Pat Toruk / United Process Controls

Pat one of the things I like the most about the heat treating industry is the fact that it is so close knit. For instance at one point in time I worked with you in the old Marathon days, subsequently I worked for you in the TriadX days and now we are actually competitors. However having said that like most of my competitors I always enjoy running into you at various heat treating events around the world.

“Gord I agree. It is a close nit industry – to the point of being incestuous! I have always enjoyed spending time with you, reps, customers, and other manufacturers in our small family at various heat treat events. What is so gratifying to me is the fact that we all work together (even as competitors) to further the industry.”

So could you give us some background-how you got started in this industry and what positions you have held over the years?

“Gord I got my start in this industry in 1984 when I was hired as a contract programmer to work on the first industry specific data acquisition / management package which ultimately became known as Process Master. The company was Cincinnati Steel Treating. The guy that hired me was none other than Dan McCurdy (Bodycote). Within a year or so of my hiring this division was sold to a company built by Bill Thompson (SSI) named Marathon Monitors Inc. MMI was busy selling oxygen probes for heat treat applications. This was a perfect fit. The CST division had sophisticated instrumentation and software for heat treat, and MMI had the probe business and the channel to sell it. Dan and Bill were terrific mentors to me over those years where I held positions as software engineer, systems engineering manager, product manager, and finally VP. of customer services. I left the company after 14 years to form TriadX with T.J. Wright (Wirco) and Dick Wagner where I developed the Furnace Doctor – a portable infrared gas analyzer that was designed specifically for heat treat processes. Ultimately this business was absorbed by Waukee/Furnace Control.

I took a job with Furnace Control Corp/Waukee where I was VP of Technology and worked for another industry “founding father”, Andy Melville. FCC assumed the manufacturing and support of the Furnace Doctor. I left FCC/Waukee after 5 years and took a position as Director of NA Systems Business for West Instruments, a Danaher division. Ultimately I was called home. I was approached by Paul Oleszkiewicz of Nitrex to fill the commercial leadership position in North America for the recently acquired Marathon Monitors, Furnace Control, Waukee Engineering and Process Electronic. Gord it’s been quite a ride and I can’t be happier. The quality of the people at UPC and the amazing technical depth of the staff are unsurpassed.”

Could you provide a summary of United Process Controls, ownership, size and what you have to offer to the industry?

“United Process Controls (UPC) is a group of diverse technical experts focused on solving customer problems in the areas of materials science, thermal processing, combustion optimization and automation. This is accomplished through our Process Electronic, Marathon Monitors, Waukee Engineering, and Furnace Control brands. We have manufacturing operations in Cincinnati, Milwaukee, Bejing, Montreal, Poland and Germany. We also have engineering support and field service groups in Cincinnati, Milwaukee, Montreal, Germany, France, Poland, Beijing, Shanghai and Mexico. This along with an extensive network of manufacturers Reps, Distributors and OEM’s gives us a truly global presence. All of our products are compliant to current industry specifications such as NADCAP, AMS 27xx, and CQI 9.

UPC offers the industry customized solutions from standard modules. We have standard packaged systems for most heat treating applications ranging from a simple re-instrumentation to complete heat treat automation. We also offer complete heat treat management/data acquisition software, and sophisticated process modeling software. We employ a highly qualified field engineering and service staff to support our customers.

As the world’s largest manufacturer of heat treat oxygen sensors, we are able to accommodate through our Marathon Monitors, Process Electronic, and Furnace Control lines even the most difficult furnace atmosphere application. Our Waukee line is the industry standard in flow measurement & control, gas blending, generator control, and nitrogen-methanol systems.

Our core strength is the knowledge and experience of our people. We have metallurgists , chemists, mechanical, electrical and software engineers on our team . This, along with input from our customers leads to directed innovation for product development. The result is creative products that meet and exceed needs of our customers.”

I am going back a bit in time but it doesn’t seem that long ago that Waukee Flow meters, Marathon and FCC fell under the UPC banner. Conventional wisdom at the time had it that this was a rather odd fit buying a number of companies with pretty much the same product offering and putting them under one banner. In retrospect was this a good business decision?

“Yes it might have seemed a bit odd to the users of heat treat oxygen sensors in North America, but all of the companies have unique product offerings. FCC for example has the Furnace Doctor and Furnace Doctor DPT. FCC also has oxygen probes and technology specific to H2/H2O ratio, and two phase carbon measurement used in annealing operations. MMI has control instrumentation and Oxygen sensors for both heat treat and combustion applications. Waukee of course has flow monitoring/control and gas blending products. Process Electronic offer sophisticated process modeling solutions and technology fitted to their instrumentation as well as Heat Treat management software. These facts in combination with outstanding channel that includes our NA rep. network made it a very wise and well sussed out strategy.”

As Vice President Sales & Marketing for UPC what fills your time? A lot of office time, proposals or traveling with your reps?

“Typically not much office time- meetings early in the week but the lion’s share of my time is spent acting as a resource to reps and customers in the field. Lots of travel!”

I believe that UPC sells either entirely or mainly through manufacturers reps. What do you see as the advantages of reps (or lack thereof) as opposed to direct sales people.

“Reps are critical to our success. I can’t imagine covering as much ground with direct sales people. More importantly, the relationship that the rep has with most of his or her customer’s is invaluable. My concern is I don’t see enough younger talent choosing this way of life.”

When you came out with the Furnace Doctor many years ago it was truly a revolutionary product-a portable 3 gas analyzer. What prompted this idea?

“Gord the value of having 3 gas analysis available in heat treat is incontrovertible. I wanted to create a product that was affordable, operator friendly, and would help our customers by providing readings in meaningful units that included some calculated values such as %C. I had been involved in trouble shooting furnace atmosphere problems for years and saw it as an opportunity to create a product that would help both engineering staff, and operations people.”

While furnaces have not changed a great deal over the years the controls certainly have. If you looked back over the years what would you say was the most significant change?

“Significant advances have been made in both microprocessor and user interfaces, spec compliant electronic recording and excellent communication capability. Significant improvements peripheral board level components that offer both better resolution, and noise immunity for analog signals such as thermocouples. This coupled with higher speed, denser component layout, and environmental tolerances all translate in to higher reliability and ease of use for operators. Who would have thought that we would see vivid color touch screens on a carburizing furnace!”

Have controls made operators dumber? In other words have new controls made it so that furnace operators need no skill or knowledge of heat treating to perform their jobs?

“I think the converse is true! New controls are so much better at informing the operator of status and problems related to their process. If anything it makes it easier for an operator to do his job. Skilled operators are so important in our industry. They have all of this new information from modern controls but need to know what to do with it!”

So what are the next logical steps in furnace controls? Is there anything out there that really excites you?

“Gord. I am really excited about evolving sensor technology that allows us to do a more complete job of measuring both traditional furnace atmosphere’s and non-equilibrium oxygen free atmosphere’s. This new technology will take us into vacuum processes, atmospheres designed to eliminate IGO issues, and compound layer processes such as FNC. This along with more sophisticated tools for modeling and controlling these processes are just a short time away.”

And what does UPC have planned for the future? Anything really exciting that we can expect from the company?

“Gord one of the most exciting things that we have going on at this time is the ability to model and control the carbo-nitriding process. Our customers have been running this process in the dark for many years- heat the parts at 16~~, turn the ammonia on at 3% – 5% of the total flow and hope for the best. Oh, and by the way your carbon controller will be reporting a false carbon potential! We are also working on more sophisticated process modeling and the integration of this into our instrumentation, improved sensor technology, and enhancements to I/R technology to make it more affordable, and more customer friendly.”