Woitte said that the OEM and automotive markets are very strong segments for the company.
“Obviously we’re being hurt right now with mining, with the prices, nickel prices, steel …it’s in turmoil, shall we say, with acquisitions and mills being for sale. We’re putting a focus on food and beverage this year, putting a focus on application-specific advanced solutions, and we started initiatives going into forestry industry for sawmills and [related machinery].”
The company has been focusing on improving the existing product line—things like heat treatments for the hardening of the bearings. These advances are being developed for specific applications, such as pulp and paper. Woitte said that while some of the products look like the bearings that were made five or 10 years ago, they are better today—and different.
“We’re getting better at [using] cleaner steels, better processes and how we manufacture. What that will do for the end customer is it really allows the bearings to operate better under less than ideal conditions, which is what’s out there, right? Nobody runs bearings in a laboratory!”
Woitte said that in the bearings industry, it’s critical to know the end customer, as well as the particular challenges of their specific industry.
“What we’re finding is customers want lower costs, but because of the economy, because of the work force, end customers don’t have unlimited workers anymore,” he said. “They’re starting to look more at their total cost of ownership on the product, as opposed to, [worrying whether] it’s a nickel cheaper. We need to go in and say, well, instead of buying four, we can sell you one, and this is the steel development, finishing development, etc.–so we can offer you a product that, while maybe is not cheaper, is going to last you four times as long, and here’s the data and here’s the proof, and we’ll stand behind it.”
Woitte stressed that cost is always an issue, but it is important to explain to the end customers (and show them) that today’s products that will outlast what they’re using now, and what the total ownership cost is.
“We have to be smarter; we have to know our industries better,” he said. “We have to know our end customers better. We need to know what their pain is. We need to know how can we take a success that we’ve done in California or in Europe or in Japan or elsewhere in Canada, how do we take that information? How do we go to market and say, ‘Okay, we’ve done this in the same application in a particular mill. How do we replicate that?’ It’s challenging. But I guess it wouldn’t be fun if it wasn’t challenging, right?”