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Laser & Waterjet Profiling
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Like the majority of cutting tool suppliers competing in the marketplace, WNT enjoyed record levels of sales in 2011 and there’s no sign of things drying up in 2012. What’s different about this particular company however is the fact that it keeps its customers happy without carrying localised stock or using distribution networks. Dave Tudor visited the company’s headquarters in Kempten, Germany.
2012 is a landmark year for WNT as it marks 25 years since Arnold Wendt started the business in 1987. WNT is part of the Ceratizit Group which provides manufacturing solutions for wear part products and cutting tools.
Ceratizit, in turn, is part of the Plansee Holding Group which comprises two other members: GTP (Global Tungsten & Powders), a leading supplier of powders, semi-finished products and components manufactured from tungsten, molybdenum and phosphor; and Plansee High Performance Materials, a manufacturer of refractory metal and composite material products.
Collectively, it’s a very successful group of companies: the Plansee Group, Ceratizit and WNT have turnovers of circa €1.5 billion, €700 million and €160 million respectively.
Spot the difference
Throughout its 25 year history, WNT has developed a somewhat unique approach to the sales, support and marketing of precision cutting tools to the metalcutting sector. I use the word unique carefully, but what’s different about WNT – and this includes WNT UK – is that it carries no local stock and uses no distribution network. Everything is supplied directly from Kempten.
But despite the obvious logistical challenges, any order placed before 6.30pm will be delivered next day – via DHL Express or UPS Express and usually before midday – guaranteed! Equally impressive is the fact that there is 99% availability on all catalogue items. Orders over £50 in value and up to 40kg in weight qualify for free delivery.
With business spread across Europe, WNT is a major global tooling supplier of milling, turning, threading, parting, grooving, workholding and drilling products and with further expansion plans in the pipeline, the company continues to grow and develop. Currently, WNT has 14 European subsidiaries – the most recent being in Sweden which opened for business earlier this month. Later this year, the net will be cast even wider with the 15th subsidiary destined for India.
For the last financial year, the WNT business unit as a whole reported record sales of over €160 million (£130 million) with WNT (UK) contributing some £18 million to that total.
Keeping with tradition
Although business life is now firmly entrenched in the digital age, many of WNT’s customers still prefer to peruse its vast product range via a paper catalogue so this weighty tome still plays a vital role in WNT’s marketing portfolio. To be honest, the word ‘weighty’ doesn’t do the catalogue justice – it contains 2,000 pages, 45,000 items, is printed in 13 different languages and 60,000 copies are mailed out to WNT’s customers every year. “Many clients like to digest information in a more traditional format,” advises WNT UK’s managing director Tony Pennington. “While our customers request it, we’ll keep developing it.”
All part of the service
However, cutting tools are only part of the WNT story. At the heart of the Group’s success is the emphasis that it places on customer service which forms the basis of its slogan ‘Total Tooling = Quality x Service2.
Dealing directly with customers is a pivotal element of WNT’s service offering and one that is recognised as delivering the productivity benefits that its customer base of small to medium sized subcontractors demands. It delivers this service through its technical sales engineers who have the expertise and knowledge to ensure that the latest cutting tool technology is applied correctly.
This team of engineers are all skilled machinists with firsthand knowledge of the challenges that customers are faced with on a daily basis which means issues can be solved quickly and efficiently. Working in this way allows WNT to provide each individual customer with exactly the support it needs, when they need it.
“The Total Tooling concept is fundamental to everything we do as a company,” Mr Pennington adds. “In providing the highest level of service to the SMEs that make up our customer base and taking care of all cutting tool related issues our customers have more time to concentrate on more important aspects of their business. This allows them to develop and grow and we grow with them.”
Customers calling any WNT subsidiary on the phone shouldn’t have to wait too long. In the UK, Mr Pennington reports that the average wait time is only three seconds and if a call is missed, the customer can expect a timely callback.
Continuing the theme of the importance of customer relations, Claude Sun, managing director of WNT Europe comments: “Our success is based on the enthusiasm and in-depth knowledge of our sales teams and engineers across all of the markets that we operate in. By fully understanding the needs and requirements of our customers and their applications, we raise their confidence in our ability to deliver on our promises. WNT is a truly European organisation but its network of subsidiaries is fundamentally regional and our customers recognise and respect this local solution to their metalcutting requirements.
“We recognise that each market operates differently with each country having its own particular specialist areas of operation,” he states. “By focusing on each of these markets we are able to use the information that we get to respond quickly to the needs of each client, taking into account the local market. This is only possible through the investment we have made to be local to our customers.”
The fact that no stock is carried locally by the subsidiaries and there’s no distribution network to lean on means that logistically WNT need to be at the top of its game. Fortunately for WNT’s 23,000 European customers, massive investment in logistical and stock management systems at Kempten means that the process runs like clockwork.
The Logistics Centre, which is home to around 100 employees and handles between 2,500 and 3,000 orders a day – with 40% being after 4pm – achieves a near perfect 99.93% same day despatch success rate. The ‘heartbeat’ of the Centre is a new €2 million logistics and stock management system supplied by warehouse logistics specialist Knapp which features racking modules each with a double lift mechanism – one for retrieving items and one for re-stocking. Each of the modules has 21 levels and items are stored ‘randomly’ in any one of the 65,000 storage spaces, with items being retrieved by one of the 63 shuttles operating within the system.
Seeing the Logistics System running at full tilt during a typical working day – the rack picking conveyors accelerate at a rapid 5m/s – ably demonstrates how effective automation can be in a modern warehouse environment. And this is a totally live system – as each order is placed at any WNT subsidiary, information is fed through to the Centre and processed literally within minutes.
The Knapp system, which integrates seamlessly with WNT’s SAP infrastructure operates on a ‘product to person’ concept rather than the other way around so you won’t see people running around feverishly here – the system does most of the donkey work. An additional point worthy of note is the fact that essentially it’s a paperless system – although despatch notes and product labels are printed as part of the process. Wireless scanners are used to good effect.
The new system runs in conjunction with the existing order picking facility at Kempten in order to increase current capacity and future proof WNT’s capability to maintain its next day delivery service. It is capable of handling 8,000 picks per eight hour shift, which in addition to the 10,000 picks per eight hour shift from the original system provides plenty of capacity. Being modular, the Knapp setup is easily upgraded if required.
The entire pick and pack process is overseen by just six WNT employees – three for picking orders and three for packaging those orders ready for overnight shipping to customers. “This investment is a major commitment for WNT and underlines our ethos of providing the highest levels of customer service and guaranteeing that some 99% of our catalogued items are available for next day delivery to any customer, wherever they are within the WNT area of operation,” Mr Pennington affirms.
“The future proofing of our logistics system has guaranteed that we can meet the expectations of our customers for many years to come and this, I believe, puts WNT firmly at the forefront of logistical technology within the cutting tool industry,” he concludes.