By Steve Fetteroll, executive director
2022 was a step forward for the industry. In early June, WAI held Wire Expo 2022 in Dallas. It was a joyous return to a live event, and later that same month, WAI was in Germany for wire Dusseldorf. In October, the U.K. Clockwinder was finally at the Madison headquarters after two years of a virtual winder. New staff was added, and volunteers and staff pivoted, working on Wire Expo and Interwire 2023. Now, the 2023 mix will include two international technical conferences in Mexico and Italy. All in all, it was a good year.
The return to a live WAI event
Numbers are only part of a story. When the WAI Operations Summit & Wire Expo 2022 (Wire Expo) was held in June, the event did not set records attendance-wise, but it was one of the Association’s most memorable trade shows ever. Attendees were thrilled to be in Dallas, Texas, and the memories of the prior two years that saw cancellations of Wire Expo 2020 and Interwire 2021 were finally able to fade.
It was painful to lose both of those events to Covid, but behind the scenes WAI volunteers and staff were busy. Ably led by 2020 WAI President Jan Sørige and 2021 WAI President Thomas Heberling, the focus was on not just creating virtual programming, but targeting themes that would relate to industry challenges and concerns. That mindset continued with 2022 WAI President James York, who took a very active role throughout the year in developing the content.
Even before York welcomed attendees the opening day, there was a positive buzz. More seats had to be added, and the enthusiasm continued during presentations that featured speakers that included Encore Wire Vice President of Sales Kevin Heffernan and Prysmian Group North America Chief Procurement Officer Brian Schulties.
The opening of the trade show that followed was memorable. It was as if there had never been a two-year gap. Attendees mingled with exhibitors, and engaged conversations ensued. It confirmed once again how and why people talking to people face-to-face matters so much.
There was also a lot to hear. The theme for the event—which started off with WAI’s iconic Fundamentals of Wire Manufacturing program—was Rising to the Challenge. A series of presentations covered the workforce, the supply chain, production solutions and developments.
Wire Expo saw the traditional awarding of prizes, and this time there were three years’ worth as WAI honored the 2022 Mordica, Donnellan and WAI President’s award winners as well as the recipients of those honors in 2020 and 2021. See below list. Virtual recognition is better than none, but seeing the collective winners who were able to attend was a moment of pride.
Much else could also be said about Wire Expo. The event technically is put on by the WAI, but it would not be possible without industry contribution. Even at Wire Expo, WAI’s smaller annual event, more than a hundred volunteers contributed in some way, many behind the scenes. The company that deserves kudos is Encore Wire, which opened its massive McKinney campus for a tour of its expansive operations. The company had recently completed yet another major expansion, which brings its size to some three million sq ft ... and an interior train system. It made for a Texas-sized experience.
The return to staging international events
WAI’s mission statement is to disseminate technical information, and one way it does that is through holding International Technical Conferences (ITCs), either alone or in cooperation with other industry groups. Covid has upended those efforts the last few years, but in 2023 the Association will have two ITCs, one in Italy and the other in Mexico.
The WAI’s Board of Directors has given the go-ahead on these efforts, which you will be reading about more in future issues. The Italian ITC, to be called Wire & Cable Milan, will be held this fall in Milan. The date was reached at a recent meeting in Italy, where WAI President James York and WAI Executive Director Steve Fetteroll met with ACIMAF President Ferruccio Bellina at the 35th anniversary of the Italian machinery association. There was agreement that the time was right to once again join forces.
The last WAI collaboration with ACIMAF was for Wire & Cable in Verona in 2017, which attracted 250 delegates from 27 countries. Prior ITCs in Italy had been held in Stresa (2003 and 1997).
The second ITC will see WAI return to Mexico, where it has held four prior ITCs, three in Monterrey (2016, 2010 and 2008) and one in Queretaro (2004). Mexico has consistently proved to be a good location, a key to each of those being the support provided by 2009 WAI President Antonio Ayala. The 2023 ITC will be held Nov. 13-15.
Again, more information on both these events will be presented in future issues and at www.wirenet.org.
WAI Board supports further education
At a recent meeting, WAI’s Board of Directors authorized a fund of $50,000 to go to the creation of more educational products for the wire and cable industry.
The goal of the pilot program is to develop video-based training in different disciplines that would be of value to employees that are either new to the industry or have new responsibility. WAI has already created a number of videos—one of which, on cleaning an extruder screw, has had more than 83,000 viewings online—and will now focus on creating a new training series. This is still in the early stages, and WAI President Kurt Breischaft noted that this will be a long-term project that will serve both the ferrous and nonferrous sectors.
The value of tradition
The saga of Martin Thacker is worth noting. In 2020 and 2021, he served as the virtual Clockwinder, carrying out the annual tradition, from his U.K. home, of winding the Grandfather’s clock presented to the Association by the British wire and cable industry for help provided during World War II.
On Nov. 3, Thacker—who is a Liveryman of the Court of the Worshipful Company of Tinplate Workers Alias Wireworkers (Tinplate Workers) in London—was able to perform the duties, finally, in person. “I felt a fraud since I had fast become king of the virtual clockwinding ceremony. Now, having been here in Madison, I can now wear my tie with pride.”
Of note, only one past Clockwinder has wound the clock more than Thacker, and that is the late Terrence Cahill, Somerset Wire, who performed the tradition in 1979, 1989, 1991 and 1997.
Change is part of any business, and with the departure of Robert “Bob” Xeller as sales director at the end of 2021, Shannon Timme took over that post, tasked with organizing the Interwire and Wire Expo trade shows. She joined the company in 2017 as sales manager, and has transitioned into her new post. She recently achieved certification for exhibition management.
One of Timme’s key tasks was to replace her former position, and it took several months before she found Gina Guzowski, whose prior experience included working for four years as a representative for RFS, handling cable, wire and antenna deployments for cell tower build ups. Guzowski had quite an industry introduction: in less than two months from her hire date, she had attended both Expo and wire Düsseldorf.
Of note, John Markowski, who became WAI intern in 2018, joined the Association full time in 2021, with responsibility for membership and social media.
It is fair to say that the WAI embodies a lean approach to staffing. As of the end of 2022, WAI had a total of nine full-time employees, and one part-timer, Cindy Kirmms, who is the circulation manager and supports accounting. It also has had different interns, the current one being Corey Flynn, a senior finance student at The University of New Haven.
The industry story includes WJI
Covid and staffing shortages have not been overly kind to wire and cable manufacturers and suppliers, and it seems as if every company has a story to tell. That includes WAI. One story that you did not read about had to do with delays for WJI because of its suppliers.
The magazine itself was able to function throughout the pandemic, as staff can work remotely, but WAI’s printer in New Hampshire depends on employees at their site. The printers have had to deal with Covid disruptions and severe staff shortages. That situation got a lot uglier early in 2022 when a cyber attack brought its systems down. The ensuing chaos added weeks to the dates the completed issues could be mailed. At the same time, truckers contacted to ship WJI preshow issues to Texas for Wire Expo and to Germany for wire Düsseldorf wanted to get those issues even earlier to ensure they arrived on time.
Fortunately, the problems eased some, enough that both preshow issues reached their destinations in time. The memory of that experience has not faded, and WAI staff shares a sincere appreciation for the struggles that so many companies have had to overcome.