In an increasingly competitive market, it is essential to differentiate your product in some way.
Pricing is an obvious route; quality of product also, though this is perhaps more difficult to put across if price is a barrier.
Another way to stand out from the competition is to offer additional services and become a complete package supplier. We have seen this approach used very effectively by the suppliers of complete panel production line packages from woodyard to finishing line.
Steinemann Technology AG, of St Gallen in Switzerland, has an extensive reference list of complete wide-belt sanding lines supplied to panel mills over the last 45 years and its name is a household word throughout the global panel industry.
So how could it offer something additional to its customers?
The answer which the management at St Gallen came up with was a concept called ‘Total Process’, launched on August 20 this year. Its stated objectives are panel quality, availability and cost efficiency.
“We wanted to offer our customers complete optimisation of the whole sanding process – not just the sander or the abrasive, but looking at it as one complete system. This is a unique approach,says Robert Fehr, manager of marketing and sales administration at Steinemann.
As a result, Total Process offers the customer the sander, service, spare parts and now, in a new departure for the company, the abrasive belts – all from one source.
Having considered a number of potential partners for this venture, Steinemann formed a strategic partnership with abrasive manufacturer and supplier Hermes Abrasives of Hamburg, Germany.
Hermes is now producing wide and segmented belts of 1.3m to 3.2m wide exclusively for Steinemann. As part of the partnership, Hermes will withdraw from that particular market.
The abrasives are marketed under the brand name ‘Steinemann by Hermes Abrasives’.
Kim W Marke recently joined Steinemann as abrasive manager to move the process forward.
“Nobody until now has been able to bring all the parts of the process together so that customers can get everything from one source rather than from several suppliers,he says. “In the past there was a tendency to push the problem from sander manufacturer to belt maker and vice versa, making it the customer’s problem.
“The goal is not to make sanding belts cheaper, for example, but to give the greatest efficiency to the customer – that is where he saves costs: process costs.”
Mr Marke points out that the cost of sanding represents about one or two percent of the cost of a panel, so reducing the cost of the belts themselves has a very limited effect.
“There are far greater savings available in increased efficiency than belt costs, for example,he says.
The machines themselves are, of course, at the heart of the Steinemann business, but around these are the processes, service, spare parts and, now, the abrasives.
One of the most critical factors in producing a smooth sanded surface is the elimination of vibration in the sanding machine and Steinemann uses V-belt drives and rubber couplings to eliminate sources of vibration. It also has a vibration detection system that can detect and locate any source of vibration and every head is checked at 10 different locations before any sander leaves the factory.
The process is repeated on installation of the machine and again over the years to detect any wear in bearings, drums, or other parts, which might cause vibration. This can be done remotely using sensors, supplied by Steinemann to the customer, which locate in special positions on the sander.
“Under ‘processes’ we are looking at optimisation of the whole process, not just the sander. This makes us unique on the market,says Mr Fehr.
“For instance, it is fine to know that you need calibration heads to remove around 80 to 85% of the surface and fine sanding heads or platens to remove the balance, but the machine must be set up optimally to achieve this. The configuration of the sander must be designed and built to meet the requirements for surface quality and speed – different companies have different needs. That configuration involves speed, grit size and a number of other factors.”
Mr Marke continues: “We regularly collect data from customers to help them obtain optimum sanding conditions and identify where their costs are. It may be a matter of identifying bottle-necks in the factory – for example in board handling.”
The service package involves installation, commissioning, trouble-shooting and maintenance.
“We also offer remote control servicing by which we can look into the control panel of a customer’s machine via the internet. There is also a service hotline, and pro-active service maintenance contracts are available.”
The manufacture of wide belt sanders is all carried out in St Gallen.
Steinemann does have sales and service subsidiaries in Curitiba in Brazil, Charlotte in North Carolina in the US, Beijing in China, Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia and another in Australia.
The company maintains a spare parts store in Charlotte, but mainly, spares are delivered from St Gallen, within 48 hours – less if required.
Agents are located in around 40 countries.
Steinemann launched its OSIPARTS – Online Steinemann Internet Parts – service a couple of years ago, by which customers can log in and get drawings of their particular machine, via a secure password, and identify and order parts online, if they wish. Otherwise, normal telephone and email services are, of course, also available.
For the abrasives the company can send the belts, and a specialist to install them, to support the customer, rather than just sending the belt and leaving the rest to the customer.
There are two belt types: polyesterbacked and paper-backed.
The new polyester-backed belts were recently developed jointly by Hermes and Steinemann.
“These are not stitch-bonded but woven,explains Mr Marke. “Stitchbonded belts are OK for rough grits but not for fine and Hermes is the only manufacturer that can treat the backing specially for the purpose, in-house.”
Both paper- and polyester- backed belts are surfaced with silicon carbide grits.
“Hermes only offered stitch-bonded belts before,says Mr Fehr. “We have not simply taken on Hermes’ range of belts, but are offering a new range, developed with them.”
Summarising the ‘positioning arguments’ of Steinemann in setting up Total Process, Mr Fehr points to “more security, more reliability, optimised support, a faster and more professional service and one contact – one responsible partner – for sander and abrasives.
In December 2002, Steinemann moved into newly-built factory and office accommodation adjacent to its original factory. This brought the manufacturing process, previously carried out in several halls, under one roof and the administration into modern, light offices.
“Customer service, design and sales are now all in close contact in the offices, giving direct feedback on any problems experienced by customers to the design department, for example,says Mr Fehr.
Apart from the manufacturing and fine balancing of the machines, the factory also has a laboratory in which Mr Marke’s team can test abrasive belts with the rollers and platens, and customers can have demonstrations of sanding to their own particular requirements.
The Arctech coating of steel transport rollers for grip and wear resistance has just been brought in-house for the first time, with the purchase of a new coating system.
Sales of Steinemann’s wide belt sanders literally span the globe, with 200 heads installed in North America, 165 in South America, 1,200 in Europe, 90 in South Africa and 960 in South East Asia to date.
The Satos sander, with its unique mineral-cast frame, was launched in July 2000 and, so far, 280 heads have been sold worldwide. It is available in widths of 2200mm, 2800mm and 3200mm.
Summing up the philosophy of Steinemann, Mr Fehr says: “A sander sale is not just the sale of our top quality machine, but we offer the ‘total process’.