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Daniel BONNEFON’s vision of creativity and innovation

On the occasion of our participation in GLOBAL INDUSTRIE PARIS, the trade fair for the industry, technologies and equipment of the future, we interviewed Daniel BONNEFON, CEO of the GROUPE BONNEFON, about his vision of creativity and innovation.

Hello Daniel, as we are exhibiting in GLOBAL INDUSTRIE PARIS trade fair, we’d like to hear your views as a CEO. In 1955, BONNEFON SOUDURE was founded by your father, Jacques. Can you tell us more about the methods and equipment used by welders during this period?

When BONNEFON SOUDURE was founded in 1955, protection for people at work was relative. It wasn’t the highest priority, because mentalities were different. There was PPE (personal protective equipment) such as welding helmets with tinted mineral lenses that had to be removed and changed depending on the soldered joint you had to make, protective leather clothing, safety shoes, etc. But these were not as optimised as they are today. Also for the extraction of welding fumes, we tended to use ambient extraction solutions which consequently did not protect the welder, since they did not extract the welding fumes before they spread throughout the workshop and above all before they reached the operator’s respiratory tract.

Changes in legislation in favour of operator comfort, protection and health have influenced the development of welding equipment.

In 1993 you managed the company with your brother and in 2005 you bought ENGMAR together. What was your outlook for the company? Why would you choose a vacuum solutions company?

ENGMAR was founded in 1993. At the time, the company was already ahead of its time, proposing solutions for the extraction of welding fume emissions even though the legislation in force did not yet recognise them as carcinogenic, and all the technical solutions proposed were based on ambient capture. The company was therefore a pioneer in this technical approach, and at the time it was very difficult to convince manufacturers to equip themselves with this type of solution. It is only since 2009-2010 that companies and institutions (CARSAT, INRS) have become aware of the need to turn to this type of solution.

There were therefore 3 reasons why my brother Gérard and I decided to buy ENGMAR:
• Our core business was about technical trading and dealing: we didn’t produce anything ourselves. Integrating ENGMAR into the Group meant integrating the world of welding from the manufacturer’s point of view, to further consolidate our presence and expertise in this field.
• Then, in 2005, regulations on welding fume extraction were not yet in place. But attitudes had already started to change, we felt that these solutions were innovative and that there were probably good development opportunities for the future.
• The desire to develop our company through external growth in our core business, welding.

What changes have you seen in the methods and practices of welders? Have you seen any innovations to make welding easier?

There’s always PPE, which is increasingly ergonomic, comfortable and safe. For example, there are now welding bonnets with electronic shutters where the glass is tinted according to the light intensity emitted by the electric arc. There’s no longer need to dismantle the welding helmet lenses each time, saving time, improving comfort and ensuring that welders’ eyes are properly protected.

When it comes to protective clothing, there have been no major changes. Leather is still the material that provides the best protection for the body. However, they are more comfortable, better adapted to welders’ movements and… a little more elegant!

We’ve also seen developments on the machines: some of them are designed to optimise resources: consume less energy and emit less smoke and scrap while improving the quality of the soldered joint. In short, we are working on the quality of the electric arc and on simplicity of use for junior welders.

When it comes to welding fume extraction, there are many innovations here too, particularly in terms of source capture and workplace ergonomics. Also when the vacuum system is centralised, the central unit calculates energy requirements and uses only the power needed. Digital solutions allow remote access to the central unit for maintenance and performance monitoring.

When it comes to optimising productivity, increasingly efficient manual welding mechanisation systems have appeared on the market, along with industrial and collaborative welding robots. Artificial intelligence is increasingly present in the welding industry.

The sector is undergoing continuous improvement.

What are your current objectives in terms of innovation and creativity for the Group?

There are two perspectives for innovation and creativity to consider for the Group and its various brands today.

On the manufacturer’s side: in order to remain the market leader in innovation, we have invested significantly in our Research and Development department. Our engineers are working on various projects, divided into two main areas:
• Improve the reliability and performance of our existing products,
• Technical and regulatory monitoring combined with our welding hyper-specialisation, to offer the market solutions and products that anticipate our customers’ industrial needs.

On the technical trade’s side:
• Continuing to be a real representative for our suppliers’ innovations to our customers,
• Challenge our suppliers on the basis of customer needs identified in the field,
• To be innovative in terms of services, in order to provide our customers with the most appropriate industrial solution.

As a manufacturer and technical dealer, technology watch and team training are essential if we are to remain agile and a source of new ideas.

Would you describe yourself as creative and innovative?

I’m working on it… I’d say that it’s essential to challenge yourself in these areas to be able to imagine your company in the world of tomorrow. You have to be able to accept and adapt to change, and ideally anticipate it. Knowing our environment and how it is changing, listening to our customers, using all the management tools at our disposal, continuing to cultivate our technical expertise, having a strategic vision… these are all imperatives that we apply on a daily basis.

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