In the late 1960s, Bob Heran of Cleveland’s ACE Equipment Co. saw a need for a controlled process to safely strip paint, varnish, plastics, rubber, adhesives and other materials from various metal parts. His tinkering resulted in an invention known in the finishing world as a ‘burn-off’ oven, which eliminates the hazards and labor while protecting the parts from excessive heat.
ACE was founded in 1919 by the Sherrer family to build basic winding machines and accessories for the electric motor repair industry; Heran took over the company in 1963 after marrying George Sherrer’s daughter, and he is still president today.
His son Scott represents the fourth-generation of ownership at ACE. We asked Bob to reflect on his invention and on a recent attempt by the U.S. EPA to impose new rules that would have almost put the oven industry out of business.
You’ve been credited with inventing and patenting the first controlled “burn-off” oven in 1970 to help your customers strip motors safely and without pollution. Tell us how you came up with the idea and finally got the product out the door.
BH: I attended an Electric Motor Repair Convention in 1970. A company from Germany was proudly demonstrating how easy it was for their hydraulic coil pulling machine to remove coils from 25-hp stators without first warming the coils. There was much yelling and swearing (in German), and they finally gave up. The coils simply could not be pulled out. I figured there must be a better way to remove the coils without all that profanity. We worked on the invention after business hours for several months, then we approached a nearby Westinghouse Electric Co. electric motor repair shop with our very first burn-off oven. They said, “We’ll buy it, if it will pass an EPA air emission test.” An afterburner was installed to pass the test, and our very first burn-off oven was sold in 1970. Many mechanical, burner and electric controls, and optional equipment have been installed since then to improve the operation of the ovens.
You are closing in on your 50th year in the oven-making business. What has it been like to evolve in the industry and see it grow and change?
BH: It has been exciting to see the oven business evolve over the years into many other industries than the electric motor repair industry, and to see the use of different combustible materials, different industry requirements and different oven components to meet test requirements.
You married into the ACE family and quickly ascended to the presidency. Did you have any other career aspirations, or was working in the motor repair and oven manufacturing business all you wanted to do?
BH: After graduating from college and prior to joining ACE, I worked 16 years for a large manufacturing company. My aspirations were to help ACE grow by expanding our core business product lines. We are still in that process.
What did you make of the EPA’s attempt to essentially kill the burn-off oven industry with the rules they passed in 2010 for the Clean Air Act, only to see them revoked under protest from the industry?
BH: We wrote a nine-page rebuttal. Apparently thousands of other industry leaders also voiced their protest.
What is the best piece of personal or professional advice you’ve ever received, and who gave it to you?
BH: Advice? I just watched my father work his way up to be president of a small company!
What do you plan to do when (or if) you retire?
BH: Work to help make this world a better place to live than it is today. n