It’s a story of incredible highs and heartbreaking lows, beginning in post-WWII America when a man set out to repair his wife’s pottery kiln. “Harold Ipsen was an engineer with a degree from Brown University,” according to Geoffrey Somary, president and CEO of Ipsen, Inc., “so when his wife asked him to fix her kiln he thought ‘how hard could it be?’ Well, he did such a good job that a neighbor asked him to build another, and then a local business asked if he could develop an oven for heating metals. That’s when he knew he was onto something.”
The entrepreneurial engineer launched Ipsen Industries in Rockford, Illinois, in 1948. A small shop with only a few employees, its work centered on building small atmosphere furnaces, later opening IpsenLab to offer contract heat treating services in 1951. Fueled by his own ideas and the company’s steady growth — and knowing there would be plenty of work for him as Europe recovered from the war — Ipsen decided to open a branch in Kleve, Germany, in 1957. The work was rewarding, the company was beginning to gain a global reputation, and then tragedy struck.
“Harold Ipsen was an avid pilot,” Somary says, “and in 1965 he died landing his own plane at the Rockford airport, less than two miles from where I’m sitting right now. It was a terrible tragedy, especially for his family, but they tried to carry on running the company on their own for a couple of years before they sold it to Pennsylvania-based Alco Standard in 1967.”
Abar Corporation, founded in 1960 was a company that specialized in vacuum furnace technology. Both Abar and Ipsen operated as competitors until 1985, when they formed a partnership. This partnership made sense as Abar focused on vacuum heat treating and Ipsen focused on atmosphere heat treating, so the two industry giants came together. The company changed its name to Abar Ipsen and was purchased by Ruhrgas Industries, the German natural gas distributor, in 1992. Coming full circle, and wanting to unite beneath a well-known and respected name, the company was renamed Ipsen International in 1996, eventually simplifying it even further to Ipsen, as the company is now known worldwide.
Although the group holding company is based in Germany, Ipsen locations around the world are rooted in the country and culture in which they reside. This is especially true of U.S. operations, which today are based near Rockford in Cherry Valley. The work conducted there, however, reverberates around the world. One development project occurred in an isolated part of the company dubbed “Area 51.” After two years of hard work, the doors were opened and the Titan vacuum furnace was born. “We wanted to take a very complicated piece of equipment and make it compact, cost effective, and user friendly no matter where it was being shipped to in the world,” he explains. “We had to think about everything from its dimensions, which had to be such that the TITAN could fit in one standard shipping container or truck, and that a wide choice of languages would be available on the operator interface. This had never been done before in thermal processing, and it’s been a huge success.”
So much so that the same approach has been taken in the development of the ATLAS atmosphere batch furnace system, which will be of particular interest to gear manufacturers. Beta versions were tested by end users in the United States and at sites around the world in preparation for the market launch. “We want the ATLAS to behave like a new laptop does when you turn it on,” Somary says, “so that it detects where it is, asks you a couple of questions about language preferences and such, and then you’re up and running in minutes.”
Although it’s a global entity — about 30 percent of its business is conducted in the United States, another 30 in Europe, 20 percent in Asia, and the remainder throughout the rest of the world — Ipsen takes its role within each country very seriously. “We strive to be an excellent corporate citizen, and here in the United States we’re particularly proud of the contribution we’re making to the rebirth of American manufacturing,” Somary says. “We’re making products here in this country both for our own use as well as the global marketplace, and that’s something everyone here is very proud of.”