Brian Reid, Park Thermal
Brian we have known each other for many years but I am embarrassed to admit I don’t know how you came to be in the heat treating industry. Could you give us some background?
“Gord, I think both of us entered the Heat Treating Industry in similar fashion. In the late 1960s, my father, John Reid, started Park Thermal in 1968 at the age of 68. At that time, I was part of the management team at a large hotel in Bermuda and my father indicated he needed help. I joined Park Thermal in 1970 and at that time, we primarily built Salt Baths, manufactured and supplied salts, quenching oils, stop off paint, catalyst and other spare parts for furnaces. We could see at that point in time that we needed to diversify to grow and entered the used/reconditioned and new furnace industries. Over several years, we acquired the A F Holden Company in Milford, Michigan and The Metal Works (Jim Laird) in Michigan. In 1970, Park Thermal was the first company in the world to try and utilize ceramic fiber in a furnace and this was done in a furnace just outside of Buffalo, NY in a Car Bottom furnace which is still in operation today. Ceramic fiber insulation is used in most furnaces today. In the course of 40 years, we have taken Park Thermal into the 21st century evolving into a leading supplier of Thermal Processing Equipment for clients all over the world who rely on Park Thermal for Heat Treating Solutions.
Park Thermal has a long history in the heat treating industry and I understand at some point had an affiliation with Park Chemicals-could you share with us the background of the company?
Relative to our relationship with Park Chemical, you are correct in that at one time, we were one group. Park Thermal based in Georgetown, Ontario and Park Chemical based in Detroit, Michigan. We had a lengthy relationship with Park Chemical and in the early 1990s, Whittaker Corporation purchased Park Thermal and Park Chemical amongst other companies and when the decision was made to concentrate on its core business, they put up the chemical divisions up for sale and I purchased Park Thermal.
When I think of Park Thermal I think of salt, I think of catalyst and I think of used equipment-is this a fair statement?
There is a misconception between Park Thermal and Park Chemical. Park Chemical primarily deals with chemicals while Park Thermal not only supplies similar chemical products but we are also a manufacturer of Industrial Heat Treat Furnaces, Ovens, Metallurgical Test equipment, parts, controls, catalyst, stainless steel foils and other related furnace and oven parts.
What is the breakdown of your business in terms of sales? 30% Salt? 40%
Our sales fluctuate from year to year, but overall salt makes up about 30% of sales, new furnace equipment is 35% and used equipment along with other ancillary items makes up the other 35%.
What is the strongest advantage that Park Thermal has? Along the same lines what has Park’s biggest success story been?
Our advantage can be described in a couple of ways. Firstly, the way we are structured, we are not limited to a set size and type of equipment we supply. By that I mean, we are versatile in that we can accommodate almost any needs our customers have. We are not bound by specific size of equipment only. Our facility is set up to customize to our customer’s requirements. We have the capability to modify an existing piece of equipment to suit the client’s needs.
Secondly, we take great strides to understanding the customer’s process, type of steel utilized, hardness requirements, automotive or aerospace specifications, options for electric, gas or propane, type of instrumentation. All of these items give us a better understanding and selecting the right piece of equipment to give our client the best scenario from which they can be successful in producing consistent results on each and every part.
Thirdly, this is where our “One Stop Supply House” concept comes from. In addition to purchasing a piece of equipment, we understand their application and needs, we can provide the appropriate quenching oil, salt product, catalyst for the generator, basket for proper handling of their products, state of the art instrumentation package to accurately monitor and control their processes all under warranty. In terms of success stories, we have narrowed down to 2 examples; one large and one small. The large project involved the supply and installation of 3 very large Car Bottom Furnaces for processing oil tank cars and each furnace is capable of handling 2 tank cars at a time. The installation was outside and the difficulty was achieving uniformity between the 2 vessels and guarding the top of the car from the inclement weather. These factors presented a unique set of challenges but they were overcome and the furnaces are still in first class condition. The second story is a smaller project. Around Christmas of 2017, there was a shortage of Epipens in North America and our team responded to a manufacturers facility and our task was to increase the output and we were told that by doing so, we had saved many lives due to their dependency on the availability of Epipen supplies.
A common perception exists that because a company is selling a big ticket item such as a new furnace or temper that the margins must therefore be very substantial. What would you say to a buyer who suggested this?
Relative to profitability being substantial on big ticket items, as we all know, the world has become very small and competitive. If we are to stay in business, our pricing for items big or small must be competitive and the product needs to perform perfectly, or we’ll lose market share. We prefer to have four (4) $100,000 orders than one (1) $400,000 order.
Obviously you are a Canadian company but what percentage of your business is in Canada and where else do you do business?
One of our companies is Canadian owned and we also have registration in the US. Additionally, we have warehouses in Detroit, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Minnesota etc. We are a strong supporter of local manufacturing and purchasing and as a result, we actively look to support North American based companies. Our clients span the globe including Canada, USA, Mexico, Tunisia, Germany, India, Poland, Turkey etc.
This question ties in with the one above, has heat treating technology changed much over the years?
Advances in technology has made immense improvements in terms of automotive, aerospace specifications which reflects in the quality of heat treating over the past years.
When you and I run into each other the conversation generally seems to take a turn towards reminiscing about individuals in the industry. Who would you consider the most colorful, memorable person you have met?
Great question but it is difficult to narrow down to just one person. There have been so many people that I have met and associated with. Some colorful, some with extensive knowledge and others that are just good people in general. People such as John Becker, David Pye, Dr. Robert Foreman, Jack Laub, John Hubbard to name a few.
How is business for Park Thermal these days? Do you anticipate that things will be better or better or worse in 2019 and 2020?
Business at Park Thermal is very good. Currently, we are building several very large Car Bottom Furnaces. One of which will bear a payload of 450,000 lbs. In addition, we are building a mesh belt furnace for a client in Mexico, several tempering furnaces, a couple of charge cars, a couple of high heat die furnaces, a gas fired water quench tank, Austemper furnace rebuild, an Integral Quench Furnace, two salt baths, a Nitriding Salt Bath Furnace System and several ovens for an automotive application with the expectation of many more to come in 2019/2020.
Prediction time. I know this is a question which is almost impossible to answer but I love asking the question anyway-what do you see changing in the industry over the next few years? I will give you an example which I often wonder about; in 5 years will there still be travelling salespeople in the industry or will sales of heat treat equipment largely be done on line?
Relative to travel or doing the lion share of sales via computer is possible but I don’t think you can beat being on site and interacting in person and talking to all the people and getting their input for the project. This will probably prevail for some time. In closing and as an aside, I find it difficult to understand that all of the people in our industry love what they do but what I cannot understand is that if you go to a social function and people ask what you do and when you tell them that you are in the heat treating industry, they don’t understand what that is. We need to do a better job of educating the public about heat treating in a way they understand the important service we provide. When they see that the 70 plus springs in automobiles or other automotive components, the steel caps in our work boots, etc. are heat treated, do they then understand what it means for something to be heat treated. In addition, our salt products are not only used for processing steel components, but eyeglass lenses are tempered in salt, rubber products such as gasketing, wiper blades are processed in molten salt. Oil and gas industry also use salts for processing crude oil to extract specialty chemicals used in the plastics industry etc.
I, certainly, have enjoyed being in the industry for past 50 years mainly because every day a new application pops up. For our customer base to receive the best possible equipment, we recognize that we need good qualified people for all of our departments. That is why we have recently added several engineers with P Eng accreditation, Steve Cropper as our Vice President of Sales and Jay Mistry heads up the company as the new owner and CEO of Park Thermal.”
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