When Can You Upgrade Equipment Instead?

Flame Heads

Last month our blog explored issues related to the challenges of moving forward on the capital expense for a new flame hardening machine – a complete set-up customized to handle the parts with quality and repeatability.

This month I was living out that blog post at two customer sites. They are both multinational companies with extensive market share in the mining and heavy machinery sectors. They had built their own flame hardening machines in-house, probably 30-plus years ago. When the orders for mining equipment finally let up last year, their customers began complaining about some quality issues that didn’t get attention before. So the production lines in question came under scrutiny, and I got called in to help figure out what was causing the cracking in rope drums and sheaves (pulleys).

The people who built and ran the homemade systems all those years are now retired, and the workers left behind found the lack of measurement tools a real hindrance to producing the necessary quality demanded by the market. The machines had inadequate tools for measuring temperature, flows and pressures of the fuel and oxygen, and also flows of the quench solution.

Each of my customers faced similar causes of their quality issues, but they each took a different route for addressing them. The production management of the first customer wanted to hire me to tell them what would solve the problem and how much it would cost. Their management had the philosophy of “we don’t hire you to tell you what to do, we only hire people smart enough to tell us what to do.” Once they had the space in their production schedule to take the machine off-line, they ordered equipment that could consistently maintain the exact coupling distance for the entire cycle, as well as display the exact measurements of fuel, oxygen, and quench water for the operator to see during the cycle. These design elements are all essential to consistent, repeatable hardness patterns no matter who is running the equipment – which is what you need if you desire consistent quality in your production runs.

The other customer said, we can’t spend the money on capital expenditures right now. Help us come up with a work-around until market conditions improve enough to install some new equipment. For this customer, I inspected the flame hardening machine they had and then sat down with them to first, specify the quality goals they wanted, and second, to list all the improvements we thought necessary to reach the quality goals. These included: stabilize the flame head, measure flow and pressures of oxygen and fuel, and measure flow and temperature of quench. They thought they had flow meters that could measure correctly, but the meters installed were incorrect for the application, the piping was done incorrectly, and they weren’t measuring pressure. This meant the operator didn’t know what was actually happening with the part, until it cracked. So I told the customer how to fix the piping and showed them where to put pressure gauges to give accurate readings, and suggested they replace their meters. I helped them identify the reasons for their failures and left the work-around up to them.

I wanted to share these two case studies with you for a couple of reasons – one, legacy flame hardening equipment often doesn’t have the controls necessary to create the level of quality companies need to have in today’s marketplace; and two, if you don’t have the budget for a complete replacement of this equipment, you may still benefit from onsite consulting to at least identify critical pieces that if corrected, may help you satisfy the immediate demands of your customers. Flame hardening is still a reliable, cost-effective way to surface harden your carbon steel and cast iron parts. But the changing marketplace means it’s not your dad’s flame hardening anymore, and we can help you transition your equipment and personnel to a more consistent and quality level of production. Whether your budget only allows you to do that incrementally, or install a whole new flame hardening machine with the latest in programmable measuring equipment, let us help you be successful in your shop. That’s how we measure our own quality – your success!

I hope this helps, especially if you are dealing with legacy flame hardening processes and machines. I’ve been there and done that! Call me if I can be of any help to you: 919-956-5208, or mark@flametreatingsystems.com.