The Harris Products Group has a firm foundation in the equipment and alloys used in brazing, soldering, welding, cutting, heating and gas control. In 1899, John Harris discovered the oxy-acetylene method of cutting while researching the manufacture of synthetic rubies. By accidentally cutting the metal plate beneath the ruby, he discovered the world’s first flame-cutting torch.
After exhibiting the torch at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, he started Harris Calorific in 1905. As well as refining his gas torches, Harris started manufacturing related accessories, including gas pressure regulators. In 1926, the company was purchased by the U.S. Welding Co., and became part of Emerson Electric Co. in 1973.
Meanwhile, in 1914, Joseph W. Harris founded the J.W. Harris Company, specialising in the distribution and repair of specialised parts for automotive and farm vehicles and later expanding into welding alloys and accessories. In 1984, the company purchased Unibraze Corp., another welding and brazing filler metals company, and continued the expansion with the acquisition of Thermacote Welco Co. in 1993. Autobraze, a manufacturer of precision brazing rings and return bends, was acquired in 2005.
In 1990, Lincoln Electric (LE) based out of Cleveland, Ohio, purchased Harris Calorific from Emerson Electric. And in 2005, the global company purchased the then privately-held J.W. Harris. LE has manufacturing operations, joint ventures and alliances in more than 40 countries and a global network of distributors and sales offices covering over 190 countries.
In 1990, Harris Calorific was based in Gainesville, Georgia, with manufacturing there as well as in Bologna, Italy, and Rathnew, Ireland. A long-term LE employee since 1979 with several senior sales and management positions under his belt, Nangle (pictured) was assigned as President of Harris Calorific in 1999.
“With my background at LE, Harris Calorific maintained the retail responsibility for LE, which ended up formulating itself into a separate company, called WCTA (Welding Cutting Tools and Accessories),” says Nangle. That group, formed in 2003, distributes via large retailers, primarily in the US and Canada (for example, Home Depot). This business combines sales of LE’s welders with Harris torches and brazing accessories, and “has been very strong over the last several years,” Nangle says.
“In 2005, we had two companies with Harris in the name but no relation or reason for that,” Nangle explains. “We merged the companies into one and called it The Harris Products Group. In the meantime, after putting that together, we closed manufacturing in Ireland and Italy, and we moved it to southwest Poland.” LE also acquired Gulf Wire Corporation, a manufacturer of aluminium and stainless welding alloys, and Filler Metals, a niche welding alloys supplier. The companies were also folded into The Harris Products Group, further expanding the company’s diverse product offerings.
According to Nangle, Harris had a number of options for its manufacturing expansion. “We had a US manufacturing base – did we want to consolidate it all into that? What about Mexico? Through NAFTA, we could find a way to make Mexico a good partnership. We looked at China, like everybody else did…every one of those options had advantages and benefits and detriments as well.”
In the end, Poland checked all of the right boxes for a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility. “It was closest to Harris’ second-largest customer base, which was Europe. Being close to customers was important to us, it was close enough that we could maintain our own quality and keep quality standards at a very high level, and it turned out to be a great decision,” he affirms.
Harris serves many of its global customers from its highly automated, state-of-the-art facility in Poland; its Dzierżoniów plant is one of the most modern facilities in the Lincoln Electric organisation. “There was a lot of incentive from the local government to go there,” says Nangle. “A further benefit that I had also heard of and have really come to appreciate is the quality of the professional people that we were able to hire. We’ve got a consistent group of employees who are just getting better year on year on year.”
Quality and standards
Each Harris manufacturing facility is ISO 9001 certified for quality management systems and has achieved ISO 14001 certification for environmental management systems. Nangle says the US Compressed Gas Association (CGA) as well as Underwriters Laboratory (UL) are important for benchmarks and standards. “In many cases, the US requirements exceed those of other parts of the world, including Europe.”
Harris claims to make the world’s most consistent and reliable torches, tips, mixers and heating assemblies, as well as gas control equipment, from regulators to entire distribution systems. Nangle says that Harris equipment is inspected 100% of the time, for consistency and precision.
Industrial regulators are tested to have a leakage rate of less than 1 x10-3 cubic centimetre per second. Each specialty gas regulator is tested to conform to a gas leakage rate of less than 1 x10-9 cubic centimetre per second. Harris heating, welding and brazing tips are individually inspected, and every torch and machine is checked to ensure that the highest standards of both safety and performance are met.
Quality controls for the company’s brazing and welding alloys produce a superior, precisely controlled product for predictable melting. Brazing alloys are strictly monitored to ensure phosphorus content that is within 1/ of a percent of the alloy’s chemical specifications. This provides a liquidus variation of no more than +/- 3.3ºC (+/- 6ºF). Welding alloys are manufactured to meet rigid requirements for cleanliness and wire temper; they conform to specific AWS standards for a wide variety of metal grades.
The company’s working practices in Mason, Ohio, were recognised by Industry Week’s prestigious and nationwide Best Plant award in 2013 after continually demonstrating assessed improvements during a three-year period (see www.gasworld.com/2001665.article).
“Much of the time the cost differential doesn’t just come down to labour, it also may come down to manufacturing processes. When we test 100%, we want to make sure we see any issues for the first time in the plant. This compares to many of our competitors around the world who only do random testing.”
Maintaining competitive prices must be balanced against these stringent quality requirements: “I think there’s a price value matrix that every customer has their own unique position on,” says Nangle. “We have to evolve with the market – trying to get our prices to be competitive and still maintaining a quality quotient. Products made in other countries may not have the same rigid standards as those in the US and Europe.” He mentions that some customers have come back to using Harris products when cheaper components have let them down. “There are manufacturers that may have a US or European name, but the product may come from China, India, or someplace else. But they don’t necessarily represent it properly on the package – these are some of the dynamics out there that we are working against.”
The company’s strategic locations also provide more control over its supply chain. “For many manufacturers, their product is sitting on the ocean – I’m less concerned because I’m not reliant on China for my supply chain. It comes back to being close to the customer,” Nangle says.
The Harris Products Group is stepping into the future, as evidenced by the recent launch of its apps, which aim to help customers with decisions about product selection as well as safety.
“As manufacturers, we try to put technology to use in a way that the end-user finds valuable – and that translates to the distributor and even the manufacturing sales agents. There’s a lot of learning going on,” Nangle explains. The apps aim to answer questions that the company has identified through customer service and Q&A documentation.
“As manufacturers, we try to put technology to use in a way that the end-user finds valuable – and that translates to the distributor and even the manufacturing sales agents. There’s a lot of learning going on…”
“The real challenge is understanding our customers needs more fully and delivering the products to fill those needs,” Nangle continues.
“In our view of the world, certain markets are going to expand while others will probably be in recession – the indicators are that the US market will show some progress, industry is expected to expand in 2015. While on the other hand, all we can do is be prepared, hoping that the European community can get more traction – we’ve got a lot of good customers there, but it’s a difficult market.”
Nangle says Harris’ industrial distribution is “very unique in the US because we have 3-4 very large distributors that hold about 50% of the market share. Then the other side consists of large regional independent distributors, many of which form into buying groups to be strong.” The US market has been evolving and shifting, and the idea of the buying groups – which has existed for some time – has become more important for some of the independent distributors. “Buying groups are pertinent in Europe as well, especially in Germany.”
“This business really follows the industrial production indexes that go up and down as industry does – in the US we’ve seen some flat years. In 2015, I
believe there’s some optimism that in the US we’ll start to see more robust business activity.” This is the year that many distributors will start to stock their shelves and will want to prominently display their equipment and consumables to serve the market, Nangle predicts.
Even as industry shifts, Harris sees some customer industries shifting – “the automotive industry has picked up considerably in the US – however with the current low price of oil, drilling, fracking and other oil and gas activities in the US have slowed down. That’s an example of contraction, even in a marketplace that’s expanding overall.”
“Finding cost reduction solutions to specific applications is the strategy for The Harris Products Group as we go out to the marketplace,” Nangle says. With many large accounts this means working with materials such as brazing alloys, solders, and pastes and adding equipment to offer a complete Harris package that improves productivity and performance for a customer. “Some of the new products that we have featured in the last year have been instrumental in helping customers to reduce their overall costs.”
As well as relying on its reputation for high quality, proximity to key markets and the strategic advantages of having bases in Poland and the US, Harris must fully integrate its entire portfolio of products to identify and document solutions that show compelling cost savings.
“The markets change and you have to be adaptable. Nonetheless, if we can make our customers more successful by giving them cost reduction proposals utilising our products, it’s a win-win,” Nangle concludes. “And we’re very tenacious.”
The Harris Products Group at-a-glance
Positioning itself as “the World’s leading brand of metalworking equipment,” The Harris Products Group makes Mason, Ohio, its headquarters, which specialises in the manufacture of brazing alloys and consumables. The Gainesville, Georgia, plant manufactures gas regulators, cutting and welding tips, and cutting and welding outfits. The Gainesville plant has a state-of–the-art robotic system, and all specialty gas regulators are produced in an ISO class 10,000 clean room to meet the high standards necessary for use with rare, toxic and corrosive gases.
The company’s Dzierzoniów plant in Poland is one of the most modern facilities in the Lincoln Electric organization. Harris’s Brastak plant in São Paulo is the largest non-ferrous alloy manufacturer in Brazil, and is the only company to manufacture ring and draw wire phosphorus alloys in the country.