We are very pleased to be able to offer you this interview with Mr. Ben Crawford, CEO & President of Contour, formerly known as Contour Hardening.
Ben, you are one of only two people in the heat treating industry that we have interviewed twice, the other one being Mr. John Hubbard and I have to say I enjoyed the first interview a few years back http://themonty.wpengine.com/ben-crawford/. You have had a fascinating career over the years, one of the most varied in the industry I would suggest. Could you please give us a bit of a background?
Thank you, Gord. Wow, I cannot believe it’s been 5-years since my last interview. I’m honored to have been placed in the same company as Mr. Hubbard. I’d like to congratulate him on his recent achievements on the award shows and acknowledge the influence that he has had on the heat-treating industry.
I started my career in 1992 at Harbor Metal Treating-South Bend, IN which eventually became part of the Bluewater Group. From 1988-1992 I attended Indiana State University and achieved a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration. While working at Bodycote I earned a Masters of Business Administration from Bethel College.
Over the past twenty-five years, I’m proud that I have worked for the largest commercial heat-treaters in North America. I worked for Bodycote as Regional Operations Manager under Mr. Hubbard’s leadership. I also worked side by side with Mr. Mike Wellham at Bluewater as COO. Mike influenced my background and taught me how to think strategically. He contracted and introduced me to the Corps Groups (MTI YES Program). Prior to becoming CEO & President for Contour, I worked for Paulo (Ben Rassieur) as VP of Operations. I can say (and know) that Paulo is a terrific company that I truly enjoyed working side by side with the family. Each company has diverse ownership structures (public, private equity, private) and has rounded my background to achieve goals that are important to their structure. However, two goals always remain true….take care of the customer and create the opportunities that increase revenue.
Based on your background your involvement with Contour is a bit of a tangent for you since most of your working career has been in commercial heat treating. How did this come about?
Actually, my move to Contour isn’t as much of a tangent as you might think. With plants located in Indianapolis, Indiana and Silao, Mexico, Contour is first and foremost an engineering company; an engineering company that also provides commercial induction heat-treat processing.
The strength of Contour is that we utilize engineering to solve complex problems. We stand side by side with our customers to solve complex dimensional issues through a data-based scientific process that allows us to scientifically guarantee processing repeatability.
What also sets us apart from our competition is that we design and engineer all of our induction systems. It’s through this process that we are able to guarantee capability and build in repeatable processing standards. Additionally, we are well equipped to automate and service equipment as an OEM.
However, the majority of our engineering, resources, and revenues comes from commercial heat-treat.
I am rather embarrassed to say that I don’t know a great deal about the company or what you have to offer. Could you tell us about the technology behind the company?
Contour’s in-house testing laboratory ensures every run is being processed according to data-based and scientifically engineered specifications. The guesswork is eliminated and repeatability can be guaranteed.
Contour patented and originated the “Micropulse” technology used in our induction design. This allowed for fast heat-up and quench cycles to maintain stringent dimensions on gears. During Contour’s history, the company has expanded significantly in engineering and automation. The engineering team includes metallurgy, mechanical, and electrical/controls engineering. Contour is staffed with a talented team of engineers that love the challenge of solving complex problems. It’s our in-house engineering capabilities that make Contour unique in the market and has become a vital resource for our customers. We will soon have a Press Release announcing our growth plan and future service offerings and capabilities.
So where and who are your customers? For example, are you mainly North America or global? Manufacturers or commercial heat treaters?
The company was founded on Allison and General Motors. Today, GM continues to be a very important customer. During this time Contour has played an important role in providing processed transmission gears. The tradition carries on today with 8, 9 and 10-speed components. Beyond automotive, we also have helped companies such as Boeing and Rolls Royce.
How about the company itself? How large is it in terms of sales, the number of employees and locations?
Contour has three locations; Contour-Indianapolis, Contour-Mexico, and REALPOWER-Indianapolis.
REALPOWERhas developed technology that provides clean electricity using a diesel engines power take-off (PTO) and a generator. This provides the mobility of power without pulling behind-the-truck generators.
We have recently joined the Metal Treating Institute and have reported sales less than $20.0M (less REALPOWER) with approximately 100 employees.
Do you have many competitors or is your technology relatively unique to Contour?
What makes Contour unique is our ability to scientifically solve problems and automate production lines. Another item that makes Contour unique is that our installed captive lines, and those in-house, both include the use of robotics. Contour’s heat-treat lines are all-inclusive and include part washing, processing, dimensional testing and eddy current. This provides consistent and reliable parts and data for our customers while minimizing variation. I’m proud to announce once again General Motors has awarded: Contour 2017 Supplier of the Year.
I haveto ask you this although you might not want to answer-do you have a financial stake in the company?
Today, Contour remains owned by approximately 100 shareholders. We do expect the ownership structure to change in 2018. Shareholders do include key management ownership as well.
So how is Contour doing these days? My personal feeling is that these are the good times in the industry, are you seeing the same thing?
Business is strong. We see market opportunities and have plans to grow.
What plans do you have for the company that you can share with us?
We are rebranding Contour. We have such a talented team, resources and a proud customer base that we offer much more than induction services. We have engaged the Corps Group to facilitate strategic planning, purchasing new technology (more details to come), and currently installing another robotic line that will be operational 1st Q 2019.
I always like asking this question although it is a difficult one to ask. Where do you see the industry going? For instance is additive manufacturing going to drastically alter the nature of heat treating as we know it? What about electric cars? If (and it is a very big if in my opinion) they end up taking over the market will this precipitate a dramatic decrease in the amount of heat treating required?
Contour’s plants in Indianapolis, Indiana, and Silao, Mexico offer a “local feel” with global reach.
I don’t see heat-treating coming to an end. I believe the advancement to process parts using technologies that improve dimensional control and cleanliness will grow. In working with large, OEM’s there is a global initiative to use materials and technologies that decrease the risk of contamination, improve performance and provide clean parts.
If you had to name the one thing that separates Contour from the rest of the heat treat pack, what would it be?
As I mentioned earlier, we like to solve complex problems. Contour’s in-house engineering resources are second to none. Our process is that we scientifically collect data to solve our client’s problems. We are unique in that Contour is engineering intensive.
Contour has historically positioned itself as an Induction Heat Treat system manufacturer and contract processing provider. Under your leadership, will induction continue to be the company’s sole focus?
We are excited to announce that Contour is much more than just its induction-rich history. We chose to rebrand because we provide more than just heat treat processing services. We also offer dimensional inspection, micrographic evaluation and provide “white” glove service. I don’t believe there’s any better compliment in business than when a customer offers a testimonial to the entire planet: Contour is GM’s 2017 Supplier of the Year.
Over the years, Contour has made a substantial investment in building a talented team of engineers, metallurgists and support staff. What is your ROI strategy?
We will continue to invest heavily in our engineered services team. Being able to solve complex problems are the skills and knowledge are what our clients are looking for.
The Contour approach will not be “it depends”. We will collect data and scientifically work closely with our partners to provide solutions.
Problems continue to be more complex and companies that have internal talent to address and solve problems will become more and more credible and valuable.
Gord, I’m thankful for the opportunity to provide you with my second interview. The heat-treating industry and the people within it have been very important in my life. For all the people that I’ve worked closely with…I want to say THANK YOU.
I hope to see you all in my hometown of Indianapolis for the upcoming FNA 2018.
I thank you for the time Ben and look forward to a third interview down the road.
Visit contourhardening.comfor more information about their services and capabilities.