With Furnaces North America on the horizon, our thoughts turn to making connections or renewing relationships. We encourage you to make your reservations now.

This summer has been one for Industrial Heating to both make and renew connections through attendance at two events. The first was a relatively short trip to Meadville, Pa., for an open house at Laser Hard Inc., a start-up company. 

It was an easy decision for Doug Peters. When longtime friend Blair Learn called and asked Peters if he wanted to branch out and form a new company, it took the owner of Peters’ Heat Treating less than five minutes to make the call.

“It’s a perfect marriage,” Peters said. “With his experience in laser welding (Learn owns Phoenix Laser Solutions) and my experience in heat treating, it was a no-brainer.”

And so began Laser Hard, the Meadville, Pa.-based partnership between commercial heat treater Peters’ Heat Treating and laser welder Phoenix Laser Solutions. The company invested in a mobile robot designed for targeted laser hardening and tempering of metal surfaces in March 2018. One month later it began commercial work.

Laser Hard says this is the first production system of its kind in the United States. The robot combines the latest innovations in laser technology and optical pyrometry. It utilizes a six-axis robotic arm that articulates with a two-axis tiltable rotary table. This movement control provides the capability to project the laser beam in free 3-D movements precisely following contours of parts with complex geometries. The laser heat-treating processes include hardening, tempering and annealing. They deliver the same properties as conventional heat treating but with the added benefits of accuracy and adaptability to workpiece geometry.

“The hardest part has been educating the customer on how it is used,” Peters said. “You can’t compare it to any other technology because it’s the first of its kind in the U.S.”

Things are just getting started for Laser Hard. The company has yet to take advantage of the robot’s mobile capabilities – meaning it can take the machine to the customer – and it is still learning on the fly. According to Learn, the opportunities the technology provides are endless.

The second event required a longer trip to San Antonio, Texas, for the Honeywell Users Group. Technology was certainly on display at this venue. It’s remarkable what current and near-future technology will do to help our businesses. The key concept is “connected plant” or, in a larger way, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).

By connecting everything in your plant, you can gain insights to help you better understand and optimize your processes. Augmented reality (AR) is one of the tools, with intelligent wearables being a result. With so many of our people retiring or soon to retire, you can manage the competency of your employees using these tools. AR can show operators how to do certain tasks on a hands-on basis. Experts on call can be tied in to what operators are viewing to consult from afar. Visual procedures can also record what someone is doing on a given job for future recall.

Having our devices connected and knowing the data will also help us with the problem of losing qualified workers. That knowledge can be digitized, brought to life and given context. With connectivity, we can then instantaneously access that information and know the best path from A to B.

We don’t have the space here to dig more deeply, but we encourage you to explore the opportunities afforded by technology. Learn more in a few short months at FNA 2018. Hope to see you there.