One of our focus areas this month is consulting. What is a consultant? According to the definition, consultant comes from the Latin word consultus, meaning “legal expert.” Certainly some consultants are experts in the law. Lawyers themselves are consultants as are tax and investment professionals. All of these consultants have an expertise in the law.

We use consultants when we need advice in an area for which we have little experience or time to develop the necessary expertise. A medical doctor is another consultant that fits this definition. He or she has knowledge that is beyond the common, and we are willing to pay for what they know and how they can help us. With the computer age, a whole new area of consulting developed – think “Geek Squad.”

In thermal processing, we also utilize a variety of consultants for a number of reasons. When we need furnace instrument calibration, we “consult” with an outside company that has the necessary instrumentation and range of experience to trouble-shoot instrument or sensor problems. Likewise, someone outside the company often does furnace uniformities. Some companies may have in-house people to do this, but depending on the number of furnaces, this type of service might be more cost-effectively done by a temporary “employee.”

Many of us also pay professionals to help us with our quality system development to the requirements of Nadcap or CQI-9. Almost certainly we will pay independent consulting firms to audit these systems to be sure they conform to es-tablished requirements. We also take product samples to test laboratories to have consultants examine failures or inspect microstructures to verify that processes are working as expected. Another example of this is samples sent for retained austenite testing to be certain the hardening processes have resulted in the necessary low levels of retained austenite.

Still other consultants come into your facility to help solve problems on-site such as equipment repairs or energy audits to help you determine where your processes lack efficiency. Following these experts’ recommendations can save companies a lot of money. Sometimes manufacturers (of refractories or burners) may provide this service for their customers. Two of this month’s Features are from companies supplying this type of customer service.

No doubt this type of work can be costly, but consider the alternative. The option of doing nothing could be the most costly of all if it results in high scrap rates, high energy bills or lost productivity. Most companies simply can’t afford to have a fully equipped metallurgical laboratory with single pieces of equipment costing many tens of thousands of dollars. Many companies also cannot afford to have a metallurgical expert on staff. For some companies, it just makes sense to consult these types of services when there is a need.

Several other articles this month, including the consultants roundtable, help you identify the sources of this type of assistance. We are glad that you have chosen to consult withIndustrial Heatingthis month, and we take seriously our role of help-ing you find the help you need to be successful.IH