June 30, 2014
Hayden Corp. has persevered over a century of change. It began as a supplier of wire cloth sold to the papermaking industry. Now it makes use of some of the most advanced surfacing technologies available.
Dan Hayden’s grandfather probably wouldn’t believe how the company he launched in 1919 has evolved. Hayden Corp. began as a supplier of wire cloth for papermaking. That wire cloth was used in cylinder molds that lifted pulp out of chests and into a network of rollers to make paper. Now Hayden’s grandson operates an entirely different business, one focused on surfacing technologies both old and new: thermal spray, arc processes, and laser beam cladding, as well as machining. That’s a rare technology mix, especially for a shop of 38 people.
Hayden’s history illustrates how, amid news of plant closings and broader economic shifts, small manufacturers quietly adapt and persevere over the decades. In the early 20th century, Hayden’s shop floor had looms for making wire cloth; today it has some of the most advanced industrial laser equipment (see Figure 1).
Beginning as Hayden Wire Works, the company made wire cloth that covered cylinder molds (see Figure 2), giant cylinders that lifted paper pulp out of stock chests and into a network of rollers.
They also rebuilt and repaired the cylinder molds themselves, and over the years technicians began to learn how those cylinder molds wore. From that they developed their own cylinder-mold product, replacing a filigree design with a specialty casting with sturdy interior ribs. Eventually, as the paper industry moved away from cylinder molds and toward cast rolls, the company got out of the cylinder mold business altogether.
Studying how those cylinder molds wore over time, though, provided the foundation for Hayden Corp.’s future trajectory: protection against wear and corrosion. For a time the company offered additional products to the paper industry, but its focus on wear protection grew, mainly because paper mills are filled with rotating machinery subject to wear. In the 1950s the company offered powdered flame spraying, then plasma spray, and finally high-velocity oxyfuel (HVOF) thermal spray in the 1980s.
It also diversified its customer base beyond papermaking. It had to. Today nearby Holyoke is still known as Paper City, and the whole town was built with the paper industry in mind. You can still see the network of canals built in the 1800s. At one point they powered more than two dozen paper mills. But as the industry declined, both in Holyoke and throughout the Northeast, Hayden needed to adapt.
“My father [Charles Wesley Hayden] really focused on diversifying away from paper,” said Dan Hayden, the current president of Hayden Corp.
“Paper was drying up as an industry in the area. A lot of the push toward new technology was driven by trying to serve more demanding markets.”
Today this includes oil and gas, a sector that pushed the company toward laser cladding, in which a laser melts powdered metal to deposit a precise layer of surfacing material. Thermal spray customers began asking about the process in 2004, when Hayden was a $4 million company—a big investment for a relatively small business. But after several years Hayden finally took the plunge, and its first machine came online in 2007.
Unlike thermal spray, laser cladding deposits material that fuses to the substrate. Unlike traditional arc processes, laser cladding has a dilution zone—the area where the substrate and clad material mix—that can be extremely thin and precisely controlled, which in turn lowers the process’s overall heat input and prevents workpiece distortion (see Figure 3).
Hayden uses 3-D modeling and scanning software to simulate the cladding process before sending the job to the floor. “The cladding goes only where you tell it to go. You need to be able to program the machine tool to make it follow complex contours. A substantial amount of software is involved,” Hayden said. “Creating good code is essential.”
Laser cladding is also highly controllable, so much so that it can be adapted to become a near-net-shape process. A laser can build up components layer by layer to meet precise geometry requirements. If a technician mismachined an expensive part, laser cladding can add back material that shouldn’t have been cut away in the first place. If a worn component needs to be repaired, it can resurface the worn component and sometimes make it stronger than it was when new. It also allows for cost-effective designs of critical components. Instead of creating an entire part out of an expensive alloy, the laser can add the material only where needed.
Hayden emphasized, though, that the company doesn’t push the process unless it makes sense to do so. “We don’t try to push the latest and greatest process on every application,” he said. Thermal spray coatings have their advantages. They may be only mechanically bonded, but that may be all an application requires. And thermal spray is portable, allowing Hayden to send teams to customer plants to treat large machinery. Cladding with a welding arc also has its merits, particularly if part distortion isn’t an issue.
Laser cladding has another hurdle that’s common for any relatively new technology. “We haven’t come across any legacy specifications,” Hayden said. The company sells its laser cladding to OEM customers, especially in the oil and gas sector, but complications arise when selling the service to smaller operations or to certain industries, because there are no legacy specifications or other process documents to draw from. “It’s not like thermal spray,” Hayden said. “It doesn’t have an ancient history of documentation.”
Laser cladding does spur the engineer’s imagination. “We’ve had a lot of off-the-wall projects come in,” Hayden recalled. “We’ve been near-net-shaping a lot of things, from turbine vanes to valve components, building them up layer by layer out of hard or corrosion-resistant materials.”
Some one-off jobs have involved restoring components that just aren’t available anymore, including parts for antique cars and tractors. One entailed a worm gear for a 1945 John Deere Model L tractor. Hayden scanned a similar piece into modeling software and developed a cladding program to build up a hard-wearing steel alloy on the worm gear’s tapers, 0.040 in. per side. The small laser spot size and tight process control limited heat input, so that in the end the worm gear itself never exceeded 180 degrees F.
For the most part, though, the shop’s laser cladding work has focused on surfacing of higher-volume components, including drill components. It’s what got the shop to take the plunge into the high-end process in 2007, and in retrospect the timing wasn’t the greatest. But in 2007 oil was selling for about $135 a barrel, and business at some of Hayden’s oil and gas clients was booming.
Hayden invested in a TRUMPF 5-axis CO2 laser (see Figure 4), and work from the oil sector flowed in. At first the system primarily deposited tungsten carbide overlays over drill tools, an application that hit laser cladding’s sweet spot. The application required a metallurgical bond, but welding would cause distortion, ruining the tight tolerances achieved by previous machining.
“But by the time 2009 rolled around and the price of oil dropped significantly, orders were canceled,” Hayden said. “By that point, though, we had introduced the technology to a lot of our existing thermal spray customers—those in the valve market and elsewhere—so we had the business. But it was not the flood of business we were expecting.”
Times have of course changed dramatically in the oil and gas sector. The shale gas boom has sent drill tool production through the roof, which in turn has greatly benefited Hayden’s laser cladding business. The company invested in a second laser cladding machine and a third is slated to be delivered in August. Both are powered by TRUMPF disk lasers, and being fiber-delivered, the processing head can reach into confined areas.
Perhaps the greatest benefit of the solid-state laser has been its 1-micron wavelength. The CO2 laser’s 10.6-micron wavelength can be quite reflective, especially in a cladding operation in which the beam is essentially shining down onto a melt pool. “You have the laser beam directed on a very shiny, spectacular reflector,” Hayden said. “Some of that energy is going to make it into the melt pool, while the rest is being bounced off back at the machine.” This has made proper machine guarding very important in cladding operations.
The 1-micron wavelength, though, isn’t so reflective. “Increased absorption [of laser energy] is really appreciated by the cladding industry,” Hayden said. “There is far less energy being reflected, which means you can melt the same amount of powder with a lot less laser power, so it’s more cost-effective to operate.”
Today laser cladding makes up about a quarter of the company’s revenue, and Hayden said that percentage is growing, but he also said the company isn’t betting the farm solely on the technology or on one industry, particularly one as volatile as oil and gas.
Overall the company is moving more into production work—that is, parts designed with cladding in mind, with wear- or corrosion-resistant cladding deposited over a less expensive substrate—and the higher volumes are spurring revenue growth. But Hayden hasn’t forgotten its roots. While the laser deposits high-end alloys onto high-value parts, teams of thermal spray technicians still visit paper mills, with portable thermal spray equipment in tow, to do what the company has been doing for nearly half a century: giving new life to old components.
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