Time to Re-tool and Revamp Your Flame Hardening Equipment?

downtown-mysterious-fireworks

Now that all our flame hardening display items have been shipped back and put away until 2017, we at FTSI have put our heads together on what we learned during our stay in Detroit – about the economy, the heat treating industry, and trends in manufacturing. This special post captures our reflections on what we learned.

 

Some companies are seeing as much as a 25% decline in heat treating volume over the last year. That sounds high, but through 2010-2014 many heat treaters saw record high volume. One Midwest company had such high volume they had to to run their equipment constantly. Now they are behind on scheduled maintenance and refurbishment of machines and component parts. With the lower volume now, they can absorb needed downtime in their production lines and perform the kind of maintenance and replacement that keeps existing equipment running at full efficiency and to identify any potential problems before they cause any loss of production in the future.

If you are seeing space in your current production load that you haven’t seen for awhile, you might want to take a page from this company’s book and use the less busy time to re-tool, repair, and revamp so you’re in top shape for the next ramp up in production. Flame hardening equipment is notoriously hardy and can keep running even when some components are worn out, but of course to maintain the highest standards you wouldn’t want to do that for long. Here are some maintenance procedures we recommend to make sure your components are all operating at top efficiency:

  1. Take inventory of all flame heads. How many do you have, which ones are used more than others?
  2. Speak with your operator about which flame heads that seem to be performing better than others.
  3. When you identify those that are not working optimally ship them to us for a diagnosis. We’ll let you know whether cleaning is sufficient or repair/replacement is required. Flame heads can be returned cleaned and repaired, or new ones shipped, usually within two weeks.
  4. All flame heads can benefit from regular cleaning; in fact, we recommend the practice in our user guides. But we know it’s easy to get behind on this. Cleaning is the easiest, cheapest maintenance to do, which is why now may be an ideal time to do it. Carbon or material can build up in the chamber or flame ports from the burning of gases. Buildup starts to restrict flow – which can compromise the quality of your flame, and the cycle time to heat the part to the right temperature.

To clean a flame head, we first boil it in a special solution for several hours. Then every flame port is penetrated and blown out with forced air twice, after which we test the head and repeat the process wherever buildup may have been moved but not removed. Cleaning typically costs 25% of what it costs to replace the flame head.

  1. Over time and heavy use, sometimes the flame port and surface of the head can melt or erode from the force of the gas/oxygen flow. The counter bore can be eroded. In these cases we clean the heads, skim cut the surface 20-30 thousandths of an inch, then re-counter bore. A repair like this typically costs 50% of the total replacement cost.
  2. Replacement of the head is always the best way to keep your flame hardening machine running at top efficiency. If you have cash on hand from the boom years and need to make some capital investments, now is the time to replace flame heads.

Flow meters and pyrometers degrade over time as well, and we’ll address these maintenance and replacement tips in another blog.

We’ll also address how customers use flame hardening equipment to increase or create new revenue streams when their usual streams are seeing a decrease. Again and again, in the field we see machine shops and manufacturers create revenue with our equipment and save money over other solutions, such as outsourcing or more expensive heat treating equipment like induction. It’s great to see that innovation remains alive and well in American manufacturing no matter what happens in China!

One innovation we saw in Detroit concerned the show itself. We learned was that surprises make for good social media advertising even if you’re not well-known. ASM International sponsored a surprise fireworks display off the docks on the Detroit River. As people on both sides of the river tweeted and posted video, they eventually learned that the heat treating association was behind the display – getting the name of ASM in front of lots of people who had never heard of them! Pretty innovative.

(Shoutout to Richard Carson for this great photo from the Windsor side of the river.)

Post a reply with your own stories of turning the challenges in the economy to your advantage. Or call or email me: 919-956-5208 and mark@flametreatingsystems.com. Keep the flame burning!