Genius makes the difference for NobelClad, the world leader in explosion welding.
You read that correctly: genius. (We’re not being allegorical.) If you think metals knowledge is one of industry’s ho-hum necessities, think again—and read on.
As a form of metallurgical bonding, explosion welding requires unique talent and the best scientific and engineering methods to execute properly.
In a nutshell, this solid state welding process is exquisitely precise, stunningly fast, and most assuredly final. Explosion welding, or explosion cladding as it is also called, joins traditionally incompatible metals while retaining the characteristics of both.
“Our advanced technology for joining dissimilar material is unmatched in the industry,” explained NobelClad President John Scheatzle. “From cost-effective corrosion resistance and temperature uniformity to reduced weight, explosion welded products offer solutions across many industries.”
Traditional welding technologies, such as roll bond and weld overlay, only create reliable bonds with compatible materials. While it’s possible to affix incompatible metals with nuts and bolts, corrosion and other problems still exist.
One of These Metals is Not Like the Other, and That’s a Very Good Thing
“Typically, we clad steel with a thin layer of corrosion-resistant alloy metal, such as stainless steel, brass, nickel, silver, titanium, or zirconium,” Scheatzle continued.
That’s not to say the opportunities for this specialty bonding process is limited: the process is used to fuse many kinds of compatible and non-compatible metals in over 260 combinations.
Because the weld takes milliseconds, the materials corrosion and mechanical properties aren’t degraded because of bulk heating. The resulting material delivers the high shear strength and high tensile strength required in extreme and demanding applications, particularly in the oil and gas and chemical and petrochemical industries.
Take petrochemical uses, for instance. “You need reactive material like zirconium or titanium to stand up to the process environment operating in a corrosive, high-temperature setting that deteriorates steel, but you also need the steel from a construction and strength standpoint,” Scheatzle elaborated.
“It’s possible to use solid corrosion resistant alloys in some cases, but it may not have suitable mechanical properties, be friendly to work with on the equipment’s exterior, and in many cases, it would cost a fortune. Hybrid material technology with titanium on the inside and steel on the outside is the optimal solution in a lot of those areas.”
The technology benefits of explosion welding reach to transportation-related applications, where weight management and flexibility in design are top challenges.
“Rail car construction requires the body to be made of steel at the bottom and aluminum at the top. Transition joints provide the reliability and longevity needed to connect the dissimilar material. It’s a fuel efficiency play for the manufacturer as well as a productivity one; now, instead of bolting things together on the assembly line, they can use automated welding robots to weld the steel to the aluminum.”
In an increasingly competitive global market, the union of technical prowess and ingenuity is key to NobelClad’s success as the leading explosion welding company.
“We are continually working on new applications for clad in a variety of markets,” he said. “Our global capabilities allow NobelClad to handle large-scale projects with demanding customer needs.”
Nerves of Steel: Managing a Unique Supply Chain
Of course, behind any successful global organization is an exemplary organizational and production structure.
“A key part of managing our supply chain is the people we have in place,” noted Kuni Etuk, NobelClad’s Global Supply Chain Director. “Our product, as a whole, is unique. Because of that, some of our supplier requirements are unique.”
As a result, significant time is devoted to educating suppliers about NobelClad’s very specific needs.
“In addition, ensuring standard supply chain reliability, on-time delivery, and negotiating pricing, we spend a lot of time with our suppliers defining requirements for metals and the explosion clad welding process. Our European purchasing manager has about 25 years of experience cultivating our suppliers,” she said. “If raw materials don’t meet our high level of quality, once bonded the result will leave our customers with very expensive scrap. Communicating quality upfront with our suppliers is a very big deal for us.”
“A key part of our work is helping customers use our materials. Before somebody builds a big pressure vessel out of an explosion welded piece of material, they’re going to want to know if it’s going to work or fail. We test our materials to reassure our customers that the material will work in their application.”
As a result, the company’s quality team is closely involved with the supply team.
The Quality Supply Team
The importance of strategic alliances that strengthen the chain can’t be underestimated. Suppliers are segmented into two categories: commodity suppliers and strategic suppliers. The commodity suppliers provide low-complexity, short-lead-time items that come right off the floor. The strategic suppliers provide high-value, niche items that are highly technical in nature and may require longer lead times to order.
“We’ve developed strategic alliances with suppliers who stock finished raw materials as well as intermediate material, all of which are designed to shorten our lead times and ensure material availability,” Etuk said.
“Having these kinds of carefully-crafted partnerships allows us to book some of the larger orders that we get. If it weren’t for the relationships that we’ve built with some of our key suppliers over 50 years of being in business, it would be much more difficult to meet some of our customer orders and requirements, as well as meeting the limits we place on our incoming material based on our bonding requirements.”
Working the Rush Order
Rush orders are common, regardless of the high specificity of the component supply, and that reality drives NobelClad to obtain raw materials through distribution channels rather than mills.
“In distribution, material suppliers cut and ship within a couple of days, whereas a mill order can take weeks to deliver,” she said.
On the other hand, meticulous planning is essential when working in industries where planned shutdowns are the norm, such as in the chemical and oil and gas sectors.
“Whether it’s a refinery or another organization,” she pointed out, “there’s a short period of time where equipment is shut down. Every day they’re not running that equipment is a day they’re losing money, so extending shutdowns is not a financially viable option. Being able to meet the lead time we commit to is critical to helping them maintain that shutdown schedule.”
Ensuring Efficiency on a Cellular Level
Eliminating duplication is a key part of NobelClad’s supply chain strategy.
“Duplication is waste in any part of the supply chain,” Etuk stated.
With production facilities in the U.S. and Europe, the company benefits from having the flexibility to work from two sites.
“We’ve focused on creating one process that works for both facilities, especially when it comes to qualifying new suppliers. By leveraging past best practices from the U.S. and Europe we’ve been able to develop a singular practice... Now we’re all marching to the same rhythm.”
Another aspect of efficiency in Etuk’s milieu is managing the complexity of specification review. She reported that the company has streamlined that process to ensure that specs are on point from the very beginning. Clearly defined roles ensure that the review process is swift and complete.
Additionally, the company created a sourcing role to assist its domestic suppliers.
“Prior to doing that, we had each salesperson handling their own inquiry of raw materials. Having a strategic sourcing role has allowed us to examine not just the raw materials and supply chain needs for a particular order, but rather the need for NobelClad as a whole,” Etuk said.
Today, procurement is handled not by the sales team but by NobelClad’s in-house operation, freeing up sales talent to excel at developing and maintaining customer relationships.
Bonding Across the Pond—and the Globe
NobelClad’s stable of suppliers support global operations. The company’s customer growth has led to success in the U.S., Europe, China, the Middle East, and South Korea, consequently opening up new sets of expectations to be managed on the supplier side.
“The specification requirements are a bit different,” Etuk admitted. “We may be making the same product we’re used to, but, depending on the geography, a customer may have additional requirements and inspections, so we have to quickly modify our process, especially on the supplier end, to be able to accommodate new tests, or new methods of shipment that they’re not used to. That’s the challenge of adapting to a more global customer base.”
In producing its customized multi-metal plates, NobelClad often buys one kind of metal from a supplier on one continent, and the second metal from a supplier on another continent. Manufacturing the finished clad product may be done in the U.S., and the final product could be shipped to a customer on yet another continent.
“That type of global movement of goods is standard for us. Although we are a smaller company, we deal in a very global environment. We send material all over the world, and we also procure materials from all over the world. That flexibility and the ability to work with any geography is a requirement for anybody in this organization.”
Supply Chain as a Magnet for the Best and Brightest
“Attracting new talent from the incoming young professional workforce requires work in a more global environment that offers technological innovation, and supply chain is adapting to meet that.”
Noting that the most effective companies apply up-to-the-minute technologies and tools to enhance productivity and efficiency, Etuk sees that as a way to bring fresh faces into the practice of supply chain management and into the enterprise as a whole.
“In our industry there’s a gap that exists, not just in supply chain but in a number of areas when it comes to attracting talent. For NobelClad, that’s been met by thinking outside the box,” Etuk pointed out.
That kind of thinking is hardly problematic for a company that can permanently join silver to steel. Take Etuk’s background as an engineer specializing in procurement, first for the aerospace industry and then for a software engineering enterprise.
“The company was willing to take a chance; to train me on the metal, understanding that I would add value on the sourcing side of it. That willingness to step outside and bring in talent from other areas and industries and scale it up into supply chain—I think that’s going to be the way to fill the gap,” she posited.
Bonding for Success
Bringing everything together, NobelClad continually strives to make a difference for its’ customers. “We take a partnership approach with our customers instead of just shipping metal,” Scheatzle commented.
“The supply chain on these kinds of projects is fragmented, and we have the ability to manage critical vendors all over the world. There are complicated schedules and critical deliveries,” he reiterated.
“Big industrial projects can’t handle being six months late. An unreliable supplier on a project can cost millions of dollars. We pride ourselves on being dependable. What Kuni’s brought to the table just brings us an extra measure of reliability that our clients’ value, and it further cements our number one position.”
In addition to the company’s work in the transportation, oil and gas, and chemical spaces, NobelClad’s ability to create hybrid materials that meet extraordinary demands has positioned them as a go-to supplier to the marine, defense, industrial refrigeration, and power generation industries.
“It goes back to having a specialized technology that’s solved a variety of problems, and the applications are very, very technical. We have the engineering staff to help our customers use that material, we invest in technology and application development, and we’re a world leader in the technology,” Scheatzle added. “We can provide support to our customers almost anywhere in the world. That really makes us unique in this market.”
Weld done, indeed.
NobelClad is the world’s expert in the highly specialized field of explosion welding and the largest manufacturer of explosion-welded clad products. The company offers unparalleled expertise and design ingenuity in the creation of custom clad solutions for major industrial and infrastructure projects.
NobelClad continues to be the leading-edge provider of advanced clad materials through technical innovation, creative problem solving and client collaboration from defining specifications to executing custom clad solutions.