How sustainability can be embedded in the abrasives niche, with Winoa Group 

William (Bill) Cousineau is CEO, Americas for Winoa Group (Winoa). To understand more about the business, and what it’s like to lead one of the biggest manufacturers of steel abrasives in the world, Bill joined us in conversation for the latest issue of Manufacturing Today. 

“My journey in the industrial world began in 1989 in the refractory industry for a company called Combustion Engineering in Canada,” he begins, recounting his path to the top spot at Winoa.  

“As consolidation was the main industrial theme in the 1990s, Combustion Engineering went through various ownership handovers until it was acquired by in 1999 by Vesuvius, a global leader in refractories,” adds Bill. 

“This acquisition sparked immense change in the industry and significant opportunities for me personally. From product installation, to sales, to product management, and general management, I fostered a deep respect and understanding for how different parts of the business operate firsthand. 

“I’ve been fortunate to not only work across several business functions but also in many different locations around the world during my tenure,” he details. “My experience in the business – combined with an international track record ­– greatly assists in my position as CEO, Americas for Winoa today.” 

Winoa has a rich history, too. The company began as a joint venture more than 60 years ago between two firms on completely different continents – North America and Europe.  

The vision for the joint venture was solid, and Winoa went on, growing year-on-year, to become a world leader in the manufacturing of steel abrasives. On the topic of vision and scope, Winoa offers a full range of abrasive products.  

All products manufactured by the group are green alternatives to expandable abrasives, composed of more than 95 percent recycled materials. The products themselves are all 100 percent recyclable.  

In addition to being safe for workers and kind to the environment, Winoa’s products offer consistent, high performance while also being competitively priced. “By meeting these two criteria, our products can increase productivity, minimize surface contamination in order to secure long-term coatings, and engender a reduction in consumption (compared to other manufacturers of expandable abrasives),” Bill explains. 

Before we turn our full attention towards the sustainability element, we’re first keen to learn further about the scope of the wider business. “Our activities are divided into three business lines: abrasives, services and complementary products, and technologies,” Bill details. 

“We have a complete range of metallic medias, including cast steel shot and grit abrasives, cast iron and stainless-steel
shots, and cut wire peening media – just to name a few.  

“Our abrasives are unique thanks to our highly skilled and aptly deployed technical support team; an exceptional range of premium products are also available for high performance blasting, and Winoa’s extensive sales and distribution network means we can export to more than 100 countries, offering a vast array of customers global availability and security when it comes to supply. 

“These activities are mainly focused on surface treatment solutions, though,” Bill adds. “There are, in fact, many applications. But, in the field, these will typically include sandblasting, desanding, and descaling foundry parts; surface preparation before coating or paint application; plus shot peening and granite cutting.” 

Sustainability is the buzzword on everyone’s lips. For Bill, it’s no different. “We have embarked on an ambitious program to reduce the energy intensity of our production,” he reveals.  

“Whether major investments, such as innovative heat treatment, or smaller more modest ones, such as the installation of LEDs in our workshops, we are utilizing all options. Every degree, every kilowatt: it all counts towards our goal.   

“Above all, we take an end-to-end approach to the environment,” he goes on.
“I’d go as far as to say that we lead the industry, taking a green pledge to be carbon neutral by 2050.” 

Indeed, Winoa has published its roadmap to reduce carbon emissions by 100 kg CO2eq every decade. Bill argues that the company is well positioned to achieve this. As it stands, Winoa’s emissions are at a benchmark industry level of 300 kg CO2eq (which is,
he points out, itself six times less than that of steel). 

“Understanding the life cycle of a product is key to finding the sweet spot of sustainability,” he continues. “At Winoa, the process starts by choosing suppliers that process raw materials by following clean initiatives and responsible practices – no matter where they are in the world.  

This process involves making sure that each supplier’s sustainability policy aligns with our company’s focus on clean, environmental practices. With 95 percent of our materials already sourced from recycled waste, we always endeavor to dive deeper into the manufacturing world in order to create a complete reusable production process.” 

But what does that look like? For Bill, it’s quite simple: residuals that are generated in the steelmaking process are recirculated in alternative steel production processes and, where possible, raw materials are substituted for recycled alternatives.  

“In doing so, you can decrease waste volumes and increase material efficiency by allocating by-products in other processes within steel’s lifecycle,” notes Bill. “As materials flow in both directions – upstream and downstream – it has proven useful to take a cross functional approach.   

“Human resources are addressing organizational development,” he adds. “Sales and marketing, on the other hand, are engaging in customer-focused initiatives, while our finance division is building a range of business models to support the initiatives. The main challenge in North America is how to unlock innovation… but that’s a topic for next time.” 

It’s all very exciting. So, what’s on the horizon? “Without giving the group strategy away, Winoa has a growth target initiative mapped out to 2030,” Bill reveals.   

“This initiative realizes that our core business in abrasives is a pillar that will be maintained,” he goes on. “The growth will come in specialty areas or ancillary business that complement our core offering – we’ll continue to expand our technical services, while also focusing on specialty products and positioning ourselves strategically so we can expand our leadership role in the industry. 

It’s clear that Winoa’s success has come from its ability to adapt amid continuous change, combined, no doubt, with the winning spirit of people like Bill. “I’m driven and always motivated by winning,” he admits. “It’s that simple. 

“When I think about winning in business,” he reflects, “it ultimately boils down to how you can satisfy three groups: your customers, your employees and your shareholders.  

“It can be tough to satisfy all of them at the same time, but I try to make sure we always have a balanced view of satisfying those three. Working with, building, and motivating the best teams over the long run, everyone wins, and that’s truly what motivates me.”