Go-to resource (Guest Editorial - Modern Metals July 2019)
Decades of persistence result in successful specialization of small-quantity orders for superalloys
By Jeff Kirchner, High Performance Alloys
Jeff Kirchner has spent the last 30 years selling and developing sales and marketing for High Performance Alloys Inc. During that time, Kirchner served as co-owner as well as president/CEO for 3 years.
“Do not try to do everything. Do one thing well.” The late Steve Jobs highlighted the importance of quality over quantity.
Starting a company in the 1980s was no easy task. As manufacturing jobs went overseas, the U.S. unemployment rates soared. Volatile interest rates stifled efforts to vie for a new spot in the superalloys market. The few takeaways that this period of decline ingrained in the High Performance Alloys workforce were to work smart and scrap very little. We held onto inventory items until it couldn’t be marked on—and then bagged it in order to label the item. Material drops and remnants from cutting operations became more easily salable items, not discarded as part of an expense program. To reduce handling and retrieval times, racks for shorts were located nearest the sawing and packaging areas.
When High Performance Alloys was started in 1984, specialization in alloy distribution meant taking a $75 order (it was the lowest in the industry). We would buy a minimum order from the mill in sheet, plate or bar; and cut it into pieces that customers wanted, stocking the rest for the next time they needed to make repairs or make another part. They didn’t want to hold on to more material than was necessary to get the job done.
Specialization is common in superalloys, primarily due to the cost and somewhat limited availability.
What specializations are available for superalloys?
- Cutting to size without grossing for the entire piece
- Small quantity availability
- Availability of non-standard sizes
- Polishing or grinding to specific dimensions and tolerances with a limit on the finish allowed
- Same-day shipping
- Low minimum order, including standard packaging costs
- Marking materials with specific instructions
- Testing parameters not normally performed: Charpy v-notch (CVN), ultrasonic inspection (UT), X-ray inspection, liquid penetrant (LP) inspection, paramagnetic properties, electrical resistance, corrosion testing
- Specialized properties for non-standard requirements
High Performance Alloys is a steadfast resource for these specializations. It is one of the many reasons that we are a go-to solution. We understand and can take care of many of these items in-house, and through our network of laboratories. We have added turning, milling, grinding, heat treating, toll processing of ingot/billet, and rolling. Expanded our ability to cut with bandsaws, hi-def plasma, and waterjet. With all these changes, we have stayed the course of super alloys while competitors would dilute offerings with high volume imported product.
Customers who had not visited our facility since the 1990s are surprised by the amount we have grown, not only in square footage but in the talent and resources filling that space. Visiting metallurgists take note of the capabilities we have, and appreciate the flexibility in processing we can offer. There is a niche we fill for value-added processing that used to be performed in research laboratories.
Aiming to be a “world-class mini mill” has been the largest boost to our revenue and growth. But that was only made possible because we are a capable distributor. It is a very symbiotic existence where the manufacturing growth has facilitated the distribution business growth. We have been able to enter markets that previously had been closed to new entrants. Product development has become a focus to satisfy the growing need for higher material properties.
Forging for the final frontier
We have helped the entire Space industry ensure that they have time to develop new material for rocket fuel nozzles. Through the careful forging of material, we processed metal from excess billet into round bar and flat bar, eliminating the need for two mill production orders. The material, Hastelloy B, was obsolete decades ago. This work was performed on our open die forge press, rotary forges and rolling mill at Tipton.
We were able to successfully press forge an ingot without a day-long soak that was specified for an existing extrusion process. Material was then transferred to our rotary forge to attain the properties and sizing needed through control of temperature and processing technique. This meant a faster time to product.