Interview with Mr. Chris Dewulf

Face2Face
Mr. Chris Dewulf
Mr. Chris Dewulf
President & CEO
Picanol Group
Picanol Group

Chris Dewulf was born in Menen in 1949. He studied Industrial Psychology at Ghent University and fol

Can we start with a brief overview of your company?

"The Picanol Group is an international group specialized in development, production and sales of weaving machines and technology for the textile industry and others. Over the years, the Picanol Group has managed to become one of the world leaders in its sector, thanks to its active and efficient innovation management, high-tech products and thorough market knowledge. Two core divisions focus on the target markets of the group. The OEM Business division develops, produces and sells technological components, services and mechatronic system solutions for original equipment manufacturers in the textile and other industries. OEM Business markets its products under the brands Proferro, Protronic, Melotte, GTP Accessories, Steel Heddle, Burcklé and Te Strake Textile. The Weaving Machines division is active in development, production, and sales of high-tech weaving machines and complementary services and products for the aftermarket. It focuses on weaving machines based on air (airjet weaving machines) or rapier technology (rapier weaving machines). Picanol is the brand name of these weaving machines. The Picanol Group is a world player with headquarters in Belgium and major production plants in Asia, Europe and the USA. The group is active worldwide and employs 2,430 people (figure on 31 December 2005). In 2005, the Picanol Group made a consolidated turnover of 396.30 million euros. The Picanol Group has been listed on Euronext Brussels since 1966 (ticker: PIC) and is included in the NextPrime Index. "

What is so special about OMNIplus 800 airjet weaving machine?

In developing the OMNIplus 800 the Picanol designers focused on three basic criteria, namely higher performance, immediate fabric quality and full modularity. All the components are optimized for as yet unheard-of industrial speeds, minimum maintenance and maximum profitability. In addition the OMNIplus 800 is full of functions that make it easy to achieve the very best fabric quality. The OMNIplus 800 is an entirely new, fully modular concept, enabling the machine to be modified or converted quickly and easily so as to take advantage of new market opportunities. With the OMNIplus 800 weavers have an investment that will keep its value, even in the longterm.

Can you brief us about ePic?

ePic connects Picanol with its customers over the Internet. It provides Picanol customers with up-to-date, real-time information and support. Project tracker provides information on the status of orders in progress. Partsline lets you order and track spare parts online, and finally Loomgate enables the weavers to “e-manage” their complete weave room, even from a remote location. In addition to functions for intranet browsing, this software package makes it possible among other things to send settings and software to and from the machine, and to consult the spare parts catalogue. The settings can similarly be consulted from a PC, with the various screens being called up on the computer. Loomgate further includes a monitoring function that enables production data to be consulted and processed on a standard PC.

These days the trend is on buying second-hand machines. Doesn’t this affect your business adversely?

Maybe there is an explanation for this apparent trend towards buying second-hand machines. The market segments for higher-end new machines and used machines are different and don't overlap too much. In the middle segments however there is a certain competition between new and pre-owned high-end machines. Since there is stronger demand lately in these middle segments, you might have the impression that there is a trend in buying second-hand machines. One thing that pleases us particularly is that in the second-hand market for rapiers as well as airjets, Picanol machines are being sold in significant quantities and at quite high prices. This is clear proof of the superior quality and longevity of the Picanol machines, and should add to the confidence of the buyer of new Picanol equipment.

Can the Chinese machinery manufacturers make inroads into the global market?

Chinese manufacturers of light industrial equipment and consumer goods are already well established in the global market, to say the least. Whether the Chinese manufacturers of investment goods will or will not take big market shares in the world will depend on a number of issues. Of course, labor cost is also an important factor here, but much less so than in e.g. garment or toy manufacturing. Much more important here is an image of reliability and dependable after-sales service. On top of that, there should be a sustained climate of innovation and investment in applied R&D, not only in the top league of Chinese companies (which undoubtedly are among the world's best) but also in the middle layer of internationally oriented medium sized companies. These R&D efforts should go hand in hand with tremendous efforts in assuring quality of the parts and subassemblies sourced from local smaller or mid-sized suppliers. And of course, salaries of higher educated and multilingual staff are or will soon be on international levels. The portion of salaries paid to such higher educated staff, in the cost of investment goods such as machinery, is much higher than in, again, e.g. garments. Hence, most probably, Chinese machinery makers are taking an important share of the lower and middle segments of the already quite big local market. In developing countries with market segments with high price sensitivity, Chinese players will probably take growing shares. When they will make a significant appearance in the higher end markets is hard to predict. When will we see Chinese-made trucks on the roads of Europe or America?

Who are your major competitors?

"For airjet weaving machines: Tsudakoma and Toyota (Japan) For rapier weaving machines: Itema Group (Italy) and Dornier (Germany)"

What are the current trends in the development of Picanol? What new markets and products can we look forward to in the near future?

The mission of the Picanol Group is to create sustainable growth and productivity, by producing and marketing rapier and airjet weaving machines together with related products and services for the textile industry worldwide, and by marketing its own competencies and technological spin-offs developed in-house, to customers inside and outside the textile industry. Given the ever-faster market changes and the increasing competition in the markets where the Picanol Group operates, the group expects the pressure on prices and margins to continue in future. In the meantime the weaving machine market remains highly cyclical, as ever. The Management Committee, supported by the Board of Directors, has therefore drawn up a 2006-2008 strategic plan aimed at building up an ever-stronger market position for the Picanol Group and focusing on margin improvements. The focus will be on our core competencies, local market presence, innovative R&D and a policy of cost leadership, diversification through technologies, and further improvements in quality and productivity. The Picanol Group will continue to concentrate on the integrated development of high-tech weaving machines, mechatronics, spare parts and accessories. Technological innovation remains crucial to the future success of the Picanol Group, and for this reason the group invests 5% of its turnover in R&D for high-tech products with high added value. In the meantime, in Ieper, Belgium and Suzhou, China, the Picanol Group will concentrate its geographically spread-out activities so as to lower costs, achieve synergy advantages and raise efficiency. In line with this policy the Picanol Group began construction of a new plant in Suzhou in September 2005. Meanwhile, in March 2006 the group began a project for expanding the production facilities in Ieper, so as to bring the activities of Verbrugge, Protronic and the R&D department together. Finally, in view of the size of the Indian textile market the Picanol Group will reinforce its presence in India in 2006.

Considering that technical textiles are being looked upon as a growth area, do you think that related R&D is getting adequate attention in your company?

Focusing more strongly on technical textiles is, by among other things, indeed part of our strategy to further improve our weaving machine market share. The Picanol Group has played a pioneering role worldwide in the development and production of weaving systems for nearly 70 years now, and is a leading manufacturer of weaving machines for technical textiles. In 1971, the Picanol Group introduced the very first electronically controlled weaving machine in the world. It was also the first weaving machine manufacturer in the world to obtain ISO 9001 certification. Thanks to its policy of innovation, the Picanol Group has managed to surprise the market time and time again with new, high-tech weaving machines, from the Omnium in 1936 to its latest flagship model, the OMNIplus 800 in 2005, thus reinforcing its position among the world leaders. To maintain its leading position some 5% of annual turnover is ploughed back into R&D. This huge R&D effort is aimed not just at development and production of the most advanced weaving machines and related products and services, but also at achieving the most profitable weaving process in the world. In this way the Picanol Group is able to offer its customers innovative solutions for raising the efficiency and productivity of their weaving process. And since its technological know-how can also be applied in related fields and other branches of industry, the Picanol Group confirms its strategy of expanding sales of this technology to third parties. This diversification builds on the group’s existing competencies, including knowledge of and access to the textile markets, and development and production know-how.
Published on: 31/07/2006

DISCLAIMER: All views and opinions expressed in this column are solely of the interviewee, and they do not reflect in any way the opinion of Fibre2Fashion.com.

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