Featured Story – Reaching for the skies…aerospace propels HARALD PIHL to greater heights
The past year has seen records shattered left and right at Swedish distributor HARALD PIHL. The recent years have been a long period of rapid growth, from turnover and new global locations to investments in value-added services. The start of 2020 has been a roller coaster ride including continued growth but also facing the virus crisis spread across the world and the drastic change of the business climate.
^ Managing Director Jonas Pihl (left) addressing his team in the Swedish office at the end of a record breaking year in 2019. Article by Joanne McIntyre
Stainless Steel World spoke to Managing Director Jonas Pihl to hear more about how this innovative company is steering ahead in the international markets for high-end alloys.
As a supplier of special metals, HARALD PIHL has always maintained a strong focus on reliability, quality and speedy delivery. However, this doesn’t mean they can’t also have fun, and Jonas’s business philosophy has imbued the company with a strong sense of identity that embraces innovation, flexibility and inclusiveness.
“We’ve created an atmosphere here where everybody’s ideas are valued and embraced,” begins Jonas. “It is fantastic to see how everyone understands this philosophy and is enthusiastic about contributing ideas on how to do things better tomorrow than we do today. It’s gratifying to know that they have responded to my call to pursue constant improvements. So many good ideas have come from our people, it’s truly a team effort.”
The inclusive environment certainly pays off for the innovative HARALD PIHL team. 2019 was a bumper year for the company, with turnover increasing by 35% across the board. “Of course we are delighted with this result, and especially with the fact that we grew across all of our markets.”
“Our customers are also pleased to see that we are doing so well, because they know we are a reliable and trustworthy partner. Dedication to excellence and a constant drive to improve pay off for them as well.
They know us as their ‘go-to’ supplier for Europe’s most extensive range of nickel, titanium and copper alloys, and guaranteed on-time delivery. Our success helps them to achieve their goals as well.”
Europe’s largest stock of Ni & Ti alloys
HARALD PIHL stock and trade sheet, plate, strip, bar, wire, tube, pipe and welding material. Its stock includes nickel-based alloys, heat and corrosion resistant alloys, titanium and titanium alloys, copper alloys and stainless steel among other materials, in purpose built service centre 20 minutes north of Stockholm.
Roaring ahead with motorsport
One of the stepping stones to HARALD PIHL’s success was the company’s entrance into the motorsport industry. “A few years ago, we were approached by one of the largest players in motorsport to supply nickel alloys and titanium for high-performance vehicles. We were, of course, happy to comply! The demands placed on suppliers to motorsport are very high; as a result, our involvement led to us implementing improvements across our business. In time, this resulted in doors opening for us into the aerospace industry.
“We’re the go-to supplier for Europe’s most extensive range of nickel, titanium and copper alloys”
Because the stringent quality demands for motorsport are quite similar to those for aerospace, this was a logical progression for us.
The sky is the limit with aerospace
From those early days, the HARALD PIHL team has built up years of experience supplying aerospace alloys to the aviation industry. Stock includes a wide range of high temperature and corrosion resistant aerospace metals including titanium Grade 5 AMS and Grade 5 ASTM. The quality management system is approved and registered to ISO 9001 and AS9120, and the company is an approved source for many of the key aerospace manufacturers, including Europe’s largest supplier of aircraft.
“Our focus is on supplying aerospace materials to the European aerospace industry, and in particular we’ve increased stock levels of Western aerospace titanium” continues Jonas. “With strong demand for high-end nickel alloy and titanium alloys, it’s a lucrative but very demanding industry with the most stringent demands. We now have a dedicated team in-house who focus on servicing our aerospace clients. The number of approvals we have attained for aerospace companies is a good indicator that we are on the right path.” Indeed over the past year, the company has gained several new accreditations for the aerospace industry in its drive for contact improvement.
As the supply of high-end alloys to the aerospace industry has grown to achieve greater importance to the company, it has driven the HARALD PIHL team to enforce the highest possible quality controls in its business practices.
Current world situation
“The worldwide outbreak of Covid-19 has not passed unnoticed,” explains Jonas. “We are still doing well, but the market is struggling which results in harder competition. We have maintained our turnover quite well but our margins have suffered compared to last year. Fortunately, the investments we’ve made in previous years have been fruitful and this has been evident in 2020 despite the severe situation. We have taken the situation very seriously. We went out very early with our instructions for Covid-19 to our staff, the majority of whom are working from home. Our sites are closed to visitors, and only visits of the highest importance are permitted. We feel it’s important to respect the situation and do the maximum that is possible. Let’s hope the situation is soon resolved.”
“Becoming a leading supplier to the aerospace industry involved us adopting a new way of thinking across the company,” explains Jonas. “We continue to push ourselves. For example, one of our most recent investments is a new, top-of-the-range system for inspecting incoming goods. We put a great deal of energy and thought into it this investment. Our quality systems were good before, but now the level is outstanding. It has raised the quality bar and created a lot of positive spin-offs in every aspect of our business.”
“The aerospace industry does not tolerate a single mistake; it literally has a zero tolerance level. Meeting these demands is benefitting all of our customers; they have total trust in what we are doing. And our motorsport business is also continuing to grow because they see that we have outstanding quality. It’s a nice circular effect.”
Waterjet cutting services
HARALD PIHL has offered waterjet cutting as a service to its customers for many years.
“By combining our extensive knowledge in special alloys and titanium together with our cutting service, the customer gets a complete service where both material and waterjet cutting can be purchased directly from our warehouse,” explains Jonas.
Waterjet cutting is ideal for materials that are sensitive to the high temperatures generated by other cutting methods. It is also an environmentally friendly method with high cutting-accuracy. The high standard of quality and fast delivery HARALD PIHL is known for has made waterjet cutting a great success for them and is their fastest-growing component.
Jonas explains: “Due to demand we recently had to invest in a second waterjet cutter. We hit maximum capacity around six months ago, so expanded our warehouse in Stockholm by 40%, and purchased a new machine. Today both waterjet cutters are working 24/7 providing custom-cut products to our clients.”
With business doing so well, it is no surprise to hear that HARALD PIHL continues to expand its presence around the globe. The company now has fourteen sites all over the world (including agents), with the latest office opening taking place in Vietnam.
“We are also focusing strongly on further expanding our reach into the German market at the moment,” explains Jonas. “We are moving to new, bigger and more efficient premises in Germany. There are many opportunities for us to expand our market share in Germany further.”
Experts in metal since 1912
HARALD PIHL is a family company with a long history. The company was founded in 1912 by HARALD PIHL and is still today, over 100 years later, managed by the fourth generation of the Pihl family. Being in business for so long, it has established contacts all over the world and the team has gained a vast knowledge of metallurgy.
The company’s success and geographical expansion have also in required an increase in staff numbers. “One very interesting example is our newest recruitment, Mr. Ingo Stiebe who will start as our new Managing Director in Germany at the end of 2020. Recruitment of good staff is not only focused in our international offices but also at home in Sweden.
These have included the appointment of an aerospace specialist, whom Jonas fondly refers to as the “Wayne Gretsky” of aerospace, to oversee the company’s expansion into this sector, applications for certifications, etc.
Efficient online systems
One important area HARALD PIHL is regularly improving is their online presence and ordering systems. The company’s accessible website is self-explanatory with a good overview of what’s on offer. Customers can easily find what they need online. The company has an unusually transparent system in place, where the customer can see online exactly what is in stock. The system is highly beneficial for the customers as they know immediately what stock is available and when new stock will arrive, saving them precious time.
Facts & Figures
Name: HARALD PIHL AB
Headquarters: Taby, Sweden
Offices: Finland, Germany, Denmark, Norway, Poland, UK, Italy, China, Turkey, Indonesia, India, Vietnam, Czech Republic.
Jonas explains: “Our customers can easily track the progress of their order, see when it will be ready to be packed, collected or shipped. Customers can also see if they have invoices that are due to be paid, and download documents such as product certificates or new invoices. Furthermore, repeat orders can be placed with the simple click of a button.”
Internally this platform is also used for delivery monitoring. “We are usually keeping track of up to 250 incoming shipments at a time, so we’ve created a system where everyone in the company can monitor these pending deliveries.
Literally everyone from sales to the warehouse has access to this system, making us even more efficient and transparent. The result is that we can all very clearly communicate about the deliveries to our customers.”
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