Don Longenette-The Interview

We are pleased to offer this interview with Mr. Don Longnette, a very well known individual in the North American heat treatment industry and the face of furnace builder KGO in North America. In this interview Don talks about nitriding, the growth of the technology and his experience in the global heat treatment industry.
We are very pleased today to be speaking with a fellow we have known for years and an individual who we at “The Monty Heat Treat News” would consider a friend, Mr. Don Longenette. Don for our readers could you please tell us a bit about your background in the heat treat industry?

I started out in the heat-treating industry with a degree in Heat Processing at Hocking Technical college in Nelsonville, Ohio many years ago. From there I went to work at companies like The Timken Company to Bodycote, all on the global side of the business, and several smaller companies in between. The focus was always on the heat treat equipment side of the business as in purchasing, installing and maintaining new assets. Throughout the last 20 years of my career, I have been involved in the purchase and installation of over 50 KGO gas nitriding furnaces throughout Asia, North and South America.

Just last year you started your own firm, one which is working closely with two well known European companies, perhaps you could share some background with us?

My company I started in the Spring of 2020 is A+Heat Treating Services LLC. The main focus is Sales, Service, and Installation of KGO gas nitriding furnaces and Stange control instruments. In 2020 as the Covid shutdown started I found myself at a company working as the V.P. of Operations in a manufacturing facility. I had been doing this for a little over a year. When the Covid shutdown started I looked at what I was doing and decided I was not happy on this side of management. I resigned from my position here and as I was driving home, I called my good friend Harald Roth at KGO and asked if he needed any help at this time.

A year and a half earlier we had discussed in great length about me joining the KGO team with support in North America but had decided to wait to see where the market need was heading. It just so happened at this time that Covid had forced an opportunity to open a support business immediately in North America. KGO had a number of furnaces shipped and sitting at customers facilities throughout North and South America. With the Covid shutdown travel restrictions from Europe to the U.S., KGO needed someone on the ground here that could travel and install/start-up these furnaces.

Perfect opportunity for me to open A+ Heat Treating Services, LLC and have been very successful since opening in addressing the installation/start up needs. We are also building a critical spare parts inventory in the U.S. of KGO and Stange parts. In between the work for KGO and Stange, I occasionally am asked to go out and supervise installation and startup some OEM furnaces which I do as long as it is not a nitriding furnace.

What can you tell us about KGO and their product offerings?

KGO is headquartered in Wetter (near Cologne), Germany. KGO has over 70 years experience in engineering and building all types of thermoprocessing equipment. They still build all types today but the gas nitriding is their main focus and the only process that I focus on in sales for North America. Gas nitriding furnaces make up 90 % of their sales at this time. With over 250 units in Europe and now over 50 units in Asia and North America. Within this past year despite the Covid turndown we have entered the Indian and Canadian markets.

Who are your customers? Obviously I am not asking for names rather who buys new KGO systems? Commercial shops? In house heat treaters? Automotive suppliers?

The main customer base are commercial heat treaters where automotive and tooling with gas nitriding furnaces make up 90% of the sales.

What parts are you most likely to see in a KGO nitriding unit? Tooling? Dies? Gears?

“We see a good mixture parts from commercial heat treaters but mainly automotive gears followed by tooling. Recently there has been an increase in aerospace applications which looks to be the next new wave of opportunity for us.

My personal belief is that the fastest growing heat treat technology in the world these days is nitriding. Would you agree with this statement and if so why?

“I would agree with that statement and that is why I started my business up to focus on the support and sales of KGO and Stange. With the ever-demanding push to lower prices on all manufactured goods these days, suppliers have had to find ways to reduce costs. One way is to use lower grades of steel but still maintain the strength and durability of the higher grades. This is where nitriding comes in and will continue into the next few years.”

What differentiates KGO from other suppliers of nitriding systems?

KGO has a close “partnership” with Stange controls where together they bring the best quality engineered and built nitriding furnace on the market today. There have been several companies in the last few years that have tried to copy the furnace design but without the years of experience of the design and engineering of the controls and software are failing. From the first KGO furnace I was involved in to the last one I’ve installed and started up, I am constantly amazed at the quality and reliability of their furnaces. After start up and commissioning I can walk away and rarely do I ever receive a call of any problems with the operation or the process.”

KGO developed a couple of unique features for the furnace process control such as lo-flo© and APIN©. These features make the furnace even more energy efficient and easy to operate with reliable and repeatable heat treat results. Given needs and requirements out of the world wide heat treat society ended up in some of those smaller or larger advantages KGO gas nitriders show today.

The world is a trying place these days and challenges seem to abound, what are you faced with these days that gives you sleepless nights?

Like everyone else in any business these days is the supply chain issues we are facing. From not being able to get the parts needed to build the furnace in a timely manner to trying to ship the finished furnace to its destination. Added to this is trying to keep the cost increases of the shipping and goods down to manageable levels so we can provide the lowest cost option to the customer. This is a challenge to everyone in the market today. Another concern is the lack of experience in the workforce today and it appears to be getting worse. I just taught a heat-treating furnace operations course to 9 people in a facility. Out of the 9, not a one had any furnace experience. I see the 40 under 40 in heat treat today that is out there and think this is great but does not appear to be enough to handle the current employment needs. Where will new talent come from? Maybe we should list a 60 over 60 in heat treat that can be used for mentoring new talent.”

Don lets switch direction as I want to take advantage of your incredible experience in the industry. Almost your entire working life has involved heat treating and it includes both captive and commercial heat treaters. Over the course of your career what changes have you seen? Have you seen technologies dramatically changing? A greater interest in heat treating as part of the manufacturing process? A move from in house to outsourcing?

“Let’s face it, not a lot has changed in the conventional heat treat processes today than say 50 years ago. From pack carburizing (Yes I did this in college) to gas carburizing today it is still the same process. We do have vacuum carburizing that has come along and is steadily holding ground in a few niche markets but I don’t think it will be a major game changer overall. I have seen in the past couple of years a greater interest in pulling the heat treat back in-house. Where a few years back the big push was for outsourcing most heat treat requirements these days I see a lot of inquiries for furnaces to install in manufacturing plants so they can control the whole process. I believe this has had a lot to do with the pandemic creating issues of delivery from their suppliers but never the less it appears to be a current day concern.

The latest technology changes in todays market as we have already discussed is gas nitriding. At least here in North America. It seems it has been around several years more in the European market.”

A question I always like to ask is where you see the industry going? Certainly I realize this is in an unfair question but quite often it provokes some very interesting replies. For instance do you see less continuous heat treatment and more batch? Or perhaps even more radical a trend towards more single part processing?

“In the current market, I do not see any continuous equipment inquiries. This does not mean they are not out there but from the facilities I visit I do not see any need. I am seeing more and more multiple unit batch furnaces. These are large capacity furnaces with 6 or more units and plans for more in the next few years. I do not see any single part processing opportunities.”

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