Mr. Slawomir Wozniak, President CEO of SECO/WARWICK Interview

We are very pleased to be able to offer you this interview with Mr. Slawomir Wozniak who very recently became President & CEO of furnace creator SECO/WARWICK. First off Slawomir I would like to congratulate you on your recent promotion to President & CEO of SECO/WARWICK-it’s a very impressive achievement at a relatively young age.

Thank you. It is a great honour to assume leadership of the Company, which I have been associated with since the beginning of my professional career.

We met a few weeks ago at the Thermprocess exhibition in Dusseldorf, Germany and at the time we announced your promotion and provided some background about your career. However some people might have missed this-could you please give us a brief outline of your work career?

For 25 years, I’ve been connected with the SECO/WARWICK Group, observing the organisation’s culture in various parts of the world, gaining rich sectoral, industrial, and corporate experience.

My career at SECO/WARWICK started with an apprenticeship as an electrician. After graduating from the Institute of Electrical Engineering at the University of Zielona Góra, I became a Service Engineer. Throughout the years I assumed different positions – Deputy Manager of CAB, of Managing Director of SECO/WARWICK Retech China, Chief Operating Officer of the SECO/WARWICK Group to name a few.

Tell us a few things about SECO/WARWICK-size of the company, products offered etc., markets served and how the company is organized.

SECO/WARWICK is a global technological leader in innovative heat processing solutions. Provides standard or customized state-of-the-art heat processing equipment and technologies to leading companies in the following industries: automotive, aerospace, electronics, tooling, medical, recycling, energy including nuclear, wind, oil, gas, and solar and production of steel, titanium and aluminum. Expertise includes end-to-end solutions in 5 categories: vacuum heat treatment, atmosphere and aluminum thermal processing, controlled atmosphere brazing of aluminum heat exchangers and vacuum metallurgy. SECO/WARWICK Group has 9 operating companies located on three continents with customers in nearly 70 countries.

You mentioned that you have five groups which focus on different heat treat technologies. It is possible that this is unprecedented in the furnace building industry and leads to the question; is this a good thing or does it mean that you can’t give the attention to some areas that you would like? In other words are you spreading yourself too “thin” by being able to offer all of these different types of equipment?

SECO/WARWICK Group expertise includes end-to-end solutions in 5 categories, where each is managed by a separate team of well-trained and specialized experts. 60% of SECO/WARWICK employees are engineers who are developing technologies and products according to clients needs and industries requirements. The fact that SECO/WARWICK has different business groups gives company and its client a wider capabilities, offer and a unique competitive edge, hard to gain from a narrow-speciality-company.

Thanks to this, SECO/WARWICK is a leader on the market of heat treatment of metals, an innovator who, together with numerous research institutes, defines new award-winning solutions, offering equipment along with modern technology tailored to the needs, possibilities and requirements of individual clients and the industry. Efficient logistics, delivery, assembly and commissioning of equipment, service in every corner of the world, technical and technological trainings, an international team of experts and specialists all result from the need for continuous development. It is inscribed in DNA from the very beginning of the company existence and present at every moment and every thought.

Out of the different furnace groups which is the largest in terms of sales?

In 2018, the largest increase in sales was recorded by the American company, Retech LLC, which generated PLN 143 million in revenues, which means an increase in sales by as much as 62%. It is worth mentioning that SECO/VACUUM Technologies LLC, which has been in operation for only two years, has achieved a significant increase in sales, operating and offering solutions for heat treatment of metals in controlled atmosphere and vacuum in the US market. Its annual revenue is PLN 36m. Higher business traffic is being observed in automotive market, which for SECO/WARWICK Group translated into higher interest in Controlled Atmosphere Brazing (CAB) Line, which has become the preferred joining technology for battery cooling plates within the hybrid electric vehicles (HEV) and electric vehicles (EV) market. The automotive market, which currently is both very vibrant and demanding, provides the product demand for 30% of SECO/WARWICK customers.

I am sure you have quite a few ideas about what changes you would like to make to the company. What can you share with us?

As I have already indicated during our meeting at Thermprocess, Seco/Warwick went through various transformations and business developments over last 2 years and taking that into consideration and looking on current business conditions I do not see at the moment a need for further organizational changes. Instead I would like the company to concentrate on further development of internal operational processes and overall quality which should benefit with higher satisfaction of our customers. I would like to also see ourselves more active in the aftermarket segment especially in US and Asian markets therefore there might be a need for some further tuning of our business units in that locations.

Slawomir I am going to try and pin you down on this question-out of all the technologies SECO can offer which do you think has the brightest future? Vacuum hardening, nitriding, rotary retort are a few that come to mind.

The new future of our product portfolio I can see in our two new products launched at the Thermprocess. Both solutions (Super IQ and UCM 4D Quench) destroy rules, revolutionize the industry and suit the most demanding industries. These inventions will solve every day heat treat problems. The Super IQ (integral or sealed quench furnace), which is one of the two new products, offers all of the benefits of low pressure carburizing and vacuum hardening with none of the added costs. The system combines clean processing with the exceptional performance of oil quenching in the industry’s most innovative integral quench furnace design in decades. With a Super IQ, users get super clean parts while still getting the benefit of a simple atmosphere oil quench.

The second one, the UCM® 4D Quench® enables customers with gas quenchable materials to replace oil quenching with an environmentally friendly, cost effective technology. It provides a solution that eliminates the need for press quenching systems and the problems associated with their operation. What problems?  First of all, no more finishing treatment to remove the oxidized layer. Secondly, it provides parts with higher surface quality and savings due to eliminating the need for heat treatment fixtures and material logistics. Last but not least, eliminates oil and oil vapor contamination, ensuring personnel safety and environmental impact in addition to eliminating washers and chemicals.

At SECO/WARWICK we approach each project individually – a client often looks for a solution that requires cooperation between different segments we are aware of it, that’s why having 5 business segments creates huge advantage for us.

The last question prompts this one; recently SECO/WARWICK has been heavily promoting your rotary retort equipment as an alternative to mesh belt lines. Many including myself feel that rotary retorts are an old technology. What are you doing differently that leads you to believe that rotary furnaces have a great future ahead of them?

There are various benefits we can find using rotary retort furnace instead of mesh belt type solution. Lower operating cost through energy savings and lower maintenance cost, installation & footprint advantages thanks of smaller footprint and no-pit requirements and metallurgical benefits achieved through improved temperature uniformity profile and even load distribution just to name a few.

We’ve spoken a little about technologies and which you believe are growing-what about geography? In other words in what area of the world do you see the most growth for SECO/WARWICK?

The largest increase in sales was recorded by the American company Retech LLC, which generated PLN 143 million in revenues, which means an increase in sales by as much as 62%. SECO/VACUUM Technologies LLC, operating only two years ago, has achieved a significant increase in sales, operating and offering solutions for heat treatment of metals in controlled atmospheres and vacuum in the US market. Its annual revenue is PLN 36m.

Therefore, it is not surprising that, geographically, the US market had the largest share in the sales of the SECO/WARWICK Group and accounted for 38% of the Group’s total sales. At the same time, sales in this market increased by 29% in 2018 – compared to 2017. The European Union market, where the Company has its registered office, accounted for 32% of the Group’s sales in 2018.

As President & CEO you have an enormous amount of responsibility which I would image at times can be quite stressful. If you had to pick one thing which keeps you awake at night what would it be?

You are right that being responsible for an organization can be sometimes quite stressful. However the regular business challenges do not bother me too much as based on my experience there is always some solution which can be worked out if you are surrounded and supported by a strong team of fully committed and enthusiastic experts as I am. The most difficult challenges I see are those related mainly with the global geo-political risks which are completely out of your control and can unexpectedly and significantly hit your business. We are served almost every day with an economic and political information which one day can be taken as an opportunity but another day can be converted to the threat.

I am always surprised when visiting exhibitions at the number of furnace builders there actually are. In your opinion are there too many builders out there? Do you think it might lead to some consolidation in the industry?

I look on the competitors as something good in business what keeps you awake and motivate for continuous improvement and development. However if there is too many players and especially newcomers there is always a risk, that customers who attracted by a low price buy the equipment from unknown supplier, have to finally take a painful lesson for their wrong decision.

Heat treatment market is a large enough to accommodate many players and we can see a natural segmentation of the furnace builders where most of them can fit to the right territory, industry sector and technology advancement level. Consolidation can create some benefits to the business only under the condition that all related with it risks are properly addressed and managed, e.g. overlapping portfolios, markets divisions, cultural differences, know how transfer just to name a few. So I believe that like in many other industries there will be some further mergers and acquisitions in our industry but not every case will pay off and sustain.

This question stems from the last one; just yesterday it was announced that Tenova sold their HTC Group to Ningbo Qijing of China. The HTC Group consisted of 4 companies, all based in Europe who manufacture top end furnaces. This is the first time I can think of that a “western” furnace builder has been bought by a Chinese company. Do you see this as a trend?

Since I lived in China for a several years it is not a big surprise to me that finally Chinese company has taken over a “western” furnace builder. There is more industry sectors where it is more and more difficult to see the difference in the technological advancement between Chinese and western companies. We can see in China also very high expenditures on the R&D and investment in the key technologies required for the development of key industry sectors like aerospace, automotive, energy, etc. When we combine it with a huge available capital there should be an easy prediction that we may expect a further interest of Chinese investors in “western” companies including furnace builders.

SECO/WARWICK has always been very innovative when it comes to new technologies-I can’t recall a show where S/W wasn’t introducing a new technology and the last show was no exception. Could you share what you showed me?

We are currently witnessing unprecedented changes taking place in various branches and industries. Technological possibilities open new doors, but also bring new challenges. Augmented reality, algorithms supporting the decision-making process, predictive maintenance systems, repairs, workshops and cooperation in different time zones, AI and IoT usage in production processes are only some of the factors and trends that make up Industry 4.0 and specifically, Heat Treatment 4.0. Growing industry needs result in developing new approaches to process improvements, and SECO/WARWICK understands this very well. Therefore with a new, strong product portfolio, we continue to present solutions that are unique in the manufacturing world. Being in the top five companies in this industry obliges us to do so.

Thermprocess was a huge and exciting event, during which you cannot miss equally large and exciting product announcements. Visitors to the SECO/WARWICK booth were not disappointed. Apart from current flagship products, the company showed new ones: Super IQ® and UCM® 4D Quench mentioned above.

And last but not least, what do you predict for the heat treating industry in the next 10 years?

10 years is a long period and we know that with uncertain, fast changing and technologically developing world it is not easy to predict such a distant future. I think that 5 years timeframe can be more reliable for prediction but still with some reserve. Considering the directions and trends we can expect significant development and application on industrial scale of additive manufacturing. This would bring us a significant demand for sintering and annealing applications. It would also require a higher capacity for the metal powder making equipment.

The further growth of Electrical Vehicles demand should also impact strongly our industry where some pros (new demands for heat transfer management – aluminum battery coolers) and cons (less requirement for general heat treatment) can be foreseen.

We should also expect a further growth of aviation industry (especially in Asia) where new aviation components manufacturers should come up on the market to serve airplane builders.

There should be also more and more global pressure to use more eco-friendly heat treatment equipment. It means that “clean” heat treatment processes mainly based on Vacuum equipment should gradually replace atmosphere furnaces where polluting emissions are usually observed.