For quite some time now, foundries no longer require their suppliers of choice to provide them with only products and materials their foundry processes; today they need a genuine partner on their side whom they can consult on all issues. In other words, the dedicated product supplier of old must evolve into a process consultant and advisor – ideally, equipped with a customer-tailored concept. The manufacture of complex casting concepts, however, requires accomplished foundry expertise, the necessary technical equipment, extensive experience, and a high degree of interdisciplinary competence. The editors were interested in learning how suppliers face this challenge and spoke with Jörg Brotzki, a member of senior leadership for ASK Chemicals, a manufacturer of foundry chemicals and auxiliaries.
Interview with Jörg Brotzki, Executive Vice President Europe
(1) Editors: Foundries today are no longer purchasing products only, rather much more process and product solutions. What is ASK Chemicals doing to meet these requirements?
Brotzki: Today’s foundry market is being molded by a diverse range of influencing factors. The most significant of these is the spreading globalization, which on one hand offer foundries some interesting opportunities in new markets, on the other hand, however, also raises the pressure of competition and costs. Concurrently, development cycles are becoming shorter, whereas the demands placed on the applied technologies are continuing to grow. We should also not forget the environmental aspect, which is particularly relevant here in Europe. These are the circumstances under which foundries must meet the challenge of maintaining their market success based on the strength of their products’ outstanding complexity and quality.
If a foundry opts for this strategy of differentiation, then speed, innovation, and leadership in technology are the critical factors for success. This in turn means that the foundries must demand more from their suppliers. If you want to stand out from the competition by offering the best quality and state-of-the-art solutions, you will not only have to gear your choice of suppliers based on price factors, but also have to weigh a large number of variables against each other.
Our customers demand solutions that return measurable added value. In doing so, they consider the entire process, from the concept to the prototyping to the use of raw materials in series production through to the finishing costs. This is precisely the approach that we pursue at ASK Chemicals. Our experts from R&D, product management, applications engineering, and technical sales keep a watchful eye on the entire process chain and work as an interdisciplinary team. Both our research foundries in Germany and the USA, as well as our simulation services are of special significance here. Only in this manner can we ultimately put our concepts to the test and validate them before the customer embarks on series production and invests in tools. Moreover, the experience we have gained over many years in our business has long taught us that our sector cannot offer any “one fits all” solution. The constant demand is for solutions tailored to the customers’ needs.
(2) Editors: You speak of “solution-selling”. How do sales and applications engineering respond to this subject?
Brotzki: First of all, solution-selling means understanding the actual motivation behind my customers. What are their specific needs? What do they need to increase their business success? A further key aspect is the question which latent trends will make themselves apparent in the concrete needs of our customers. This may sound abstract, but is ultimately what the customer wants: A supplier that can provide a solution to a challenge the moment it appears. One example of this is the early commitment of ASK Chemicals ten years ago to the field of simulated core shooting. At that time, the potential for foundries compelled us in both Germany and the USA to familiarize ourselves with modern simulation technologies. Today, as a partner for foundries, we can utilize this know-how to simulate important foundry processes such as core shooting and solidification and, in this manner, afford a key contribution to the challenges mentioned earlier.
Speaking of partners, the ASK Chemicals Sales and Technical Services departments are partners to our customers, but have at the same time their finger on the pulse of the market. Their knowledge of the market and their feedback provide us with a basis for the development of new concepts and product solutions. In the end, this too gives rise to a solution for the customer’s benefit, a solution coupled with products and services, but by way of a different means. In a nutshell, we increase our success by evaluating requirements as seen by our customers. As a provider of specific solutions, we then deliver the required package consisting of a product and a service. In doing so, we assign a central role to our pilot foundries, for this is where we can reconstruct the tasks and challenges which keep our customers busy. Not until we have perfected our solution to the problem do we integrate this in the customer’s production process on-site. The customer benefits by receiving a fast and reliable result without losing time through complex trial and error at his own plant.
(3) Editors: Can you name an example of a successful project that bears the clear marks of this solution-selling approach?
Brotzki: One good example here is BMW group, which had commissioned a completely inorganic engine production plant in China. ASK Chemicals accompanied the Bavarian engine manufacturer to China and there actively supported setting up the core molding plant with state-of-the-art inorganic technology – transferred on a one-to-one basis from Germany. The applications engineers at ASK Chemicals provided key support throughout the entire process from planning through to the choice of sand and are still active on an advisory basis. Of course, we are actively supervising similar projects for other leading OEMs and international foundry groups as well.
(4) Editors: Does ASK Chemicals see itself in this strategic position as more of a quality leader than a cost leader?
Brotzki: ASK Chemicals sees itself quite clearly as a quality leader. We run our own research and development centers and manufacture products on-site at our own locations. When developing solutions, we focus on the optimization potential for our customers. What I have in mind here, for example, is the reduction of reject rates, greater efficiency in the use of materials, lower finishing costs, and equally low cleaning costs for tools – overall a diverse range of enhancements to productivity. Of course, a solution is always a particularly successful one when it ultimately offers our customers added monetary value. Naturally, our employees play an extremely important role in achieving this - top-quality solutions are first made possible by excellent workers. At ASK Chemicals, we are very proud to have a team of verified, highly-experienced experts in all foundry segments, but in particular who serve as an interface at the customer level.
(5) Editors: How important is your international alignment in this strategy?
Brotzki: Many of our customers operate in the international arena. They run production facilities across the world and, accordingly, place great value on partners that provide global support with a team of application engineers, and additionally boast a global product portfolio. This is exactly what ASK Chemicals offers. Yet, at the same time, we also take the local circumstances into consideration – for instance, sands, climate, technical equipment, cultural mindsets, etc. Supported by its applications engineering laboratories active across the globe, ASK Chemicals is the perfect channel for this transfer, providing solutions tailored perfectly to the particularities of each country. This, also applies to customers with international sales, who do not have their own production on-site. We are equally dedicated to these customers, for we have recognized that sharing experiences and international expertise has become more important than ever in today’s highly competitive casting industry.