Engineering in America – A Career Memoir….


Council Member Andrew Kibler has a friend, Huston Ludlum, who has spent his career in engineering in the United States of America and he has forwarded a summary of his work experiences to Andrew who thought this memoir would be of interest to members and it is published here in two parts…….


Huston Ludlum – The Path I Followed Into Industrial Engineering

It was 1970 and a friend of mine encouraged me to take a job with an industrial valve manufacturer, William Powell Valve Company in Cincinnati, Ohio. My job was to move loads of material, sweep floors  and to clear chips from two large horizontal boring mills.

After the first month, with a good attendance record, I was asked if I wanted to learn how to run a machine. So, I said “Yes”, and that was my first advancement towards what turned out to be my career in manufacturing and manufacturing related technologies that I retired from in July of 2017.

From running a specialty machine to turret lathes to engine lathes, each position was a result of wanting to be the best in whatever group I worked in. I always tried to instill that belief in my daughters and any other young people that I talked to over the years.

Cincinnati was known as being the Machine Tool Capital of The World. In 1972 I went to work for The American Tool Works Company a manufacturer of NC/CNC Lathes. I wound up running an NC lathe and in 1974 I left the shop and went into the office as an NC Programmer. Even though my experience was on turning machines, I learned to program every type of lathe and mill that we had.

In 1977 I took a job at Marion Power Shovel in Marion, Ohio. We were a manufacturer of above ground mining machinery. I was hired for my experience in the NC Programming language called ‘Compact II.’ They had no job description for an NC Programmer, so my title was ‘Industrial Engineer.’ I advanced from being an NC Programmer to the ‘Supervisor of NC Methods and Tooling.’ In this supervisory role I continued to program some NC Machines particularly in 4-Axis Lathes and Family of Parts Programming, but I took on many Industrial Engineering tasks.

I was responsible for the purchase and startup of new machine tools, their work areas and tooling. We obtained a number of machines from other Dresser companies, and this is where some real Industrial Engineering came in.

My first project was the installation and modification of a pipe burner where I implemented the use of a stylus that followed the outline of a metal cam that controlled the tilt of a torch while it made various saddle cuts on the end of pipes.

My next  project was the implementation of direct DNC for two plasma and one oxy-fuel plate burners. That was a challenging project in 1979 as the plate burner operators did not like the fact that management could track their production movements. For example, we could generate reports of ‘Idle Time.’ Operators would disengage their clutches and let the machine sit. Well, what gave them away was the fact that the torches were not on.

We obtained a 4-Axis Warner Swasey SC-25 lathe from one of our divisions in Muskegon, Michigan. With my 4-axis knowledge and the use of Compact II to write family of parts programs. I set the machine up to turn the large 50.8cm rollers that the top portion of a mining shovel and dragline rotated on.

My last project with Marion Power Shovel was the implementation of a Becker Heat Treat furnace. This was a special-order machine that involved both internal and external quench operations. We were not an automotive company who manufactured small parts in cells using PLC controllers, but I learned this with the manufacturer in the setup and testing of all the components, doors, thermostats, and timers for their operation. This was out of my league, so I had to rely on a metallurgist to program the processes for heat treating different types of materials for different hardnesses.

In 1986 I went to work for Applicon. Applicon was formerly MDSI (Manufacturing Data Systems Inc), the company who developed the NC Programming language called Compact II in 1969. Coming from a machine tool manufacturer, it was my life’s desire to work for MDSI. A friend of mine sent me to Ann Arbor, Michigan on two different occasions to interview for a position. Why two times? I was well known by executives in the company for the money that a very sophisticated family of parts program I  wrote had generated. I  turned them down both times as Ann Arbor is a college town, and I could not afford to move my family and live there. My positions with Applicon started as an ‘Applications Engineer’, then went on to the ‘Manager of Q.A. for CAM Software.’, and then to ‘Manager of Product Planning for CAM Software.’

After being acquired by a number of other companies, I spent my last 20 years supporting Engineering/Manufacturing Collaboration, Visual Recognition and Manufacturing Documentation applications.

So, who would have thought that an 18-year-old lad sweeping floors for a valve manufacture would have advanced through the field of Manufacturing and Industrial Engineering? If I had been content simply sweeping floors and moving loads, I may have gone home every evening with dirty hands and chips in my shoes. There is the theory ‘Touch a Butterflies Wing’. If you touch a butterfly’s wing, everything  changes from that point through the rest of your life. Well, a General Foreman asked me if I wanted to run a machine and I touched the butterfly’s wing.

Never be satisfied taking a job for just as it is. Always want more, to be the best in your group and move on.

Huston Ludlum – January 2024


Hello, my name is Huston Ludlum, one of my last Industrial Engineering projects that I worked on at Dresser Construction & Mining Equipment Division in 1985 was the installation and start up of a Becker Internal Quench Heat Treat furnace.
To set the stage, we manufactured very large above ground mining equipment. Draglines, blast hole drills and mining shovels. Very unpopular when I worked there from 1977 through 1985 and almost extinct in North America today. The primary role of a dragline was to remove the ‘Overburden’, to expose the ore that was being mined.
Very large machines with very large parts. The heat treating of very large parts involved loading the parts into a one of two very large ovens, bringing them up to temperature, then moving them into a second oven where they soaked for a specified period, then bringing them out and either quenching them in water or oil. This was done using what they called Manipulators like is used when hammering forgings or overhead cranes.
Heat treating of smaller parts like with most manufacturers was to send them out for heat treating. We decided to invest in our own heat-treating furnace and when time was available, we could take on heat treating parts for other customers. We chose to purchase a Becker Internal Quench heat treating furnace. No photos were available as this was a special order machine, with special features.

Figure 1 is a simple 3D Model that I will use to describe this furnace.

The labels on the components are self-explanatory, but I will describe them anyway.
1. The large grey vertical box on the right is the ‘Furnace.’
2. The light brown or honey colored box is the ‘Outer Vestibule
3. There is an internal door between the furnace and the outer vestibule not shown.
4. There is also a door on the outside of the outer vestibule, also not shown.
5. Within the outer vestibule I am showing the internal ‘Oil Bath
6. The black top surfaces depict the ‘Rails’ where the basket rides to move the parts in and out of the furnace, to either the oil or water baths.
7. You must imagine a ‘Basket’ which rides along the black rails. I simply did not take the time to make a model of it. It is a basket like what you may find on a loading dock and used to transport small parts, castings, or material.
8. Lastly, if you are not soaking your feet in it, the cyan coloured surface depicts the ‘Water Bath.’

As this was a special-order machine, my part in this project was to work with a representative from Becker and our internal electricians. You can imagine that there are quite a few sensors and controls all over it. I will call this furnace an ‘Electrical Controlled’ machine and more like a PLC (Programmable Logic Control Controller) than Computer Assisted Numerical machines that I have programmed and been involved with my entire career.

The control had executive control software that we had to load. Periodically the company would need to send us overnight versions of the executive software an revised ladder logic drawings. Next working with a ‘Ladder Logic’ drawing just as one would use when working with PLC controls, I would enter the command to perform a function such as open the ‘Inner Door’. If it worked correctly, we would move on to the next function, but most of the time we had to check out the ladder logic drawing to check input and output voltages for the cable motor that opened the door. Just as important as the mechanical elements working as programmed was checking if the temperatures in the inner vestibule and the furnace were working correctly. In the heat treatment processes, a basket of parts would need to warm up in the outer vestibule to a certain temperature over a certain period. The warmup time is also critical. Once the warmup temperature is reached the inner door is opened and the basket is moved into the furnace itself. Once inside the furnace the inner door is closed, and the temperature is then raised to the required temperature. The RAMP UP time for the temperature to reach the required temperature is also critically important.

Have you ever seen someone at home holding a part in a pair of vice-grips against the flame of a torch until it turns a reddish orange color and then dips it in a can of water thinking he is going to make it harder. It will not work. The molecular structure changes when the process is carried out correctly.

Back to the process. After the furnace reaches the required temperature there is a SOAK TIME. So maybe the process calls for the part to remain at 982 Celsius for 45 minutes. Then the inner door opens, the basket moves out into the outer vestibule and the inner door closes. If the process calls for an oil quench, the basket is then lowered into the oil bath. If the process calls for a water quench, then the outer vestibule door is opened, the basked moves over to the water bath and is then lowered into the bath.

I have had many years programming NC/CNC machine tools. I was the Supervisor of NC Methods and Programming. It was my responsibility to see the installation, startup, and the process of programming this furnace. The routings that followed a part through the entire process would call for a specific ISO. ASTM or other process for the part to reach a specific Rockwell, Brinell other hardness, Each time a new process was required I would work with a Metallurgist, and he would tell me the warmup time and temperature, the internal temperature and ramp up time, the soak time and whether it required a oil or water quench. There was an offline mode to the control, I would use the control to program each step and then write the program to a credit card like card that was labeled and saved by the machine. I think I created about 25 different process cards. I taught one of my programmers how to make and modify a program process.