations.

(?) MFN: Recently shot-peening technology has been linked to the architectural and construction industry. Do you offer similar application or services?

(!) M.C.A.: Yes, we also noticed some companies marketing bead blasting as shot peening, because it apparently sounds better. Of course these processes are not true shot peening, as in most cases, there is no demand for a fully controlled process as for example in the aerospace industry. For treatment of stainless steel surfaces used also in architecture, FerroÈrtaliè developed an advanced ceramic bead-blasting process that also has some advantages of shot peening.

We have been bead blasting stainless steel components for a very long time now, and manufacturing stainless steel and aluminium equipment, mainly in the pharmaceutical industry, where ceramic bead blasting is a standard. This kind of treatment has many distinct advantages; one of them being that a bead-blasted surface is in fact a peened surface and thus much easier to clean and is more resilient to scratching. We use true shot peening primarily for treatment of engine components in the aerospace industry, but can also provide solutions for treatment of surgical instruments and medical implants.

In architecture, besides the already mentioned advantages, a visually appealing effect like a satin finish on stainless steel and aluminium surfaces is important. Satin finish on stainless steel also has another benefit - it is glare-free. Glare can be a significant problem in architecture, especially when stainless steel is being used for facades of buildings near traffic roads, or for doors, handrails, sculptures, etc. In fact, we had an interesting project where we bead blasted a stainless steel sculpture. The artist made a large sculpture from stainless steel and worked very hard to manually polish the surface. The sculpture was very beautiful and shiny, but the problem occurred when it was installed in the middle of a roundabout, and the glare from the material was blinding the drivers! We solved the problem with ceramic bead blasting, which resulted in an elegant glare-free satin finish, and also improved the sculpture's resilience to weather influences.

(?) MFN: To end this interesting interview, tell us about your vision of the future for your company.

(!) M.C.A.: I can promise you we will stay true to our philosophy, which is tracking novelties and constant development of advanced surface treatment solutions through research and innovation. We will continue to work hard in order to satisfy and exceed the expectations of our customers, and consolidate our company at the top of the suppliers of technological solutions in sandblasting and industrial surface cleaning technologies. Honestly, I see nothing but a bright future ahead of us.

MFN would like to thank Mojca Èrtaliè Andolšek for the interview!




For Information:
FerroÈrtaliè d.o.o.
Sela pri Dolenjskih Toplicah 47
8350 Dolenjske Toplice, Slovenia
Tel. +386.7.38 45 100
Fax +386.7.38 45 115
E-mail: info@ferrocrtalic.com
www.ferroECOblast.com