Just days after WASI moved into its brand new offices, Torque Magazine came calling for a tour and chat with Managing Director Karlheinz Schreiber…
You would naturally expect a significant fastener distributor to be a bustling hive of activity, but in recent months WASI (Wagener & Simon
WASI GmbH & Co. KG) has been particularly busy, shifting not only tonnes of fasteners daily, but also moving its own personnel and operations to brand new offices in Wuppertal.
The move has been a logical one – now WASI’s offices are next door to its vast warehouse (which incidentally has been extended this year too) putting the operation all together on one site. So, with the paint still drying and the coffee machines producing their very first cups of latte macchiato, Torque Magazine had a tour around WASI’s new home.
The move had its genesis back in October 2015, bringing together two separate nearby offices to one 2,250m² administration space at the site. It has, however, been just one of numerous recent developments at WASI.
“There have been many changes here and the perception of WASI has evolved a lot,” explains WASI Managing Director Karlheinz Schreiber.
Among those changes has been an enhancement of the services that WASI offers its customers. Recently, the company began a co-operation with Lubo International and its smart lubrication system. WASI stainless steel products – whether screws, threaded rods, hydraulic couplings or specials – are now pretreated with Lubo Lubrication to maximise efficiency. Screws can be driven up to 32 times faster and a constantly low coefficient of friction of 0.12 so precise torque calculations are possible.
Laser engraving is another added service WASI is now offering. This flexible process enables customers to have all kinds of motifs on all materials and geometries with – for example – company logos.
Added together, these further services offered by WASI are an added competitive edge for the company, argues Schreiber: “There would usually be an additional cost to use a subcontractor and third party for laser engraving, for instance, so it is more competitive for our customers.”
“OUR TARGET IS TO BE A TRULY MODERN COMPANY”
WASI was founded in 1961 by Emil Wagener and Werner Simon in a small office in Wuppertal, between Dortmund and Dusseldorf. The company started as a wholesaler of stainless steel fasteners but has now gone beyond to provide a broad range of solutions – not least those mentioned above – for trade customers.
Over the years, subsidiaries have launched around the world – the first in Spain in 1998, followed by offices in Denmark, Belgium and Austria – and the company has moved around Wuppertal to meet changing business needs. By 2009, work was completed on a new distribution centre – its current site, in fact – and a year later began operating on a two-site logistics concept. However operating across two sites incurs costs – shifting tonnes of product daily between the two sites – 5km apart – added up over the long term.
So the benefits to this most recent move are clear: “It has driven our costs down and that will benefit our customers – we will be able to give them better calculations for better deals and better projects,” explains MD Schreiber.
“Our target is to be a modern company – we are working towards this aim. We want our staff to work in a good atmosphere with good methods. The concept for the new building was to create a good working environment and help keep our staff happy.”
Schreiber himself has spent 33 years – since 1985 – with the Würth group where he started out as a field salesman. After moving up through the company he was asked if he wanted to move to WASI four years ago. Now he is Managing Director alongside Ulrich Steiner.
Since Schreiber came to the role, WASI has implemented the formation of the WASI Industry and WASI Trade business units, in 2014. WASI Industry is the smaller of the two, constituting around 35% of the business, including automotive, facades in construction, marine, foods sector, etc.
“We have two supply teams – one for the DIN and normal stock, and the other for specials.
“The industry tends to look for rust-free qualities in materials like plastic, carbon and titanium, while the trade is more stainless steel-oriented.”
WASI’s local market of Germany makes up 47% of business, while the rest of the EU constitutes another 47% – the remainder in the rest of the world. As part of the Würth Group, WASI cooperates with other distributors by fulfilling the stainless steel part of larger offers. As a company, WASI also offers Kanban logistics, co-productions and even dropship as well as private label packaging.
Schreiber says: “One of our focuses is growing the automotive side of our business and we have had some good successes in that market.” WASI has made modifications to its site to meet the needs of the market – for instance a barrier to the site, which meets the added security requirements of automotive OEMs.
WAREHOUSE SPACE EXPANDS TOO
Not content with relocating its entire offices, WASI’s logistics has also expanded this year, with a new 3,000km² hall of warehousing. Completed in February and pictured at the start of this article, the hall has provided WASI with 4,000 additional pallet spaces.
“Capacity is OK for a few years,” Schreiber tells Torque.
WASI’s entire logistics operation has 21,000 different items on stock. Around 90 tonnes come in to the WASI warehouses by the day, from both the Far East and Germany.
Assurance on quality and country of origin are crucial for WASI and customers alike. WASI’s in-house quality labs test product through chemical analysis, testing hardness of goods and placing products under extreme conditions – like pulling forces of 50-plus tonnes that stretch fasteners to the breaking point (and beyond).
With around 90 tonnes of product outgoing in a single day, there are 80 staff working in the logistics side of the business, with 50 full timers. Through Kanban, WASI shifts around six to seven tonnes of product every day.
Thanks to automation in the warehouse, it is possible to pick 60-70 pallets an hour (around 200 small containers an hour). WASI’s automated shuttle system was installed in 2011, including 35,000 boxes in the order, storage and retrieval systems.
The maintenance team plays a crucial role, keeping a keen eye on the automated pickers with cameras to oversee the operation – you don’t want to climb 30 metres of racking without being absolutely sure where a problem may be.
Automation speeds up the picking process. But some ranges do have to be manually picked. In this area, human operatives are guided by headset – or what could be described as sat nav for humans – allowing staff to keep two hands free for the packing process. The paperless picking environment coupled with a minimal repacking process is mindful of the environment.
In terms of planning and warehouse space, WASI has to be flexible for potential customer changes, the firm explains to Torque.
AVAILABILITY AND SERVICE ARE STILL KING’
“One of the challenges for WASI and the industry is how to treat customers,” Schreiber tells Torque. “Previously we used to treat customers all the same, whether they were big, medium or small. This is how it was in the past – but it doesn’t really work.
“We must cater for that and have a more individual and tailored approach.”
While customer expectations may have changed over the years, the two biggest considerations for customers remain the same as ever, WASI says: “Availability and service are king.”
WASI has been engaging with new technology and innovation and has its own app as well as an ecommerce site. “We have that availability and we are reachable at any time.
“We are profitable and reliable and we have internal self-audits in order that we can work on a higher level. And we want to be the market leader,” the WASI boss tells Torque.
So what’s the current state of the sector? “The stainless steel market now? It is confused,” Schreiber tells Torque Magazine. “Nickel price is highly volatile, but the price of steel just goes up. There is a disconnect with the price of nickel where there never used to be. Speculators now control the price of nickel.”
Schreiber concludes: “Now WASI is looking forward to the future and to playing a crucial role in shaping the market’s future.”