VOL. 11 November ISSUE YEAR 2010
in Vol. 11 - November Issue - Year 2010
Blasting Sector Showing Signs of Recovery
Clemco President, Arnie Sallaberry, adjacent to an engineered automated system for cleaning pipes
Optional glove box added to blast room wall enhances flexibility and user-friendliness of blast room investment
ZERO 7 cubic foot tumble belt cabinet features options, such as
Arnie Sallaberry, President of Clemco, is a very intriguing personality in our industry. MFN has already had several interviews with him and is glad for this additional chance to learn more about his ideas and visions.
(?) MFN: It’s been about a year since we last spoke. World economies are still fragile. How is Clemco handling these uncertain times?
(!) A. S.: Well, as you know, 2009 was a difficult year for a lot of industrial companies including Clemco. The slowdown began for us in late 2008 but we were fortunate to have a strong backlog which carried us well into last year. And now I’m pleased to report positive signs indicating that our business is experiencing a turnaround. After a slow start to 2010, we now have the largest order backlog in our history.
Without question, it’s been quite a roller coaster ride over the last two years and it’s a credit to our people, who have adapted and ridden it out with us that we are emerging in such a great position to take advantage of this recent surge in activity. Throughout the difficulties of the last eighteen months, we have stayed true to Clemco’s basic philosophy of customer-focus and quality, while, at the same time, making sure that every activity we engage in brings value to our distributors and end-users. Our people have never wavered or strayed from that focus. I’m very proud of them all. The commitment to our quality and productivity initiatives during the tough times is yielding benefits now.
(?) MFN: You mention a dramatic increase in your backlog over a very short period. To what do you attribute this sudden rebound?
(!) A. S.: It seems the massive inventory reduction that occurred during the 2009 downturn caught many companies short when demand picked up again in the first half of this year. At the same time, it seems, these same companies have been strengthening their balance sheets and conserving cash. So I believe that the combination of these two factors plus the policy and economic uncertainties facing business in the short to medium term are making our customers more willing to invest in productivity-enhancing equipment. Our engineered, state of the art blasting systems and automated equipment help companies increase throughput instead of hiring new people. So, I suppose you could say we are seeing first hand proof of the jobless recovery that economists have predicted.
The interest in automated parts handling and nozzle manipulation equipment, including robotics, is extremely high at the moment, serving as further evidence, anecdotal though it may be, that companies are willing to invest in technology to meet demand rather than by adding to headcount. Automation is also being valued more highly by our customer base as the requirement for quality and repeatability increases, along with the need for improved uptime and higher first pass yields. It’s unfortunately true that machines don’t need breaks, vacations, medical insurance, or annual raises.
(?) MFN: Do you perceive any other trends or factors that might be influencing the current business climate?
(!) A. S.: More and more of our customers are embracing lean manufacturing which can be generally described as the systematic elimination of waste in the production process, as "safety stock" inventory and batch manufacturing is eliminated in favor of producing goods closer to customer demand instead of to a sales forecast. The ideal end-result, rarely achieved, is what’s called "one-piece flow" which basically means a part is produced and shipped only when it is ordered.
This production system ideally reduces the amount of travel a product or component experiences during the production process. Travel is one common form of waste usually identified in manufacturing environments. This practice has spawned the organization of manufacturing cells which produce a part, or family of parts, in a relatively small space in which the component travels very short distances from one manufacturing step to the next. One of the common steps in that process is finishing and Clemco products, hand cabinets usually equipped with one or more of our extensive array of options, fit very well into this kind of environment. Often, in higher production environments, our automated blasting systems also satisfy the demands of cell manufacturing, especially if operators are required to flex, as they often are, from one task to another within the cell.
(?) MFN: Can you expand upon Clemco’s fit in the cell manufacturing environment? Specifically what Clemco products are well suited to a lean or work cell manufacturing environment?
(!) A. S.: There actually are quite a few. For starters, the Options Plus program in our ZERO product line offers an array of enhancements to standard hand cabinets. These enhancements include small, door-mounted tumble units, adjustable gun mounts, rotating nozzles or vertical and horizontal oscillators; work cars with powered or manual part rollers or turntables. And our A-250 single-satellite part rotation kit has been a staple in the ZERO product line for years. It makes simple semi-automation accessible to small shops at a very economical price. Even our A-300 door-mounted multi-station automation kit easily converts our standard BNP 220 hand cabinet into an indexing turntable machine. Because floor space is sometimes an issue in a work cell, vertical lift doors reduce the door clearance required beside a machine. And, in close environments, especially in medical component manufacturing, housekeeping issues may require the addition of our standard HEPA option and/or time-delay door interlocks to limit dust egress. To further accommodate limited space environments, we have built numerous cabinets with additional operator stations so customers can achieve higher productivity with a single piece of equipment.
Another product that has gained wide acceptance, when the requirement is for processing short run batches of small parts, is our small stand-alone tumble cabinet, the DCM-161. This unit is offered at a very attractive price point and requires minimal floor space, making it highly desirable in a work cell. In fact, we are seeing a surge of interest across the range of our tumbling cabinet line, including our barrel and belt units, which are ideal for larger parts or larger batches. Beyond what’s standard, we have designed a number of automated solutions for work cells to suit customers’ specific requirements.
(?) MFN: With customer needs changing to react to new influences and pressures, how do you ensure you determine the best solution to a customer’s specific surface conditioning requirements?
(!) A. S.: Well, as always, the key is to listen to the customer; really listen, and ask the right questions. Just as important is to commit the questions and responses to paper for ongoing reference. We find that while paperwork is considered a detestable task, it is critical. We emphasize this process internally as well as with our distributors, and follow a systematic approach for any engineered project or system. The format we use brings together our design and our customer’s requirements. We work through the process together to refine the customer’s needs not only with respect to production rates, desired finish, media type, compressed air availability and myriad other variables and specifications to home in on his/her desired outcomes, but also in consideration of any environmental concerns and requirements our customer faces.
For example, let’s say that the application dictates the need for a walk-in blast chamber with an in-floor recovery system. The customer’s desired finish will determine the appropriate abrasive; or perhaps the customer already knows which abrasive is best suited to the job. There are various recovery system types engineered to handle specific media or abrasive characteristics. Many equipment suppliers try to shoehorn their recovery solution to fit any abrasive or production requirement. Clemco offers several types of well-established and proven media recovery technologies; so we can offer the right solution for the customer’s application, whether it’s a screw, conveyor belt, pneumatic, blade recovery or even vacuum and sometimes a combination of these technologies. Additionally, the customer’s part size, production requirements, budget and other factors will lead us to the correct answer regarding recovery configuration and size; i.e., whether a full or partial abrasive recovery is most appropriate. In recent years, customers have responded very favorably to our collaborative approach to their surface finishing problems and to our ability to adapt an appropriate engineered solution to their specific surface requirement. We can credit that ability to our far-reaching resources, both in the USA and in Europe and Asia.
(?) MFN: Speaking of your international operations, how have they fared during the global economic difficulties of the last two years?
(!) A. S.: Our international operations suffered through a rough period during the global downturn in 2008-2009 just as we experienced in the USA, Canada, and Latin America. But Clemco International has always been run as a very lean operation with low overheads and a relatively flat management hierarchy. This structure has allowed them to weather the storms fairly well. Additionally, the mutual cooperation between the U.S. and international operations, such as shared production, common vendor sourcing, and cross-pollination of our independent product development efforts continues to be a strength that helps sustain all the companies in the group during downturns in economic cycles, and helps propel us into the future.
Now in recent months, just as in the USA, our overseas operations are experiencing a significant improvement in business levels, led by the Far East and Middle East markets. Some European sectors, such as Germany and others are also seeing a resurgence in economic activity and capital spending.
(?) MFN: So what do you believe the future holds for Clemco and for the industry in general?
(!) A. S.: While the immediate future looks very good, considering current backlogs and general order activity, we are positioning ourselves for an extended period of increased volatility in our markets. Our industry will continue to be subject to economic cycles and those cycles could become more frequent. Whether or not we call it a double-dip, a much overworked phrase these days, companies have become more adept at maneuvering through slowdowns in their businesses and they seem to have improved their abilities to react almost immediately to changes in demand. I am optimistic we will do the same.
Speaking locally now, one area of possible economic strength going forward could be provided by our country’s crumbling infrastructure. While this subject has received much lip service in recent years, there has been little action in terms of government policy to address the problem. Studies by the U.S. Government have indicated that corrosion is a US$300 billion annual problem in the U.S. alone. Corrosion is a huge factor in the country’s infrastructure problems. Highways, bridges, and overpasses grab the headlines; but the corrosion issue extends to utilities, the country’s transportation fleet, and the production and manufacturing sectors as well as defense.
While it may be true that the blasting industry’s portion of the corrosion problem is relatively tiny, our customers could be presented with some significant opportunities if these problems are addressed in a serious way.
(?) MFN: Any final thoughts?
(!) A. S.: All in all, I feel optimistic about the future of Clemco and the industry. Our network of company operations and distributor partners is well-positioned and on course to find and develop new opportunities and to continue pursuing our goals. We remain committed to applying our experience to creative and innovative solutions to our customers’ changing needs.
We would like to thank Arnie Sallaberry for this interview!