Surface Combustion has played a central role in the growth and evolution of thermal processing. Tell us a little about its history.
The company was founded in 1915 on the patented principal of surface combustion, which involved the discovery that when a burner is fired into an envelope you get more-uniform heating if it radiates off of a refractory surface and then onto the workpiece rather than directly impinging on it. From that point forward Surface Combustion has brought a series of thermal processing advances to the market.
We saw and were involved in the introduction of direct gas firing, and then indirect gas firing, which required firing into a radiant tube and led to the idea of creating a protective atmosphere around the loads. That concept awakened the world to the potential of gas carburizing and gas nitriding, which allowed us to create a very precise and controlled atmosphere to achieve particular outcomes.
We’ve pioneered a number of advances in both batch and continuous atmosphere furnace concepts and developed many of the atmospheres that are in widespread use today, such as endothermic gas, so our history is one that’s very long and rich.
Would you say that this spirit of innovation is central to the company’s philosophy?
It certainly is, and it has been from our earliest days. We’ve understood from the very beginning that technology is everything, and you’ve got to stay about three steps ahead of the game, so we invest a tremendous amount of time and resources into our R&D activities. We have full metallurgical and chemical labs here at our headquarters in Maumee, Ohio, where our staff is working to learn more about microstructures and how to achieve maximum hardness in finished products.
We also have a heat-treat development area that allows us to demonstrate prototypes and processes to our customers, and that’s also where we test our own concepts and technologies that are currently in development. Many times customers approach us with new ideas, and that’s where we can work together to develop new equipment or improve on existing systems. We also work with institutions such as the Center for Heat Treating Excellence at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute, which was established in 1999 by a consortium of parties led by the ASM Heat Treating Society, of which we’re also a member.
Sounds like you have a very close relationship with your customers.
We do, and that’s achieved in a number of ways. First there’s the development of a thermal heating system that perfectly meets their requirements, because even though we have standard heat-treating units available, the majority of the systems we provide are custom projects. Beyond the point of installation we provide training, and both emergency and scheduled maintenance services. We have a healthy and thriving aftermarket parts business, and since we keep all of our drawings and patterns we can provide parts for a system that’s been in operation for the past 75 years, which happens quite often.
We also offer retrofit/rebuild services so that we can update the technology on any system out there, regardless of the make. So we really do see the initial sale to a new client as just the beginning of a long-term relationship where we’re not only a vendor but a knowledge resource. We’re definitely there for them when we need to get a system back up and running, but we also want to provide guidance as to how they can maintain systems in a way that will avoid equipment downtime to begin with.
Anything on the horizon you’re particularly excited about?
We’re always developing new technologies to meet the changing requirements within the markets we serve. In the wind industry, for instance, the emphasis is on improved temperature, atmosphere, and quenching uniformity in order to minimize distortion, and in the automotive and off-road markets we’re dealing with new materials that are both lighter and stronger. We’ve also introduced a new vacuum carburizing system with high-pressure gas quenching, which does a much better job than oil quenching in many applications. With the exception of induction we feel that it’s important for us to be involved in all aspects of the heat-treating market so that we can address our customer’s needs, no matter their requirements. When you’ve been around for as long as we have you’ve amassed a great deal of knowledge and expertise, and we’re here to share that information with our customers.
MORE INFORMATION: Call (800) 537-8980 or go online to [www.surfacecombustion.com].