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The Role of a Consultant in the Heat-Treatment Industry

Technical consulting is generally among the least understood professions. Since it is usually done on a contract basis, consultants are not direct employees of their clients, but they nevertheless fill critical roles as advisors, mentors and technical experts. The relationship between client and consultant is unique in that it is often short-term, but it involves high-level expertise and requires a great degree of trust since consultants often either work on solving the client’s most intimate problems or on the very fringes of what is technically feasible.


In terms of market scope, consultants range from huge multinationals to small independent firms. In today’s world they are used more than ever, as companies attempt to minimize staff size while still maintaining workforce flexibility and cutting-edge technology. As a result, consultants are in strong demand during times of economic growth. It is estimated that 25% of new products or processes introduced into industry have passed through the hands of a consultant.


The Consultant’s Mission


Heat-treatment consultants specifically add value and/or reduce cost for their clients by focusing on their operational, service and market needs related to heat treatment and ancillary issues. They provide impartial technical and business advice and support on all aspects of the thermal-processing industry. This advice can range from simple technical recommendations to fully detailed reports or multifaceted studies.


Heat-treatment consultants often deal with critical, time-sensitive problems such as assembly lines shutting down for lack of parts, industrial accidents putting plants at risk, product failures resulting in huge fines or loss of profitability due to product recalls, loss of market share, and competitive advancements jeopardizing the future of a company. For this reason, the consultant must be extremely responsive to the client and maintain schedule flexibility, working late hours or weekends when necessary.


The Scope of Work


Prior to hiring a heat-treatment consultant, the client must clearly identify the problem(s) that need to be solved, what deadlines exist and then create a summary of activities to date. Project timing, costs, documentation and test results should be thoroughly discussed and defined before a scope of work is developed. When deemed necessary, the consultant may offer an initial consultation to help the client define the above parameters and ensure a good fit with the consultant’s expertise.


The Contract


Upon receiving the scope of work, a contract is generated to define the extent of the services to be provided, including the deliverables (e.g., reports or test results). By mutual agreement, the consultant may charge the client on an hourly basis or for a block of time. For example, the client may purchase a specified number of hours of technical assistance, often at a rate less than the standard hourly rate. As the work progresses, it may be necessary be increase the original number of hours needed. If so, these additional hours are charged on an equivalent hourly rate.


Resources Available to the Heat-Treatment Consultant


In order to fulfill the contract, the heat-treatment consultant must bring extensive knowledge and expertise to bear in addressing the needs of the client and helping to solve their problems. In order to accomplish this, they have extensive resources available – empirical and scientific – from worldwide sources on all aspects of thermal treatment.


This includes a network of industry contacts and long-established working relationships with associates in the metallurgical, engineering, academic and industrial communities. The heat-treatment consultant constantly monitors, organizes and indexes relevant technical and trade-association information on an ongoing basis so as to enable rapid data retrieval and response to any inquiry.


Real-World Examples


Several examples follow of how the heat-treatment consultant can offer value to the client by providing prompt and comprehensive assistance on questions of heat-treatment selection, operation and control.


Real-Time Advice on Production Problems


A typical example is determining the reason for mechanical failure of a part after manufacture and heat treatment. This can include laboratory testing, failure analysis and microscopic fracture analysis. The solution may involve altering the part metallurgy, changing a manufacturing process or adjusting the heat-treatment cycle. The consultant will perform the necessary testing and data analysis and then offer a solution.