Solar Atmospheres Inc., located in Souderton, Pa., began its multi-plant commercial heat-treating strategy in the year 2000. The master plan for the first satellite facility was primarily driven by western Pennsylvania and northeast Ohio titanium producers’ demands for larger vacuum furnaces to process critical raw materials such as titanium bars, billets, plate, sheet, coils and ingots.
Solar CEO William Jones, who had already built and operated a very large 10-foot-long vacuum furnace in eastern Pennsylvania before the turn of the century, knew that Solar Atmospheres had to design an even larger and better vacuum furnace for this new customer base – one that could process an unprecedented 50,000 pounds in one load. Bill and his team of engineers set out to design and ultimately construct a brand-new 24-foot-long vacuum furnace with a patented load car that could easily transfer the heavy titanium component workloads.
While the furnace was being designed and manufactured, Bob Hill, president of the fledgling company, began an exhaustive search for a new facility west of the Allegheny Mountains. Greenfield sites were not an option since the furnace would be ready to ship within eight short months. Finally, an 18,000-square-foot facility located on five acres with suitable roof heights and sufficient power became available in Hermitage, Pa. The property, strategically located equidistantly between Pittsburgh, Erie, Pa., and Cleveland, was purchased in 2000.
Shortly thereafter, five flatbed trailers arrived with the main cornerstone of the business: a unique 6- x 6- x 24-foot-long vacuum furnace with the ability to process up to 50,000 pounds of work under extremely deep vacuum levels. In April 2001, Solar Atmospheres of Western PA (SAWPA) opened its doors for the first time and the Solar Nation was born.
Acquiring new accreditations every day enabled SAWPA to negotiate more substantial long-term agreements with customers, which in turn allowed for more investment. Since then, the company has invested over $50 million into this facility, expanding the campus to 14 acres and the physical plant size to over 75,000 square feet while adding 14 additional vacuum furnaces.
The equipment includes the largest capacity furnaces in the world (three 24-foot-long, one 36-foot-long and one 48-foot-long vacuum furnace that can process up to 150,000 pounds), a 20-bar vacuum furnace and an all-metal hot zone medical device furnace. To complement this equipment, SAWPA has added NDT fluorescent penetrant testing and will soon introduce machining and tensile testing to its repertoire.
Today, Solar furnaces process approximately 20% of the world’s titanium production and almost 3 miles of titanium floor beams per month for the Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner. SAWPA is the only facility approved to perform the critical solution and age treatments for Boeing’s flight-critical forgings.
These accomplishments could never have been achieved without the dedicated workforce at SAWPA. From the four initial employees who helped start the company to over 55 employees today, every single worker has contributed immeasurably to the company’s success over the past 16 years.
Visit www.solaratm.com for more information.
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