Business View Magazine interviews Herbert Gabriel, General Manager and VP of Sales for Ebner Furnaces, as part of our focus on best business practices.
Ebner Furnaces, Inc. is a global, family-owned company, specializing in the research, development, fabrication, installation, and commissioning of heat treatment facilities for the steel, aluminum, and copper-base metals industries. The original company, Ebner Industrieofenbau, was founded in Linz, Austria in 1948, by Josef Ebner, producing industrial furnace equipment for European companies recovering from the aftermath of the Second World War.
In 1975, Josef’s son, Peter, succeeded his father as Managing Director of Ebner Industrieofenbau. “He was a metallurgist by training, which obviously served our type of industry very well,” explains Herbert Gabriel, General Manager and Vice President of Sales for Ebner Furnaces’ U.S. facility in Wadsworth, Ohio. “He industrialized the hydrogen annealing process that was able to grow the company rapidly because the benefits of the technology were accepted pretty rapidly in all industrialized nations.”
Ebner’s furnaces employ a process called bright annealing, which uses a hydrogen atmosphere to heat treat metal. This causes the treated metals to be softer, more flexible, and shinier. Before Ebner introduced the hydrogen method in 1972, all furnaces used nitrogen as a method for heating metal, which, afterward had to be cleaned and polished. Hydrogen annealing served to eliminate the secondary steps. Bookshelves, automobile body parts, appliances, and cabinets are all products of this hydrogen annealing method.
By the mid-1980s, the company had grown to 500 people and in 1987, Ebner decided to expand into the United States, where it already had some customers. “It was initially intended to be a service center for existing customers,” says Gabriel. “But it’s a production location now, with 85 people, producing furnaces and providing after-sales customer service, some engineering services, project management, and sales for the North American market – the U.S., Canada, and Mexico.”
“In 2002, we had a similar situation in China, where we also had existing customers,” Gabriel continues. “So, we opened a location there in 2004. That company has grown to roughly 300 people. As a corporation, the Ebner companies have about 1,000 people now. The facility in China is mostly manufacturing, and also supplies components for systems throughout the world. We do the same here in Ohio; we build certain key components that we ship around the world. The people in Austria mostly concentrate, now, in research and development, engineering, sales, and service. China is a manufacturing powerhouse and we do a little bit of everything.”
In addition to its hydrogen annealing furnaces, which are only made by a handful of companies, Gabriel believes that what helps set Ebner Furnaces apart from the competition is its dedication to research and development. “We put between six and eight percent of our annual budget into R&D so, by comparison, our research and development facility in Austria is quite large,” he notes. “We have process metallurgists working who understand the technological requirements of our prospective customers, which is invaluable because we can design a whole process around a customer’s requirements and make sure that he gets what he set out to get.
“The second thing is our customer service organization. We don’t just look at a furnace system as a one-time event. The shortest part of the life of a furnace is really the design and build stage, but the rest of the life is operating the furnace, and we are right there with the customer with spare parts, with upgrades and modernizations and rebuilds. So, we have a fairly large customer service organization that can handle every aspect of the life of the furnace – parts, repairs, onsite services, electronic troubleshooting, remote connections, and so forth.”
While the company has mostly grown organically over the years, Gabriel says that it has made some strategic acquisitions, as well. In 2012, it bought Gautschi Engineering, which concentrates on melting furnaces for the aluminum industry, and in 2016, it acquired 51 percent of an Austrian firm called HPI High Performance Industries. “They also play in the aluminum industry, mostly, with aluminum casting machines, and ultrasonic testing of aluminum billets, and also some magnesium melting and casting equipment,” he says. “So, we have made some small and complementary acquisitions.”
Since the end of the Great Recession, the company has prospered to the point where it has expanded its factory in China, and is currently considering expanding its Ohio factory, as well. “We’ve made the necessary infrastructure adjustments and are continuing to do that,” Gabriel states. “We are looking at the next innovation to, essentially, double our customer service business in the next four years. We’d like to become a full solution provider for our customers – looking upstream of the furnace equipment and downstream of the furnace equipment – with any auxiliary equipment components that may be needed for material handling. It’s something that we have made great strides in and continue to do – to round out our offerings to our customers, so that we don’t just provide equipment, but are also responsible for installation, commissioning, and service.”
Gabriel adds that since taking over the company in 2008, Robert Ebner, Peter’s son, has been dedicated to customer service and reinvesting into the company. “And that has served us extremely well,” he declares. “We’re trying to provide solutions for customers’ problems. What’s good for the customer is good for us.”
AT A GLANCE
WHO: Ebner Furnaces, Inc.
WHAT: A fabricator of heat treatment facilities for the metal-based industries.
WHERE: Wadsworth, Ohio
Hohl Industrial Services Inc. – Hohl Industrial Services Inc. was founded in 1950 and is headquartered in Buffalo, New York, with operations in Cleveland, Ohio. The company operates as an industrial constructor that specializes in providing design-build, or general contractor services, for equipment intensive projects all over the Great Lakes Region, plus Ohio, New York, Tennessee, West Virginia, and Kentucky.
Hohl offers field services, including millwrighting, rigging, steel erection, heavy hauling, boiler repair, ASME work, warehousing, and marine and diving. It also provides fabricated structural steel, general fabrication, ASME fabrication work, material handling, equipment and machinery rebuilds, and metal buildings services.
Hohl provides fabricated structural steel for various types of construction projects, including industrial, and public and private applications. Its projects include filtration systems, forging plants, stamping presses, transformer hauls, ductworks, coal conveyors, and steel mills. The company serves the manufacturing, power, metals, and oil and chemical industries. In the public sector, Hohl has earned a reputation for the quality of its work in building and modernizing bridges, water, and waste water plants. – www.hohlind.com