Harald Roth / KGO GmbH

If I were a real heat treater and asked which heat treating technology has the potential for the largest growth after I got finished humming and hawing (just to show I was thinking about it) my answer would be nitriding both gas and plasma. I have never seen any figures to back this up, there just seems to be a general consensus that Nitriding offers some real advantages. With this preamble we have an interview with Mr. Harald Roth of German furnace builder and nitriding specialists KGO GmbH. KGO is very well known in Europe not as much in North America although they do have systems but I would suspect that their name will become more well known in the future.

Right off the bat Harald I have to say that I feel more comfortable with Harald than Harry if that is OK. We’ve run across each other at a number of heat treat shows around the world and I have always enjoyed your passion for what you do. How did you get involved with the heat treating industry and KGO in particular?

“Sure, Harald is fine for me. We have customers all over the world and some like Harry better.   During my last exams at the University I was looking for some kind of an engineering related part-time job. I found one at a furnace manufacturer and got instantly attracted by the engineering problems of heat treatment. It was so different to what I had  learned so far and in other ways just the same. For example: I had learned about corrosion and in particular about nitrogen corrosion in steel pipes due to ammonia. Still today these problems are exiting for me. After my exams I wanted to stay in the industry and accepted a job at KGO GmbH which was known to me as a competitor of my recent company. The furnaces of KGO at that time already had all the features which are necessary for high quality heat treatment.”

Tell us a bit about KGO such as size, capabilities and history.

“In 1949 Mr. Kaminski founded the company “Kaminski Apparatebau” and 1998 Mr. N. Vucemilovic took over the company from Mr. Kaminski’s son. Two years later we bought “Schott GmbH” a small manufacturer of wax injection machines for investment casting. So we are not just building furnaces for heat treaters but also furnaces and machines for investment casting. At the moment we have about 50 employees. KGO does a whole lot of different furnaces. Beside our very well know nitriders and evacuable tempers, we  offer sealed -quench furnaces, shaft furnaces, kilns for ceramics and special furnaces. We are able to produce furnaces “taylor-made” in different sizes and capabilities designed just to customer needs.”

Are you the owner of the company?

“No, I am not. The owner is Mr. N. Vucemilovic who took over the company “Kaminski Apparatebau” from Mr. Kaminski in 1998. Together they formed the company “Kaminski Giesserei- und Ofenanlagen GmbH” or KGO GmbH. Mr. Vucemilovic is beside all of his other duties still the leading mechanical engineer. I am the process engineer at KGO. That makes me responsible for and guilty  for  everything  on  each project!”

I have to confess that before I met you just a few years ago I was not familiar with the company. Since that time I have run across your equipment at companies such as Bodycote in Brazil, Hauck Gruppe (commercial heat treating Germany) and Shanghai Heat Treatment which tells me that you have sold equipment around the world. Care to give us an idea about how many KGO systems are in operation around the world? Is your business more with captive or commercial heat treaters?

“As our company does produce machines over 60 years now, we do have more than a thousand  systems  out there. KGO furnaces would be a couple of hundred.
I think our business is more with commercial heat treaters.”

You know Harald I have been around nitriding my entire working life which is now getting to be quite a while a long time and yet to this day I do not claim to be an expert on the technology. Show me a batch IQ, a pusher or a vacuum and I feel pretty comfortable. Show me a gas or plasma nitrider and I know enough to be dangerous. Where I am going with this is that I know many in this industry are in the same boat. Would it be possible to give our readers a very brief description of nitriding and why it is becoming so popular?

“I think most of your readers do know the mechanisms of heat treating well enough. Nitriding like carburising is to perform a perfect surface just to the required needs. Nitriding becomes popular because of its unique performance of the achievable surfaces. If talking about nitrocarburising cycle times compared to carburising are much shorter, distortion is less and dimensional accuracy is very good.”

Somewhere I read that there is a connection between KGO and Stange Elecktronk GmbH a German controls company. Does Stange provide your control systems?

“We have been working successfully together with Stange for nearly 15 years now. Our furnaces and the Stange control system have made great progress together in this time. Whenever necessary KGO and Stange can solve problems with the combined forces of two companies. Our furnaces do have some unique control features. I have worked together with Stange all over the world and was always pleased with the work that was done.
Nevertheless we build our own control system mainly with Stange programmer or if aked by our customers certainly with others.”

How does your technology differ from other companies offering nitriding systems? Which one of your competitors do you have the most respect for?

“We do have great respect for all of our competitors. Anything else would be both, stupid and dangerous. KGO builds heavy-duty, everyday “workhorses”. Our furnaces are designed as production furnaces with the best possible results. Furnaces have to do their job every day, no playing around. It is a combination of newest technology and long approved design that characterises our furnaces.”

When asked about what heat treating technology is growing the fastest my answer is nitriding. How quickly have you seen the nitriding market growing over the past number of years? I realize this could be a tricky question but do you get the feeling that nitriding has doubled? Tripled? in the past 10 years or is this way too optimistic.

“I do not know to be honest. Maybe this gives you some kind of an answer. We are now, compared to 10 years ago, selling twice as much nitriders then carburising furnaces per year.”

I know you have been putting a fair bit of work into the North American market-how has this worked out for you so far? Any installations you can talk about?

“We may have the opportunity to deliver some more furnaces but I cannot tell you more.”

I asked you about the North American market, but what has been your largest area to date and what do you see as the largest in 5 years?

“We have sold mostly in Europe. Even though USA and China are very important for us I think Europe will still be our main market.”

Do you see KGO adding any other heat treating technologies in the future?

“I do not see any revolutionary new technology at the moment. We are still making good progress and adding the latest scientific results to our machines. Certainly we do a lot of research and there are some intriguing new developments on the move. We hope to add some of the to our furnaces soon. Just one hint: there will be something new for sensor controlled gas nitrocarburising.”

Recently we had a press release about a German company that is now offering a combination Plasma/Gas Nitrider which intrigues me. Is this something KGO is considering and if not why not?

“That is no new technology. In fact it has been offered for years with different brand names. We added our superior gasnitriding technology to a couple of shaft furnaces which are running plasma supported. Some of them do not use the plasma part of the machine any more because results are very good even without plasma..”

 

This leads to another question: do you have a focus? For instance, did you get out of bed this morning and say: let’s increase our sales of atmosphere furnaces as opposed to vacuum?

“Once a year, we set ourselves certain goals. These goals are closely connected to our overall strategy and lead to certain activities.

We have very clear targets when it comes to the development of our products, our sales strategies in various parts of the world, and the overall growth development of the Ipsen Group. An important part of our growth initiative is the utilization of our international setup in order to offer our customers worldwide the same Ipsen standard.

Therefore it is important to understand the market and the general direction our business is moving in. In order to understand this, we are in close contact with our customers and support them in many areas. For example, in Germany we have our own heat treatment R&D department with a complete vacuum and atmosphere furnace line where we do trials for our customers. In many cases, we have developed the heat treatment process together with our customers there.” 

What upcoming challenges come to mind when you think about the future? Let me elaborate a bit on that question. We all see competition on a daily basis and we all see cost challenges, but when you look at the bigger picture do you spend much time thinking about what heat-treating will look like in 20 years? Whether the technology will change drastically in our lifetimes?

“Yes, we at Ipsen spend a great deal of time thinking about the future and especially the future demands of our customers. This leads to certain development projects like the invention of our PdMetrics system, which allows the client to predict when which spare parts will be needed and to ensure the highest possible availability of the furnaces.

We also believe that our furnaces should be as energy-efficient as possible, which has led to a larger variety of energy-saving systems like the EcoTemper system or the EcoFire systems.

There will always be changes and challenges in the future, but I feel that we at Ipsen are well prepared for the future because we have already delivered the proof that we can quickly adapt to the challenges of the future.

When I look back, I see Ipsen as a clear driver of innovations based on a deep understanding of our technology and the demands of the future.

There will always be changes and new demands – that’s simply unavoidable – but the question is how to deal with them and how to find answers to these challenges.”

I have a good friend in the USA who has been in the industry for almost 50 years now and his attitude is that there is nothing new in the industry. Some changes, yes; some modifications, yes – but at the end of the day except for controls and some tinkering, heat-treating is still heat-treating. Perhaps a rather cynical view, but is it a view you would agree with?

“Yes, I have heard this before and it is correct to state that at the end of the day customers want their steel to be heat-treated. The challenge here is not to discuss this demand: the challenge is to heat-treat steel in the best possible way with as much accuracy as possible and with a minimum of energy.

I do believe that we have already taken major steps to come closer to this goal. If you compare how heat treatment was done 50 years ago with an energy-optimized Ipsen furnace with all the accuracy you can imagine and all the controls which make the process 100% transparent, you can see which major changes have happened and how much work has been done in order to reach the level of technical maturity we have today.

At Ipsen, we have taken major steps toward meeting these challenging new demands from our customers and we are still working on the furnaces of the future.”   

If somebody said to you tomorrow: “Marc, you can sell vacuum furnaces or you can sell atmosphere furnaces, but you can’t sell both,” what would your answer be? Perhaps the essence of the question is: which technology is the most versatile?

“I’m convinced that in the future we will still see both technologies, because both technologies have their place in the industry.

I would answer this question by saying that the wrong CEO was asked and that this question would be better put to someone who can only offer vacuum or atmosphere furnaces.”

Is there a technology or product which really excites you at the moment? Perhaps single-piece part flow furnaces? Nitriding? New control systems?

“I strongly believe that nitriding will have a bright future since you can achieve excellent metallurgical results at relatively low temperatures while partly avoiding distortion at the same time.

It is always exciting for me when we develop a new process or a new product and I see how our customers are using it. That was the case, for example, when we developed our energy-saving systems. It was simply impressive to see that we can now use the surplus process gas to heat a furnace instead of simply burning it, which is what was done for the last 50 years.

Technical innovations like this are an important driving force for Ipsen and our success and are the icing on the cake in my job.”

None of us has a crystal ball but what do you see in the future for Marc Angenendt? The same responsibilities that you now have or do you have a yearning for more time in sales or more time in engineering?

“Looking back from being an apprentice at Ipsen in the 90s to now being the CEO with everything I did in between, I can state that I’m truly happy with my current position. It offers me a large variety of activities in both sales and engineering but also in commercial issues. On top of this, I have always had many good coworkers around me and today I have an excellent management team who support me every day.

It is now our responsibility to prepare Ipsen for the future and I’m confident that we can accomplish this mission.”

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