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Commercial Heat Treater Garners Big MTI Award

Heat Treating

Rebecca Carnes
Design-2-Part Magazine

With numerous qualifications and the largest vacuum furnaces in the world, Solar Atmospheres of Western Pennsylvania (SAWPA), based in Hermitage, Pa., was recently awarded the 2012 Commercial Heat Treater of the Year Award. The annual "Master Craftsman Award," presented by the Metal Treating Institute (MTI) in cooperation with Industrial Heating magazine, is based on contributions made in the areas of quality programs, pollution/hazardous waste control, and community involvement.

According to SAWPA, an ISO 9001: 2008 and AS 9100:2009 certified company, 70 percent of its business comes from the aerospace industry. The company is able to process 150,000 lbs. of material within a 60-inch x 60-inch x 36 foot long furnace, as well as three 60-inch x 60-inch x 24-foot vacuum furnaces with 50,000 lb. load capacities. Adherence to a quality system as robust as AS9100 has created new opportunities and acceptance for SAWPA within the global aerospace, aviation, and defense supply chains. The company serves the nuclear market in compliance with Nuclear Regulatory Commission Title 10, Code of Federal Regulations Part 50, appendix B, and is also Nadcap accredited for heat treating and non-destructive testing.

Solar Atmospheres of Western Pennsylvania ( is part of the Solar Atmospheres Inc., umbrella company, which has headquarters in Souderton, Pa., and a year-old factory in Fontana, Calif., that was built to meet the increasing demand from big aerospace customers on the West Coast.

Robert Hill, president of SAWPA, said the award is representative of the company's commitment to community involvement and the environment, and reflects the approvals of major contractors, such as Boeing, Pratt & Whitney, Lockheed Martin, Norman Noble Inc., and Northrup Grumman, among others. "We have a litany of approvals because of our type of equipment. We have the largest vacuum furnaces in the world and a lot of people want those," Hill said, adding that the company is doing work for Boeing's 787 Dreamliner.

Special load cars allow SAWPA to process heavy and long part loads while also helping to maintain dimensional stability. This dimensional control during critical heat treating won SAWPA a $50 million contract with Boeing on the 787 Dreamliner seat track program. This year, SAWPA acquired a fast-cooling furnace that is one of only a few of its kind in the U.S.: a custom designed 20-bar, high-pressure quenching furnace that can process a wider range of materials, Hill said.

In 2009, SAWPA was awarded with the prestigious International Titanium Association's (ITA) Titanium Achievement Award. Fabricating aircraft frames with titanium, instead of aluminum, is reported to increase fuel efficiencies by 25 percent. One of the company's R&D efforts involving titanium included developing a process to achieve the stringent titanium BASCA specification; SAWPA claims to be the only heat treater in the world to achieve this in vacuum.

The company's 15 vacuum furnaces are "very environmentally friendly," Hill said, explaining that while most other commercial heat treaters use oil, cyanide, and salts for quenching, SAWPA's vacuum processing does not emit any harmful gases. "We use all electrically-powered furnaces and we quench with nitrogen, so there's no harm to the environment," he said.

Other green initiatives include blending inert gasses that save valuable helium molecules while maintaining critical cooling rate. In addition, all waste roughing pump and diffusion pump oils are recycled at a local facility, and all mercury vapor lighting was replaced with new T5 energy-efficient lighting.

Opened in 2000, SAWPA operates in an 18,000-square-foot building with 45 employees and is reportedly the only commercial heat treater in the country to hold SHARP (Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program) accreditation, which ensures that all local, state, and federal EPA, DEP, and OSHA requirements are met. The company takes part in community outreach programs, community organizations, and makes philanthropic donations. City of Hermitage City Manager Gary P. Hinkson recently noted that SAWPA "has been the best thing that happened to this community."

"The team at Solar represents the future of where the industry is headed," said Metal Treating Institute (MTI) CEO Tom Morrison in a statement. "MTI heat treaters are pressing forward with the investment needed to be a top notch manufacturing business with excellence in quality, safety, and service. Solar is a prime example of how well heat treaters are making that commitment to excellence."

This technical information has been contributed by
Solar Atmospheres Inc.

Click on Company Name for a Detailed Profile

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