As president and founder of Pyromaitre, Mario Grenier has established a reputation for his creativity and problem-solving skills. Perhaps those seeds were sewn during his university studies, when he received degrees in both psychology and audiology. “I was interested in the research side of things,” he says, “delving into matters having to do with sensory perception.”
After working at a hospital for about a year and a half, which he didn’t enjoy, he thought back to an experience he’d had during college that had made a real impression. “My uncle owned an art school where he taught things like ceramics and painting, and I’d worked there when I was still studying psychology,” Grenier recalls. “Then my uncle had gotten sick and I’d stepped in to help, and I ended up building my first kiln. Then, when he died, I basically drained my bank account to purchase most of his equipment.”
One of the school’s students approached him about building her a kiln, which he did, and this led to another order—and then many more. The result? “I decided to go into the oven business,” he says, “and I launched Pyromaitre in 1981.”
Just as serendipity had played a major role in his decision to start the company, his introduction to stress-relieving came about in much the same way, when a man starting a spring manufacturing company nearby asked him to build an oven for the enterprise in 1986. The project was a success, and it marked the beginning of Pyromaitre’s focus on building more ovens for industrial applications.
Throughout the 1990s the company continued refining its processes—including the development of the high-speed tempering process—and in 1999 the Ford Motor Company selected Pyromaitre as a first-tier supplier of stress relieving and tempering ovens. The company became ISO 9001 registered that same year, also moving into its own building.
Just as the company was beginning to make significant inroads into the U.S. market, the economic downturn occurred, putting a serious damper on its prospects in the States. Grenier quickly realized that he had no choice but to seek new markets in order to continue Pyromaitre’s growth trajectory. “We saw that we had to find new hunting grounds,” he says, “and we went at it full-speed ahead. And if we ended up plowing into the ditch, we weren’t going to do it at five miles per hour. We decided to proceed with no regrets, and no looking back.”
The results have been quite heartening, with equipment shipped to customers in Germany, France, the U.K., Sweden, and Denmark. One reason is because the technology the company has developed helps its customers attain a competitive edge, especially in terms of production throughput. “Our technology focuses on controlling heat transfer, not just the heat,” Grenier explains. “And by controlling the heat-transfer properties we’re able to cut cycle times significantly. We work with the Visteon Corporation, for instance, and the normal cycle time for tempering their gears was about an hour and a half, but we were able to produce the same results in 20 minutes.”
According to Jim Demarest, the company’s sales and marketing manager, interest in this proven technology has spread overseas, resulting in a very successful licensing agreement with a manufacturer based in India. “This agreement has been in place for about a year and a half, and it’s already translated into 12 machines being sold,” he says. “While we’re also pursuing similar relationships in China—and have others in place in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East—we’re particularly impressed by the potential the India market represents. The growth there is just amazing, plus they have a similar banking and accounting structure as a result of having been a British colony, so that enhances communication from a financial standpoint.”
Demarest adds that Visteon is utilizing Pyromaitre’s heat-transfer technology to temper gears at a facility in Mexico. “We designed and shipped them two machines, and they’re in the process of purchasing two more, so that project is going very well,” he says. “The system we delivered is used to temper vacuum carburized gears for an all-wheel drive power takeoff unit that mates to the new six-speed front wheel drive transmission, and not only does it temper the gears in just over half an hour, the unit takes up about 400 percent less space than conventional ovens do.”
All in all, Grenier says that he’s pleased that he chose industry over academia, especially in light of the growth the company has enjoyed in recent years. “Not long ago we had 20 machines being built at the same time, and they were shipped to seven different countries, so our efforts to reach new markets around the globe are definitely beginning to pay off.”
Still, Grenier remains philosophical about the particular path he’s chosen, saying that it’s all about human resources. “We have a great group of people, and we enjoy overcoming the challenges we’re faced with in our work. It’s one thing to make things, but it’s another to sell them, and Jim’s arrival last year greatly helped to secure our growth and future.
“But it’s important to always remember that it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey,” he says, “so we all try to be stress-relieved and well tempered, ourselves—and that’s the link between psychology and metallurgy. Plus the longest possible soak time with family and friends.”