“How Much Does a Flame Hardening Machine Cost?”
One reason I love the Internet is that it’s given people all over the world a chance to send us flame hardening orders and questions. I love getting a request for flame heads from Dubai. Or for a new flame hardening machine in China, or Colombia, or Canada or Finland. No matter what the current state of global economics, people all over the world seem to always find a way to manufacture parts for a dizzying array of industries and applications. I love it when they find us on the Web and fill out our contact form or send me an email, asking all sorts of questions about their specific heat treating issue.
By far, out of all the questions we’re asked on a daily basis, the one we hear most often is: “How much does a flame hardening machine cost?” So, I’m going to blog today about all the interesting aspects that feed our answer to this most-asked question.
Flame hardening’s manufacturing history is cheap and dirty. The process has been around a long time, fired and refined in the steel industry’s heyday in the United States. Back when manufacturing was a dirty, labor-intensive affair run by hardened men in the front lines, flame hardening was just one more process in a long line requiring specialized skills and experience. People spent less on machines and more on the people who would keep them running at a production level producing at the quality level needed to maintain a high reputation.
Flame Treating Systems came out of that environment promising heat treating solutions that were cheap and still effective, getting localized hardening where needed in parts without compromising the material’s overall structural integrity. A flame hardening machine in this environment typically cost a quarter of a comparable induction machine. But one reason it did was the machine’s reliance on personnel to monitor each run and adjust processes as necessary. Induction went in the direction of automation, lessening the need for specialized skills and attention from the operator. That’s one of the reasons induction machines could cost 3-4 times more than flame hardening machines, but sold well because companies saw a better investment in automation than in keeping trained personnel on the floor for all production shifts.
So, in that environment, when someone asked me how much a flame hardening machine cost, I would ask two questions back: what is the hardness pattern and depth required, and how many pieces do you want to run in a day? To be honest, most people in a purchasing capacity typically don’t know the answers to these critical questions – because obviously, the design of a machine running 1000 parts a day differs from one running 10. Nevertheless, I’d take the information given and price a machine with manual controls and monitoring systems that would ensure both quality and safety – as long as an operator supervised it during production. And it got the job done a lot cheaper than induction or anything else. Still does!
But more and more what I’m hearing today is manufacturing that wants to become fully automated – even its flame hardening. They want machines that collect data on every process, that self-correct and instruct operators on what maintenance is required, that monitor their own real-time performance and alert management to possible variations from standard parameters. They want a machine that keeps running at the same level no matter what personnel are on the floor. Now, I still ask the questions about pattern and production rate. But my quote is going to look a lot different from the “cheap and dirty” flame hardening machine. For one, it’s going to cost more – up to five times as much. But the customers see the value in investing in the automated machine because they’re reducing their fixed personnel expenses and training costs.
So, how much does a flame hardening machine cost? Think of it as asking, how much does an airplane cost? Do you just need something to get you back and forth for your job a couple hundred miles a day, so you avoid all the traffic on the highway? Maybe a two-seater prop job will do for $150K. Need to jet over to Beijing from Chicago a couple times a month? You will be paying more than 5 times the $150K!
Same thing with flame hardening machines. There’s a lot of leeway to reduce cost, or to increase automation. That’s why we love engaging in brainstorming sessions with our customers and inquirers to come up with just the right balance between cost and ideal level of production rate and automation. I mean, we LOVE that stuff. So, if you don’t know your annual production rate for heat treating, or what the quality specs are for the hardness pattern and depth, don’t let that stop you from emailing me. The best part is discovering, together, just how much YOUR flame hardening machine will cost, so that you get the best possible value for your dollar.