A truly versatile and innovative company, Wellman Furnaces Inc. rarely ever does the same thing twice. The provider of high-temperature, heat-processing solutions offers customized engineering of fuel-fired and electrically heated furnaces and other heat-processing systems. Based in Indiana, Wellman serves customers across the world with extensive experience and engineering expertise, Dan Harvey reports.
President and Co-Owner Jay Cherry tends to be a bit modest when he describes Wellman Furnaces, Inc.’s mission. “It’s not glamorous work,” he says.
However, his humble assessment hides a fire that burns deep inside, as Wellman Furnaces integrates innovation with engineering and design strength that capably solves its clients’ heat-processing problems.
Expanding beyond his initial reticence, Cherry reveals, “We’re truly an engineering and manufacturing enterprise. Specifically, Wellman is an original equipment manufacturer of industrial heat processing systems such as industrial furnaces, but our innovative nature has enabled us to branch into other niche areas.”
Further, Wellman Furnaces has accomplished its characteristic customized engineering of fuel-fired and electrically heated furnaces and heat processing systems for more than 50 years. “We don’t produce standard products,” emphasizes Cherry. “Customers come to us with problems they can’t deal with, so everything we do is specially engineered.”
As such, the versatile Wellman organization rarely does the same thing twice, Cherry indicates. “We’re always designing, building and engineering something different.”
GLOBAL CUSTOMER BASE
Wellman Furnaces is headquartered in Shelbyville, Ind., but its customers are located across the world and operate in a broad range of industries. Not only has Wellman worked closely with many U.S. firms, but it has also garnered extensive nternational experience by working with clients in countries such as Canada, China, Egypt, India, Japan, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, South Korea and Thailand, as well as countries throughout Europe.
“Generally, our customers are large industrial users involved with in-house steel processing, or anyone that’s doing something with steel, or applying heat to any kind of material,” informs Cherry.
Wellman Furnace provides that clientele with broad-based experience that transcends decades, making it uniquely equipped to design, manufacture and install the requisite heat processing systems. It can build a wide range of furnaces including continuous or batch process, small or large load, long or short cycle, fixed or variable process, electric or fuel-fired.
COMPREHENSIVE BUSINESS MODEL
Wellman employs what it calls a Concept-to-Completion business model that effectively meets clients’ heat-processing requirements. Describing how this model works, Cherry explains, “Typically, the customer doesn’t have a solution, or they have a solution that isn’t working, so we’ll work with the customers’ overall requirements to come up with our design.”
Within this model, the Wellman team begins by carefully analyzing an application. Next, the company engineers a workable solution concept that deploys proven components. “We’ll work with the customers in developing and engineering the most appropriate design,” says Cherry.
Ultimately, field service engineers complete a project by installing and starting up the equipment.
Wellman’s highly skilled and experienced furnace builders produce the equipment at the company’s Shelbyville factory, a 25,000-square-foot facility situated on six acres. “Even though it is an older facility, it was constructed to build long production furnaces,” describes Cherry.
The plant includes five bridge cranes (with two that have 20-ton capacities) and a well-equipped machine shop. But Wellman owners have prepared the site for physical growth. “We’re currently in an expansion project that will add a larger facility to the existing operations,” informs Cherry.
BEGAN WITH GE
An enterprise with a rich lineage, Wellman Furnaces traces its beginnings to General Electric’s Industrial Heating Department, which shifted its operation from Schenectady, N.Y., to Shelbyville in 1955. In 1979, Wellman PLC, a British company, purchased the Shelbyville operations from GE and renamed it Wellman Furnaces Inc. and retained all personnel for the design, manufacture and marketing of industrial heating equipment.
In 1988, the Shelbyville facility managers then bought the business. They operated the furnace company along with seven other Wellman companies until 2003, when Wellman Furnaces, Inc. became part of Precious Technology Group, LLC, also of Shelbyville. Despite the change in ownership, Wellman Furnaces retained its entire engineering staff and continued operating as a global supplier of custom-engineered heat-treating furnaces, heat transfer systems, control systems, field service/start-up, engineering/consulting and renewal parts for the heat treating industry.
FOCUSED ON FURNACES
Furnaces remain the company’s focal point, and Wellman supplies all types. A significant part of its activities is centered on industrial furnaces. Examples include roller hearth furnaces, designed for lamination annealing, tube annealing and many other processes; rotary hearth furnaces, which are useful in a number of processes including forging and forming, hardening, tempering, stress relieving and annealing; mesh belt furnaces, designed for continuous blackening, brazing, annealing and sintering of light parts or assemblies in controlled atmospheres; and cast link belt furnaces, used for continuous hardening, tempering and annealing of irregular and randomly spaced loads such as forgings, casting and fasteners.
Wellman also produces bell type furnaces, used for annealing, brazing, stress relieving, oxide reduction and sintering; car bottom furnaces, used for annealing, normalizing and stress relieving bars, tubes, forgings, large weldments and castings; and tie up furnaces, where better atmosphere control and temperature uniformity are necessary.
In addition, the company builds special purpose furnaces, including the fuel-fired roller hearth incineration furnace system engineered and built for the U.S. Army’s program for the destruction of chemical weapon stockpiles. “We’ve been doing a lot of work with the government on demilitarization zones, in terms of getting rid of toxic substances like nerve gas,” explains Cherry. “The furnace systems we developed effectively incinerate such agents.”
Other special purpose technology includes electrically heated furnaces such as catenary type furnaces for annealing stainless steel mesh screens; pit furnaces for heat treating gun tubes for M1A1 tanks; chain conveyor furnaces for heat treating and blackening CRT aperture screens and the high-temperature pusher sintering furnaces for processing nuclear fuel material.
Wellman also offers elevator-type vacuum furnaces for processing carbon/carbon composite aerospace components, and horizontal chamber vacuum furnaces to test components used in the international space station.
Further, Wellman has developed radiant coil furnaces for the process heating of liquids and gases to high temperatures over a range of operating pressures, where the combination of temperature and pressure make heating techniques practical. “Its ideal for heating with very corrosive liquids or gasses,” adds Cherry. “The radiant coil furnace has been one of our most significant innovations.”
Wellman has designed and built numerous radiant coil furnaces for various applications that involve the heating of air, acids or mixtures of natural gas and steam.
Wellman also offers special systems and engineering services. The company works with clients who designed a concept for a process or system that requires creation of practical equipment for commercialization. Specifically, Wellman performs the necessary thermal and mechanical analyses, mass and energy balances and designs and/or sizes the basic necessary components and integrates these into a workable system.
Its special engineering services include evaluation of equipment alternatives, thermal FEA analysis, concept development and evaluation, thermal process modeling and evaluation, and final design development.
With 50-plus years of experience related to most furnace types, Wellman has developed the foresight to anticipate and avoid costly problems. While the company may not consider itself and its work as “glamorous,” it certainly has no problem drawing the attention of large organizations throughout the world that find Wellman’s distinctive capabilities invaluable.