Walter Surface Technologies
The history of Walter Surface Technologies starts in 1952, when J. Walter Somers founded the company in Pointe-Claire, Que. Somers’ vision was to create a business that would contribute to its customers’ success by helping them work better. From this humble mantra, Walter Surface Technologies grew to become a leader in surface treatment technologies not only in Quebec, but in Canada and seven countries in North America, South America and Europe.
On Walter Surface Technologies’ 62th anniversary, The Canadian Business Journal spoke with J. Walter Somers’ son, Pierre Somers, President and CEO of Walter Surface Technologies, about the company’s golden history and bright future.
“Everywhere there’s metal, we are there,” smiles Somers. WALTER’s products and solutions are known throughout the industry for their uncompromising performance and quality in the metal fabricating and finishing industries. With an emphasis on partnering with customers, WALTER’s products are developed and designed with the end user’s productivity and safety at the forefront. For use in grinding, or drilling or shaping metal surfaces, the company offers a full range of abrasives, power tools, tooling, and industrial cleaning solutions.
“We work closely with the metal-working industry – very often with customers working in infrastructure and all of the resource-based industries,” says Somers. WALTER plays an integral role in the mining and oil extraction, automotive, natural gas and infrastructure industries in every country in which it operates. Somers says the growth of stainless steel in manufacturing is another area his company sees opportunity, with WALTER being one of, if not the, largest supplier of surface treatment solutions to stainless steel fabrication facilities, offering cleaners for treating stainless steel and specialized aluminum.
The importance of an ongoing and stalwart focus on R&D by WALTER cannot be underestimated, described by Somers as “continuous”. The reasons for the successful evolution of the company are plenty, but essentially revolve around productivity and increasing environmental concerns.
“As our customers’ production costs are rising they are trying to reduce the amount of labour in that equation. We need to bring them solutions that will reduce the cost of labour,” says Somers, “and with ever increasing consciousness towards sustainability.”
Somers breaks down the company’s evolution of R&D into the “Four Eras of WALTER”. The first era was the 1950’s and early 1960’s, when everywhere, everything had to be built; the suburbs were being built, houses were being built, people needed cars, refrigerators, all kinds of appliances. If there was one word to describe that period of time, it would have been ‘boom’.
“In the later 1960’s and 1970’s you started to see an evolution of social consciousness,” says Somers. “This was a consciousness towards safety. It was very simple, the accident rates on the job were absolutely too high. Walter was ahead of the curve by incorporating into our solutions safety guards, and safety mechanisms. But incorporating safety as an additional part of our reason why we exist, and what we stand for.”
In the early 1980’s and 1990’s, there was an increased awareness about sustainability and the environment. Somers said, in some cases, companies would resort to ‘green washing’, which is essentially replacing one ingredient for another, usually at the cost of efficiency. “At WALTER, we’ve created Bio-Circle, which is making green work — with no loss of productivity, and no sacrifice towards safety.”
The Exxon Valdez oil spill acted as the precipitating point for the WALTER team to define its environmental stewardship, and was the genesis for Bio-Circle. WALTER, investigating the bio-remediation technique used in the cleanup, adapted it into its cleaners, and into its cleaning systems. Bio-Circle and its bio-remediation process, digests grease and oil, preventing the need to use solvents – which, generally speaking, are toxic fluids that cause skin irritation, damage to lungs and kidneys, and are costly to dispose of.
Continuing on the momentum from Bio-Circle, WALTER’s investment in this technology has grown significantly. 2013 is a milestone year for WALTER, marking the inaugural year of the $30 million international campus and Bio-Circle facility. After several years of investments in sophisticated design and construction of the most recent extension phase housing its new Bio-Circle facility, the entire 92,000 square foot WALTER Surface Technologies International campus opened in August in Pointe-Claire.
The campus serves as the overall international headquarters for the WALTER Company, encompassing corporate management, R&D, laboratories, product management, test centers, marketing, sales, warehousing, distribution, and after sales service. The new Bio-Circle complex contains a high-tech bottling plant where production capabilities are increased 10 times over previous capacity, and with unparalleled quality control. Key components of this new facility include automated bottling systems, massive mixing and storage tanks, and sophisticated pumping and packaging systems.
At the time of opening, Somers told media, “We really are about performance, safety, and sustainability. We’re dedicated to helping our customers work better by providing the best possible Walter products and by making Green Work with our Bio-Circle Environmental Solutions line of products. The new campus is a major asset for our future growth. Now, we have the automation, the processes, and the facility to help us execute our core value of delivering products and solutions that help our customers work better. Today, this focus on “making green work” is leading to the development of environmentally helpful initiatives which are increasingly welcome in our industry.”
The new facility is a LEED Gold certified building and is an extension of the company’s prioritization of environmentally sound practices. The building uses carefully managed humidity, geo-thermal heat (form 49 wells running 500 feet deep) to capture geo-thermal energy, special windows for temperature control, and controlled water temperature – all of which proves that WALTER “walks the walk”, as Somers says. Its own Bio Circle cleaning system for parts and equipment, which reduces the reliance on toxic solvents, is, of course, also used.
“We made a significant investment in this facility,” Somers says proudly. “We believe, long-term, it is the right thing to do. As we were developing more and more green solutions, we felt that we needed a green building. The production capability in this facility is one of the largest in our industry. Because we deployed advanced automation, we have very few jobs inside the plant. But we are creating jobs outside the plant with service vehicles, sales personnel, and support personnel for our customers. That’s where the jobs of the future are.”
Looking forward, Walter Surface Technologies’ continuous R&D program is already building on its foundation of Performance, Safety and Sustainability and looking to bring Measurability to the metal working industry through new and innovative solutions that are designed to help their customers work better.