For over 100 years, SECO/WARWICK has been shaping the global metallurgical and heat treatment industry, delivering industrial furnaces to the leading companies in the aviation, automotive, machinery, medical, tooling, power and commercial heat treatment industries.

Easy Engineering: What do your customers look after when buying products or services?

SECO/WARWICK: That is a great question but these are our customers who should actually be asked about this (which we are systematically trying to do, by the way). 

However, the sales effectiveness in the after-sales segment, or as a matter of fact the opposite of it, i.e. the percentage of opportunities lost (less than 2% per year!), allows me to assume that we know the answer quite well, or at least we can guess.

In my opinion, the customers’ choice is determined by three factors: 

  • quality,
  • comprehensiveness,
  • guarantee.

Due to the fact that most of the heat treatment and metallurgy equipment have been manufactured and adapted to the specific customer requirements, many parts are strongly customized, not available on the market. As a device manufacturer, we know exactly what to look for during replacement, what is important and determines quality. This is the quality resulting from our know-how and experience. You can’t buy this in every store.

When we deal with a furnace, we do not look at it as a collection of individual details, but as a functioning organism (system) in which each element influences the others. In the case of one component malfunction, we discover the root causes and the potential consequences of failure in other components. We want to achieve a fully tested and functional device which can be trusted by the user, because it is its value in business. 

We assume that the customer does not buy a furnace from us, but the ability to run his own business. Such a point of view strongly influences the perspective. Such a comprehensive approach guarantees trouble-free operation. 

What if the furnace stops? 

We are human and so the mistakes can happen. However, we are able to admit them, as well as draw conclusions for the future. We give a guarantee for our products, or rather it should be written that we give a warranty. By choosing us, the customer can be sure that he will get a trustworthy service.

E.E: What are the main needs of the customers?

SECO/WARWICK: In the after-sales segment, customers’ expectations are quite simple: if a failure occurs, be available, provide effective assistance in a reasonable time at an acceptable price. That is the great secret of success. Everything else is a consequence of the relations resulting from the first condition fulfillment. Let me use analog that is easy to understand. Let’s assume that you own a cottage, it’s winter, it’s freezing outside, and then suddenly the central heating system breaks down. What are your expectations towards the supplier? First, you want him to be available by phone or e-mail. Second, you need him to respond as quickly as possible and send a competent person with the required spare parts to fix the problem. Third, you expect not to lose your entire monthly salary for such a repair. If you are satisfied, you will contact the same supplier for periodic inspections and replacement of wear parts. Of course, there are exceptions to each rule, but these are rather rare cases and it is not worth building a strategy on them.

E.E: How important are the after-sales services?

SECO/WARWICK: It depends for whom. For us, as a manufacturer, it is an important part of the business which we develop and take very seriously. As a company listed on the stock exchange, we present financial data which clearly show that the after-sales branch accounts for over 20% of SECO/WARWICK Group’s annual revenue. However, customers are very different, because they represent different industries, different cultures, and are of different sizes. I could divide them generally into three categories.

The first are the most mature companies that care about long-term security and they are willing to pay a bit more for this security. Such customers make purchasing decisions faster, they invest in preventive and predictive tools, and in return they get peace and operational continuity guarantee.

Another group consist of the first group opposite. These are companies that try to save on each order and service, they negotiate each order for a long time, often deciding to buy the absolute minimum that they are unable to deliver themselves. In many cases, unfortunately, sooner or later this approach affects the quality and equipment failure frequency (availability).

And finally, the intermediate group, having some features of the both previous groups. The good news is that with the development of the Industry 4.0 tools, the access to remote, advanced support services is becoming more common and expected, which results in continuous supervision, better preventive diagnostics and, consequently, greater reliability. 

E.E: What after-sales services do you offer?

SECO/WARWICK: We offer a lot of such services. We have services at various stages of maturity, depending on the product line. It’s worth knowing that SECO/WARWICK is probably the only manufacturer in the world to offer devices from five different product segments (Aluminum, CAB, Thermal, Vacuum Melting). Let’s start with the basic services:

  • sale of spare parts,
  • sale of complete components with or without assembly,
  • warranty and post-warranty service support,
  • periodic inspections,
  • maintenance contracts.

Through more complex services:

  • comprehensive repairs of furnaces and entire technological lines.
  • modernization of devices related to changes in technology or processed details.
  • changes resulting from adaptation to current standards and requirements.
  • relocations.

To the most advanced:

  • laboratory support,
  • development of comprehensive technologies.

In addition, there are modern communication and cooperation tools

  • a portal for managing service requests which is shared with the customer,
  • digitally supported preventive maintenance tools, 
  • optimization of energy consumption,
  • remote service,
  • remote access to documentation,
  • technical knowledge base.

E.E: What kind of support do you offer your customers?

SECO/WARWICK: Support services cannot be separated from after-sales offers. After all, the simple sale of spare parts is also, in a sense, a support service. From this perspective, we treat after-sales and support services as a whole.

E.E: How do you promote your after-sales services?

SECO/WARWICK: The best advertisement is a satisfied customer and that’s what we focus on. The so-called customer experience is in our strategy center. We are not interested in one-time opportunities, but in long-term cooperation and in whisper marketing, i.e. references and recommendations. This does not mean, however, that we give up the promotion. We use a number of modern tools in this area, mainly based on industry magazines, properly informed groups on social-media, publications and lectures as part of our own or industrial fairs, seminars and conferences. When we focus of what the customer’s needs are, it becomes easy to understand that our customers, and for us business partners, are with us not because we have nice ads, but because they can trust us in terms of quality, complexity and price. From this point of view, the promotion is an information channel so that customers can be kept informed about what they can expect from us. 

E.E: Tell us about the spare parts distribution (if any) or any other after-sale products.

SECO/WARWICK: Selling parts for highly customized devices is a real challenge. As a company, we have carried out analyzes of historical orders, critical parts from the furnaces’ operation point of view and the optimization of inventory several times. Everything in terms of our customers’ and their work safety. So far, no commercial solution on the market has been able to offer us a satisfactory solution. We rely on our own algorithms developed over the years, verified and updated periodically. For the most critical components, we maintain the so-called minimum stock levels ensuring constant access to these elements. Another group are commercial parts that provide us with OEM contracts for these components. We sign global agreements, providing us with access to selected materials from any location under the same conditions. For the remaining parts, we treat each application individually, adjusting the solution to the current situation. Flexibility and the ability to adapt to the changing conditions is the great SECO/WARWICK advantage.  We have proved more than once that during crisis, we are able to “conjure up” solutions from almost initially hopeless situation.   

E.E: What impact has product innovation on your customers?

SECO/WARWICK: Metals heat treatment and vacuum metallurgy are fairly traditional industries. But here you can also see the impact of new technologies on customers’ behavior and expectations. I have already mentioned some of them when describing our offer. The most interesting are those resulting from the broadly understood digital transformation. Initially, there is data that needs to be collected, cleaned and organized. On this basis, you can already build intelligent tools:

  • batches queuing,
  • processes adaptation after changing real conditions,
  • prediction in maintenance,
  • energy demand management,
  • off-line and on-line process simulation,
  • problem-solving paths for specific requests, 
  • remote video support.

Large companies and advanced technologies expect modern solutions and we can boast of specific successes in this area. However, we do not forget about companies with a limited budget and we are also able to build a specific offer for them. The offer can bring relatively large benefits with proportionally small outlays. 

E.E: What industries do you think will grow in 2022? 

SECO/WARWICK: When we talk about industry, it is difficult to refer to changes exclusively through the prism of aftermarket. Some phenomena will certainly have an impact on the after-sales business, but we need to address this question from a broader perspective. 

The biggest change will occur in the automotive industry with the shift to electric cars. Many components of combustion engines and cooling systems will cease to exist, but new requirements will appear in their place. The aviation industry is also introducing design changes, creating new challenges for vacuum metallurgy. The global trend related to the carbon footprint reduction will significantly affect the process’ economics and its purity. In addition, there are increasingly restrictive requirements concerning pollutant emissions. Not every heat treatment device will be adaptable, some will require replacement. Nevertheless, in the metal heat treatment and vacuum metallurgy aftersales segment, there will be plenty of work, and is even expected to increase. However, the entry threshold will be set quite high as the new challenges will require a lot of knowledge and experience.

E.E: What solutions do you bring for these industries?

SECO/WARWICK: With this question, I will direct readers to a different source – directly to us –