The impact of the Bucknell University Small Business Development Center’s (SBDC) technical assistance to Hoeganaes Corporation is dramatic and concrete. Resolving a chemical compounding issue allowed Hoeganaes to reopen a business relationship with an overseas customer--and save jobs.
Hoeganaes, established in 1968, is a world leader in the manufacture of powdered metal, supplying material to the automotive, hand tool, and hydraulics industries. Specialty parts can produced from powdered metal at a lower cost than by traditional metal working methods such machining, casting, stamping, and forging. One particular high-strength product is used to design small lightweight parts especially desired in some of today’s most energy efficient cars.
Unfortunately, a roadblock to the product’s market acceptance appeared when a customer began complaining of an unpleasant odor when processing the powdered metal. The customer discontinued its purchase of the product as Hoeganaes was unable to duplicate the odor at their manufacturing site or determine what it was or how it was being formed in their process.
Hugh Weber, plant engineer at Hoeganaes, first heard of the SBDC from a contractor working with him at the Watsontown manufacturing facility. He was encouraged to inquire whether their specialty Engineering Development Services could help them solve the problem.
Tapping into the technical expertise and world class laboratory facilities at Bucknell University, Jeremy Horning, a chemical engineering student consultant with the SBDC, performed analytical testing of samples to identify the odor-causing compounds present in their product. Then, armed with the identity of the troublesome chemical species, Jeremy and his faculty advisor, Professor Jim Maneval, investigated how this compound was being formed.
Laboratory experiments were designed and carried out on samples to model conditions in the manufacturing process, in transit to the customer, and at the customer’s site. Results of the experiments and analysis discovered two possible mechanisms creating the odorous compound, allowing Hoeganaes to direct their continued development of a solution to mitigate the odor.
Weber said helped him to recapture former clients and expand business. “It helped us open markets overseas,” he said.
Hoeganaes had been losing to foreign competition in a particular market area for several years, but were able to regain footing with the SBDC’s help. In fact, sales increased by $1 million.
The collaboration has allowed Hoeganaes’ employment to remain stable, keeping its 25 employees in their jobs.The SBDC’s solution will also allow for a higher level of research in the Watsontown facility.