When David Huber got the idea in 1959 to start a finishing company that could help solve everyday engineering problems related to wear and corrosion of metallic substrates, he didn’t have to think long about what to call it.
Huber had based his college metallurgy thesis at Notre Dame on the concept of imaginative engineering, which is finding unique ways to do what seems impossible to do and doing it in a manner that increased value to the customer.
So, Huber — who helped to develop one of the first dry-film lubricant coatings — called his South Bend, Indiana, company Imagineering to initially serve the aerospace and automotive industries.
Heavily Involved in Space Flight
“Many of Imagineering’s customers are involved in space flight operations,” says Jim Hammer, owner, and CEO of the company, who joined the firm in 1982 and succeeded ownership from his father-in-law David Huber in 1996.
Among the many clients that Imagineering consults and provides metal finishing processes include aerospace giants Boeing, Lockheed, Blue Origin and Space X. In 2018, they were recognized by NASA as an appreciated supplier for its support on the Space Launch System (SLS). Imagineering provides non-destructive testing, paint and Chemfilm on rocket components such as the Orion spacecraft which will deliver Astronauts deep into space for continued exploration of the moon and eventually travel to Mars.
In fact, Imagineering modified its Indianapolis facility to accommodate large chemical treatment tanks so that it could process rocket parts of 18 feet or wide in diameter.
“It is incredibly satisfying to watch a live launch of a spacecraft knowing that Imagineering processed some of the components being carried into space,” Hammer says.
Serving a More Critical End-Use Customer Base
Since purchasing Imagineering from Huber, Jim Hammer’s strategy was to significantly grow the company in a controlled manner. This required recruiting a diverse skilled management staff capable of coaching and teaching employees to execute demanding specifications with top notch customer service and establish a mechanism that provided continuous training of plant floor team members. Additionally, the business plan required a continual investment of capital in the form of expanding productive plant floor space, working assets to serve more customers with these critical requirements and an information system to connect the team the customer. They now serve over 500 customers annually in the aerospace, military, automotive, medical equipment, nuclear energy, and industrial manufacturing industries. As their customers support diverse industries, the common thread among them is high-precision machined components and critical end-use application.
Their portfolio of coatings offered includes electroless nickel, zinc and manganese phosphate, chem film coatings, paint and dry film lubricants, non-destructive testing, anodizing, and stainless-steel passivation as well as a variety of coating tests (e.g., Salt Spray, Humidity, Wear tests).
Over the past 25 years Imagineering has grown its employee base from a 25 full-time, one shift, one plant to over 160 team members at three (3) locations working two (2) expanded shifts. Mathew Huff, president and COO of Imagineering, says that in just the last three years, the company has added a new stainless steel passivation line, a larger manganese phosphate line, and an anodizing line as well as 30,000 square feet of additional plant floor space at two locations.
“We’ve also increased the size of existing lines and paint booths to handle significantly larger aerospace and weapon system parts,” says Huff.
Two Plants in South Bend and One in Indianapolis
Its location in South Bend on Foundation Court opened in 2007 in an effort to promote new and green technologies as they process parts with a RoHS compliant chromium-free conversion coating in 5,500-gallon tanks with their main business segment of military vehicle and automotive applications. Now the facility also processes paint, dry film lubricants, manganese and zinc phosphate, magnetic particle inspection, fluorescent penetrant inspection, and stainless-steel passivation. After a recent expansion, this location serves as IFT’s corporate office, main plant and training center.
Imagineering’s Sample Street plant in South Bend now operates primarily electroless nickel plating, chem film, anodizing and some Non-Destructive Testing (NDT). The facility has AS9100, ISO9001, TS16949, ISO14001 certifications and is NADCAP accredited for chem processing and NDT (PT/MT).
The newest plant in Indianapolis opened in 2007 to more fully serve regional and national markets. The 35,000 square foot plant operates newer electroless nickel plating and chem film processing lines, has both magnetic particle inspection and fluorescent penetrant inspection, as well as phosphate, passivation, paint, and dry film. The NDT department is Nadcap accredited, and the facility is AS9100 certified for electroless nickel processing.
“We are an over 60-year-old company that is always evaluating the business case for investing in new processes and services,” Hammer says. “We are presently assisting engineers of a major automotive supplier in the development of a new method for incredibly precise nano-application of dry-film lubricants, and an innovative startup developing an environmentally safe method for chrome plating.”
Pride in Working Closely with Customers
“We want to go beyond simply meeting specifications to ensure whatever process is being applied to the customer's parts is actually solving the wear and corrosion issues they face in the field,” Kolo says. “We are constantly networking with our global supply partners learning new methods and looking for ways to improve our processes to increase customer satisfaction.”
For example, Imagineering’s technical team and process managers take complex blueprint instructions and process specifications for parts and provides pictures and communicative guidance to the job traveler to make it easier for their team members on the floor who eventually run the operation.
And with about 30,000 jobs processed annually — and with typical turnaround time of within three to five days —it is important that Imagineering have tight controls on the process variables and allow its operators to focus solely on making sure the parts are processed strictly to specification in order to reach the desired outcome.
Constant Planning and Collaboration
“Our workload is extremely dynamic,” Kolo says. “But we are able to react to it very quickly through constant planning and collaboration among all levels of the organization as well as through the use of planning, scheduling and chemistry management software.”
Imagineering has a close relationship with its major suppliers most notably, McDermid Enthone, PPG Coatings, Haviland, Dubois Chemical, Sandstrom Products, and Henkel.
Hammer says “IFT is built to serve as the boots on the plant floor for our customers’ and their engineers. This requires continuous teaching and coaching at all levels of our business so that we can continuously earn the right to serve the most critical metal finishing specifications that our customers demand.”
The feedback received from the Customer Loyalty surveys launched is that Imagineering’s customers have cited world-class customer service, on-time delivery rating, the vast number of Tier 1 source approvals coupled with the global quality accreditations they hold as the reasons they return each year.
As the space exploration and aerospace markets continue to expand — as well as the military, automotive, and medical equipment sectors —Imagineering is well-positioned to grow along with the industries it serves.
“We are excited about our future opportunities as commercial spaceflight becomes more and more common and the satellite market demand increases. Imagineering is paying special attention to the needs of those customers so it can add services or expand current capabilities to better serve them,” Hammer says.
For information on Imagineering Finishing Technologies, visit https://iftworldwide.com/