The Swing in the Automotive Industry Requires New Thinking and A Wider Choice of Technologies

DISA, Wheelabrator, Italpresse Gauss, and StrikoWestofen are under the umbrella of the Norican Group. This is a clear acknowledgment for the foundry industry and the variety of materials and processes. How do you view the development in sand mould and light metal cast in the next 10 years?

The automotive industry is the significant driver for key developments in sand molding and light metal diecasting. Within this industry, vehicle “light-weighting” is the dominant trend today to reduce CO2 emissions and create greater fuel efficiency.

As a direct result of light-weighting, we expect that our customers will increase aluminum content within each car.
Based on reports produced by the automotive industry itself, we would expect to see a 7-8% growth in the use of aluminum per car produced overall. According to Ducker Worldwide, aluminum will account for 19% of the material mix of a car by 2025.

Our addition of aluminum parts formation technologies (melting, holding and dosing furnaces and high pressure, gravity and low pressure diecasting technologies) is a direct result of this swing. It is a way to provide our customers with a wider choice of technologies to serve their end customers’ requirements.

In addition to light-weighting, we are seeing other structural trends in our customers’ markets:
Ongoing consolidation of small foundries. We continue to see a shift from manual gray iron operations to high-pressure, automated molding lines. We introduced the new DISA C3 automated vertical molding lines last year specifically to help smaller foundries make this technology transition.

Larger global companies demanding increased local presence. Our customers continue to demand higher level of service support for their facilities. In response to this requirement, suppliers (ourselves included) need to rethink how they prioritize their investments. Our approach, which has been further enhanced by the addition of the well-recognized and respected technology products of Italpresse Gauss and StrikoWestofen, has always been to deliver the aftermarket parts and service regionally. By adding more technology to the existing regional structure, we can provide assurances to our customers that no matter which technology platform they choose to use, we will always be there to support their choice, no matter where they operate.

A need for continuous innovation: To ensure their own sustainability, our customers must continually bring new innovations to the market. They must constantly seek out innovative ways in which to reduce their costs per produced part while increasing production speeds. This requires business partners with both broad and deep technical experience. Suppliers who can help a customer (regardless of the metal being used) continuously improve their operation, while supplying world-class local support will be much sought after. It is with this in mind that the Norican Group has evolved the way it has.

Urbanization and global labour shortage: Our customers, whether they use green sand molding or aluminum diecasting technologies, are facing an unparalleled labour force challenge. The rise of the global information age has fundamentally changed the way the upcoming labor force views employment opportunities. Working in basic production environments is not at the top of the younger generations’ wish list for employment. Furthermore, there is a clear and undeniable trend towards urbanization that stands in sharp contrast to the predominately rural coordinates of the world’s manufacturing locations. The shift from manual to automated production helps here, as does the development of knowledge-based solutions to augment the mechanical operations of the installed equipment. We can support our customers by making the traditional parts formation industries more “tech savvy,” more intelligent to appeal to the younger generation of workers.

Emerging industry structural changes: Cutting across all our customers’ industries are the emerging opportunities arising from the increasing use of information to increase existing manufacturing productivity (“Industry 4.0”), and the increasingly viable 3-D metal printing technology.

The new brand portfolio makes Norican the largest supplier of foundry machinery worldwide. To what extent will Norican retain their traditionally strong brand and cultural characteristics in the future?

Norican has always and will continue to focus its technical innovation on the customers’ requirements. Our brands are the means with which we communicate this innovation to very specific customer segments. Therefore, it is not about us and our brands – it is about the customer. We want to provide our customers with a great customer experience, no matter who they are interacting with within our Group. We believe that doing this will make it easier for the customer to do business with us.

What our customers value from us is our ability to provide quality, reliable products, our ability to support their operations locally in a manner that improves their profitability. This is not complicated. Optimizing this simple equation, though, is at the heart of everything we do.

What does that mean for our customers? In Norican, they are getting a global industry view. The breadth and depth of our combined technical offering, combined with our deep knowledge of local operating conditions, allows us to provide unique operational insight for all our customers, regardless of the industries they are in. We aim to be a valued partner for our customers as they seek to upgrade their existing technologies, move into new technologies or establish footholds in geographic markets that they have not previously served.
In terms of cultural differences, how central will communication be on various issues, target groups and markets? And how will customers benefit?

As a global company, Norican uses a two-pronged approach for “making our value visible” to our customers.

First, we listen to the needs of our customers. Our strategic regions provide a consistent “voice of the customer” (VOC) framework for this. This VOC defines our internal operating requirements for everything we do (innovation, customer service, order fulfilment, etc.). At the same time, our global product groups (parts formation, parts preparation, parts finishing) are developing technical responses to the innovation requirements, as well thinking about “over the horizon” issues which may affect our customers (like 3D printing, Industry 4.0).

The global product groups drive the growth in the technology we offer and are responsible for industry-focused brand messaging (features and benefits, specifications, etc.). Our strategic regions control the regional application of that message (to accommodate local customers and language nuances) to provide the local marketplace with an overview of all that Norican has to offer.

In the age of foundry 4.0, research and development is even more important. With the strengths of the group, how will your brands benefit from this?

It is not the brands that are looking for benefit per se, but the customer. As a company, we need to stay ahead of their requirements in this regard. We need to lead the field and be the foundry expert our customers demand. It is the only way we will help our customers remain sustainable.

As mentioned earlier, there are two emerging opportunities within our customers’ industries: Industry 4.0 and 3D metal printing.

For us to serve our customers better, we need to be aware of these emerging technologies and take a view of the best way to support our customers into the future.

Overall, Foundry 4.0 or Industry 4.0 efforts are a huge opportunity for our customers. Being able to dramatically increase their throughput using less time and at a lower cost will appeal to everyone. Norican is in a unique position to provide a solution for this due to the nature of our end-to-end technical process view at a customer site.

We have team members currently working on various aspects of a comprehensive offer that will allow a customer to connect disparate unit operations seamlessly with each other. Furthermore, we are looking into digital tools that will increase our customers’ profitability through the use of artificial intelligence, predictive and preventative maintenance analytics, product throughput statistics, energy optimization, and so on.

Industry 4.0 solutions will provide our customers with a potential answer to the changing labor force demographics. For example, we already offer remote monitoring services to iron foundry customers. This helps them augment already stretched employees with real-time application support. We see this as just the first step in a broader industry solution.

Finally, we envision a world where our AI solutions will learn and continue to learn from a wide array of operating events, and different sequences of events, to drive predictive actions – like changing parts, or adapting programmes to avoid breakages and downtime. We feel that this will also drive innovation for ourselves and our customers as it helps identify key improvement opportunities. It is this ability to provide unique insight that will become the predominant determining factor when choosing a partner in the future. And we are planning for this today.
The benefits of a standardized Industry 4.0 solution for our customers is enormous. Even small improvements of 1% increased throughput can make the difference between staying in business or being pushed aside by the flow of technology. The world of Industry 4.0 is rapidly growing around us, and we must maintain the pace to ensure our customers’ success.

Up until now, the extent of the Norican family hasn’t been readily recognizable or openly advertised at trade fairs and events. When is the group expected to become involved in the combined corporate identity and when is reform at the management level expected to take place?

We have never really pushed the Norican name – our customers have historically recognized us through our heritage technology brands. But now with so many brands under one roof we need to rethink this approach.

Our focus has to be on the customer, and what he/she needs, as Norican, we have a wide range of technologies and solutions to choose from – to provide that “complete foundry” support. A key part of the value proposition we provide to our customers is our local sales & service organization.

We clearly cannot have a local sales & service organization operating under four different brand names (not to mention any additional names we may pick up through future acquisitions). We therefore concluded that we actually need to “brand” the local sales & service organisations separately from the technology brands to communicate the essence of this unique and local value proposition. The “Norican Group” brand, therefore, is being introduced and positioned as a portfolio of world-class technologies being delivered and supported locally.

At the same time, we will continue to promote technology portfolio brands, while linking them to the overall Norican family. Our branded technologies (DISA, Italpresse Gauss, StrikoWestofen and Wheelabrator) are the anchor for our business. We will continue to invest in their message of innovation while we build up our customers’ perception of the value we are delivering through our local sales and service offices.

As importantly, we will explicitly link them together with a new tagline of “A Norican Technology.” This ties all our technologies to our sales and service regions with a simply understood message for the customer.

In short, we will be more visible as Norican Group in the future. You will begin to see us roll out our new branding approach later this summer at various tradeshows throughout the world, with a goal of having our combined branding in place across all communication platforms (website, tradeshows, email addresses, signage, stationery letterhead, etc.) by the end of the year.

This is an exciting year for us and our customers as we increase both the breadth and depth of our technology offer while strengthening our local product support capability.