By Dan Sanchez | Jun 01, 2020
Heat management solutions
Mel Heye, a veteran of World War II and a NAPA district manager, decided to start manufacturing heat shielding products with his son, Bruce, in the mid-1980s.
Steve Heye, Mel's grandson and Bruce's son, has helped run the company in more recent years. "Both [Mel and Bruce] were well-experienced in the automotive and diesel markets, and recognized a need for lighter-weight and more cost-effective heat shielding than what was available," he says. "In 1999, my grandfather retired and my dad and I took over the business, and for more than 20 years the company has diversified into multiple markets that include marine, industrial, welding, military, and products for OE manufacturers requiring lightweight and effective heat shielding."
Heatshield Products are designed to insulate or reflect heat from a variety of surfaces, providing heat management solutions that can be used in numerous applications. "Our home products, for example, are used around stoves, mantles, and for televisions mounted above a fireplace," says Steve. "Our automotive line offers heat management for exhaust systems and we recently started a new line and website for tactical gear, high-temperature insulation for law enforcement and Department of Defense officers to store weapons quickly and safely."
Heatshield Products typically involve bonding and/or sewing various types of materials together. "Much of the insulation we use is a biosoluble silica, a material that has good resistance to heat but most importantly is guaranteed to be asbestos and ceramic free," says Steve. "It's essential that our products are safe to use for consumers, as well as safe for our employees who assemble them daily."
During the COVID-19 pandemic, employees have been kept safe simply because they are already protected from the materials they work with. "Our employees almost always wear a full Tyvek suit, masks, and gloves," says Steve. "They're used to it when making high-temperature products. During the crisis, I've only had to lay off one employee which made me feel really bad. We've never had to shrink our workforce."
Finding skilled workers is another layer of difficulty in this environment, where experienced sewers are difficult to get. "We use industrial sewing machines to manufacture our insulation jackets, heat shields, and other two-piece products," says Steve. "It's hard to find skilled sewing machine operators. With COVID there are lots of people out of work and hopefully, we can bring in some more as things get better. It took me 16 temp agency employees, however, the last time we used one to find one good worker."
Although Steve prefers to have hands assembling certain components to maintain high quality, automation is also not out of the picture. He's already found some success in using it to lower costs and gain an advantage in the industry. "We added a CNC machine to trace and cut patterns which made production faster and easier," he says. "I also bought an embossing machine that dimples foil. Few companies made dimpled foil in the U.S. and because we use so much of it, it made sense to buy a machine. The good thing is that we could also turn this into another service and add more machines to offer this, instead of companies going overseas to get dimpled foil."
As the company continues to find more applications for heat shielding and ways to manufacture products for them, the company continues to push through the COVID-19 pandemic and hang on. "We make our products here in the U.S. We suspect many of our competitors get their products from overseas in which the costs are rising and it's taking longer to get," says Steve. "Add to the fact that the quality is not nearly as good and we believe customers will come around to only wanting U.S. made products. We're planning on staying in business to see that light at the end of the tunnel."
Challenges: "The cost of doing business here is always a challenge," says Steve. "Even though the commercial real estate market is down, leasing and building purchasing costs are five times as much as in other states. We have been courted by economic development councils from other parts of the country. Right now, our margins are smaller but we have to stay competitive. Let's roll back some of these taxes for the small business guy."
Opportunities: "Sadly some companies that weren't strong are not going to survive which offers more opportunities for us," says Steve. "I'm not against having competition because it's good for the marketplace, but right now, more American made products are providing greater opportunities."
Needs: "I don't know right now how to lower my operating costs," says Steve. "Labor is expensive, but adding automation could help."