Mr. Mark Hemsath
We are very pleased to be able to offer an interview with an individual we very much respect, Mr. Mark Hemsath, Director of Nitriding & Special Vacuum Furnaces, SECO Vacuum.
Describe your position and history with SECO/VACUUM.
Hi Gord, I am currently the North American lead for two of our signature technologies. SECO/WARWICK Group is well known for Vacuum Furnaces, advanced solutions in high pressure gas quenching, including our single piece flow equipment known as Uni-CaseMaster and our 4D Quench. My products are gas Nitriding and Carburizing via our Super IQ furnace family. These two surface treatments, Nitriding (and FNC) and Carburizing, are probably the largest volume of heat treated parts in the US. Our equipment is unmatched in quality and in our utilization of advanced technologies in our furnace designs.
How did you get into the business?
Gord, just as you, my father lured me into this business! He told me early on, “don’t be an engineer, it does not pay enough.” My father was VP of Technology for Surface Combustion, back in the day. When I graduated from college he started his own business. I eventually joined him. His history is a PhD engineer from Germany and he has around 65 patents. He was instrumental in bringing Ion Nitriding technology to the US from Germany in the 1970’s. As well, I translated German technical papers on Ion Nitriding while in college for Jim Conybear, who worked for my father. Jim has been very well known in vacuum furnaces and commercial heat treating. When I worked for my father, we developed one of the first hot-wall retort-based Ion nitriders, which is very similar today to our SECO/VACUUM gas nitriding furnaces. We had a patent on the jet-impingement heating technology. I learned it all from the side of designing furnaces.
SECO/WARWICK is pushing a new carburizing technology. Can you explain this a little further?
We actually took a very well proven technology, known as our CaseMaster Evolution, which is a classic vacuum carburizing and oil quench furnace and we re-imagined it. This furnace line is targeted at aerospace, but the design makes it rather expensive. So we wondered, how do we use the benefits of Low Pressure Carburizing and Vacuum heating and marry it to a less expensive and standard oil quench? The result is a fantastic furnace that is both highly productive, modern and has the best of both worlds (vacuum and atmosphere). And the kicker…. We priced it very aggressively!
What is the status of the Super IQ?
We are almost finished building our second unit. We have met all our goals. We are now aggressively offering the furnace for sale. In addition to higher quality, this furnace offers more temperature ranges and flexibility, yet still uses standard oils, washers and standard tempers. It truly will remake the carburizing market.
You mentioned your long history in Nitriding, what attracted you to Nitriding?
First, there was no attraction! I love technology and I especially like processes. Nitriding is actually much more complex than some other heat treatments. Hence, that was my attraction. When I joined SECO/WARWICK in early 2014, I was intrigued by the gas nitriding line, but it was still rather new to the company. SECO/WARWICK actually built furnaces for a decade for another supplier. Around 2009 we began to push our new nitriding controls technology. When I arrived in 2014, I saw a need to better define our high level of experience and tweak our messaging. State-side, we had no real process expert. I decided I needed to be that expert and I spent many hours and days with our world-renown expert Leszek Maldzinski.
I researched any paper I could find (I started out in the industry doing a lot of research for my father, so I always enjoyed discovering new papers and books on subjects). So, basically, I was self taught, with the help of many experts at SECO/WARWICK in Europe and many friends I have made in the subject of gas and ion nitriding, including Dr. Rolinski, while I was at AHT. What you get with SECO/VACUUM and SECO/WARWICK are science-based process experts and incredibly well-designed equipment. Many people make and sell furnaces. We sell capabilities in heat treatment. With SECO/VACUUM you get expertise from people who have done heat treating, like myself and our R&D people.
What do you enjoy most about the heat treatment business?
Gord, I enjoy helping customers. Often our customers know how to make parts for their industry. When they come to us, they may only be outsourcing the heat treatment. You would be shocked how many people rarely even know the specs they need to heat treat to. So our job is to ask the right questions and use our experience to craft a solution. Since we are a pretty full-service manufacturer, we can solve a lot of scenarios. For instance, if you have a tool steel hardening need, we can offer high pressure quench vacuum furnaces and we also have the nitriding furnaces for those parts that demand a precision gas nitrided layer after hardening and tempering, say for H13 tool steel.
For carburizing, we now have a viable solution for those people looking to carburize low alloy grades that require oil quenching and high volume production. With gas quenching, it gets expensive to batch carburize, as smaller loads are often necessary to get good quenching.
For very high production, we have the 4D Quench, gas quench option, which can offer press-quench quality. So we really are the go-to company for any manufacturer looking to bring heat treat in-house or looking to expand in-house heat treating.
How has COVID affected your business?
In the beginning we were like everyone else. It got challenging. I have always worked from home so that was the easy part! It has been quite the adjustment for many others in our company. Some people just do not like working from home, but I think it is now going to be a part of the work landscape. As far as business, we really took off after mid year. We had a number of large and interesting projects finally close this year and we had a really good year. Next year is looking even better for us in North America and we see the activity picking up even more. We are very optimistic! Even in Europe, we see resiliency in the demand. All our hard work in product advancement and in focusing on core technologies is paying off and we think 2021 will be a banner year. I can’t wait to help more customers. Call me.
What challenges has SECO seen in 2020 besides the obvious on-COVID?
As with everyone else, the product mix will change. Much less focus on aerospace, so we are looking at 3D printing, medical, defense, and automotive, as well as general industrial like tool steel hardening, nitriding and FNC processes. Oil and gas is weaker and agriculture seems stagnant. Opportunities exist in general industrial as we see tremendous growth in basic items like distribution centers (conveyors and robots), trucks, marine and RV.
What in your opinion is the single most exciting innovation you have seen in the course of your career? This could be anything from the widespread use of oxygen probes in carburizing applications, the use of acetylene in vacuum carburizing situations or even advances in burner technology.
Well, believe it or not, this advancement is right here at SECO/WARWICK. I think our 4D Quench product is very significant. From a technology standpoint, let’s go back to when I started in the business. My father had various patents in impinging jets in convection improvements and I worked with him in the 1990’s on these advances and patents. Uniform convection has always been important to me and my training is in convective heating and cooling. 4D quenching uses impinging gas jets to quench parts. These tiny, high pressure jets, along with the fourth dimension of spinning the part, is brilliant. We also do not have the boiling gas film boundaries, which adds to liquid quench problems and distortions. So, purely from a technical point of view, this technology is very significant for quenching with controlled and limited distortions. I congratulate our team and Maciej Korecki on this technically superior concept and product.
Mark how about some predictions for next year? You’ve told us you expect 2021 to be a very good year for SECO but what about the industry in general? More competition from Asian furnace builders? Consolidation or acquisitions amongst the furnace builders? A rebound in aerospace heat treating? Where do you think.
Gord, we have seen some tremendous structural changes due primarily to COVID. This has meant a number of things.
1) Recreation, in a distanced manner, has become more important. This has led to the marine industry and RV industry exploding doing incredible sales. You know I love boating and it is crazy here in Florida. Boats are flying off the lots and it is hard to get engine parts. In RV’s, a friend went shopping and one large dealer said they are selling 30-50 RV’s a day!
2) On the converse, people are flying for travel and business much less. I do not see a significant return in volume until middle to late 2022. This will hurt common aerospace. I just saw that the 737 MAX is approved again and that means all those jets sitting in fields will come back into the market (a soft market). Military will stay strong, as will private jets.
3) Space is very active again, not seen in decades. Space X is leading here and Aerojet Rocketdyne is being bought by Lockheed.
4) People are moving from cities and working from home. We are seeing urban office areas being emptied. No one wants to live or work in a densely populated area and they have learned to work from home and many like it. In Florida, where I live, it means an explosion of home sales, etc. as we see massive new residents, this means tremendous construction on roads and infrastructure. Other states like Tennessee, Georgia, the Carolinas, and Texas are also benefitting from this migration.
5) People have abandoned retail shopping in droves and transitioned much faster to Amazon and other online shopping. This has put a huge burden on delivery services to keep up, and Amazon keeps building distribution centers. One last trend is we have virtually stopped the growth and change to Uber travel. In 2019 people were buying less cars and living in dense urban centers. Now, people need their own cars as they are leaving these places and Uber has hit a wall. This should bode well for Automotive in 2021. Of course, electric and hybrid vehicles are a huge part of that growth and this will even accelerate more in 2021 and 2022.
In all, this represents more structural changes than we have ever seen in one year, by far! Throw in guns being bought everywhere, and we have a good year coming for heat treating, heat treat furnaces and regional changes in these markets. It is really exciting for someone like me, who likes to study manufacturing trends. I will not even get into how much cash has been and is being pumped (and will be) into our markets by Government spending and the Federal Reserve Bank.