If you’ve ever visited Industrial Heating’s website, you’ve surely noticed “The Experts Speak,” which showcases blogs written by some of the industry’s leading authorities. What better way to highlight this feature than by gathering our featured experts together for a roundtable discussion? We asked our pros – all consultants in their respective areas of expertise – a variety of questions about their experiences in the field.  

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George Vander Voort, Rick Martin, Dan Herring and Dan Kay (from left)

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Black Rhino and the darts used to tag it


Please describe your most interesting assignment.

George Vander Voort: My most interesting consulting job occurred in the 1990s when I was asked to review work done by metallurgists at Argonne National Lab and Idaho National Laboratory on the lower heat of the Three Mile Island Unit 2 reactor. How hot did it get in the accident? Computer modelers did not believe the number (~1100°C) the metallurgists listed in their report. I performed selective etching and quantitative microscopy measurements on specimens from the head and control specimens, which allowed me to accurately determine the exposure temperatures within +/-10°C.  

Dan Herring: One of my most rewarding assignments was helping veterinarians in Kenya develop the heat treatment for a tranquilizer dart used to sedate the endangered Black Rhinoceros so that it can be tagged and later tracked to keep it safe from poachers. It was a challenge. A rhinoceros’ skin is up to 1.8 inches thick in places, and the need was to keep the 0.120- to 0.160-inch needle from breaking after being shot from a rifle at a behemoth running at up to 25 mph, and then fallen on by the 1- to 2.5-ton animal skidding to the ground. But we accomplished the mission, and those that worry about the 10,000 or so Black Rhinos still left in the wild sleep more content at night.  

Rick Martin: I’m most proud of the heat-recuperation patent we obtained for “radiatively coupled fins.” As an investigator of engineering failures, the most intriguing job name was “the case of the exploding chicken soup,” but the most interesting overall assignment was a big hydrometallurgical plant fire. The facility used large open tanks of an organometallic liquid to concentrate nonferrous metal ions extracted from low-grade ores. The unique characteristic of the liquid allowed it to be a simultaneous conductor of electricity and fuel for combustion. The fire started when some of the fluid spilled into a junction box that was left open, and the resulting electric current was high enough to ignite the organics but low enough to avoid tripping the circuit breaker.


What is the most common problem you’re asked to solve?

Dan Kay: I am often asked to resolve difficulties that people encounter with brazed assemblies that either leak fluids or air when they should not or the parts fail in service due to breaks that occur in, or through, a brazed joint. Invariably, the two most frequent causes of these problems are poor design or lack of cleanliness. It is often difficult to get people to understand that brazing design is very different from welding design when it comes to “how to design a joint” that will be brazed. Designers all too often do not have training in proper braze design, and they design the joints the same way for both brazing and welding.

The second most common problem I encounter is with the cleanliness of parts being brazed. Many people are still under the impression that the fluxes used in torch brazing or the atmosphere in a furnace braze will clean the parts adequately for good brazing to occur, but that simply is not the case. Fluxes should never be used to “clean the parts” since fluxes are not able to do that. Furnace atmospheres may be effective at cleaning up surface oxides on the outside surfaces of components being brazed, but they are not at all effective at “deep-cleaning” inside the braze joints once the parts are put into a furnace for brazing.  

What is the most common obstacle you face on a consulting job?

RM: When I get a call with a new assignment, I am usually very excited to begin. I begin researching the client, their concerns, similar problems, published standards, etc. I want to get the right answer, and I want the client to be totally convinced by the evidence. An internal obstacle sometimes arises if I want to offer a courtesy discount for time spent on extensive research, but my business manager frowns on that because of the opportunity cost involved.  

GVV: The most common obstacle in a consulting job is getting one! You do need to have your name known, along with your area of expertise. Word of mouth is probably the most common (and best) way to get connected.  

DK: An obstacle I sometimes face is a resistance to implement recommended changes needed to correct the brazing problems for which I have been consulted. Needed design changes are often frowned on, and cleanliness issues are often looked at as a nuisance that can slow down production. I try to stress to clients the importance of getting experienced brazing personnel involved during the design stages so that production issues can be prevented in the first place.

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If someone decides to consult with an expert, how can they prepare for your visit and maximize their benefit?

DH: Any consulting project must begin with an achievable goal and clear objectives that must be defined by the client and conveyed to the consultant. The next challenge is to bring the consultant up to speed on the products, materials, manufacturing operations and heat-treat equipment in use. Any problems should be clearly defined and supported with as many details as possible. Finally, the client should be prepared to answer a detailed list of questions, provide technical data and send appropriate photographs – all before the consultant sets foot inside the customer’s plant. A signed Non-Disclosure Agreement is (or should be) standard practice when hiring consultants.  

GVV: If someone hires a consultant, they first need to determine if that person can help them. They need to understand their own problem and then determine if a specific individual has the required background and talent to help them. There are many consultants out there, but not all are created equally.  

RM: A good consultant is a “practically minded professor.” He combines a wealth of knowledge (academics) with the ability to process a lot of information (research) to produce a high-quality report or presentation (textbook or lecture) that communicates the essence of the problem and solution (final exam). A client that understands the traits of a good consultant – and is ready for this type of interaction – will benefit from the experience.  

Within your area of expertise, what are your or your clients’ greatest challenges?

GVV: If you are dealing with a lawyer, you may have to teach them enough so that they can understand your work. Good communication skills are really important, especially if a case goes to trial. But you must have total command of your discipline, and you must have an absolutely air-tight argument.  

DH: The need for deeper understanding drives every client to a consultant, and every customer wants and deserves to come away with a solution to their particular problem(s). Today, there is a highly intelligent group of young engineers working in our industry. If they lack for anything, it is often only experience in a given situation. It is a challenge for CEOs and company presidents to find the best way to support these engineers as they learn and gain experience.

What is the most common furnace problem you encounter?

DK: It is surprising to see so many people who do not truly understand the role of heating and cooling rates in their furnaces and merely follow given recipes programmed into their furnaces because “we’ve always done it that way.”  

RM: Unfortunately, the most common problems I see are when furnace users fail to follow instructions given by furnace manufacturers. Occasionally, the furnace may have a sensor improperly installed or a component that has failed prematurely, but it’s much more common to see a furnace that is being operated with inadequate maintenance, uncalibrated instruments, disabled safeguards or poor housekeeping.  

DH: The answer to this question is most often found by looking at the individual(s) standing in front of the machine as opposed to the machine itself. The right team is critical in addressing the wide variety of problems as they arise. If you educate the engineer, heat treater, metallurgist or supervisor and give the maintenance person the right tools, most furnace problems tend to solve themselves.


What energy-saving suggestions would you give to a client?

DH: Our first energy-saving suggestion is always the installation of energy-monitoring equipment. Next, we like to recommend that each energy segment be isolated into an exact cost per hour, per pound or per piece. Then specific strategies can be put into motion. Having an energy expert within an organization is also a good thing.  

RM: I am developing an extensive list of energy-saving ideas for the free IH Training Webinar Industrial Heating will be hosting in June. Readers are encouraged to attend that event.  

In your opinion, what is the current state of the industry?

DK: I am seeing a pick-up in the industries that use brazing. Since I am involved in brazing in several different industries, it tells me that manufacturing – and our economy – is moving forward in a positive direction. Brazing as a joining method is strong and growing. Also, new metal alloys being developed are getting more difficult to join by welding. Brazing can very often fill that need. Ceramic joining is another growth area, and it is ideally suited for brazing.  

GVV: I no longer have a full-time job, but I have more than enough consulting work to keep me busy.  

DH: The heat-treating industry, as well as most of manufacturing, is busy, vibrant and growing. Those consultants who are problem solvers in addition to their normal roles and who have structured their businesses to be highly diversified remain busy and in demand despite the cyclic nature of our industry. IH

The Experts

Dan Herring is president of THE HERRING GROUP Inc., which specializes in consulting services (heat treatment and metallurgy) and technical services (industrial education/training and process/equipment assistance). He is also a research associate professor at the Illinois Institute of Technology/Thermal Processing Technology Center.

Dan Kay is president of Kay & Associates, a company specializing in brazing-training seminars and on-site consulting and problem-solving in the field of brazing. Kay, who has 40 years of hands-on brazing experience, received his BS in Metallurgical Engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1966 and his MBA from Michigan State University in 1982.

Rick Martin is principal of Martin Thermal Engineering, Inc. and investigates complex failures of thermal systems. He has more than 30 years of experience designing and troubleshooting combustion, heat transfer and air-pollution control equipment, and he teaches two courses on these subjects at USC.

George Vander Voort is a consultant for Struers, Latrobe Steel and Scot Forge. He is also president of Vander Voort Consulting. Vander Voort, who has more than 40 years of industry experience, has authored more than 280 publications and won 34 awards for his work in metallography.