in Vol. 9 - March Issue - Year 2008
Quality Abrasives Made In Germany
Claus Meister, General Manager of Eisenwerk W
All abrasives out of one source
Granulation of melted iron for producing metal abrasives
View at Eisenwerk W
MFN had the opportunity to talk to Claus Meister, General Manager of Eisenwerk Würth GmbH, which is the oldest abrasive manufacturer of Germany.
(?) MFN: Eisenwerk Würth GmbH manufactures and distributes abrasive media. Please tell our readers more about your company, products and services.
(!) C. M.: We are the oldest abrasive manufacturer in Germany – alive and well for almost 100 years. Molten metal grains are still what we can produce best and what we like most, with abrasive applications being increasingly accompanied by many other fields of applications. The service modules we have built up for our production facility – a big warehouse, a truck fleet, quality labs, regional technical sales staff and an international distribution network – are now being used also for our trade goods. We would like to offer our customers a “one-stop shopping for all abrasive purposes”. We do not see ourselves as manufacturers of a commodity, but rather as a partner for our customer’s optimization of production workflows. This partnership includes services such as test blasting at our site, regular screening analyses to find the optimal operating mix and customer-specific grain mixes.
(?) MFN: How did your company get started?
(!) C. M.: Our company started at an existing production site in Bad Friedrichshall north of Heilbronn, Germany, which was taken over by our owner family. The first tests to granulate iron were made with an existing cupola furnace almost 100 years ago. To do this at a professional level, a lot of water was needed. This problem was solved by a royal decree of the king of Württemberg, allowing Würth to take out water from a canal leading to the royal salt mines. We still have this privilege, for a minimal charge. With a patent and Krupp as the first customer, the production of metal abrasives started in 1917, in the middle of World War I. So, in a couple of years, we will be Germany’s first producer of abrasives that is in continuous operation for one hundred years.
(?) MFN: What are your target markets and industries?
(!) C. M.: As provider of a full range of abrasives, the answer could be „everybody who needs abrasives”. This includes many industries from automotive to dental labs. We don’t sell one-way abrasives, however, and of course, we have a certain customer focus. For our metal products in Germany, this is foundries and metal construction. In the meantime, a lot of our production has found its way to other channels outside abrasives – you would not believe how many products contain metal balls!
(?) MFN: The abrasive media industry is changing. There have been a number of acquisitions by major players and it seems to be an extremely competitive field. How does Eisenwerk Würth adjust to this situation?
(!) C. M.: The speed of investments and divestments of globally operating competitors in our industry sometimes can frighten you. If growth by acquisition and “economies of scale” were the only route to success, perspectives for a small-scale family business like ours would be rather gloomy. However, many studies in many industries substantiate that more than fifty percent of all mergers and acquisitions are failures. Frequent changes in strategies, combined with a replacement of some or all key actors in the company, consume a lot of energy and reduce the competitive edge of the globals. We are “down-to-earth”, sometimes a bit slower, but very persistent. We are independent of the stock exchange and not harassed by impatient investors. So even if our short-term profitability may be a bit lower, our long term perspectives might even be better.
(?) MFN: Globalisation is an issue for almost all companies. It is significant how especially Chinese companies in the abrasive media industry have entered the European and North American market in the last 2-3 years. What is your strategy to compete with these companies?
(!) C. M.: Compared to the situation two years ago, the fear of the „Chinese dragon“ in our industry seems to have decreased somewhat. At least in the German market, Chinese producers have not gained considerable market share, neither in metal abrasives nor in our major trade goods segments. Some major trials with Chinese material have failed spectacularly – due to insufficient or unsteady quality or bad delivery service. Price is not everything, at least not in applications where abrasives have to generate a constant surface quality with a low level of tolerance. It is to be expected that the Chinese will produce better and more consistent quality over the years. On the other hand, I expect and hope that for the major cost factors for metal abrasives – raw material, energy and transportation – the gap between Europe and China will start to close, thus making the export of these products to Europe increasingly less attractive.
(?) MFN: Where would you say is the particular strength of Eisenwerk Würth?
(!) C. M.: We are a „family business“ – in more than one respect. With only two owners during a 95 year history, continuity has played a very big role in our company. Würth has many long-serving and very loyal employees – but has not forgotten a regular “blood transfusion” in key positions from outside. Every employee is a shareholder of the company – this is also one aspect of our “family business”. Due to the long experience and the typical mentality of our region – working thoroughly and doggedly to improve existing solutions – we have been able to generate a market-leading quality with acceptable costs selling from high-cost Germany. Having had only organic growth and no big investments which went wrong, we have a very solid financial background, so that even a longer slowdown in the economy would not substantially harm us.
(?) MFN: Where would you see your company 5 years from now?
(!) C. M.: Five years from now is a very important date for us – we will celebrate our 100th anniversary. Of course, we want to do this in good physical shape. I do not see anything spectacular for us until this point. We will not give up our principles – top-quality at a fair price. We will become a bit more international, a bit more efficient, probably a little bigger and a little more diversified to applications outside the blasting business.
We at MFN would like to thank Claus Meister for this interview.