Entreprise du Patrimoine Vivant


Red metal at the heart of industrial know-how of excellence

EPV-labelled companies are also industrial companies. Indeed, a large number of labelled companies have technical, technological or industrial expertise, in wide-ranging sectors of activity, from packaging to optical and precision instruments, to machinery and equipment manufacturing.

To take us to the heart of French industry and the home of know-how of excellence, we talked to Lionel Pellevoisin, managing director of Société d'Application du Métal Rouge (SAMR), a company with thirty staff that occupies a niche market involving a high degree of expertise.

 

- Tell us a bit about how your company came into being.

 

It goes back to 1947, the post-war years. A mechanics enthusiast, Jules Coste, found he had difficulty finding the right bearings for rebuilding vehicle engines. So he decided to set up a company, the Société d’Application du Métal Rouge. He then developed a centrifugal foundry, and succeeded in perfecting the homogeneous mixing of two immiscible materials. It was the mastery of this delicate process of application of an anti-friction metal by centrifugation which led to the company’s rapid growth on the automotive and HGV market in the late 1970s. That is how the name METAL ROUGE [RED METAL] came about, since it was recognised by experts in industrial rotating machines.

 

- Has your speciality evolved since the company was founded?

 

Over time, the company has specialised in the manufacture of small series of parts with high added value: sliding bearings, as opposed to ball bearings. Until recently, we were one of two companies in France present in this market of centrifugation of copper alloys to obtain multi-metal bearings. But the other company was taken over by a German firm a few years ago, making us the only existing French firm to possess this rare expertise.

 

 Our production process covers three fields: we are both casters and refiners; we perform machining; and we apply surface treatments by the electrodeposition of thin metallic coatings.

 

 

 

Our company also has cutting-edge know-how on how sliding bearings work: we undertake all stages, from calculation to assembly at our customers’ premises, as well as providing training for maintenance managers, for example. This expertise is highly sought-after by industrial firms which at times no longer have an intimate knowledge of their machinery. Their maintenance has been subcontracted to general maintenance engineers who lack the expertise of critical parts like fluid bearings. We play both the role of "prosthetist”, who makes the part, and that of the "dentist” who fits it and makes the appropriate adjustments!

 

- How do you combine tradition and innovation?

 

Centrifugal casting is a tradition in our company. Every piece we produce is a prototype; we use the lost-mould technique. Each piece is composed of its own metal and will have a life of its own during manufacture. So there is no place for automation; instead, it requires operators to have expertise and self-control throughout the production cycle.

 

When I took over the company in 2002, my predecessor Christian, son of the founder, passed on to me not only the tools, but also his know-how and experience of the trade; in fact, even now I still seek his opinion on delicate cases. Today I am committed to formalising, improving and carrying on that know-how. This involves significant investment in documenting and perfecting the process, as well as investment in human resources. Our training budget is considerable, and each internal hiccup (unsticking, separation, cracking, dross) is used to improve our understanding of the phenomena in play.

 

Technical progress accompanies our own development. For example, we improved the refining process by replacing our old oil furnace with an induction furnace, which initially took some getting to grips with. But we also have to innovate constantly, particularly to improve internal quality rates, to develop our specialist machinery, and to guarantee the safety of our operators.

 

 

 

Indeed, the demands are extremely high. Our pieces are described as "critical”: they "carry” all of the power of the machine. In the event of a problem (overheating, vibration, lack of lubrication, etc.), they will be sacrificed to prevent jamming and save the noble element which is the rotor. No faults are tolerated. In fact, the reliability of the engines or turbines on which they are mounted depends upon it.

 

We therefore have to be continually adjusting our manufacturing processes in line with new requirements and new methods. We have, of course, introduced ISO standards in our quality process and each hand-finished piece is numbered and has its measurements and material quality recorded. In addition, this year we are launching a research and development programme aimed at developing an innovative metal complex to prepare the way for the future.

 

 

- Who are your customers?

 

Our sliding bearings, in small series, are supplied to heavy industry, for high-powered machinery, pumps, heavy engines, reducing mills, rolling mills, fans, turbines, etc. We work, among others, for the petrochemicals, railways, shipbuilding, and iron and steel industries.

 

- Have you got your sights set overseas?

 

 

 

In 2004, we put in place an overseas trade development plan, with support from the regional authorities and COFACE. As a result, 30% of our turnover now comes from exports, primarily to Europe and Africa. But we should be able to do much better than that.

 

- Why did you apply for the Entreprise du Patrimoine Vivant label?

 

It was Eric Servain at the Chamber of Commerce of Troyes and Aube who, being familiar with the company, encouraged us to apply for the EPV label. In an environment where the spotlight tends to be only on new technologies or fast-growing companies, the initiative of showing an interest in industry seemed to us to be ground-breaking and worth exploring.

 

Given the specific nature of our line of business, where each piece is treated like a real jewel, the label was, for us, an unexpected opportunity to gain recognition for our rare, unique expertise, in the hands of staff who benefited from it in terms of recognition and motivation. The fact that our highly specific industrial know-how should be valued in the same way as traditional crafts was very important to us.

 

 

 

 


12 March 2010