Each Month, the Arrowhead Park Association features a member. This month we interviewed Surface Combustion, a 100-year-old company that is still innovating.
Passing by the understated exterior of Surface Combustion on Indian Wood Circle you wouldn’t guess that inside is 100 employees innovating the world of heat-treating metal with their industrial furnaces. Their thermal systems enhance the physical properties and surface characteristics of the ferrous and non-ferrous materials and improve their performance and competitiveness. According to Stephanie Harcar, Marketing Coordinator, “You may not know it but of most of the metals in your life, from orthodonture wires to car parts, are heat-treated to increase strength, ductility, and overall part life.” Most Surface equipment installs in the USA are in our midwest industrial areas (MI, PA, WI, OH, IN, IL), but 15-20% of products are exported all over the world. Recently products were exported to Zambia, Israel, Chile, Mexico & Canada. They have over 275,000 thermal systems installed worldwide. Surface Combustion has such a strong export business that they have received a “Best in Exporting” award from the Governor of Ohio three times.
The company moved from Dorr Street to its custom-built Arrowhead Park building in 1988. Ms. Harcar said that she loves the location and having everything from engineering to sales under one roof. Surface Combustion is privately owned by Mr. William J. Bernard, Jr. who has created a family-type environment in the office. Surface employs multiple types of engineers (Mechanical, Electrical, Materials Science, Chemical, Computer). Many of them are graduates of the University of Toledo’s strong engineering program. Surface offers co-ops and internships to local high school and college students as part of their “stay local” mentality and uses local providers whenever possible. They are constantly looking for assembly employees for their Waterville production facility and have added six people to the Maumee team in the last three months. For the parts that they don’t manufacturer themselves, like electrical cabinets and furnace casings, they prefer to contract with local vendors.
“We have been doing this a long time,” reports Ben Bernard, a materials science engineer and the VP of Global Sales and Marketing, “so our experience is invaluable to our clients. We can pull from 105 years of solutions and designs. They come to us with problems and we offer solutions. We have great personal relationships with them.” When asked what industries house most of their furnaces, the list was endless: automotive, heavy trucks, rail, aerospace, medical devices, consumer goods (screws, fasteners), hand tools, bearings, electrical motors, agricultural, mining, piping, copper tubing, windmill gears, power generation, oil, gas…. and on and on. To understand the reach, think of the Zippo brand lighters you see at convenience store checkouts. Every flint wheel in every lighter was heat-treated in a Surface Combustion Furnace. You have products with SC treated materials all over your home, auto and office.
There is a standard product line for many SC Furnaces, equipment and products but they are also open to taking on unique situations. “We solve problems for our clients individually as well. We recently built an oversized furnace to meet a customer’s specific need,” shared Ms. Harcar.
Surface has a very personal approach to their community involvement. Every quarter they choose a different charity to collect funds for. The local non-profits are submitted by employees with personal connections to the charity. A bulletin board is put together by the employee who nominated the charity explaining the purpose of the organization and the personal connection. Charities they have supported in the past include Leading Families Home, NWO Autism Society, the Humane Society, Susan B. Komen Race for the Cure, and JDRF.
The initial product lines in 1915 included small oven furnaces, pot hardening furnaces, aluminum melting furnaces, and rivet heaters. Years of innovation have added many products including the industry-standard Allcase Batch Integral quench furnace and a metal parts furnace designed for the destruction of chemical weapons. What does the future hold? “SC has 675 patents, and over 75 industry-recognized trademarks,” according to President William J. (B.J.) Bernard, III. “We plan to keep innovating. There is always something new in heat treating, and we have a proven R&D program to keep up with emerging needs. Steel historically has been a major focus of our business, but with the current drive to lightweight vehicles, we are innovating to create relevant solutions to meet that need.”