Martin Beaton / Bohler-Uddeholm Corporation
Martin in my opinion you have worked with some of the most respected companies in the world when it comes to captive and commercial heat treating. Could you share with us your work history?
“Hello Gord, I am pleased to answer these questions. Indeed, I have worked with really great companies in my career, with each one offering a different perspective on heat treatment operations. As you know, you and I first met in 1992 when I joined FAG Bearings in Stratford ON, part of Schaeffler Group, as chief metallurgist and captive heat treatment manager with 50 employees. I then entered the commercial heat treatment market in 1995 as division manager for Uddeholm Limited, a 50 person facility in Newmarket, ON. This was my first taste as an entrepreneur and looking back on it I know that it set the foundation for my love of heat treatment and technical services that really has followed me everywhere in my career. In 1999, Bodycote plc acquired the commercial heat treatment business from Uddeholm Limited and my exposure to the much-broader heat treatment world really began. We all know what Bodycote was up to in those days and certainly there were no shortages of growth and learning opportunities. At the time of my departure from Bodycote in 2009, I was serving in the capacity of group director with over 20 sites and 500 employees across Canada and the USA.
In 2010, I joined SNC-Lavalin, Canada’s largest engineering and construction firm, headquartered in Montreal, essentially as a consultant and bird-dog for acquisitions in their operations and maintenance space, focused on general industrial, transportation and energy segments. I relied strongly on the education afforded me during my Bodycote days as we established a very robust acquisition pipeline over the following years. Then in 2014, I was approached by Bohler-Uddeholm Corporation in Chicago to support their corporate development efforts in the value-added/technology segments of their business. It was during this project that Bohler-Uddeholm Limited in Mississauga asked if I would consider a more permanent assignment and we can fast forward to the situation today and my current role as President. So you are right Gord. I have worked with some really great companies, all large, all publicly-traded and all adding unique elements to an education that you don’t find in school.”
Very few people actually choose a career in heat treating so I am always very curious as to how people get into the industry. How did you end up in the heat treating business?
“It is a funny story, actually. I graduated from McMaster University in 1992 with a degree in Materials Engineering. I was all set to take my MBA when FAG Bearings called me for an interview. Well, my graduating class was rather small that year and job prospects were quite poor, so most of my classmates were chasing the same opportunities I was, including two very smart guys that shared the same apartment as me (each went on to earn PhDs and professorships). I was offered the job at FAG Bearings, not because I was the smartest, or because I gave the best interview, but rather because the hiring manager felt I could take a beating and keep on going. Many of us out there in the heat treatment business can attest to the daily challenge of often being the last step in a production chain, already behind schedule and usually more expensive than what customers want to pay. Earning pennies to process parts that are often 100x more valuable, yet carrying the exposure to significant liabilities. But when you do it well, when you get it right, it is a real rush.”
What can you tell us about Bohler-Uddeholm?
“Bohler-Uddeholm operates within the Special Steel Division of voestalpine, a 11.2 billion EURO publicly-traded multi-national with 47,500 employees and headquarters in Linz, Austria. In North America, Bohler-Uddeholm is focused on the sale and distribution of specialty steel for the aircraft, power-gen and oil & gas markets as well as tooling materials for die-casting, injection-molding, stamping and forming businesses. To augment these products, Bohler-Uddeholm (and sister companies) operate about 25 heat treatment facilities, 14 or so coating centers and a wide variety of additional value-added technologies. Of recent interest is our additive manufacturing and laser cladding center in Dusseldorf and our PVD equipment manufacturing and services under our Vacotech and eifeler labels. Our vision is to grow as a steel-based technology company and Bohler-Uddeholm fits into this strategy very well.”
I have to throw this in Martin; I have been fortunate enough to see hundreds of heat treating operations on five continents and your plant in Mississauga I would put in the top 1% in the world. This is based upon cleanliness, equipment capabilities, capacity-you name it and Bohler-Uddeholm is there. Are all your locations at the same level?
“Generally this is the standard, yes. We recently commissioned a brand new heat treatment center in Germany and it is simply world-class. Our coating centers are white-glove clean and offer the most advanced coatings on the market.”
How important is heat treating to the company as a whole? Would it be fair to say that you have to offer this service to sell your products? Or is the heat treating a service which makes money and just happens to help you sell products at the same time?
“Heat treating and all technical services are vital to our business. In keeping with our overall growth strategy as a steel-based technology company, we offer these services not only to enable our customers to focus on their core competency, but really to offer them leading-edge technical solutions around their products and market position. Of course, we do not have to offer these services, but our customers demand them and their customers specify them. Operating on the leading-edge of material performance leaves no choice but to protect our customer’s investments with the matching technical services.”
How much heat treating does Bohler-Uddeholm actually do? Perhaps a better way to phrase it would be do many of your locations have heat treating capabilities?
“All told we operate about 25 heat treatment plants in North America, Europe and Asia with more being added to the mix all the time.”
You have worked at a manufacturer who happens to heat treat, a company that only offers commercial heat treating and now at a steel company who also does commercial heat treating-I have to say that you have a very varied work background. Which would you say is your favorite? A job where heat treating is everything or a position where heat treating is just a portion of your responsibility?
“This is a really tough question because once you are a heat treater; you are always a heat treater. I will answer it this way – what gets me out of bed each day is the access to resources, people and technologies to build a unique value-proposition that the market and customers demand. It is an exciting time with voestalpine and Bohler-Uddeholm as there is a very clear strategy and management will to add value for our customers well beyond that which has historically been provided.”
Are there any types of heat treating processes which you feel the company is lacking?
“Of course, however, it is a moving target isn’t it? As materials and applications change and as we increase our vertical integration within the supply chain, we are continually looking at new heat treatment processes. Our traditional processes of vacuum heat treatment and nitriding remain central to our tool steel business, but we offer many special heat treatments across a broad spectrum of end markets. I will say that my personal interests lie more in quenching technology than in heating technology, but again the landscape is fluid.”
Tying in with the question above are there any technologies that excite you that you feel deserve a second look?
“Surface treatments, coatings, laser cladding are very interesting for our products and markets. Most importantly, the combination of superior material and the services mentioned above are really exciting for us. We are also very involved in additive manufacturing from a raw material, application development and commercial service perspective and the landscape in this technology is really growing.”
On a day to day basis what are your responsibilities? Does the job entail much travelling?
“The best way to answer this question is to quote our mantra, “profitable growth, loyal customers and engaged team members”. My job is to deliver these results for our stakeholders. I am privileged to work with a talented team and supportive parent; so much of my time is focused around execution strategy, new markets and new technologies. There is a lot of travel but very little wasted energy.”
Another of my favorite questions is what do you see in the future for heat treating? I certainly realize that this is a pretty general question but do you see any radical changes ahead?
“I believe that we will see a further acceleration of the divide between the all-purpose, local heat treater and the specialized niche player. Given the shifting markets toward the US southeast and Mexico, there will be more attention paid to technology mobility. I also see that heat treatment as a stand-alone offering will continue to shrink. Customers need a supply chain that can take on more of what they do and we are already seeing many heat treaters offering services well beyond just heat treatment. In my daily business, I usually refer to our offering as “technical services” and our future will be based on 5-6 very broad service technologies beyond just heat treatment.”
Are there any interesting developments coming up at Bohler-Uddeholm that you can share with us?
“We are growing rapidly and strongly focused on delivering solutions to customers and markets. Our plans follow the voestalpine strategy of being a steel-based technology company. Within this framework, it’s not hard to imagine the truly broad array of possibilities ahead. We covered heat treatment, coatings and other services, but the most important thing for us is people. We need a continuing injection of curious, creative and committed talent to help us carry our vision forward. Thank you very much for this opportunity to talk about my career and Bohler-Uddeholm. For sure, I remain a heat treater at heart, but like many before me I am also learning that there is more to life than quench oil.”
Thank you for your time Martin and I hope our paths continue to cross. Gord