An Interview with Mr. Robert Roth, President & CEO of RoMan Manufacturing
We are very pleased to be able to offer you this interview with Mr. Robert Roth President & CEO of RoMan Manufacturing, one of the leading suppliers of transformers, power magnetics and power conversion systems for heat treat furnaces. An Interview with Mr. Robert Roth, President & CEO of RoMan Manufacturing June 24, 2020.
Robert first off, I would like to thank you for your time and congratulate you on the 40th anniversary of RoMan Manufacturing, this is a milestone that only a small percentage of companies reach.
“Thank you so much for having a conversation with me. My Dad was one of the co-founders so RoMan Manufacturing is part of my DNA. I love and appreciate any opportunity to talk about the great work that this company gets to take part in. You make a very good point in that 40 years in business is no small feat, especially for a second-generation run family owned business. RoMan is actually a combination of the founders’ last names. Dietrich Roth, my Dad, and Robert Hofman. They provided us as the second generation a phenomenal example of how consensus proves to be a very reliable corporate management style. Their deep-rooted friendship has grown into the Roth and Hofman families being very close knit and I firmly believe that has kept the destructive elements of family business at bay. Our Founders’ behaviors have served as a great model for my generation to work together and be motivated by the next 5 – 10 years not just the next quarter. We believe in the products we build and more importantly the people that build them. We do not take our amazing team of people, or anything else for that matter, for granted, and look forward to celebrating our 50- and 75-year anniversaries!”
I am rather embarrassed to say that I don’t know a great deal about your company or your products so this interview will be a real learning curve for myself as well as our readers. Perhaps you could tell us something about RoMan, the products you offer that are applicable to the heat treatment industry and how you became President & CEO.
“I’ll start off by giving you my history with RoMan. I joined the company in 1987, 7 years after the company was founded. I had the opportunity along with Robert Hofman’s sons Rob & Kurt Hofman to work for and with our Dads. Fast forward to the late 90’s when our Dads, the founding generation, were ready to transition towards retirement and wanted the leadership of the company to reside with the second generation of the families. Since RoMan’s inception in 1980 it has truly been run as a 50/50 partnership. That being said, every business needs a Captain to steer the ship. My Dad was the president at the time and when looking at retirement looked to both Hofman brothers and me to decide who would take over as Captain. In unison Rob & Kurt nominated me and so off we went! The three of us had a decade of working together learning from each other as well as our Dads, and although I was now President, the idea of management by consensus has been a legacy we have continued. Our partnership has been no different than the relationship of our Dads and it has proven time and time again to be a very successful model.”
“RoMan Manufacturing was started in 1980 to be a designer and manufacturer of transformers, power magnetics and power conversion systems. We have been historically focused on the resistance welding industry and as we continue to develop the business we have seen other industrial processes that require high current, low voltage power so we have worked to take our knowledge and history in resistance welding and expanded into the glass melting and industrial heating markets. We have ingeniously designed products that will lead to several advantages for electrically powered heat treat furnace applications.”
Is this a crowded field? To phrase it another way are there many firms which offer transformers specifically for the heat treatment industry?
“I have always found the Industrial Power conversion/Magnetics/Power Supply industry to be fragmented. You typically see a few major suppliers to specific segments of the market. I have not seen many competitors that offer the breadth of industries served that we do. The diversity in backgrounds within our engineering group has provided us with the knowledge base to enter multiple market segments. There are several competitors, per say, in the industrial heating market however no one in North America has the breadth of water-cooled magnetics that RoMan Manufacturing does.”
RoMan has been talking a great deal about your IGBT/MFDC system, which one furnace integrator describes as the largest innovation in power supplies in the past 50 years-please tell us more.
“IGBT Control Technology and a water-cooled inverter style transformer allows us to bring a more compact package that gives a more finite control in power output, improves electrical performance by creating better Power Factor and a significantly more efficient secondary circuit. The technology brings benefit by enhancing performance and greatly improved operating efficiencies. Because energy is a huge input cost for a furnace, anything that can be done to lower that cost can drive tremendous savings over the life of the equipment.”
“Specifically, in its application to industrial heating, yes, it is new technology. It is however a known technology in other industries that has proven to be very robust, very serviceable and, for example, has a 20-year track record of reliable performance in automotive resistance welding. We have the added benefit of being one of the early adapters and integrators in the resistance welding market so to that end we become a great resource in new application to the furnace market.”
You have emphasized the size and weight of your transformers which leads to the obvious conclusion that they are smaller and lighter that your competitors-how are you able to do this?
“I’ll start by trying to paint a picture of what we do. A long time ago I had a dirt bike that had an air-cooled engine. If you’ve ever seen one like that, you will recall the engine, specifically the cylinder and head was large relative to the engine size or displacement. As liquid cooled engines were developed, my newer dirt bikes had a liquid cooled engine. It was the same displacement, but the engine was significantly smaller in physical size. The only thing they took out of the engine were the massive cooling fins, which left just the cylinder with the integral water-cooling jackets, taking up much less space. When my we designed the RoMan water-cooled transformer, the transformer secondary components contain the integrated water-cooling system. With a traditional air-cooled transformer design space must be provided to allow appropriate air flow and the corresponding surface area to dissipate the heat into the surrounding ambient air. With the integrated water cooling the size and bulk created for air flow and heat dissipation is eliminated creating a much smaller package size per kVA. By designing our transformers to be water cooled from the ground up, our transformers will be much smaller than legacy products that may have been originally designed as an air cooled but adapted to be water cooled. Our design intent was to build products that did the same work while taking up a much smaller footprint. Taking that mission a step farther, the output of our IGBT control is 1000 HZ which lets us drastically reduce the amount of the electrical core steel required, making the transformer even smaller than our standard 60Hz RoMan water-cooled transformers. This concept was originally developed for airplanes to reduce the payload required for their power supplies. We have used this technology in resistance welding to allow for a very light pay load on welding robots. It translates well into the furnace market because it provides OEMs and End Users much greater mounting versatility.”
On your website you point out that because of the size and weight of your units they can be closely coupled to the power feed throughs on a furnace. Robert would you care to hazard a guess as to what % of transformers are mounted in this manner?
“Today, practically none, because with the typical air-cooled transformer used by the furnace industry it is not practical. We look to change that! The air-cooled transformer physical size and the need for ample air flow limit how and where they can be mounted. Another issue with most air-cooled power supplies because of their construction must be mounted in an enclosure or cabinet to protect them from contamination and damage which takes up even more space. All RoMan transformers are constructed to be sealed and protected from any outside element. Therefore, they do not need to be installed is a separate enclosure or shroud, and with the water cooling and advancement of IGBT technology we can mount our units right on the furnace where the secondary conductors feed through to the heating elements. This eliminates the need for long water-cooled cable lines as well as eliminates the electrical losses those cable lengths create.”
I am assuming that your customers include both the furnace manufacturers and the end users– what is the relative percentage of each, mainly manufacturers or mainly end users?
“Currently our customer base is pretty evenly divided between furnace manufacturers and end-users. I believe that trend will continue for some time as we provide significant value for both groups of customers. Furnace OEMs are able to promote more efficient products and heat treaters – both commercial and captive – can realize significant energy savings if they retrofit with a RoMan IGBT MFDC power supply system.”
The previous question leads into another one, actually more like two; how long does a unit typically last before it needs to be replaced and do you see many orders from companies replacing an older (but still operating) unit with a new transformer?
“As it relates to the life of our transformers, if they are sized properly and operating within their design parameters, we have seen them last over 50 years. In regard to the controls we marry to our transformers, they have a more finite life span but again, when properly applied & operated you will still see decades of use.”
“We see a mix of older transformers and power supplies that are no longer functioning that need to be replaced or repaired but we also see functioning equipment being updated with newer technology because of the great advantages and return on investment. When applied properly RoMan products provide many years of worry-free operation and that peace of mind is invaluable to a heat treater who needs their furnace fully operational all the time.”
What is the ROI on one of your units?
“Return on investment is fairly customer dependent so I can’t answer that with a firm number. However, I can provide you with some of the ways our customers have calculated their return. If space is an issue and a unit can be installed in spaces where a legacy product could not. This is an opportunity to utilize existing factory space without the cost of building expansion. The return is calculated on the additional capacity and the higher absorption rate on the facility fixed cost. If energy efficiency and power factor penalties are major costs, the return is calculated easily and will be dependent on energy costs in a particular area. By understanding the life span of RoMan units, the conversion costs can be returned within a few short years. Lastly, when a utility limits the amount of power a facility is able to use, RoMan’s more efficient power supplies provide increased production levels, making return based on added production capacity. I have personally talked to users who have used these various calculations depending on their specific situation. I love seeing their reaction when they realize the amazing benefit to using RoMan products to power their furnaces.”
So, have you pushed the envelope on the technology as far as it will go or does RoMan have some exciting changes coming up in the near future?
“RoMan is continuously looking for technology enhancements. These are constant, micro-evolutionary changes as opposed to revolutionary macro changes. Our lab is daily testing new designs and the impact on different applications to continuously improve our products. We also continue to monitor the markets that we serve. Feedback from those markets and our customers is what has led to some of our biggest product developments. We truly see every customer we have as more of a partnership. We attempt to help them in their power delivery needs by providing them with the best solutions possible, and they in turn provide feedback and recommendations that could possibly help make their systems run even better.”
Let’s go from the specifics of your product to a couple of more general questions starting with the business climate. How has your company been affected by COVID-19?
“First and foremost, we have evaluated our entire work environment to ensure the health and safety of our employees. We implemented sound protocols like daily health screenings, contact tracing logs, assessing work centers to have appropriate social distancing, use of PPE, and have made adaptations for sales and administration to work remotely. We are paying close attention to and continually complying to the everchanging employment laws centered around having a safe workplace. More than ever, the Covid-19 pandemic has emphasized the necessity of trust-based relationships with all our constituencies (employees, customers, suppliers, etc.) to the very forefront of our minds. If we want to come out of this successfully, we all have to work together to create that mutual success. Obviously, the short-term economic impact has been an ever-present issue as well, but because of the mutual trust we have with those constituencies, we are very optimistic about the growth we will see coming out of this.”
Care to make a prediction about how business will be in 2021?
“I think by the time we get to the end of 2021 our sales velocity will match what we were seeing pre-Covid. There is no doubt that the brakes have been slammed on industrial capital spending here, it is the same story in Europe, and the continued tension between the United States and China effects our opportunities there. The turmoil in the oil and gas sector also has a great effect on industrial capex spending. I am confident that when there is clarity in the marketplace, confidence will rise, and the purse strings of capex spending will loosen. American businesses are tough and resilient, and I believe we are stronger than this pandemic, and who knows there may very well be opportunities in the future we haven’t yet anticipated.”
Robert I really appreciate your time and I very much look forward to meeting you in person and shaking your hand as soon as things get closer to normal. Thank you, Gord.