Pros And Cons Of Heat Treating Inhouse Or Outsourcing With A Specialized Facility

Heat Treating Pros and Cons

Because of our 21st-century globalized manufacturing economy, most customers want to know whether it makes more financial and quality sense to do heat treating inhouse, or whether the best solution is to outsource to a specialized heat treating facility.

Of course, this decision depends entirely on your specific flame hardening application, but as we’ve worked with customers over the years helping them navigate the pros and cons of each solution, I’d like to share some general considerations that apply most of the time.

The most obvious pros of doing the heat treating yourself are the control you have over both quality and delivery. Heat treating shops have many customers and you may or may not get your parts when you need them, and in the condition you need them. Certainly quality and delivery results need to be among the measurements you use for any vendor selection, and your contract should specify compensation when these aren’t met. When you do your heat treating inhouse, you also have total control over changes in setup that may need tweaking as you get feedback from the field. A vendor will do only what you specify in terms of depth, hardened areas, and hardness levels. He won’t be able to adjust those as nimbly as your inhouse solution would.

But control comes with a cost: obviously, inhouse heat treating requires a capital outlay for the equipment that will dwarf any initial costs associated with outsourcing. However, after that initial outlay, the cost per part will most likely be less than sending it out, particularly if your heat treating vendor isn’t local. Remember, steel parts that need localized hardening often weigh in the hundreds of pounds which can mean substantial costs in shipping and handling.

Heat treating equipment with the control methods that produce reliable results every time doesn’t come cheap. Your capital outlay for a flame hardening spin machine will typically cost in the low six figures; induction could cost two or three times that. With flame hardening equipment that is specifically designed for your parts, with safety and process controls that reliably reproduce what you want every time, operators can be trained inhouse economically and quickly so you get the line up and running. I wouldn’t say it’s easy, because operators do have to pay attention and understand the importance of positioning and running the programmed cycles as designed. But it’s easy enough to learn within a day or two.

Very frequently we see customers base the decisions to heat treat inhouse or not based on what they are already doing. If they’re already outsourcing heat treating, they usually start talking to us when they’ve decided they want to pull that process inhouse for the greater control over delivery and quality, and savings in the cost and hassle of sending out large steel parts to a vendor. It doesn’t take a great deal of volume to start realizing those savings once clients move the process inhouse. Doing heat treating inhouse makes the most sense when outsourcing is not reliable or affordable (too far away, higher shipping costs).

Clearly the biggest advantage you gain when outsourcing: no capital outlay. You only pay for the heat treating you already have inhouse to do, rather than worrying about keeping purchased equipment busy to get your ROI. When volumes of flame hardening parts are so small that the initial outlay can’t be justified, of course outsourcing is the way to go.

Sometimes a client is just starting up production or is trying localized heat treating for the first time for a new line. In this case many clients look for heat treating vendors who can help them troubleshoot the bugs and then produce parts on an as-needed basis as the line builds up to capacity. Also, because most people don’t understand heat treating, it can look scary and they don’t feel comfortable doing it themselves. But getting the right equipment with the right training, it is not that hard, and the benefits of integrating it in the line, as we’ve seen, can be significant. Heat treat vendors prefer people to send heat treating out. The vendor can reduce costs per part because greater volume – especially when dealing with flame hardening – means greater profit.

It’s very important if you do send your parts out for heat treating, that you have a reputable shop do the work in a way that you know your treated parts are meeting spec. You and the vendor need to agree on how you will ensure that this happens. Does the vendor monitor all the variables that need to be monitored? Does he perform destructive testing? Or are you going to be responsible for testing to ensure that you’re getting the desired results?

We at FTSI work with the client wherever they are on the outsource vs. inhouse spectrum. If they want to test the waters, we can be a vendor and then when they’re ready, we can recommend an inhouse solution that gives them the same consistent results they’ve come to expect from us. We understand that in today’s competitive manufacturing environment, adaptability and flexibility are gold. We strive ourselves to be more adaptable and flexible to client needs so that our clients can respond the same way to theirs.

I hope this discussion has clarified some obvious considerations and raised some subtle ones a. Next week we’ll keep drilling down in our design discussion – to choosing the best heat treating method from furnace, to induction, to flame hardening. As always, if you have any questions about designing your heat treating solution, email me at or call 919-956-5208.


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