View form the top: Alcoa Fastening Systems

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In a crowded and competitive market, Alcoa Fastening Systems succeeds in standing out. Paul Fanning asks how.

As EMEA Sales and Marketing Director for Alcoa Fastening Systems, Didier Lorch has naturally given a considerable amount of thought to the question of how to increase sales of fasteners. He does, however, acknowledge that the fasteners business offers one great comfort, saying: "You can sell fasteners everywhere. Everywhere you look, you see fasteners. What's always interesting from our point of view is the variety and diversity of the needs of the market. Alcoa Fastening Systems – a unit of Alcoa, the world's leading producer of primary and fabricated aluminium – serves the global aerospace, automotive, commercial transportation green energy and other industrial markets. Alcoa Fastening Systems' Industrial business focuses on the non-aerospace related applications with specialised engineering services, highest quality fasteners, and amongst the greatest breadth and depth of fastening system solutions in the market from a single source. Like anyone in this crowded market, however, Alcoa Fastening Systems has to face the challenge of how to differentiate itself successfully from its competitors. In the fastening sector, commoditised products put great pressure on the market, but Mr Lorch is comfortable that AFS is able to resist such pressure, saying: "There are so many undiscovered fastening solutions out there and a fastener is not just a bolt or a screw. It can be any number of things. What we are trying to develop are solutions that bring added value to the market. By offering something different that takes us away from a commoditised product and by therefore more fully meeting the needs of our customers, we are cementing our position as a market supplier." This added value can take a number of forms, according to Mr Lorch, but the main one is the expertise Alcoa Fastening Systems can bring to bear. He says: "You can add value in many different ways. Firstly, you can answer a special demand by providing a special and customised solution. This means we have to offer strong engineering knowledge and innovation to develop a solution which is right for the customer. Secondly, you add value by offering manufacturers products they can't get anywhere else in terms of resistance or performance." The demand for engineering expertise differs from customer to customer, however. Says Mr Lorch: "If you deal with large companies, they will have technical teams specialise in fastening systems and are very well informed about the technology. With them you have to offer very high end engineering solutions and support. However, at the same time, you get other companies that have to be very well supported because their knowledge of fastening systems is limited – often just because of their size. They are usually very welcoming of such support. Once you develop a non-commodity product, offering really good technical support basically becomes mandatory." There is more to the company's success than just good technical support, according to Mr Lorch. The company's products are another major factor. He says: "Customers come to Alcoa Fastening Systems because they can get high-end fastening systems and because our product range is made up of very high-end brands, many of which are pioneering in their fields including Huck, Camloc, Recoil, Simmonds, Snep and Marson. So all these brands are very well-known because they have led the development of fastening solutions – it's a strong portfolio with an illustrious history in the fastener market." While he acknowledges changes and challenges in the market at the moment, Mr Lorch is nonetheless positive about the future, saying: "The market is looking for improved solutions because of the pressures on cost. For us, this represents an opportunity because it means we can apply our advantages in terms of technical expertise to deliver solutions. We will continue serving our customers by providing them with highly innovative technical solutions that improve their performance whilst keeping their total costs down."