Henry Rowan, Mars Rocket
It was about this time when Rowan demonstrated his solid state power supply at the foundry show.
The Mark I was a conceptual breakthrough and a marketing triumph; in the course of the next few years Inductotherm would sell 241 induction systems worldwide using the Pillar solid-state inverter as the heart of the power supply. But as we built and sold them, who would have thought that even this new triumph would come close to breaking our growing company.
The inverter wasn't all we had hoped it could be, and there were problems--lots of them. Pillar employed from 12 to 16 complex solid-state control boards, and training our servicemen to understand them and analyze field problems was almost insurmountable. So great was the pressure on the 20 men we needed to keep the inverters running, that at times I was afraid we would go unstable in service. As a serviceman gained experience and skill at ferreting out inverter problems, he would, by necessity, be overloaded with work, as we struggled to keep customers running. When the pressure became too great, we would lose him and the burden would fall on newer, greener men.
These new devices were junk at best and Cragmet did not buy them. The main reason we did not buy them was that we were not allowed to enter the small vacuum furnace business and larger furnaces used 60 and 180-cycle equipment.
In the early days of Cragmet it was apparent that the field of induction heating and forging was wide open for us and among our first orders was an induction gear hardening machine for scanning and hardening each tooth of a large gear. We purchased a motor generator system from Inductotherm for this job.
Without fanfare sometime in 1968 Rowan purchased a company called Induction Process Equipment, or IPE, in Madison Heights, Michigan. "I knew the company well; two years earlier, we had bought it."
"For about two years, between 1968 and 1970, Bill Peschel, the founder and CEO of IPE, had been buying Pillar's solid-state inverters for his induction heating applications. The relationship led to the first use of solid-state technology in IPE's field but failed to staunch the flow of red ink on our subsidiary's books. After a promising start, personalities got in the way, and the relationship between IPE and Pillar deteriorated as Goggio failed to provide the kind of cooperation and technical progress Peschel deemed for his own, often quixotic, projects. Further, Pillar was already selling to IPE's competitors, neutralizing whatever competitive edge our subsidiary may have hoped to enjoy."
IPE's business was heating for thermal treatments of metal to make them useful for a purpose such as car axles and crankshafts.
With enough cash to keep the wolves from the door I decided to attempt a merger with Consarc. Nisbet had merged his company into VASCO and was on his way up. Consarc sold VASCO and electric heated oxygen argon degasser that I thought was the future of the business. Nisbet continued to build his equipment with in house engineers. I was never able to obtain an order from him.
My merger plan was to swap our minority position in Cragmet for one third of the Consarc stock. From customers I was aware of Wooding's strengths and weaknesses. It appeared that the customers he would lose I could win and he could win those I would lose. Hotchkin told me to forget it because Rowan was determined to pull the abscessed tooth. The story in Inductotherm's accounting department was that Wooding was planning to build a penthouse fortress including a helicopter-landing pad on the top of the Consarc building.
ESCO was ready to start up their vacuum degassing unit in July 1968. Members of management were present on the foundry floor when the first tests were complete. The number of gas holes in the final castings was remarkably reduced. The fact that management was present caused the workers to pay attention to all the details of production and this was the main reason for quality improvement. Jess Cartlidge was with me for these tests. That evening we discussed his pending divorce and a move to Australia to run a new company for Rowan. Before leaving he flew the Apache home and Rowan sold it to Cragmet.
Soon after Jess arrived in Australia he found a vacuum melting application and invited me to Australia. I arranged the long flight during the New Year holiday period. Hotchkin never saw the expenses for two delightful days on the Island of Fiji. Jess had a management style that was very much like mine. He pushed the company from the bottom up rather from the top down. He was the fastest builder of induction equipment in the world and he worked along side the people he was training to set the production standard.
Rowan and I went to a meeting in Washington that included all people that were manufacturing induction equipment. New rules were being put into place that would not have allowed water in the coils or capacitors. It was stupid so we had to fight. Rowan asked me not to tell Logan and others just how large he had become. On the way back we stopped at a diner for dinner. Blue cheese dressing was 25-cents extra and Rowan made a point that we should select Ranch dressing.
Ruble was a naval officer before he went to work for Inductotherm. He had a strict dress code for all employees. Long hair and beards were not allowed. One of the young men working on the shop floor allowed his hair to grow. He kept it in a pigtail under a cap he wore at all times. Ruble discovered this and confronted him. He told him to have it removed before he could return to work. The young man called the TV news to tell them he was to be fired from Inductotherm for long hair. Rowan made the news on that item when a TV filming crew showed up to get the story.
I learned to know Betty Rowan in the town of Rancocas. She could be an elegant hostess when necessary. She must have liked farming because we would meet her at the bank or at the grocery store with dirt on her clothing and under her fingernails. Everybody liked Betty. I was not aware of the tragedy at the Rowan house that summer. His son Jimmy was dead.
Good luck smiled on us that summer when Carpenter Steel needed a new furnace. They liked the equipment they had bought from me four years earlier while I was with Ajax, so they gave us a good contract. Our crew was better by this time so we made a good small profit on this project. We hired a man as the shop supervisor from a local electrical contractor. The contractor, a friend of Rowan's attempted to stop us from hiring him. Rowan asked us not to hire him, but we refused to bow to his pressure.
Carpenter Steel had oil filled tripler transformer that Ajax supplied on the five-ton job. They gave us Ajax drawings that they owned to copy some of the details. Inductotherm used Ajax drawings to build the secondary transformers that the job required. Local trade unions allowed Cragmet to use our shop people and hydraulic crane to install the equipment. We used the bee hive seal so it was not necessary to send the chamber out for machining. Frank O'Brien and Jack Murray who were draftsmen for RCA in the region led this project. These two gentlemen stayed with the company until they retired. I did not have to make the first melt on this job for the first time in our young history.
Our new successes caused Stokes to close down the large vacuum-melting portion of their business. We were able hire one of their key staff. Robert Klingerman came to Cragmet with the experience we needed. He was driving an old Plymouth convertible with many miles on it. This car required the heat to be on in the summer to keep the engine from overheating and had a nice growth of grass growing on the floor in the rear seat area. He gave the old Plymouth a proper death by driving it eight miles per hour to the junk yard about one year after he joined us.
We hired, Donald Soderstrom, an electrical service man that Inductotherm was going to discharge. Don remained with me as an engineer working with field problems until I was forced to let him go in 1985 just after the British embargo of equipment he was installing near Moscow.
Rowan bought another company in this time period called Cheston. Their claim to fame was a resistance heater for heating small steel bars for forging into hand tools. As part of the deal to obtain the company he gave it the worldwide rights to induction heating. Dick Hill was the key person but he was not a shareholder so the rights had little meaning. Shortly after the purchase we rented this new company half of our upstairs office space to reduce our overhead costs. Hill and I became good friends especially at he Pirates Inn after work where we tipped a few glasses.
Sales to the vacuum melting customers dried up with the exception of one small order to produce superalloy powder at Kelsey Hayes. This customer was difficult and there was no profit in the job. We built some graphite susceptor induction heaters to produce body armor to Coors Porcelain. The only large order during this period was a graphite element holding furnace for Oldsmobile for horizontal casting of steel. Sid Smith and Klingerman pushed this one through. We attempted to make a horizontal caster for superalloy for Howmet in Dover, New Jersey but failed.
The next trip to Germany was an engineering study for Sudwest Falen Steel. Sid Smith traveled with me and it included a side trip to the Matterhorn in the Swiss Alps. Sid noted a useful technical solution to a future problem by observing the cog railway to the top of the mountain. The train could switch from wheel driven to cog driven without stopping. We would use this idea in several versions of transfer cars for the large furnaces in the future.
After they decided to use a process named AOD and they gave me the model as a present. The Oxygen Argon Degassing method developed by Union Carbide took away my hopes to build vacuum melting equipment for processing stainless steel all over the world. The simple fact was that it was a better and cheaper process. DEW gave us back the model of the INCO as a consolation because they did not buy a furnace. We would use it again in Russia.
The next important job was to build a furnace to be used to process a carbon-carbon nozzle extension for a nuclear rocket to be used to send a man to Mars. Some information about this process can be found in: http://www.ioa.com/~zero/419-CarbonArt.html
The Aerojet inspector was a part time employee:
Aerojet sent the project manager down to verify our success. He opted not to observe another test because this might cause his bosses to decide not to purchase the quarter size test he wanted. It was a company rule that two key persons of the company could fly on the same plane. Bob booked on United and I booked on American. There was no rule that said we could not use the rental car to careen around the back streets of Hollywood and in the canyons of the area as we took a little tour that day. We had one more stop to make before going home. http://www.ioa.com/~zero/418-PinkPussycat.html This is the material that failed and brought down the Columbia 2003.