Rich Ott / Linamar Interview

If there is ever a vote about who is the most experienced, hands on heat treater in the world we know who our vote would be for-Mr. Rich Ott of auto parts supplier Linamar based in Guelph, Ontario, Canada. We are very excited about this interview as Rich is in charge of all the heat treating requirements for a total of 59 plants around the world.

Rich could you share with us your background-how you got into heat treating and where you have worked over the years?

“At the age of 14 I started working at a commercial heat treat plant in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada by the name of Steffler Heat Treat. Steffler became part of Can-Eng, which later became Hinderliter plant which eventually became Bodycote which it still is. For most of those years I was General Manager. In 1998 I joined Linamar Machine.”

Is spite of the fact that we talk on a regular basis I am not entirely sure about your job title at Linamar, what is your title and what does your dad to day job entail?

“My title is Corporate Heat Treat Specalist which I suppose means I am the go to guy at Linamar when it comes to heat treating. While I am based in Guelph and generally spend about 3 ½ days a week here I don’t get involved with the day to day operation of the heat treat department as much as I use to. Heat treat issues from any of our plants around the world takes up part of my time as does design problems and most heat treating equipment purchases-roughly 95% of which I get involved with.”

Linamar is an incredible success story, a company which didn’t exist roughly 40 years ago and is now a multi-billion dollar a year company with plants all over the world. Could you give us a brief idea about how large the company is, number of employees and what your main product lines are?

“Linamar was started by Frank Hazenfratz in 1968 and has grown to $6 Billion/year in sales with 26,000 employees in 59 plants in 17 countries. In addition we have 21 sales offices. Linamar is a publicly traded company and while most people think of us as an auto parts manufacturer this is only part of the story. Our Skyjack division as an example has annual sales of about $1 billion and we are also involved in farm equipment.”

Your plant in Guelph has what I would consider to be the largest batch IQ installation in North America-why? What I mean is why not continuous furnaces? Care to say a few things about the heat treat department?

“Flexibility is why we went with batch IQ furnaces as opposed to pushers and the years have proven that this was the correct decision. Incidentally the cost per pound is not that different between pushers and batch’s. Mesh belt furnaces would have been cheaper per pound but were not suitable for our product mix.”

At a guess how many of your plants around the world do heat treating?

“Out of 59 plants approximately 60% have some form of heat treating in house.”

Which are the most impressive Linamar plants when it comes to heat treating? I know Nuevo Laredo has quite a heat treat department-what others are really impressive?

“Our largest heat treating department is at SEISSENSCHMIDT Group in Germany a forging company which we acquired in 2014. This locations (s) has a number of different styles of furnaces including Ipsen batch IQ furnaces doing carburizing. When it comes to straight carburizing Linamar Gear in Guelph is the largest, followed by our location in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico (formerly part of Visteon) which has 36 vacuum carburizing cells and then the plant in Arden, North Carolina which is in the process of adding another 8 cell vacuum carburizing system.”

Over the years you have played with it all, batch IQ’s, Vacuum Carburizing systems, Induction, Nitriding furnaces-do you have a favorite?

“No. While Induction and batch IQ’s form the largest part of our heat treating different parts require different types of heat treating. By the way worldwide Linamar has approximately 450 induction spindles in operation.”

This is very closely related to the question above, has heat treating changed that much? Will we be seeing the death of batch IQ’s in the near future as an example? Pusher furnaces nearing the end of their life?

“Controls have made the largest change to the industry and furnaces are typically larger than they use to be but controls are what have really changed things and changed them for the better. As an example it is easier to achieve temperature uniformity with the new generation of controllers and besides that they are cheaper than they use to be which means they can be upgraded more often. Yes there are now more considerations about emissions but it is not a major consideration other than increased carbon taxes.”

We all know that the auto industry can be a very tough demanding business, what for you is the hardest part about heat treating auto parts? Fluctuating volumes? Quality? Furnace uptimes? Experienced employees?

“Finding good qualified employees is always a struggle. While we can and have automated some parts of our manufacturing processes it is very difficult to completely automate a heat treat department.”

You have seen far more than most the changes in quality specs over the years. Most heat treaters will agree with various degrees of enthusiasm that tightening specs to ensure a better quality part and more importantly a more consistent part is a good thing. However many heat treaters will also say that some specs are unrealistic and at the end of the day probably don’t significantly improve the quality or lack of. What do you think-have quality specs gone too far, about right or not far enough?

“Quality specifications have become tighter over the years but as I mentioned improved controls make it easier to meet these specs. Sometime the specs need a little “tweaking” based upon practical experience and testing but generally specs are not an issue.”

Is there anybody in the industry that has really impressed you either with knowledge, business savy or hard work?

“I learned a great deal from Wally Bamford of Can Eng. John Hubbard of Bodycote, Surjit Bawa of Metex and Harry Hall also all come to mind. For business savy and people skills without a doubt I would say Mr. Frank Hazenfratz, Chairman of the Board and founder of Linamar.”

This is a very personal question but I have to ask it; you are legendary in the industry for the incredible number of hours you put in each week, 70-80-why? Do you still love your work that much?

“When I started with Linamar 20 years ago the company had a total of about 8-10 Induction hardening systems. The incredible growth of the company meant that we were hard pressed to add enough heat treating capacity which meant I put in a lot of hours. Since then I have slowed down to 60-65 giyrs oer week but really what it comes down to is I like what I am doing.”

Last but not least care to make any predictions about where the automotive heat treat industry will be in 10 years? 3 D printing? Single part processing? Everything moved to Mexico?

“I believe we are seeing a real resurgence of manufacturing in the US and less imports coming from China. There is a lot of talk about electric cars and how it will change heat treating because there are so few drive train parts which need to be heat treated but I personally don’t expect to see any real changes for 10 years.”