In 1995, David Carpenter saw an opportunity.

The Wytheville, Va., area had a need for metal-parts heat treating. So, with the help of friend and local businessman Bob Fowlkes – and with the encouragement of area metal workers – the duo started Southwest Specialty Heat Treat (SWHT). With two employees and a couple of high-temperature furnaces, the company got to work.

Five years after starting up, Carpenter bought out Fowlkes and became sole owner. Carpenter’s decades of experience in metal working and manufacturing had served the company well. Today, SWHT offers aging, annealing, carburizing, hardening, normalizing, stress relieving and solution treating services to industries including tool and die, gear manufacturing, mining and railroad.

Because of its close proximity (within 100 miles) of two large foundries, SWHT’s capability of annealing castings is vital to its success. One foundry supplies castings to the coal-mining industry, and the other supplies to the railroad industry.

To help set itself apart from the competition, SWHT provides small-part flame hardening and air quenching of powdered metals and tool steels. The MTI member also assists the Virginia Tech engineering department’s Formula SAE team with heat treating and metal consultations. To prove its commitment to quality, SWHT’s quality system is certified to ISO 9001:2000 standards.

As for equipment, SWHT offers size capacities up to 24 x 36 x 18 inches in its endothermic atmosphere furnaces and up to 52 x 30 x 18 inches in its annealing and stress-relieving furnaces. The company also has several high-temperature furnaces with payloads up to 24 x 24 x 36 inches. These furnaces allow SWHT to process a wide range of materials to the specifications provided. In addition to heat-treating equipment, SWHT provides on-site testing with the help of both Rockwell and Brinell testers.

Throughout its 21-year existence, one constant for SWHT has been Carpenter. On top of his work with the company, he teaches Metals, Heat Treating and Manufacturing Processes at Wytheville Community College, and he is also Board Chair of the regional Manufacturing Technology Center (MTC), which represents five community colleges in southwest Virginia. SWHT is also very involved in the local community with the Chamber of Commerce, United Way and Joint Industrial Development Authority.

SWHT prides itself on working closely with its customers to ensure parts are processed with quality and care. In fact, process parameters are set not by the company, but by customer specification. This relationship leads to expedited processing and lower transportation costs, both of which are beneficial to the customer.

Unfortunately, SWHT has experienced the downturn of the economy the past few years, mainly due to its location within the Appalachian coal mining region. Things are looking up, though. SWHT is entertaining options to add new processes and equipment. Carpenter sees his company growing over the next five to 10 years with the addition of induction and vacuum heat treating. These new processes would demand additional personnel, but it would also enhance SWHT’s service to metal processing in the region.

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