Bill lets start off where we normally start off with an idea about how you got into the industry and what your work history has been.
“My formal career started in Technical Publications where I wrote manuals and did training for SPS Technologies, Automated Systems Division where we manufactured automated material handling systems. After 5 years there, I wrote manuals with Unisys for their Government and Special Systems Group where I focused on the FAA Alert Radar Terminal Systems program called ARTS II-A and also for US Post Office Small Parcel and Bundle Sorting equipment (it was more interesting than it sounds). Soon thereafter I wound up in the vacuum furnace industry, again writing manuals. Over nearly 17 years I held progressively higher positions from Project Manager, Marketing Services Manager, Product Manager and Midwest Region Sales Manager.”
Currently you are with ALD Vacuum Systems but I am rather embarrassed to say I am not sure what your title is. Could you tell us what your title is and what ALD Vacuum Systems has to offer? Also I am sure readers would like to know what is the relationship with ALD in Hanau, Germany and their parent company AMG.
“Currently, I’m Vice President Sales & Marketing for ALD Vacuum Systems, Inc. We’re a wholly owned subsidiary of ALD Vacuum Technologies, GmbH. As a full component of ALD, our focus is to provide expansion of our heat treat related technologies to the NAFTA region. For many years we’ve promoted the ModulTherm® and DualTherm®, arguably what we’re best known for. In recent years our SyncroTherm® has been the technology offering a quantum leap in vacuum furnace capability with deployment primarily into captive heat treaters. Now, with the introduction of NitroTherm®, we round-out our offerings to provide the most sought after surface treatment capabilities with Low Pressure Carburizing (LPC), Low Pressure Carbo-Nitriding (LPCn), Vacuum Purged Gas Nitriding (VPGN) and Active Screen Plasma Nitriding(ASPN). These processes coupled with our world leading capabilities in High Pressure Gas Quenching keep us in the technological lead.”
I would imagine that most North Americans think vacuum carburizing when they think of ALD but you have pointed out many times that this is shifting as you add new products. What can you say about this?
“Having set our sights to LPC/HPGQ for so long and being affiliated with three (3) contract heat treating operations (ALD Thermal Treatment) has ensured that our equipment offerings are robust and industry capable as well as our process expertise is second to none. It has also come with the “good problem” of being thought of in one dimension… LPC. Now, after all these years Nitriding has once again emerged as a legitimate consideration for some components. Our retort style vacuum tempering furnace is the perfect platform from which to begin in offering Vacuum Purged Gas Nitriding. It’s been an option for many years and only now we’re setting focus on it.”
You mention vacuum nitriding-why vacuum nitriding? From what I can see very few vacuum nitriders are sold in any given year so why get into this market?
“There are a couple of key reasons for Vacuum Purged Gas Nitriding in lieu of conventional gas Nitriding. First and for most, the heat treat facility is not flooded with ammonia. I’ve been in some heat treats where the ammonia smell is so pervasive it burns the hairs out of your nose. Nobody today wants to work in an environment like that. That’s not the case with VPGN. Also, the vacuum pump assures by virtue of vacuum level a known oxygen content prior to start. It’s interesting to me how so many heat treaters in Europe have general purpose muffle style furnaces like these. Nearly every HT shop in Europe has at least a couple of these types of furnaces. This is not the same in North America however and we aim to bring these to the NAFTA market. Interestingly, we acquired the patent for ASPN a couple of years ago. After process validation and product development, we’re able to bring to the global market an interesting twist to plasma Nitriding. We can plasma nitride not only workloads of varying part size and geometry, we can plasma nitride non-metallic surfaces as a result of the very low process temperature. For metals type people, that’s something to wrap your brain around.”
Some of the products ALD offers in Europe and other parts of the world are not offered or at least pushed in North America. Single chamber vacuum furnaces comes to mind-why is this?
“Having participated in this market, I watch it fairly closely. Frankly we’ll let the other furnace makers battle that one out. They’re clubbing each other over the heads for on average 3 points of margin on a $0.5mil order. This market is just too crowded. I feel too that this market isn’t really shopping capabilities anymore (although there are occasional exceptions). The focus has been directed toward price and we’re going to stay focused on technology.”
Many furnace builders around the world are largely regional, in other words they tend to stick to just the North American market, the European market or the Asian market as examples. Do you feel ALD had done a good job in becoming a global supplier?
“In a word, “yes”. However it’s not without its pain. “Globalizing” design, capabilities and offerings is fraught with challenges. Some cultural or traditional in nature, some technical, not the least of which is local codes and controls. ALD is globally focused on providing reliable, proven and industry leading technology. This can be challenging and yes, generally speaking we’re doing a good job but can always find ways to improve.”
I am going to ask you Bill if you can tell us what the annual sales of ALD in North America are but I will give you an out if this is information you would rather not share. I know you have a very good feel for the size of all of the North American furnace builders-where would you guess ALD ranks in annual sales?
“Top 10%? Middle of the pack? A niche player? I’m going to hold back a bit on this question because we hold these figures as company confidential. We are of course a publically traded company… Let’s just say we’re a niche player and we’re successful at it.”
How many ALD systems or customers do you have in North America? What about worldwide?
“We’re now well in excess of 150 vacuum carburizing chambers in North America. Worldwide, I’ll say it’s many hundreds more.”
You started your career with single chamber vacuum furnaces, and have moved on to modular vacuum carburizing systems, Syncrotherms and Vacuum nitriders-what is the next progression?
“Our Hanau, Germany based R&D team has a few tricks up their sleeve. This is an extremely talented group. Rolling out new offerings must be timed to coincide with demand and company capacity. We’re not resourced unlimited.”
The single part processing systems such as the SyncroTherm fascinate me but I have spent my entire career thinking large volume processing. Is this the future? Do you honestly believe that in the future most parts will be processed individually?
“Over the past 25 years or so, the use of vacuum furnaces has naturally matured. In 1990 when I started in this business, it was still a challenge to maintain front door vacuum seal integrity. Now, we make and break vacuum seals automatically every 8 minutes 24/7 without manual intervention. It’s no longer a question if vacuum processing works. We’re now into how to make it work within an acceptable manufacturing chain. I assert that 80% of what is put into vacuum furnaces on a global basis is “small” in nature. Of course that’s a relative term so let’s say the size of your hand as an example. Collecting a cache of these parts for heat treat in large batch creates bottlenecks in factory production flow and ultimately provides parts with greater variation. In other words, costs money. Small batch or one-piece-flow processing offers a factory flow that is far more conducive with the creation of the part which is typically one or several pieces at a time and quality can often be held to a tighter standard. Yes, as these systems improve and gain flexibility, we’ll see more captive heat treaters move in this direction.”
What does the future hold for Bill Gornicki?
“I like what I’m doing. I like the group I’m with. I like the friends I’ve made in the industry over the years. I think I’ll stick around for a while longer.”