Forging Success for over Half a Century

Written by Ryan Cartner

Onex Inc. is a refractory and combustion solutions company operating out of Erie, Pennsylvania. The company designs and manufactures OEM furnace equipment, has a team of expert technicians available to service equipment after market, and specializes in building custom solutions to fit the unique needs of its customers.
By engineering custom solutions, Onex can help customers work within challenging space and cost constraints, and find the solution that works best for their operation.

The company was founded in Erie in 1965 as a distributor of refractory products for foundry companies in the area. By 1987, Onex was purchased by Ric Walters who expanded the capabilities of the company. With his knowledge and expertise of Ceramic products, he added a service and installation department to become a “one-stop shopping” source for the heat-intensive industries. As the company continued to grow in Erie, it also expanded its geographical reach by establishing a regional office and warehouse in Pittsburgh, PA. By 1992, the company had evolved from a distribution and installation outlet to manufacturing and servicing its own line of furnace equipment that today is known as the Blue Diamond Division.

As of January 1st of this year, following a careful, four-year succession plan, the Onex Inc. ownership torch has been passed to a new generation of the Walters family. Ashleigh Walters has assumed the position of company president, with her husband Andrew Walters at her side in the Vice President role. Under their leadership the company has refocused its efforts on growth, and plans to expand the Blue Diamond Furnace Division of the company into a full service industrial furnace OEM. The Blue Diamond brand is recognized in the marketplace for its top quality, leading edge furnace equipment, and the company has a reputation for its expertise. With Ashleigh and Andrew at the helm, the future is bright.

At its core, Onex is a family company with family values. “We bring in people who can really contribute to the positive work environment that we have,” says Andrew Walters, Vice President of Onex Inc. “Every day presents a new challenge but I love my job.” Onex has very high standards for the quality of the work it does, and so the job can be demanding. By encouraging a culture of positivity within the company, even the most high-pressure projects are smooth, efficient, and enjoyable for the Onex family.

The company’s commitment to fostering this culture is a key component to its success. “Finding self-driven people that are a good fit can be a challenge,” says Walters, “but it’s very important to us. We employ those who can work without an intense level of supervision and can solve problems on their own, so we find those who are self-motivated are the best fit.”

Onex’s Blue Diamond Furnace Division represents a team of experts in furnace design. The company’s history in servicing furnaces has provided it with a deep and unparalleled understanding of exactly where problems can arise. Then, the team uses that knowledge to design furnace equipment with those issues addressed preemptively. As a result, the company offers furnace packages that require less maintenance for their customers.

Within the Blue Diamond Division, the company offers several high-quality furnace products. The line consists of aluminum melting/holding furnaces, forging furnaces, car bottom furnaces, box furnaces, and lift-off furnaces. The Blue Diamond Aluminum Melting/Holding Furnaces are designed for casting applications and have been engineered to increase production times by continually tapping, emptying the furnace every 90 minutes. They are highly efficient, and they offer significantly lower energy costs than competing equipment by minimizing the amount of time that they hold onto molten metal, due to the 90 minute tapping cycle.

The Blue Diamond Forging Furnaces are designed to work with large steel ingots. They’re loaded into the furnace, heated to roughly 2300 degrees Fahrenheit, and then pressed into bars or rough shaft product, among other uses. Onex’s Blue Diamond Car Bottom Furnaces have similar applications to forging furnaces, but they can also be used for heat treating various components for many purposes. Some of these include stress relieving, where a metal component’s temperature is raised moderately, enabling stresses introduced during welding or other heating processes to be relieved; quenching, which is where steel is cooled rapidly in order to harden it; normalizing, where the temperature is raised to a high enough degree that micro irregularities in the metal are removed from the structure of the material, making it easier to work with; and aging, which is a process used to harden specific metals whose properties are not suitable for quenching.

Blue Diamond Box Furnaces are also capable of performing tasks similar to the forging and car bottom furnaces. They are typically used to heat ingots, but are also useful in the various heat treatment processes mentioned above – the key difference being that box furnaces are designed to handle smaller loads. Lift-off furnaces are unique in that they are designed to be lifted and moved around by overhead cranes, and are generally employed in steel mills.

The industries that typically have applications for Onex products are numerous, and the products forged in Blue Diamond Forging Furnaces have many widely varied uses. They are typically employed by steel producing companies who are converting cast ingots into products that can then be used in nuclear energy, oil and gas, aerospace, defense, rail, and many other large-scale projects. Melting furnaces are often used in automotive applications and pipe infrastructure. Car bottom furnaces cater to the gamut including forging applications, ceramics, and manufacturing in general. Onex furnaces have many wide-ranging applications spanning diverse industries. The product line is highly versatile and the company has the expertise to find the proper equipment to fit the unique needs of any customer.

The company also offers a refractory construction service. Refractory is the use of specialized heat-resistant materials to construct a furnace lining. Refractory failures can be very expensive, and the cause of the failure can often be very difficult to diagnose. Onex has developed a deep expertise in working with refractory materials over many years. When there is a failure, Onex engineers are capable of thoroughly analyzing the setup in order to determine why systems are failing, and can help to either repair the problem or construct a new system altogether with refractory materials better suited to the furnace.

Refractory products come in many forms, but one of the most common is what’s known as a monolithic refractory. This material is similar to cement, but uses a refractory aggregate that is resistant to thermal shock at high temperatures. Onex’s refractory team is expertly trained in all forms of monolithic refractory installation including casting, where the refractory aggregate is mixed with water and then poured and formed in place; shotcrete, which is a spray-on application that uses a liquid material; gunite, which is similar to shotcrete except that the material is dry with water being added during the application; and ramming, where the material is rammed into place with a pneumatic hammer or similar tool.

Beyond the monolithic variety of refractory materials, Onex offers a number of other refractory furnace linings. These include brick laying and ceramic fiber lining using a lightweight ceramic fiber material, among others. The Onex refractory team approaches these projects with a deep understanding of the materials and processes, and with a careful eye toward how to best apply them to the unique needs of the customer.

Under Ashleigh and Andrew Walters’ leadership, Onex is determined to push for growth not only internally, but also within the local community. The company is committed to making a difference for Erie by reshaping the public perception of manufacturing and reigniting the passion for manufacturing that is so important to the history of the region. In October of last year, Ashleigh Walters was invited to speak to students at the Manufacturers and Business Association’s annual MFG day. She took the opportunity to talk about manufacturing as a career path and about the opportunities that path can offer. Onex is making a sincere effort to educate the next generation of the area’s workforce on the exciting realities of the manufacturing industry.

After more than half a century in business, Onex has built a strong reputation in the furnace industry. The company takes great pride in the work it does. “Steel is the core that the country was built upon,” says Walters. “The history of America is forging and manufacturing. We’re a small part of the big picture, but the parts that are created from our furnaces will go on to be used in innovative projects that increase efficiency, or support energy projects. A lot of progress starts in our furnaces.”



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