“Cronite” Talk “Alloy” For the Heat Treatment Industry

Today we are very pleased to be speaking with Mr. Radek Houdek, Cronite Group VP Sales & Marketing and Mr. Erick Garcia, President, Cronite North America. Both individuals bring a lifetime of experience in providing high temperature alloy components to the heat treatment industry. The photo to the right shows Radek Houdek and Pierre Much (CEO).

This past week Jordan and Gord Montgomery were delighted to have the opportunity to visit the Cronite facility in Arnage, France and learn more about the company. Later on, this week we will be giving you some more details of the company along with a number of photos.

1) Today we are pleased to be speaking with Mr. Radek Houdek, Group VP Sales & Marketing, Cronite Group and Mr. Erick Garcia, President, Cronite North America. Gentlemen I have been looking forward to asking you a few questions about Cronite Group, your products, your abilities and your thoughts on the heat treat industry in general. Radek, Erick I always like to start interviews with a little bit of personal background information-if you could share with us your backgrounds and how you ended up where you are now, I am sure our readers will be as interested as I am.

Radek: “Firstly, please allow me to welcome you to one of our production sites – Cronite Mancelle located in Arnage, close to Le Mans, France.

I started my career in the Heat Treatment world in 2001 at Belog Guss in Czech Republic. After 4 years of successful business development in Europe, Cronite took over this company, and so began my journey at Cronite. I will celebrate 20 years of service with Cronite Group in March next year!

I started at Cronite Group as Sales Manager, responsible for Central & Eastern Europe, in 2009. I was also serving in the East part of Germany and Austria. During this period, I developed the Sales network in Eastern European countries which enabled us to double our sales within few years. In September 2010, I moved to our Headquarter in France and in March 2011 took over the position of Group VP Sales & Marketing.”

Erick: “Thanks for the opportunity to share our experience in the industry.

As an Industrial designer as my primary profession I Joined Cronite in 2015 as a designer, having already worked for the foundry industry for 4 years, the transition to design heat treatment castings was easy for me, I got to experience 3 months in our plant in France getting trained by senior designers on our manufacturing-design workflow, key functionality of our fixtures and the design process itself.

After one year of working in our foundry in Monterrey I was promoted to Design & Project manager for the US and MX. Here is when I got to meet Radek, and I started to build good networking relationships both in the US attending to all the Trade show for ASM and FNA.

Years later an opportunity to join the Mexican sales team opened up and after the Covid 19 quarantine I was very happy to jump on the road and get to work firsthand on the projects I used to manage from the design side.

In September last year, I was promoted to Sales Manager for the USA & Canada after having had good success in Mexico, now I get to Manage our Sales office and warehouse in the Cleveland area.”

2) Cronite is an international company with several different locations-please give us an overview of the company as a whole, the different facilities and number of employees. As an aside could you also give us an indication about annual sales and the relative size compared to other foundries servicing the heat treatment industry?

Radek: “Cronite reached 90 mil USD sales last year, about 80% of our business is related with heat treatment business like standard heat treatment baskets or base trays, tailored made fixtures and furnace spare parts.

With all respect to other foundries supplying the heat treatment industry, we are the only one having foundries (France, UK and China) and one production site for fabricated products in Germany, serving our customers around the world. In addition, we do have own design and R & D Center with close to 20 employees and a R&D center working on new products and alloys and new processes. Globally, Cronite Group is a company with more than 500 employees.”

Erick: “Complementing what Radek said, with a good synergy of work between R&D and our engineering department we are to determine the needed yield between thickness and strength by FEA analysis with our own alloy database that when it comes to producing our fixtures we are able to come up with optimized proposals for customers looking to improve Alloy + parts yield that results on productivity increase for our customers.”

3) I think of Cronite mainly for castings-am I right or wrong? Along the same lines there are a few different types of casting, sand casting, investment casting, centrifugal casting-what can you provide and what are the advantages/disadvantages of each?

Radek: “Gord, Cronite is not “only” a casting manufacturer. During my extended stay in USA last year, I could personally experience that Cronite is well known as an alloy supplier and not so much a producer of CFC components and fabricated products. Fortunately, we enlarged our product portfolio sold in USA last year, especially in the field of CFC/Graphite.

Cronite delivers in-house cast items such as green sand casting, Alphaset casting, investment casting and centrifugal castings. With over 100 years of experience in the design and manufacture of refractory alloy castings, we select the best production method depending on size & shape of casting as well as type of heat treatment process.

Our goal is to reach the best Total Costs of Ownership for our customers.

Additionally, Cronite offers fabricated parts like retorts or muffles as well as CFC fixtures or furnace spare parts. Cronite is offering a solution to customers. It is not only about products.”

4) I am really curious about your involvement with CFC (Carbon/Fibre/Carbon) fixturing. I am certainly very familiar with CFC fixturing but can’t help but wonder if it is in competition with your cast products. I mean why would you offer two different and competing solutions for fixturing needs? Or does each have certain advantages that make them more suitable in some applications than others?

Radek: “Cronite is not new to the CFC / Graphite market, since 1995 we have been supplying these products to the industry.

Our latest development is a Hybrid Fixture, combining refractory alloys and Carbon materials to achieve the perfect balance of cost, strength, weight, and temperature/process resistance. This technology is particularly effective for vacuum heat treatment process, atmosphere carburizing/hardening, and low-pressure carburizing with gas or oil quenching.

The principle is simple; Combine the benefits of each material to maximize load size, life cycle, and process results all while minimizing cost.”

5) Tell us about your design capabilities and how it helps your customers out. I will tell you why I phrased the question that way. A number of years ago I worked closely with a US foundry who had a reasonably substantial design department which they were rightfully quite proud of. However, they always claimed that while this was generally a very definite plus for them it was also a minus in that it raised their costs and made it difficult to compete price wise with firms that merely copied competitors designs. What are your thoughts on being able to offer designed solutions?

Radek: “I will do my best to make the story short.

Cronite has 20 designers located on 3 continents – Europe, Americas and Asia – in order to provide the right support in the same time zone.

We use 3D software as well as FEA simulation software and Topology optimisation software.

Our goal has always been to provide the best technical solution to our customers.

What are the main goals?

– Reduce the weight of fixtures and reduce the energy consumption (as less energy as possible to heat and cool the fixtures),

– Increase the number of components to be heat treated (more components per batch, less costs per component),

– Reduce the distortion / deformation of components (less scrap rate at our customer),

– Prevent any damage to customer parts (again less scrap at our customer),

– Easy loading and unloading of components,

– Improve the life span of fixturing.

I don’t want to repeat myself, but we help our customers to improve the Total Costs of Ownership.

Additionally, our R&D center in the Czech Republic, continuously develops new alloys, which helps to optimize the costs. These new alloys are not only dedicated to heat treatment but also other segments, which we supply, like Waste Incineration, Steel and the Aerospace Industry.”

Erick: “What can I add to Radek’s answer? Being a designer myself and having already worked from the manufacturing-design and product development standpoint I can say that we honor our slogan “Better by Design” and we strongly believe that, due to this great teamwork, we offer the best solutions thaks to our “Better by People” state of mind.”

6) Where do you feel you are the strongest by product? Fixturing? Furnace parts? Radiant tubes?

Radek: “Definitely, Cronite’s strength is in designing dedicated fixtures for any kind of furnace (Low Pressure Carburizing, Vacuum, Conventional, Pit furnace…). Our motto is “Better by Design”.

Additionally furnace parts like radiant tubes, furnace rolls and fans are an important part of our business.”

7) The previous questions lead directly to this one-what about stocking of spare parts? We all know that sometimes, such as in a breakdown situation delivery is more important than price-do you have many “off the shelve” items?

Radek: “North American Cronite keeps a stock of standard trays, grids, baskets, posts as well as furnace parts to help out our customer situations like a breakdown.”

8) So, if I as a customer came to you and said, Radek. Erick, I need a pusher head assembly for a 2004 Surface Allcase with working dimensions of 36” X 48” x 36” are you able to quote me what I need, or do I have to get out there with my tape measure and start drawing and measuring?

Erick: “We have a large database with the furnace spare parts with patterns to produce the majority of them, so we are able to determine a starting point of what the customer needs, but some times installations differ to what actually was built for each furnace, so it’s worth to check for any deviations from the print to the physical install.”

9) You already told us where your various facilities are and some such as the UK and France are relatively high-cost areas to do business in. How do you compete with lower cost areas such as India?

Radek: “Interestingly, you mentioned India, which we also supply from our European foundries…. How do we do that?

Better By Design”: we offer the right technical solution.

Better By Alloy”: we select the best alloy for the process.

Better By People”: we provide the right service.

Honestly, I don’t see our competitors as enemies but as colleagues from industry.”

Erick: “During the last ASM trade show in Queretaro I was approached by a 75-year-old individual who has spent most of his life in the heat treatment industry-he told me he considers us to be the “Rolls Royce” of the industry when it comes to fixtures. Obviously I was pleased by this comment, but somehow I feel like our parts are very well designed and tested and should not be considered a luxury item such as a “Rolls Royce” Everything we do is designed to provide a good product, with a long life for a very competitive price.”

10) Perhaps you fellows could polish up your crystal ball and tell us where the heat treatment industry is going in 2024? Up? Down? Stable?

Radek: “I do wish I had a crystal ball to give you a precise answer. What is true at Cronite, is that we work with different scenarios to remain agile. Coming back to your question, the answer might be different by geographical area.

We can see the first positive signs of recovery in China, Europe demand is expected to remain stable, and USA should continue to grow. Globally, the start of the year is really promising for Cronite, and our target is to exceed 110 M$ in 2027.”

Gord Montgomery: “Radek, Erick I thank you for your time and your very candid answers.”

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