Buster Crossley Texas Heat Treating

Buster Crossley, Texas Heat Treating. Like everything else about Texas the commercial heat treating industry in Texas differs from pretty well every other area of the world which is why I am very pleased to have had the chance to talk to Mr. “Buster Crossly” President of commercial heat treater Texas Heat Treating based in Round Rock, Texas.

Buster my impression is that you are a “true” heat treater, born and bred into a family owned business where you started at a very young age-true or false?

“Not sure what qualifies as young, but I have been in the Heat Treating business since 1981. My dad started this business in 1977 & we worked together until his retirement in 2001. So I guess it is true that I did start at a young age and thanks to the leadership and wisdom of my dad, I have learned from the best and have not looked back.”

So what can you tell us about Texas Treating? Types of furnaces, size, capabilities etc.?

“We are primarily a Batch operation along with Pit Hardening & Carburizing capabilities up to 14’ Vertical, Nitriding up to 22,000 Lb Load Sizes, Vacuum, Induction, and a full service lab. In addition to doing Mechanical Testing and CVN, we do MPI, LPI, & Ultrasonic testing too. We run 9 Tractor Trailers daily across the State & Southwest. We may not be the largest Heat Treating Facility in the Southwest, but we are the largest Atmosphere processing facility in the Southwest & still growing. We cover over 70,000 Sq. Feet in Round Rock & 55,000 Sq. Feet in Ft. Worth. Between the two plants, we will have 15 – Surface 36×72, 4 – Surface 30×48’s, 1- 36×48 Dedicated Normalizer, 7 Pit Furnaces, 2 of which are 14’FT Vertical, 5 Vacuum Furnaces with two of those being 6,000 LB Capacity, Induction, 3 Pit Nitriders, with two of those being 22,000 LB Capacity, & Flame Hardening. We do some Cryogenics as well. Our Ft Worth facility will emulate what we do here in Round Rock with the possibility of offering some new processes. Ft Worth will have a full service Lab as well and should be completed within the next month or so. We thrive on continuous education and training at all levels. We feel like that investing in our employees is a win-win for the employee, our customer, and Texas Heat Treating.”

Regular readers of “The Monty” will know that I have visited your brand new “greenfield” site in Dallas a couple of times over the past year. As I mentioned previously this will include a number of brand new batch IQ furnaces, pit furnaces, gas nitriding and vacuum units. Having been in this business for almost 35 years I certainly recognize that this was a very major investment on your part-several million dollars without a doubt. What prompted you to make such a large investment in a new location just a couple of hundred miles from Round Rock where you have always been located?

“There were several factors that prompted our move into Dallas/Ft Worth area. First, we needed to grow, and in order to grow in Round Rock, we needed a larger gas supply than what was currently provided. The Cost of getting that gas into our location and the time it was going to take was prohibitive. 2.) Dallas/Ft Worth is a different market and provides an opportunity to diversify a little into other markets other than Natural Gas & Oil. We looked at other parts of the state, but felt like this area provided a better opportunity and fit with our long term plans for Texas Heat Treating. We fill like with the addition of Ft. Worth, it will give us the growth potential to meet the growing demands of our customers and continue to give them the service they not only demand, but deserve.”

Gas nitriding. What it is it now Buster-5 years since you entered into an agreement with Nitrex to offer gas nitriding in Texas? How has that worked out for you? Have you been able to keep the nitriders bulging with new work?

“This has been a good Niche business for us. We are adding our 3rd Nitrider, another 22,000 Lb. Capacity furnace. This one will be located in Ft Worth and should be coming online within the next few weeks. We continue to grow that business and look for new opportunities for future growth. We have been successful in flipping some Ion Customers after seeing the results we can obtain with the Nitreg technology, so we fill like the potential is unlimited.”

In Texas it would appear that the vast bulk of heat treating captive and commercial is related to the oil and gas industries with a little aerospace, automotive and heavy equipment thrown into the mix. While the oil and gas industries are booming these days this is one of the most “boom or bust” industries I have ever seen. How do you handle the ups and downs? It must create some real headaches for you when it comes to cash flow, employment levels and furnace utilization. I have to add that I always laugh about the “rig” count in Texas.

“I can’t imagine another area in the world where a gas station attendant or bar tender can tell you the current rig count. You nailed it, as it is a “Boom or Bust” industry. It can and will crash in an instant. I have been thru a number of these and we learn a little more each time we go thru a bust. Every Boom and or Bust brings on its own set of problems, and it seems like each one is a little different. It appears to me the cycles have gotten a little shorter than they use to be, so that is a good thing. We are no different than anyone else in their approach to a downturn. We try to keep our skilled employees, and do what it takes to make it thru. We know there is light at the end of the tunnel, so we take it one day at a time.”

Does it ever worry you this dependence upon the energy industry?

“I think we are much like a Shop sitting in the middle of Detroit wishing they could diversify into something other than Automotive. Does it worry me? Absolutely, but after 30 plus years of dealing with it, you learn to accept it. Some years ago, we were QS-9000 Registered in hopes of diversifying and developing some automotive work, but I believe we were ahead of our time. We are taking a second look at that now for the current Automotive & Aerospace Specs.”

I mentioned right up front that business is Texas is different than a lot of other areas of the world. For instance (and I love this) Texans believe in doing business on a handshake and pride themselves that this is much better than a lawyer written contract-personal experience tells me that this is true. Another issue which sets Texas apart is how many commercial heat treaters in Texas are blood related even though they are competitors. Does this raise any special problems?

“It is true that we prefer to do business on a handshake, but it is also true that is changing. Because of the Boom-Bust business, we lose a lot of seasoned professionals to other industries. The new management that is being brought in has a lot more diverse backgrounds and is used to doing business in a more formal manner. To answer the 2nd part of your question, all I can tell you is that even when I think I know all the family connections, I find out someone else has a Dominy Connection somewhere in their bloodlines……….And no, I have not heard of any killings among them. Gord, In Texas, you are either an In-Law or an Outlaw!”

Continuing with the same question while Bodycote has a very strong presence in the state all other heat treaters are family owned businesses. As a family owned business yourself do you see an advantage in size or does this pose its own problems?

“All shops have the things they do well & the things they don’t do as well as the next shop. I believe it boils down to your vision for your organization, people, business plan and execution. Texas has some very well run shops with some very knowledgeable people running them, so the competition is tough. So I really don’t think it is a size issue, but rather where your strengths lie.”

Of all the potential problems with running a heat treating operation which problem or potential problem has the most capacity to keep you up at night? Or is heat treating such a rosy business that you sleep like a baby every night?

“Obviously OSHA & Environmental has to be up there. It seems like each year brings new laws and regulations that you have to comply with. It is almost a full time job keeping up with just that aspect of the business. HR issues are another area that is difficult to keep up with and making sure your organization is complying with all the new laws and regulations. It appears that agencies such as the NLRB has a heavy hand in deciding issues that affect the way we have to run our businesses.”

With your investments in relatively new technologies such as Nitrex you have proven that you have no problems expanding beyond what you have always done. If you had to pick another technology that you feel would strongly compliment what you are now doing what would it be?

“I’m always looking for new technologies and or processes to compliment what we do. Funny you should ask that question as we are working on a project now. Maybe later down the road, we can re-visit this question.”

There are some very large manufacturers in Texas supplying the oil and gas industries that send out enormous amounts of heat treating which in many cases in relatively basic simple heat treating such as quench and temper or stress relieving. Do you see any sign that these large companies are considering or would consider bringing it in house?

“Vertical Integration” We are seeing some organizations move in that direction while others choose not to, staying with their core competencies. I’ve always felt like my larger customers were also my potential biggest competitor……….Large organizations don’t always look at cost the way we do & most feel like they can do it much cheaper in house than we as an industry can do it for. However, with that said, this last Boom pushed some to put in their own facilities simply for thru put. Things happened so fast here in the Southwest, that everyone including the large manufactures got caught with their pants down. I’m not sure anyone ever got ahead of the curve until recently. With the Natural Gas Glut and Oil starting to slide, I believe there is going to be too much capacity out there for a while. Prices for Natural Gas and Oil should stay down for the foreseeable future, slowing the drilling & manufacturing down at that same time. They are already stacking rigs, so the next step will be to cannibalize them instead of buying new replacement parts. It is just a process that it goes thru and depending on the Supply vs. Demand will dictate how long this part of the cycle will last.”

Where do you see the heat treating industry in Texas going? Remaining the same with a number of family owned businesses or some consolidation?

“I think that is anyone’s guess……….People sell for different reasons, so while there may be some consolidations, I believe there will always be a number of family or privately owned businesses. Texas is no different than any other state where family roots run deep & keeping those businesses in the family is important.”

Probably the toughest question of all is where is the industry going? I have asked this question literally hundreds of times over the years and I have never found a great deal of consensus. The general feeling appears to be that as long as there is metal there will be heat treating but this is rather simplistic. If I were to ask you what technologies would be most employed in 25 years and whether the current captive/commercial heat treating mix were to stay the same what would you respond?

“I do realize that since you and I are almost exactly the same age at 54 neither one of us might not care that much 25 years from now but I am always curious about where the industry is going. Gord, I’ve been in this business since 1981, and have seen it go full circle in several areas. I have seen businesses that thought bringing their Heat Treat in house was the way to go, only to find out it was a lot more involved than they expected and ended up shutting down their captive business and selling the equipment on the secondary market. I have seen business where it worked out for them by bringing their Heat Treat in house, but that typically is done for other reasons than cost or quality. It was not that long ago those captives used to bring their Heat Treating in house because of Quality or perceived quality issues. However, I believe that has all changed in recent years where most shops have brought their quality levels to all-time highs. It is hard to say what technologies will be most employed in 25 Years, however, it is typically those niche business that are most profitable. That too appears to go in cycles so we shall see. I do believe that if you are not re-investing in your business, employees & continue to make improvements, you will not be around for the long haul.”

How was your year as President of MTI?

“When looking back over my 2012 presidency I would first have to say that being President of the Metal Treating Institute has been an honor and distinct privilege. The Association has a history and legacy of strong impactful leaders and I was humbled to be a part of this elite group. Starting off in Williamsburg, Virginia, my plan was to continue to increase our MTI membership, promote our YES classes throughout the country, continue to create and strengthen our partnership with associate members, listen to our members and board concerning the future of MTI, but most importantly have fun in the process. I have to admit Gord, I was a little nervous, launching my Presidential leadership role at the 2012 MTI boarding meeting in Miami, FL. The MTI board and Executive Board consist of seasoned and new individuals that have the heart and passion for this organization, and standing up and addressing them made me a little weak in the knees. However, I love to coach and I looked at this like a baseball coach. Position the right players on the field according to their strength to win the game; and that we did. The board and I continued to work thru our strategic plan for the 2012 year and worked together to strive for results and excellence. The honeymoon ended in Miami and the real work began. Weekly, we had countless conference calls with either the Executive Board and or Committees to plan for our events and discuss the issues of the MTI at hand. Everyone took an active part in resolving tough issues that are not always easy to approach, but we stayed on task and focused to the goals of the MTI. There were many behind the scenes calls with Tom Morrison and the Executive Board to ensure the success for the year. It was an effort made by all and I was very fortunate to have a balance team leading the different committees and executing a successful 2012. As I have traveled throughout the United States and Canada visiting the different regions, Frances and I greatly appreciated the outpouring of hospitality, the willingness of other heat treaters to open their business for plant tours, arrange for exciting venues of entertainment and making us feel so welcome. We were so every thankful to all; MTI is like our second family. The year ended with huge success and record breaking 1st; increased memberships & attendance at both the Regional and National levels, increase in YES graduates, stronger financial standing, new technology that will bring added value to the MTI Association and its members, thus equaling a stronger marketing position. Hence, I owe the success to the Board, and Tom Morrison and Associates for the overall success the MTI has experienced this past year. It has been an exciting and fun year. Overall, the year flew by fast as all the past presidents said it would. No doubt we have accomplished a lot, but the MTI has raised the bar and we still have a lot to accomplish. Being President was a true honor and I am very lucky to have been given this opportunity. It will be a time in my life that I will treasure and look back with great pride. I do wish it could have been extended one more year…..I finally got the hang of public speaking! Buster I thank you for your time and hope our paths continue to cross in the future”