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President, Rosler Metal Finishing USA
Harold Wagenknecht took over Rosler Metal Finishing USA two years ago and has orchestrated the very successful expansion of its Battle Creek, Mich., campus, including opening a new $6 million addition at the 300,000-sq-ft facility last year. We caught up with Harold recently to talk about the finishing industry.
How would you characterize the climate of the surface finishing industry in the United States and the state of U.S. manufacturing in general?
HW: All aspects of the surface finishing industry—both vibratory and blast finishing as well as water treatment—are growing right now. While some uncertainty remains and we continue to recover from very tough markets in 2008-2009, there are a number of growing markets with pent-up demand. These customers increasingly are requesting premium finishes. In today’s global business climate, there are opportunities for companies who want to reevaluate and recommit to manufacturing in the U.S. while building up their international presence. The expansion at our facility was designed to keep pace with our customers and make us well-prepared for the future.
What challenges do your customers face in today’s competitive market, and how is Rosler addressing them?
HW: Like many in today’s economy, our customers continue to feel the pressure of reducing costs and increasing efficiency. To keep up with customers’ demands, existing systems must be evaluated and updated to get “the most bang-for-the-buck.” Doing so means taking advantage of all available expertise, including outside consulting, especially when faced with new or advanced materials. Rosler has that critical expertise; we look at the same problem from different angles and provide the customer with options for the best cost-per-piece and the ideal long-term solution.
That seems to indicate a real commitment to R&D?
HW: Research and development is critical for any company, not only to stay competitive, but to stay relevant in the market. Surface finishing processes are always evolving, and through our tests we are always learning and reapplying that knowledge. As a result, there is a rewarding reciprocal relationship. As finishes and materials change, customers and end-users expect more, and we must continue to improve and produce better solutions.
You mentioned the need to increase efficiency. Are there added factors beyond producing an end-product?
HW: Yes, and it goes back to the total process solution and system approach. We are able to offer our customers both vibratory and blasting equipment, as well as over 5,000 types of media and water-treatment solutions. Once we have achieved the best end-result in our test and demonstration lab, the key is automating the process to produce a consistent and repeatable result. In addition, there are significant efficiency gains to be made by integrating that solution into the overall manufacturing process.
For a number of years it seemed that everything was becoming a commodity, where highly technical products were being bought and sold online from increasingly more providers. Are we seeing a backlash of sorts and a reconsideration of the meaning of “value?”
HW: Absolutely. I personally came from the compressor industry, and we witnessed this first-hand, as well. Many years ago, we promoted the concept of “cost equals price divided by value.” It rang just as true then as it does today. We see that those who chose true value in the long term over short-term gains and combined it with innovation and hands-on technical expertise have been the most successful in the last 20 years. We also have seen that those who don’t invest now get caught in an “achievement gap” that is very hard to bridge in the future because their competitors are so far ahead. As a personal philosophy, I have always “valued” a better way in any industry. It is our obligation to offer customers the best solution by not only meeting their short-term needs, but by using our expertise to give them long-term value.
What’s the number one thing your business does to bring value to your customers?
HW: It’s our whole process approach, addressing all aspects of our customers’ needs—not just the right equipment, media and compounds, but the integration of the solution into their overall process. Because we offer both vibratory and blast technologies, as well as media production, we are better suited to meet any surface finishing challenge. When you add in our commitment to automation and consider our technology partnerships, the end result is unmatched in providing expertise.