Wendel, tradition and innovation in enamelling

Wendel Email has produced lead-free enamels for cast iron in Dillenburg, Germany, since 1932. Today it has four branch offices and supplies enamels and coloring oxides pigments for metal and ceramics. Klaus-Achim Wendel, Managing Director, presents the corporate policy and operations of the Group. Wendel Italia, the latest acquisition, is located in Dalmine (Bergamo) and has laboratories equipped to meet customer demands.

The business cards bear the words “Wendel Email – enamels, frits and dyes for metal and ceramics since 1932”. We in fact have to go back to 1932 in order to trace the origins of this company. Its founder, Karl Wendel sen., right from those early times, made the decision, or rather the commitment, not to include lead in the enamels. Karl Wendel was healer and director in an enamelling works, so he was able to see directly the physical effects of lead in workers when conditions were unsafe. An illuminated decision, which undoubtedly contributed to guiding other firms in the same direction.
In the meantime the production and operational units of the Wendel family became five: in Germany, France, Spain, Chile and Italy. The Italian office is the last born, which in 1999 took over the activity of a multinational in the sector.In the heavy industry area of Dalmine, just outside Bergamo, where Wendel Italia has its operational offices, we were met by Klaus-Achim Wendel, 38 years old, the managing director, who came specially from the headquarters in Dillenburg. After recalling his great-grandfather, still held up as an example at home and in the factory, Klaus-Achim Wendel summed up for us the activities of the Group and its policy. The latter is also revealed by the “words of wisdom” of the firm’s catalogues: “know-how is not enough, it has to be put into practice”; “quality is not involuntary”. Wendel, set up to produce enamels for cast iron in which it is the European leader, also produces enamels for ceramics, steel, aluminium, glass and jewellery. There are three main areas of activity: sanitary ware, kitchens and boilers and everything related to hot water and drains. True to its tradition, Wendel produces enamels which can be used by any technique in environment-friendly processes. “However we have to realise that nowadays, in general”, added the young Wendel with “Realpolitik”, ” the consumption of enamel has declined and become a niche product, only surviving where there is heat and water. Nevertheless awareness of this can become an advantage: since a mass product does not have to be supplied, one of greater quality can be provided. ‘Create a market with your innovative enamel’, and ‘performances create trust’ are two of the slogans in which we believe”, explained the managing director, Wendel. “We are the third-ranking group in Europe, and we consider ourselves a medium-sized global firm. We focus a great deal on research (employing 30 people in the laboratories in Germany), and we are equipped to fulfil in the best possible way the specialist needs of our customers all over the world”.

Klaus-Achim Wendel, 38 years old, a graduate in economics and business studies, and who attended courses for a master in business administration in Cologne and Munich.
He is Chief executive officer (CEO) of the Wendel group, in which he holds a 60% stake, the remaining 40 % being held by three other family members.

The director general of Wendel Italia, Attilio Monzio Compagnoni, accompanied us on our visit to the systems in operation at the Dalmine plant: those for analysis of the particle size distribution and the development of electrostatic powders; a heating microscope for monitoring the ceramic behaviour of enamels via a computer; a small continuous-process furnace which recreates the test and application conditions on the products of individual customers; booths for powder and wet enamelling; grinders for the pilot production of special products and silk-screen-printing pastes for difficult surfaces.
In 1999 Wendel patented a system for producing enamel in flakes in a rotary furnace, with homogeneous and longer melting, of special quality. The list of products developed is long: easy-to-clean, non-stick and ready-for-use enamels, popular above all with smaller firms, since they do not require specialist personnel or the old, now disappeared, heads of enamelling works of bygone times. Enamels which are resistant to thermal shock, for electrophoretic application to microwave ovens, for internal valves and cast iron pipes. In reply to a question on ongoing research, Klaus-Achim Wendel mentioned some work topics: enamels for lightly galvanised sheet metal (which costs less and provides, for example, benefits for bath manufacturers); enamels which, on any surface, are fired at lower temperatures, also reducing the release of gas by the cast iron; specially “reinforced” enamels for heat exchangers; titanium enamels; single-application enamels for boilers; enamels for electrophoretic application on grilles for kitchens in steel and cast iron; the replacement of nickel-plating with phosphate-coating ………….. to conclude, “Wendel has the perfect balance between tradition and innovation”.

QThe latest innovations also include membership of Centro Smalti …………
“CISP”, answered Klaus-Achim Wendel, “is the ‘heart’ of the enamelling industry. We are recent yet committed members. We feel that we have demonstrated this by the contribution made to the WG3 in developing new methods of testing adherence of the enamel to aluminium. We believe in the value of group work. However, if possible, we would prefer a more ‘open’ management, which also allows non-members to take part in meetings and congresses”.
“I have noticed”, added the director, Wendel, thus suggesting another working direction for CISP, “how in Italy, and in general in the romance language countries, enamel is easily confused with varnish. Instead, in Germany, the two terms are clearly distinct and this confusion is not made: enamel is enamel, varnish is varnish”.

QHow does a firm, structured with operational and production bases in various countries and continents, view the future of the global market?
“Even if enamel is too problematical for e-commerce, with the Internet and e-commerce the world will shrink, and we will have to go beyond national boundaries to support the costs of research. For our part”, concluded Klaus-Achim Wendel, “with our strong tradition and consolidated capacity for innovation, and aware of the fact that enamel has a niche market, we will continue to focus on innovative and customised enamels, in order to carve out new market shares for our customers and ourselves”Wendel Email GmbH

Wendel Email GmbH
Founded in 1932 in Dillenburg (Germany) to produce enamels for cast iron, Wendel Email GmbH is the third-ranking European group in the sector and produces enamels, frits and dyes for metal and ceramics. It has two plants, one in Germany (Wendel GmbH) and the other in Chile (Vitroquimica S.A.) for melting enamels; a sales office in France (Wendel-France Emaceram); a plant in Spain for the production of vitreous china (Wendel Email Ibérica S.A.) and, since 1999, Wendel Email Italia in Dalmine (Bergamo), which has modern laboratories and equipment for developing innovative products and thus fulfilling the specialist needs of customers.
In 1999 the five firms earned revenues of 25 million Euros, of which 80% came from exports all over the world, particularly to China, Australia and Japan. Wendel – ISO 9001-certified – is firmly established in the sales of enamels for baths, kitchens and boilers, and holds various patents (easy-to-clean enamels, and enamels in flakes produced in rotary furnaces), which involve a research staff of around thirty people at the laboratory in Germany. The firm is currently experimenting in various ways to produce “innovative enamels, which create a market”.

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