Mr. Jan Söderström, Quintus Technologies Interview

Mr. Jan Söderström, Quintus Technologies. We are very pleased today to have an interview with Mr. Jan Söderström, CEO of Quintus Technologies-the world’s largest supplier of equipment for Hot Isostatic Processing.

Over the years I have run across Hot Isostatic Processing many times, but I have to confess I know little about the technology-could you please give us a brief summary about the process and why it is used?

“HIP is mainly used to densify metal castings, containerized powder shapes and ceramic parts. With typical pressures from 1,035 to 2,070 bar (15,000 to 30,000 psi) and temperatures up to 2,000°C (3,630°F). A combination of temperature and pressure for a specific soak time eliminates porosity allowing HIP to achieve 100% of the theoretical density and improve the ductility, fracture toughness and fatigue resistance of critical, high-performance materials. For castings this technology has been extensively used in the aerospace as well as the industrial gas turbine market, but it is also widely used for powder metallurgy and near net shape production in the Oil and Gas industry. The fastest growing new user of HIP technology is metal Additive Manufacturing (AM), 3D-printing.”

Would you consider this a heat treatment process or more of a related process?

“Originally HIP has been one part of several steps in a heat treatment process to create materials with superior properties. However, in the latest development of Quintus HIP systems, very fast cooling rates can be achieved, and multiple heat treatment steps can be included into the HIP cycle. Processes like stress relieving, solutionizing as well as aging and tempering can all be run in one and the same HIP cycle while the high pressure remains. Quintus call this High Pressure Heat Treatment (HPHT). This is possible due to the unique design of Quintus wire wound pressure vessels where very quick cooling rates can be achieved in the HIP under high pressure. So in answer to your question, our modern High Pressure Heat Treatment equipment is definitely a part of the heat treatment World. Traditional phase transition curves might need to be re-written to include pressure as a parameter as this can have a measurable effect on controllability of phase transformations.”

“The major benefits of combining heat treatment processes in the same cycle are of course lead time savings, cost savings as well as improved material properties. In comparison with oil quenching High Pressure Heat Treatment has also proved to be very beneficial to prevent distortions and crack propagation in the final product and tailored cycles can help prevent cracking with the use of pressure.”

What kind of heat treatment cycles can be run in your equipment?

“As mentioned above our modern HIP systems can be used for multiple parts of a heat treatment process. All of our systems have the possibility to run pressure and temperature independently which gives our customers a big flexibility in how to run their cycles. In addition to this the systems can be equipped with quench functionality where we can achieve cooling rates in which is similar to oil quenching. With these capabilities you can do stress relief, HIP, solutionizing, tempering as well as aging in our HIP systems. With that said it is up to our customers to verify what the most economical way of using the HIP system is for their respective products.”  

Who is your typical customer, a manufacturer or a commercial heat treater?

“Historically Quintus has sold HIP systems to a few providers of HIP services in the USA, and Europe as well as Asia but this is now changing. Quintus have seen dramatic increase in interest from commercial heat treaters in the last few years both in USA as well as in Europe. As you reported last year Gord, two new commercial heat treaters entered the HIP market in USA, Paulo and Stack, and Quintus also sold a system to a heat treatment company in Mexico which will be the first HIP service provider there.”

“In addition to this we also see an increase of interest from insourcing HIP technology where companies both OEMs and components manufacturers that have used HIP services for a period of time see the economical, the lead time and the Intellectual Property benefits of insourcing HIP technology besides the possibility to freely chose HIP parameters. It is especially the metal Additive Manufacturing (AM) industry that is coming into a production mode that now start to insource HIP and High Pressure Heat Treatment technology. Additive manufactured components can often benefit form specific HIP and heat treatment parameters that are different from the conventional parameters used for castings. This is due to the quite different microstructures seen in material produced by AM compared to cast material. HPHT enables tailoring of microstructures with the help of pressure and high cooling rates and many papers are now being presented on the benefits. This helps to fuel the demand from OEMs.”

“Finally, there is a category of metal AM companies that take the whole metal AM production chain into considerations that are now moving to insource HIP and HPHT. Having the possibility to control everything from the powder, printing, post processing etc. is a huge benefit for the final part quality. There has been a great deal of focus on powder and printing over the past few years, and now the industry is moving to look at post processing and lean manufacturing.”

How large is the market for HIPing, to phrase it another way how many HIP systems, both yours and competitors, would you estimate to be in operation around the world?

“Today there are around 100 presses operated by service providers (tollers) around the Globe.  The market is currently growing by more than 10% annually. The growth can be divided into two categories, the larger presses for traditional HIP use and the compact and midsized presses offering High Pressure Heat Treatment catering to the Additive Manufacturing industry and high performance investment casting.”

Geographically is HIPing more prevalent in some regions than others?

“The largest market is USA followed by Europe and Asia.”

Feel free to correct me but my impression is that Bodycote is far and away the largest in the world when it comes to HIPing. Having said that I can think of 3 US commercial heat treaters, Lake City, Stack Metallurgical and Paulo who have invested in this technology over the past year. Why this sudden and growing interest by commercial heat treaters?

“You are right in Bodycote being the largest player of HIPing in the USA and Europe but this is not the case for Asia. In Japan MTC is the biggest player and in China you have a multitude of companies offering HIP services. Regarding your question why commercial heat treaters start to invest in HIP now there are several answers to that:

The HIP market is growing dramatically and there is an increasing demand for HIP capacity. The requirements are increasing for the HIP service providers, and customers require much faster turn-around times from despatch to receipt of the part back from the toller. Larger systems dominate the HIP service market, and these require time to fill from various end OEMs, and now Quintus® sees an increased demand of smaller systems that can be run with faster turn around times and tailored heat treatment cycles.

Quintus can today also offer a rigorous preventative Maintenance and Application support program, called Quintus® Care. This program assures a trouble-free operation as well as optimized functionality and usability at a fixed cost. This program can be tailored to fit the specific needs of respective customers.

Finally, I would also like to mention that the Heat Treatment companies entering the HIP service market see this as an investment for the future where they will increase their market share not only for HIP services but also for Heat Treatment services. With the fast-growing market of Additive manufacturing these heat treatment companies will become One-stop-shops that can offer the whole heat treatment package at the same location which will simplify the logistics situation for many customers.”

My first impression when I see your systems is that they are highly engineered, heavy duty and complicated which generally translates into expensive. This a rather convoluted way of asking, what do these installations typically cost?

“As you can understand the price range ($0.5-$20 MUSD) is heavily dependent on the size of the equipment and it is especially the diameter of the system that increase the price level. We like to talk about what value a HIP investment brings to our customers and we always do a rigorous business case study together with our customers to be able to suggest the most economical solution for respective customer. Typical cost of operation is $0.1-$2USD/lbs (0.2-3.8 €/kg) depending on press size and how efficient you can load the components in the press.Typically, customers see a full return on their investment within 2-4 years depending on the size of the equipment”

Lets change gears slightly and look at your company Quintus Technologies. What can you share with us such as the history of the company, total sales, number of employees etc?

“Quintus Technologies has roots going back to the mid-1950s, when ASEA in Sweden was among the first to commercialize the isostatic pressure technology conceived at Battelle Memorial Institute in Columbus, Ohio. The world’s first high-pressure press came into operation in 1953 and was used to manufacture synthetic diamonds and other products. ASEA, later ABB, then continued to market sheet metal forming and isostatic presses throughout the world. Today Quintus has global annual sales of around 150 MUSD and we have 230 employees.”

Do you have much competition?

“Quintus is the largest manufacturer of Hot Isostatic Presses globally, but competition increases on a daily basis. We specifically see increased competition in China where several HIP providers are working on design improvement. With that said I like competition because we need competition to stay alert and continue to develop our technology leadership. Competition also means more players developing the market.”

What differentiates your machinery to that from other suppliers?

“There are a couple of significant differences between our systems and the main part of other HIP systems suppliers and they are:

Pressure vessel design – Quintus uses a high strength steel wire to pre-stress a thin walled forged cylinder. The walls of the cylinder always experience compressive stresses which prevents crack initiation and growth. This manufacturing method was developed in the mid 50’s for Quintus® diamond presses and has proven to be a safe and reliable concept ever since. The use of wire winding also makes it possible to use higher pressures for larger pressure vessel diameters. Quintus are today offering 30,000 PSI (2070 bar) for all standard equipment and can design machinery for high pressure ratings also for larger diameters.

Cooling capacity – As an effect of the thin walled wire wound design the pressure vessel can be cooled very effectively giving the opportunity to cool the load very fast. For the majority of Quintus pressure vessels cooling rates in excess of 400°F/min (200°C/min) up to 4500 C/min can be achieved which gives the possibility to combine HIP and Heat Treatment in the same cycle.

Temperature accuracy – Quintus have optimized its furnaces (Thermal Barriers) as well as the software controlling it and our customers typically experience temperature variations of ±3.6°F (±2°C) during the steady state hold time.”

What is your sales strategy? Do you sell through reps, direct sales people, regional offices? Along the same lines will be seeing you at any of the large Heat Treat shows in 2019 such as Thermprocess, ASM, HK19 or the Moscow heat treat show?

“Quintus has a global presence of its sales force and our front-end has expanded quickly during the last few years. As well as our Head Quarters in Västerås, Sweden, which covers large parts of Europe we also have sales offices in United Kingdom, Germany, USA (Columbus, OH), China and Japan. In addition to this we also have a large agent network that covers the rest of Americas, and Asia-Pacific.

We also see our Quintus Application Centers being an integrated part of our sales force. There, tests are performed to verify the customers’ processes and securing an attractive business case.

You will for sure see Quintus at several trade shows this year and even if we are not exhibiting we will be walking the floor at a multitude of events. For Heat Treatment we will exhibit at MS&T in Portland and Heat Treat 19 in Detroit as well as Thermprocess in Europe. In USA we will also exhibit at AMUG (Chicago), Rapid (Detroit) and Cast Expo (Atlanta). In addition to exhibitions, we are very active at conferences presenting a large number of papers each year in conjunction with industry and university projects.”

On a personal note Jan how did you come to be involved in this industry and in particular with Quintus?

“In 2012 was asked by the former owner, a US based PE company if I wanted to be involved in this opportunity- I got very excited. During my earlier time at ABB I had the opportunity to follow the development of the high pressure business close by and I was always intrigued by the highly specialized and powerful machinery.”

What does the future hold for Quintus and HIPing in general?

“The future for Quintus and HIPing is very exciting from many different aspects. HIPing is starting to get the traction we at Quintus always have worked for. In the aerospace industry HIPing has been used extensively for several decades having realized the benefits and HIP is considered from the start of the design process. Here it is seen as a perfect way to reduce weight and maximize safety since you know that you can rely on your material properties. With the whole metal Additive Manufacturing industry growing extensively this is something they have a direct use for as well. We can now see that more and more industries are applying HIPing more extensively including the automotive and orthopedic sectors. The greatest increase can be seen in the growing demand for High Pressure Heat Treatment capabilities, allowing further design improvements through repeatability and improvement of material properties.”

I very much appreciate your time and in particular your very open and forthright answers-I hope to meet in person in Sweden one of these days.  thank you. Gord