“We keep the customer in mind”
French job shop ATS learned a great deal from the automotive industry, although the company applies its expertise primarily for other sectors today. CEO Marcel Ferreira talks about major milestones along the way and the future of his operations.
Mr. Ferreira, ATS is one of the leading companies in laser processing in France. How did that come to be?
I started out in 1989 with a laser cutting machine, a water jet cutting unit and three employees. Soon press brakes, punching machines and additional 2D laser cutting machines followed. An important milestone along the way to our current market position was set in 1995. Th at was when we used a TruLaser Station 5005 for the fi rst time — to weld parts for Renault and other car companies. We broadened our performance spectrum in this way. In our operations we hoped to reduce our dependence on the highly competitive market for laser cutting, and this paved the way for our delivering complex assemblies, too.
We quickly expanded our expertise, thanks to the orders from the automotive industry, and gradually discovered the potentials off ered by mastering the entire process chain for sheet metal.
So that means that your company was bubbling along?
For sure. In some cases we had to work in three-shift operations and even on Saturday and Sunday — the order books were packed. At the same time, ATS was closely linked with the car industry and for that reason was not particularly broad in its activities. That is why we sought out opportunities in new industries, where we could apply our skills. In the year 2000 ATS, in cooperation with TRUMPF, carried out the first trials with deep welding of titanium. That was the key to the first order from the aviation industry — parts for the Airbus A 330. This was followed by additional orders from that industry — and for the aerospace and railroad industries as well as special-design machines. Today our customers are largely from these sectors. The automotive industry accounts for only a five percent share. Engaging in these new markets meant a change in the parts we manufacture.
To further enhance our corporate profile, we now offer complete product groups. Since we also significantly expanded our capacities in precision mechanics and painting, there’s virtually nobody who can beat us in terms of versatility. This makes us interesting to other industries, since they often demand complete product groups that can be used immediately, without any touch-up work.
What additional value do you offer your customers?
ATS envisions itself as a partner on equal footing. Many of our customers seek our support right from the initial idea for certain workpieces. In this way we can apply our know-how and advise the client in the selection of suitable technologies. Thanks to the skilled use of our equipment and correct material selection, we are often able to significantly reduce both costs and production periods. Here we cooperate not only with large corporations, but also take up the challenges offered by smaller companies, too. This focus on the customer helps us to better learn to know their needs and to see, early on, what might be interesting in the future.
Could you mention an example?
It’s hardly a secret that additive manufacturing will bring about tremendous changes in the engineering and production of certain items. This is true especially for industries like aeronautics and medicine, where we are very active. That is why we are involved in this technology. At the same time we are always looking for efficient and fast machines for laser cutting and welding. This is demonstrated by our most recent investment — in a TruLaser Cell 7040. It has proven to be every bit as precise and rugged as we have come to expect from TRUMPF machines.
How do you ensure that all the parts satisfy your customers’ demanding quality standards?
We have guaranteed that, for example, by setting up our own laboratory where we carry out destructive and non-destructive testing. There we can examine all the parts, right in the plant, down to the last detail. In addition, we are certified as per recognized international standards and in accordance with special qualification tests employed by our major customers, including Airbus, Renault and Peugeot. An important factor in quality assurance is our highly motivated staff, to whom we regularly offer advanced training.
The ATS headquarters is in something of a rural area. How do you manage to attract suitable personnel?
Sézanne is a small town with 5,000 residents. That is why we recruit personnel in a 40-kilo-meter radius. To gain and keep those employees, we continuously offer them new challenges and give them assistance in their professional development. In addition, many young people do their apprenticeship training here, often in a dual education arrangement. Most of them enjoy working here so much that they continue their careers at ATS. So you already have a hard-hitting team.
And what preparations are you making for the future?
It is important that we always keep an eye on current technological developments and act accordingly. That is why, ever since our founding, we have invested about a million euros in new machinery and technologies — every year. In addition, we can also compensate for fluctuations thanks to our diversified customer structure. If one industry shows signs of a slump, then we do more work for another.
Contact us: MastersofSheetMetal@trumpf.com
This article war first published in April 2015.