Learning Lessons the Right Way: By Building

When Steve Driscol started Thermal-Vac’s first brazing facility in Orange, California, he did it on his own. Although he was an expert in his craft, he knew little about what was needed to build an industrial brazing shop from the ground up. To make it work, he rolled up his sleeves and figured it out.

Steve’s son, Sean, hears the echoes of his dad’s experience as the buildout of Thermal-Vac Arizona takes shape.

“The best part of the buildout is the experience of doing it,” Sean says. “When my dad started Orange, he had to build the shop and find customers on his own. Getting the experience of running a business and making it survive when it’s starting from nothing has taught me things I wouldn’t know otherwise.”

A new kind of tough

Launching Thermal-Vac Arizona from scratch hasn’t been easy. Mastering local permitting requirements and keeping the dance of contractors well-choreographed aren’t familiar jobs for a guy used to working with his hands. “Some of it has been painful,” Sean admits, “but if I could do it again, I would. The next time would be a lot easier.”

“The biggest thing is to have patience,” Sean says. “Making permitting requirements work for your business is a necessity. You have to understand the perspective of local agencies and work with them to address their concerns. Frustration isn’t productive.”

The fun stuff

It hasn’t all been gnashing teeth and untangling knots. A new shop means finding new suppliers, which means finding kindred spirits. “You need people you’re comfortable with,” Sean says. “These are long-term partners you’ll be fighting side-by-side with to earn business. The communication needs to be there. Finding great suppliers is always exciting.”

They’ve had some fun with paint colors, too. “You get to be creative when building something from nothing: purple furnaces, insane walls, just joking around is fun,” Sean says. “Each wall is a different outrageous color. We call one ‘obnoxious orange.’ We’ll see what folks think about it after working there.” 

Dialing in the gear

For the hands-on crew, configuring the equipment is also fun.

“After twenty years of working with vacuum furnaces, configuring them isn’t very hard. To an outsider, it can look tough. Transporting and resetting it are involved processes. All the seals need to be tight, so O-rings need replacing and testing.”

To qualify the new furnaces, the team will perform tests using three or four samples with varying degrees of complexity and sensitivity to the atmosphere. Materials like inconel-718, titanium, and 321 stainless each have their own cycles. 

Several calibrations are also necessary before being released for production. Thermal-Vac calibrates all of its furnace equipment to the rigorous requirements of AMS 2750, the aerospace standard for pyrometry. It ensures that the furnace and instrumentation are all within the required tolerances.

“Every machine may be a little different,” Sean says. “Knowing those differences is essential for getting good results. For example, you may find that you only run certain materials through one furnace, maybe because it has a better vacuum or tolerances, while you reserve another for other purposes.”

Alongside the furnaces are the computers and control surfaces. “We’ve got state-of-the-art computer control here,” Sean says. “It duplicates what we have in Orange, but it’s a lot newer and shinier.”

Thermal-Vac Arizona won’t only be about the gear. “Our full fabrication process management service is distinctive,” Sean says. “We’re handling that work while we get our physical processes fully online.”

Ready to scratch the itch

Sean is eager to get started. After two years dominated by paperwork, he’s looking forward to getting his hands on the equipment again. “I enjoy doing the low-tech stuff, the manual torches,” he says. “Manual processes are ideal for teaching new hires how to braze. They’re also the most fun.”

Are you looking for expert brazing and heat treating in northern Arizona? Want to know more about what we can do? Give us a call—we’re old-fashioned and like to talk—at (714) 997-2601.
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