Shlok Sundaresh is the Engineering Manager for Techniques Surfaces USA (TS USA, a part of the HEF Group – North America, a global service provider of value-added surface treatments and coatings).
Shlok holds a bachelor’s degree in Metallurgy and Materials Science Engineering and a master’s degree in Industrial Engineering specializing in manufacturing. He was recognized as Heat Treat Today’s 40 Under 40 for 2019 for significant contributions to the heat treatment/manufacturing service industry.
Since joining HEF Group in 2014, Shlok has successfully spearheaded several application development activities for OEMs and Tier 1s utilizing surface treatments and coatings and has been an integral part of the organization’s growth in North America.
He has also recently completed a year-long leadership program from Stanford University – Graduate School of Business.
What can you tell us about your company and the markets you serve?
HEF Group, which stands for Hydromécanique et Frottements (Hydromechanics and Friction) is a global provider of value-added surface engineering solutions. As the name indicates, our company is known globally in the field of tribology (science and engineering of interacting surfaces), offering innovative solutions for wear, friction, and corrosion reduction applications.
HEF has been in business for more than 65 years, and we are the leading global provider of surface treatments and coatings. Our two primary surface technology options are liquid nitriding and physical vapor deposition (PVD), specifically diamond-like carbon coatings (DLC). We are the only supplier that offers both technology options worldwide. HEF also offers a range of other surface treatments to meet customer-specific needs.
Techniques Surfaces USA (TS USA) — is a subsidiary of HEF Group. While the parent company (HEF) specializes in manufacturing of chemicals and equipment for surface treatments and coatings, Techniques Surfaces (TS USA) network offers the jobbing services for these processes to our customers, thereby providing significant value as a vertically integrated business model.
While we primarily are a global supplier to the automotive market, our jobbing network caters other diverse market segments such as industrial components, heavy machinery, aerospace, oil and gas, medical, to name a few.
What is your current role and area of responsibility?
Having worked for TS USA (HEF Group) since 2014, my core responsibility has been as resident expert (AIAG CQI-9 and CQI-12) for surface treatments and coatings supporting North American facilities and customers. As our footprint in North America expanded, my current role as the Engineering Manager includes providing subject matter expertise and technical support to our facilities along with managing programs that require strong application development with our processes.
What are some applications in the brake industry that utilize such surface treatments and coatings?
Liquid nitriding or technically known as salt bath ferritic nitrocarburizing (FNC) treatment is very commonly utilized for brake system applications. Examples that I have actively worked on include:
- Backing plates for brake pads in the OE and aftermarket side are liquid nitrided (ARCOR® and MELONITE® tradenames) for enhancing wear and corrosion protection and promoting bonding with the friction pad material.
- Brake rotors which are generally made of cast iron material is another application that utilizes this technology for improving durability and wear resistance and preventing “lot rot” issues. Liquid nitriding assists with uniform heat dissipation without causing thermal distortion, which is crucial for maintaining dimensional stability and enhancing braking performance.
- Brake pistons has gained significant popularity with liquid nitriding due to environmental concerns with hard chrome plating. Liquid nitriding treatments offer better corrosion resistance without risk of flaking (due to it being a diffusion process) at competitive pricing while being REACH compliant. Some phenolic plastic brake pistons are also potential candidates for PVD/DLC thin-film precision coatings.
- Slack adjuster housings in braking systems for trucks and trailers that are made of ductile iron are another large-scale application of liquid nitriding (ARCOR® or TENIFER® treated). Liquid nitriding helps reduce friction and results in improved wear resistance.
What are some of the major challenges in your role that you come across?
As the end supplier to OEMs, in most situations, value-added surface engineering solutions while present, are however, not quite thoroughly known in the automotive industry. A top-down approach is often required to help OEMs and subsequent Tiers know about the evolution of liquid nitriding and PVD/DLC coatings. While liquid nitriding can be holistically considered a ‘one process fits all’ technology, there are fine details within these processes that require technical development to solve tribological challenges in diverse applications, thus requiring some cross-functional expertise – mechanical, chemical, materials to name a few.
What might work well in one application may not necessarily be the right fit for another application! Thus, tailor-made solutions are essential to strive in this industry with cost-reduction goals from customers – a great challenge that I deal with regularly and actually enjoy working on.
How do you see the industry evolving over the next 5-10 years and do you have any bold predictions for us?
Value-added, environmentally friendly, surface treatments and coatings are the need for the hour with complex, integrated systems being designed and developed along with stringent quality requirements and stricter regulatory standards globally. While COVID has temporarily affected growth of several industries, with some delays in developmental activities, the future of this industry is still promising with more unique and technologically advanced applications being introduced. Service industries like ours will strive with vertical integration and strong global presence in close proximity to our customers, thereby ensuring that supply chain is not affected in adverse conditions.
Tell us something that most people might not know about you and your organization.
I recently completed an intensive but fulfilling, one-year leadership program from Stanford Graduate School of Business focused on corporate innovation.
Regarding my organization, not many know that HEF also offers a technology transfer option and can help setup shop-in-shop or shop-by-shop locations if feasible for our customers.
Also, our facility in Chattanooga, Tennessee (IATF 16949 certified) is currently the largest liquid nitriding facility in North America offering high throughput, essential for automotive programs.