JEC Group have brought together the international community of composites leaders and executives in our Composites Circle as an unique networking opportunity to meet with both peers and future partners.
Nancy Teufel, Director of Technical Sales & Marketing, Axel Plastics Research Laboratories, Inc. gives us her point of view on the evolution of the composite industry and the changes and adaptations it will impose on suppliers.
(Published on June-July 2005 – JEC Magazine #18)
BY NANCY TEUFEL, DIRECTOR OF TECHNICAL SALES & MARKETING, AXEL PLASTICS RESEARCH LABORATORIES, INC.
As a 64-year-old company, Axel has been a mould-release supplier to the composite industry since its birth. The changes that we have witnessed have been enormous. In its infancy, composite manufacturing applications were few and production demands were exceedingly low.
In those early days, our customers’ needs were satisfied with simple paste waxes provided by three or four companies like ours, and minimal technical support was required.
Today, the picture is much different. Composite processes have matured, and the industry’s sphere has extended into demanding high-volume manufacturing applications; this has driven a desire for higher-performance raw materials.
As a supplier supporting these more advanced materials, we are tasked with providing additional customer support.
Web-accessible documentation, e-mail and technical support phone lines, and instructive materials are part of the recipe for providing an immediate quality response in the global marketplace.
To serve today’s composite industry, suppliers like us must not only be knowledgeable about our own products, but also take an active interest in the businesses of our end customers. Our customers are looking for strategic partners who can help them to better their competition. One of the ways that we help our customers achieve this objective is with our strong commitment to research and development.
Our in-house laboratory permits us to quickly develop new products to meet customers’ specific requirements.
Another way that we serve customers is by visiting their facilities to audit their processes and help develop and review training procedures. This can be instrumental in reducing waste and inefficiency and enhancing productivity.
With the growth of the composite industry, we have also seen the proliferation of suppliers, ranging from manufacturers of raw materials (like us) to those who re-package or re-brand products and to distributors, both large and small. As a raw-material manufacturer and supplier, we serve a worldwide customer base. We have the capacity to meet most any global requirement for internal or external mould-release products, but it would be inefficient and cost prohibitive for us to do so solely with direct agents. We support our efforts with distributor networks and manufacturer’s representatives. Distributors are our largest customers.
Composite distribution has changed considerably in the last decade, particularly in the U.S., with many regional distribution groups being consolidated into larger organizations that provide national or global service. In theory at least, this should offer the customer the same value that “big box” stores like Wal-Mart provide customers within retail markets: low prices, a diversity of products under one roof, and availability in your neighbourhood. On the downside, distribution giants in the composite industry like the counterpoint retail colossus are driven by volume sales rather than by sales of specialty items. Therefore, it is only natural for distributors to marshal their energies in support of their largestvolume material sales and devote less time to accessory products like mould release.
Educating and supporting distributors
One need only look at a product binder from one of the major composite distributors to grasp the enormity of the task of selling and supporting all of these many materials. For suppliers to distribution, simplified product lines and volume pricing are important, but not sufficient to secure customer satisfaction. To be successful, a manufacturing supplier like Axel needs to take an active role in educating and supporting their distributor partners. A well-implemented sales and marketing plan relies on distributor and rep training programs as the cornerstone of sales. While our company has an abundant product offering, our goal with distribution is to educate on a streamlined product line that is targeted to broad categories of customer need. This prepares distributor sales people to quickly and effectively respond to customers, and derive maximum profits for their efforts.
As for us, the manufacturing supplier, we are freed from extensive customer support, stepping in only when special requirements arise. In this role, we help distribution do what they do best – support customers locally, while we remain a service resource and partner for our distributors.
Part of the growth and acceptance of composite manufactured goods has come with the industry’s ability to prove the reliability of composite materials. This validation has moved the industry beyond the “craft” of low-production handlaid parts to the exacting manufacture of highest-quality components. Today’s high-quality standards in composite manufacturing are a reflection of the development of strong process controls within the industry, including control of raw materials. To be successful in a global economy, our customers need to be able to document and reproduce results. As a supplier, we can ensure our customers of satisfaction because we operate our business in compliance with the regulatory guidelines of ISO 9001.
We have seen the composite industry grow and prosper. As a supplier, we believe that high-quality standards and a commitment to innovation and continuous improvement are critical to the success of our business and to the composite industry as a whole.