A family-made business, Bodycote plc, was initially founded in a small, England market town in the early 1920s. Chances are the original owner, Arthur Bodycote, never expected the company to grow from a simple textile business to a global provider of subcontract thermal processing services. Today, Bodycote employs more than 5,000 employees worldwide.
“In fact, we’re currently the world’s largest provider of thermal processing services, which is really an umbrella term. But this includes processes such as heat-treating, metal-joining, surface technologies, and the like,” shares Derek Dandy, Bodycote’s strategic market manager for its Fasteners – S3P Division. “We have close to 200 locations now.”
Thermal processing is a vital part of the manufacturing process — including for fasteners — which uses a variety of techniques and specialized engineering processes to improve the properties of metals and alloys.
“A lot of our success comes from the company’s growth and acquisition strategy, having purchased several local and regional players over time, and then perfecting its capabilities,” says Dandy.
Over the decades, Bodycote went through several changes but remained focused on material specialization (including bullet-proof and flame-retardant clothing) — until 1979, when it acquired Blandburg, a heat-treatment business. Within a year, Bodycote made several other acquisitions including a zinc-alloy company, which marked the start of its coatings and surface technologies sector for metals and alloys.
In 2001, Bodycote made history, when it bought Lindberg Corporation, the largest heat-treatment business in the United States. The trend continues. Most recently, the company acquired Ellison Surface Technologies. With this recent addition, Bodycote will be one of the largest providers of thermal spray and engineered coating surface technology services, globally.
“I think what really separates us is our capacity and capabilities,” he says. “For example, most companies offering heat-treating services are typically a very local businesses. It’s certainly not cheap to move heavy steel halfway across the country. But Bodycote offers such a wide network of services, which operate in many different locations.”
The company has facilities in 23 countries so far. “This certainly gives us an important edge with customers in meeting deadlines, budgets, and quality assurance.”
Bodycote, according to Dandy, offers three major silos: aerospace and defense, energy, and the general industrial group.
“Our automotive market is part of the general industrial group and, together, these two sectors roughly constitute about 85 to 90% of our company’s revenue as a whole. Then, we have what I call the specialty technologies group, which is where my division falls,” he explains. “Here, we provide certain trademark processes, proprietary processes, and some very unique services that standard heat-treating companies would not offer.”
Dandy says this includes metal brazing, metal joining, and hot isostatic pressing. “The benefit is that we offer a one-stop-shop for many customers,” he adds.
One other unique service Bodycote offers is its exclusive Kolsterising. “This is our proprietary process that we developed in the Netherlands some 30-plus years ago. And we’ve kept it under wraps ever since with some remarkable results,” says Dandy.
Kolsterising is an industry-proven, surface-hardening technology for grades of stainless steel, cobalt, and nickel-based alloys. The result is an advanced metal or component hardness, with improved mechanical wear with zero loss of corrosion-resistance. “This is quite useful for certain properties and critical industries,” he says.
Once manufactured, most fasteners typically receive some type of heat-treating process. However, with some materials, such as the 300 series of stainless steel, this is virtually impossible because of the nature of the material, shares Dandy. “What happens if these materials are inherently soft or made with other components of the same material is a phenomenon called, galling.”
Galling is a type of wear caused by friction and adhesion between sliding surfaces. Typically, it occurs under a compressive load and results in damage to the structure of a component.
“Stainless steel alloys are commonly used in less-than-ideal conditions because of their corrosion-resistance. But these alloys are also subject to galling and wear-resistance, which can limit their range of applications,” he says. “In critical markets, such as the medical, semiconductor, or electronics sectors, it’s important to prevent component failure.”
This is where the Kolsterising process overcomes the galling phenomenon and improve wear-resistance and fatigue strength. (Learn more here.)
“And this is really where we shine,” says Dandy. “By offering customers a process that doesn’t exist elsewhere and providing a reliable and repeatable solution for fasteners.”
Bodycote also maintains some of the highest production standards for quality and safety, holding an extensive list of accreditations from key global customers, platforms, and standard agencies across all market sectors.
Currently, the company is also still proving its worth by providing many of its propriety services to critical industries. It’s been deemed an essential manufacturer during the COVID-19 pandemic, with the majority of its facilities still operating.
“At this time, we are providing essential business and, particularly, for instruments and devices for the medical market. That’s obviously extremely important right now,” says Dandy. “One other large market that we’re supporting is the food and beverage industry — which in many ways is just as critical because we all still need to eat.”
Of course, Bodycote is following the appropriate safety and health procedures to ensure safety for its employees and customers. “We’re always striving for excellence and are most appreciative of all of our customers and want to wish everyone the best during these challenging times,” says Dandy.