Jeff McLaughlin, McLaughlin Furnace Group-The Interview
We are pleased to offer this interview with Mr. Jeff McLaughlin, founder and President of McLaughlin Furnace Group of Avilla, Indiana, USA. Jeff is going to give us his thoughts on where the company is going, the state of the heat treat industry and very optimistically tell us how he expects this to be a good year for the industry.
Jeff you are part of a very small group in that you are one of only a handful of people we have interviewed 3 times over the years. Because of this we are going to start off where we left off on your last interview-for our readers who would like to know the origins of McLaughlin Furnace Group we would refer you to \
When we last spoke with you, you were having a record breaking year and you told us that 2019 sales were roughly $15 million USD. Has this upward trajectory continued since that time? Perhaps a fairer way to phrase this would be-how did the “COVID” year, 2020 effect you?
“This past year was definitely interesting for McLaughlin. Many heat treaters halted capital equipment during 2020, which definitely presented a slew of hurtles for our teams to overcome, but we were fortunate enough to have a large backlog of work which allowed us to bridge the gap. As other manufacturing facilities around the nation were forced to shut down due to Covid restrictions, the team here at McLaughlin put our noses to the grindstone and delivered a number of new furnaces, including an automated pusher furnace line, the first Tru-Carb batch IQ line, and a large car bottom line. And, I’d never hear the end of it if I didn’t mention the number of service calls McLaughlin made around the country in 2020. Our service team is second to none and we couldn’t be prouder of the essential work they provided to our partners around the globe. And last, but not least, McLaughlin moved our Midwest location into its new manufacturing facility in Avilla, IN at the beginning of the third quarter last year.”
During our last conversation it came up that you were in the middle of your first “pusher” furnace installation. Is that project now concluded and how did it turn out? Being the first pusher you have ever made was it quite a learning experience?
“The pusher furnace was a custom one-of-one furnace for McLaughlin that proved to be quite a learning experience. The furnace is currently installed and turned over to the customer for running their beginning PPAP parts. I believe this project helped our company grow tremendously through experience and further recognition in the industry.”
You had another milestone in 2020 also in that you installed your first multi unit batch IQ installation. What can you share with us about the installation and the challenges associated with it?
“The first multi unit batch IQ line was a big release for McLaughlin in 2020. McLaughlin launched its first Tru-Carb IQ line with great success. Throughout the project, McLaughlin faced a few speedbumps in the road with material delivery as it seems everyone else has in the past year. As with any new product line, some minor design changes were implemented during start-up to deliver the total heat treat solution we wanted. The batch IQ furnaces have performed above our expectations with PPAP loads complete and showcasing quality results. The equipment line will be completely operational in production by May 1. Throughout 2021, we are looking forward to expanding the Tru-Carb line throughout North America.”
Another memorable event for you last year was a new building in Avilla. How about a few details about size and capabilities?
“Our new state-of-the-art manufacturing plant has allowed McLaughlin to expand our manufacturing and processing footprint from 12,500 square feet to 40,000 square feet. The new plant also features a 7,500 square foot office space. The manufacturing floor has two, ten ton, one-hundred-foot span cranes with an additional ten feet of height under crane hook compared to our previous facility. The increased manufacturing footprint and capabilities allows McLaughlin to greatly increase efficiencies and add benefits for
Reviewing your 2020 projects makes me wonder whether you ever sleep. Are there any other memorable events in the past year that come to mind?
“Two other large projects come to mind when looking back at the past year for McLaughlin. McLaughlin delivered the first part of an order for fifteen high temperature (1750 ±10°F) atmosphere box furnaces and two Tru-Mix endothermic generators for a customer in Vietnam. The remainder of this order is set to be completed over the course of the next year. McLaughlin is also about to install the first furnace of a car bottom furnace line. This car bottom line will have four total furnaces (24’ W x 25’ L x 11’ H; 300 to 2000 ±15°F) and a transfer car for transferring one of four cars to any available furnace or park position.”
Has the market changed at all in your opinion? Obviously COVID had a great effect on everybody but putting that aside in your opinion have there been many changes in the way heat treating furnaces are designed and built? Changes in competition-more or less? New competition?
“In my opinion, the heat treat equipment market has shifted from high volumes of new capital equipment to more equipment rebuilds and service to maintain existing equipment. We have seen an influx in the rebuild and service work requests to maintain equipment that was neglected in the lull of the 2020 market. Commercial and captive heat treaters seem to to be leaning toward investing in their current equipment and holding off on the larger capital expenses for the time being. I do see the market starting to shift back toward capital equipment as customers begin to develop more confidence in the market.
The competition seems to have stayed relatively consistent in the past few years for big players in the equipment industry. It’s apparent within the industry that McLaughlin is becoming recognized as a major player, and just to be clear, we’re not slowing down one bit. AFC and Surface Combustion are in our crosshairs.”
I have always had the impression that you like new opportunities. Pusher furnaces, batch IQ furnaces, carbottoms, endothermic generators-McLaughlin has covered a lot bases in the past few years. So the question is what will your next new opportunity be? Vacuum Carburizing? Vacuum furnaces-what would you like to try next?
“Keep your eyes peeled for our product line of vacuum furnaces in the coming months.”
McLaughlin Furnace Group consists of McLaughlin in Avilla, Indiana and also vacuum furnace specialist VESCO in East Hartford, CT. However it seems that the atmosphere group in Indiana gets all the attention and VESCO is not as well known. Perhaps you could share with us some information about VESCO-what they have to offer, size of the company and how they are doing these days.
“Vesco has always been the premier vacuum furnace service company in the northeast United States, but we feel that Vesco can service a much wider area than their current Northeast corridor. Vesco is now servicing customers regularly on the west coast. The goal is to continue gaining a foothold in the vacuum service work throughout the United States. Vesco’s main services include onsite furnace service, preventative maintenance, hot zones, rebuilding vacuum pumps, furnace rebuilds, control panels, and supplying a vast majority of spare parts. We have also been continuously adding building improvements to grow Vesco. We have recently added two more service technicians, new service vehicles, and leak detectors to expand our
And now Jeff for my favorite question of all-what are you forecasting for 2021? Yes I do want to hear about your forecast for your company but more importantly I would like to know about the industry in general. You are out there in front of captive and commercial heat treaters constantly-what are you hearing?
“Since the beginning of 2021, we’ve seen a major increase in request for capital equipment quotes, but the orders have not been piling up, yet. The industry seems to be healing up as a whole and heat treaters seem to be gaining more assurance in the market. Many sectors of heat treat have been picking up quite rapidly according to our customers. Gun manufacturing is one that has been off the charts. Many other sectors are playing “catch-up” after the COVID shutdowns left some manufacturing with large voids. I foresee the capital equipment business climbing back up to its pre-COVID heights by the end of this year.”
Jeff as always I appreciate your time and look forward to catching up with you again in 2022.
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