Bill Castine, Pulse Service Group Sales Engineer at Harper International, talks to AZoM about their Pulse program and how it benefits their customers.
Could you please provide a brief introduction to the industry that Harper International works within and outline the key drivers?
We work with a variety of different advanced materials industries and offer a range of thermal processing technologies and services that support those industries. Carbon fiber production, nuclear fuel manufacturing and ceramics processing, and lithium battery materials are some of the key areas we serve.
Our legacy has been in enabling markets that are developing emerging materials. There are constant innovations in material science in creating new materials that require the thermal processing expertise that we have decades of experience in. For example, we have many customers in the battery industry, with particular focus on the production of lithium batteries and other advanced chemistries.
Harper’s goal is to be the customer’s beginning-to-end thermal processing partner. We have the most comprehensive offering out there in that we can help them develop their process by coming in at the ground floor, working closely with their engineers, enabling their scale up to production, and supporting the full life cycle of the process and equipment.
Could you briefly explain Harper’s Pulse program?
Pulse offers complete service after the sale. Our group consists of a number of technical experts with 30 plus years in the design, installation and operation of our technology. They have extensive knowledge of thermal processing, the evolution of the markets and the customers that we’ve supported over that period of time.
We consider ourselves a one-call technical solution for our customers that support parts, field service, and engineered solutions, such as retrofits to equipment to offer more control and different processing methods. We are proactively involved in identifying, evaluating, and implementing innovative, cost effective solutions that are focused around supporting our client’s needs for reliability, performance and superior quality.
Our customers span the full spectrum of installations including R&D facilities to full production facilities. We first engage during the start-up process and continue our support throughout the life cycle of the equipment.
What are the major advantages of using Harper’s Pulse service?
Our customers see an advantage in that they can focus on their core business strategies with Pulse’s support, including how the equipment can help impact their bottom line, drive their production and control operating costs. As a partner, we engage to evaluate and implement solutions to lower operating costs and improve reliability of critical process technology and equipment. It’s all about how the we can help the customer positively impact their production and return on investment.
For Operations and Plant Managers, we will collect and evaluate site data and determine how we can modify the system to operate more efficiently. For example, if our customer is not running the equipment at full capacity all the time, how can we utilize that downtime so that they’re not ramping up and ramping down the equipment?
Our customers depend on us for diagnosing and working towards prescribing solutions that they may not see immediately on their own. The advantage for them is having another set of experienced eyes to help optimize their process. We can conduct an in-depth root cause analysis to evaluate why certain scenarios are occurring or how certain processes could be refined.
How is this unique to the industries that you serve?
Unlike many other thermal processing providers, Harper has a large staff of process technology experts, including PhD’s and engineers. We work together to evaluate and continuously improve our systems and extend this knowledge to support our customers with innovative solutions.
Also, our customers benefit from our use of standard industry tools. We are not trying to over-customize things, but employ sound practices for the design of our equipment. The real science is evident in how everything is assembled and works as a complete system.
What are the primary reasons why your customers use this service?
From speaking with maintenance groups and operation managers, the primary reason is usually to maximize uptime and deliver to the bottom line. Through close relationships, our technical expertise provides customers with additional resources to help them achieve their goals.
At a deeper level, customers depend on Pulse to help manage risk. Guiding their plant operators through safe operation of the equipment during start-up or during production reinforces the site knowledge and turns routine checklists into meaningful data; information that can be trended and used as tool to predict potential issues.
What are the benefits of early detection and preventative maintenance?
All materials experience wear over time. Depending on the operation of the equipment that rate may accelerate. By establishing a strong maintenance checklist and using proper controls to monitor the equipment, early detection can be the difference in avoiding a condition that could result in unnecessary downtime. Many of our systems operate in a protective atmosphere.
For example, leak detection is a relatively small investment in time to perform while the equipment is operational, and can have a profound impact on the life of the furnace as well as the reliability of the product. Ensuring that good housekeeping and regular inspections are performed will lead toward maximizing uptime and production quality.
Are there any recent case studies that you’re particularly proud of?
Two cases come to mind. We worked with a general manufacturer and they drive their material handling system through a gas-fired furnace. The material that they load through the furnace gets mounted onto metal alloy trays, and they were experiencing severe damage to the trays. On a two to three month basis, these trays would be inoperable. When I visited the site, they had upwards of $200,000 worth of scrap trays sitting behind the furnace and we were unsure as to why this was happening.
So, we did a preliminary conference call with their technician to just get some general site data for our engineering group to review. After narrowing down the problem, we outlined two or three symptoms that allowed us to focus on a few different solutions. We gathered the site data upfront so that we could be prepared for our site visit and our engineering review of the equipment during operation on site. We confirmed our suspicions and we were able to tune the equipment so that they were not over-firing and causing hotspots throughout the equipment. We did this while the equipment was live which prevented delays in production.
This relatively easy solution prevented them from spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in replacement trays on a continuous basis. We have follow-up site visits and a site plan in place to make sure that we are monitoring the furnace, monitoring the trays and are on a recovery plan to make sure everything is functioning as we predict it will.
Our second trip is scheduled and we’ll be re-evaluating the equipment to measure the trays and see if their degradation has slowed or if nothing has changed. So far we’ve seen favorable results. This is just one example of where we have offered value to our customers. It was a low-cost investment by the customer with a high return for the future.
We also recently worked with a nuclear fuel manufacturer and formed a very tight team to address a number of furnaces on-site. Their engineering group and our engineering group partnered up very well and worked through a number of different processes that they were experiencing less than favourable results on. Their atmosphere gas system and regulation of the dew point control, a very important part to manufacturing their fuel balance, was one system evaluated.
We worked through each piece of equipment, re-evaluated, and made necessary adjustments and upgrades to the equipment allowing them to operate on a more efficient control system. This also allowed them to regulate their gas distribution system for controlling the atmosphere more successfully and improving the product quality that they were putting through.
We have training plan in place and we are working closely with them to make sure that their operators are continuously up to speed on the operation of that control panel and that everything is reading within their specifications.
How you see your sector progressing over the next decade and how do you see Pulse progressing with it?
Harper operates in global markets. We have an office in Beijing and international partners around the world. With expanding operations, we will be growing our representative network allowing us to become even closer to our international markets.
Pulse is actively engaged with these representatives and we do a tremendous amount of business back and forth. They are our feet on the ground and they stay very connected with our partners overseas.
In order to consciously improve how our customers interface with us, we continue to enhance our processes. We’ve recently enacted credit card order processing so that we can simplify the order process for relatively small dollar amounts that need to be generated quickly.
The growth rates and potential in all of the markets we serve is exciting. Our customers are constantly innovating new materials that could be the next big thing. Carbon Fiber is one example that is well known to be a possible game changer in major industries like aerospace and automotive. As a whole, Harper is focused on enabling the success of these industries as they grow from small operations to large scale production, and Pulse will be able to serve the ongoing needs from a service, maintenance, and optimization standpoint as we will have been involved in the production process since the very beginning.
We are really proud of our experience and legacy, so we will continue to improve and leverage those areas. We have a staggering amount of experience at Harper, but our growth and future is based on our flexibility. We want to adapt our offerings to the customer’s needs. That can be anything from parts support to a fully engaged service relationship. It is amazing when we see Harper’s equipment that is 30-40-years-old is still in operation today. We really enjoy engaging on those installations. It is a testament to our deep engineering expertise and the people that bring it from concept to reality.
Where can our readers find out more?
Check out the Pulse webpage at http://www.harperintl.com/capabilities/pulse-program/
About Bill Castine
Bill Castine, Pulse Service Group Sales Engineer at Harper International, received his Bachelor’s Degree in Civil Engineering from the University at Buffalo. He worked at Cameron Compression Systems in the Air Separation and Aftermarket Divisions. Since joining the company, Bill has helped to extend support to Harper’s customers as demand continues to grow for technical support, preventative planning and maintenance of Harper’s thermal processing systems.
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