Damian Bratcher / SSI

I am always fascinated by the life lead by Mr. Damian Bratcher “Director International Operations” for Cincinatti, Ohio controls company SSI. I say fascinated because Damian makes 16 international trips a year generally for a couple of weeks at a time on behalf of the company and as such has a very unique perspective on the differences in heat treating around the world. Damian will be at the upcoming ASM show in Cincinatti and will be presenting a paper Monday morning the 16th of September at the ASM Gear Exhibition. If you want to meet Damian in person he will be at booth 1501 at the show and maybe, just maybe, he will buy you a drink or a steak dinner. The photos below are a small sampling of some he had taken during his travels.

Damian I have often been accused of spending my life travelling around the world seeing different heat treat facilities but compared to you as Director International Operations for furnace controls company SSI I am rather a stay at home fellow. On average how much time do you spend away from home and how many countries do you see in any given year?

“Typical travel is around 16 international trips per year plus several trips in the USA. It is about 40% of the time which is less than most sales and service personnel spend on the road. The bigger impact is being gone on those 16 to 20 weekends per year. It can be very difficult to make it to your child’s soccer game or piano recital. You also get to spend many major holidays on the road. As for countries visited, we have operations in Europe (UK), China and Mexico. India, Brazil, Korea, Japan and Taiwan are other regions with large heat treatment markets. Every few years, you go to Australia, South Africa, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, etc.”   

How many countries have you visited over the years.

“Great question as it is one I had not considered. I had to look at a map and count. I came up with 39 and soon to be 40. Canada is a state, right?” 

Having seen heat treating operations on 5 continents do you see much of a difference? For instance do you see a higher standard in some countries or has heat treating become pretty much the same around the world?

“Actually, I have seen heat treatment facilities on six (6) continents and maybe one day there will be a shop in Antarctica so I can make it seven (7). As for standards, the top end of the market is similar all around the world. In developing countries, there will be a very low end to the market where you still see open cyanide baths, charcoal/pack carburizing, no safety equipment and techniques that look to be from the Middle Ages and where you wonder…..why am I here? In some countries, for example China and India, there are two markets that are served – domestic and foreign. The heat treatment for domestic work will be at a lower standard compared to what you will see in Korea, Japan, Germany or the USA. The biggest differences you see around the world are maintenance practices, documentation requirements, atmosphere creation and control philosophy. Maintenance and documentation are more standardized in G20 nations. The client will ultimately dictate how advanced these are at any given shop. If a heat treatment facility is doing aerospace or high-end automotive work, the shop will typically be more pristine and organized than one making nails or general purpose hand tools.  When it comes to atmosphere generation, you will see operations with only pure methanol in one part of the world where in others it is all based upon natural gas. In one specific area, it is based upon solid rocket fuel. As for control philosophy, in one area, CO2 is the basis for control in lieu of dew point or carbon potential. There is a split between atmosphere control and associated programming performed in the PLC versus discrete instruments. You see recipe versus segment based programming. The control philosophy boils down to the three major regions of the past 40 years – Germany, Japan or American. All produce excellent results as long as you have your parts at a known atmosphere and temperature for the proper time. To answer your question directly, the more advanced the country, the general standard will be higher and more consistent for heat treatment.”

Along the same lines as the question above is there is a conception/misconception that heat treating in some of the developing countries is not up to par with Europe or North America-your thoughts?

“Companies such as SKF, Schaeffler, Timken, Bodycote, American Axle, Dana, Ford, Eaton and numerous others operate all over the world with the same standards. A multi-national recently opened an aerospace facility in China. They produce parts to the same standard as their other facilities around the globe. You can be up to par anywhere in the world. At one time, Korea was a developing country with a reputation for poor product – consider Hyundai and Kia in the late 80’s and early 90’s or Gold Star appliances. This emerging market of the 80’s has evolved into one of the most sophisticated markets in the world – think Samsung smart phones and LCD screens. Hyundai decided years ago to put long warranties on its U.S. cars to reassure buyers concerned about their company’s then-iffy quality and reliability. The company warranties the powertrain — mainly, engine and transmission — for 10 years or 100,000 miles, whichever comes first. Would you make this offer if your heat treatment process wasn’t well documented, repeatable and to the highest standards at the price they were selling a car? They were able to make the offer because they knew the quality and consistency of their part production and heat treatment processes. They had the results from the domestic market that told them they could make the offer and not have excessive claims. Per the 2013 JD Power IQS, Hyundai and Kia were in the same rating range as Chrysler, Buick, Cadillac, Audi, Mercedes-Benz, Jaguar, Honda, Toyota and Acura. Hyundai, Kia and Mercedes-Benz were tied for 10th place (33 nameplates total) and better than the industry average. As an FYI, the Top 5 were Porsche, GMC, Lexus, Infiniti and Chevrolet. The misconceptions about the non-Eurocentric markets comes from the shops that are serving the local market. Do they have shops that are well below 1rst world standards? Yes. Do they have shops that can compete with their counterparts in the North American and Europe? Yes.”

I know from experience that some countries are easier to do business in than others. What is your personal experience as far as shipping, customs, getting paid and duties? What is your favorite country to do business in and which is your least favorite?

“There are countries where the oxygen sensor must be called an ‘oxygen test tube’ as the translation to the native language better reflects the product. Using the wrong word can triple the duty paid. There are others where a misspelling or lack of pertinent information for a custom agent will result in a major delay or rejection of the shipment. In general, Brazil seems to have the strictest requirements and highest duties. In the CIS (old Soviet-bloc) region, you need GOST certification. Without it, the one-off requirements are more strict and cumbersome than Brazil. Keep in mind, the USA has some goofy rules. We actually had a shipment from a foreign supplier to us rejected by the US government. Every country has its own unique quirks. As for getting paid, there are countries where it is 100% in advance prior to shipment. This requirement applies to everyone in these countries – even multi-nationals. Overall, payment has not been an issue for us. We have been very fortunate.

To do business or to visit? I truly wish there was more business in South Africa and Australia. The engineers in these countries actually read the manuals and have an incredible store of knowledge. It is refreshing when you get questions that are hard to answer because they have tried all published solutions. In general, the places that are low on the list are ones with poor infrastructure – 80 kilometers in 10 hours – or unsafe water or food.” 

In your opinion which country has the most advanced heat treating facilities and which the least?

“Advanced heat treating? You can buy a new fixed volume generator with a carburetor – fixed ratio and flows. I don’t recall ever owning a car with a carburetor……when will fuel injection be standard in the industry? Look at the flow meters in a heat treatment facility – then go to another part of the plant and look at the flow meters. Look at the ERP and job tracking systems in part production and then the same in the heat treatment shop. For the most part, heat treatment is a technology generation behind everyone else. There is plenty of opportunity to advance heat treatment. Heat treatment is a dichotomy unto itself. To answer your question, I am a  homer at heart. USA! USA!  If it is not the USA, it would be Germany. As mentioned, the high-end is the same everywhere. Companies like Phoenix Heat Treat are pushing the envelope of technology (especially in the heat treat industry). Just like in any business sector, the most advanced will be where the money dictates that they have to be advanced or the end product has to be extremely well documented (aerospace). There is a shop in the UK that runs parts for F1 racing teams that is impressive. Ferrari in Italy was the most meticulous shop I have seen. It was hard to see the furnaces through all the plants (supposedly there to maintain humidity levels in the factory) . Making parts for the TATA Nano is not the same as making parts for TATA’s Jaguar division. Is there one country that is the best? I say no.”

When it comes to business the whole world is fixated on China and India as the growth areas of the future. My personal feeling is that yes these areas are growing but I am not convinced that the two countries should be the focus of so much attention. I don’t know whether you agree with me or not but do you see other countries as being well worthwhile to be spending time in?

“Yes. There are many worth time. You are asking two questions really. One is where is the growth or capital equipment spending coming from in the next 10 years and the other is where will we obtain the best return on time invested (focus one’s attention). >From what I hear, there will be substantial growth in South East Asia – from Thailand to Vietnam and inclusive of Malaysia and Indonesia. If Africa ever stabilizes, you will see massive growth and investment in many regions of the continent. Brazil and India will continue to be  growing markets. There is enough government hindrance to prevent meteoric growth like we have seen in China over the past 10 years but there will be substantial growth in these two BRICs. As for time invested and where I intend to focus my attention, I am more than happy to share that privately with you.”    

Enough of the business questions. What is your favorite country in the world to visit? Where have you not visited and where would you like to go next either personal or for business?

“There are many great places to visit in the USA. Chicago and New York are great towns for a weekend. The National Parks in the USA have some of the greatest vistas and diverse wildlife anywhere in the world. However, your question gives the impression that you want a non-USA answer.  Italy, South Africa, Australia, Argentina, Germany, the South of France, New Zealand, Hawaii, the Islands of the Caribbean, Banff (Canada)…..there are so many great places depending upon what you want to do. Some of my fondest visits were to Brussels and Innsbruck. There is no clear cut “favorite”. As for where I want to go – the Galapagos Islands, Barrow Alaska during the winter and summer solstices, to spend a day or two in Antarctica, to dance on the main square in Havana, to take a river cruise down the Danube or the Amazon and to spend a week hiking in Siberia, Patagonia or Alaska. There are several places in Africa that I would like to see but, I will pass for now. There are dive trips to Bonaire, the Red Sea and Thailand in my future. But, the ultimate where you would like to go – The Maldives.”

Several times you and I have exchanged stories about travelling around the world. I have very memorable memories of India-most very good, all very interesting and Moscow I have memories of (we will leave it at that). But what is your most memorable experience travelling?

“I will keep it clean and sanitary. There are some things best left to the imagination. The sea of humanity at the Kolkata train station where the porter carried my luggage on his head as we stepped around the many sleeping bodies (it was early afternoon and frigging hot!). When I asked, I was told they slept in shifts. It was difficult to walk/step around everyone.  At the time, it was the most densely populated place on our planet. The wolf running across the road in remote Russia . Being woken by a massive earthquake during a typhoon while in Asia. All in all, I have been very fortunate – nothing too dramatic. One of my favorites was sitting next to Little Richard on a flight and not talking to him. He finally asked me, “Don’t you want my autograph”.  I politely declined. But, the most memorable is an easy one. I performed at the Sydney Opera House. I was traveling with a friend and we ended up singing New York, New York during the play Barmaids.  We received a standing ovation and frozen chickens as our payment for performance  which we gave to our taxi driver as his tip. The look he gave us was priceless.  It will be hard to top a standing ovation at the Sydney Opera House and tipping your taxi driver with frozen chickens.”

What is the largest most impressive captive and commercial heat treats you have seen?

“We have talked about these in the past. Hyundai in Korea has multiple heat treat facilities at their main factory. While each is not the largest, combined it has to be in the top five. Dymos in South Korea with their 10 generators, five (or was it seven) multi-row pushers, 10 to 15 batch furnaces, rotary furnace, etc. is another large one. There was a factory in Russia where the heat treat was broken into four sections where they had 14 pit nitriders in one shop, 10 generators in another with all the associated furnaces and two medium sized shops. The tractor factory in Romania was large. While all large and impressive, they are small compared to the one shop at KAMAZ in Russia. They had 30+ Holcroft pushers, 3 different Lindberg batch lines, an Ipsen batch line, an Aichelin pusher, 10-20 more batch furnaces from various companies, 3 plasma and 5 pit nitriders plus 8 to 10 additional pit carburizing furnaces.  It was impossible to take a picture. You could not see the entire shop from one locaton.

On the commercial side, ETSA in Mexico and KingKwang in China are probably the two biggest I have seen. You have had the good fortune to see some large ones in Germany. Our European Operation handles these accounts for SSI. They do a fantastic job and it enables us to focus on “where do we want to go next?”. Do we establish a subsidiary in India? Do we focus on all the key emerging markets (BRICs)? Do we channel efforts into existing market such as Germany to gain market share? Or, do we go after a new market with some potential like Pakistan or Indonesia?  Who knows, we may find a large captive or commercial shop that will make The Monty’s Top Ten list.”