As one of Australia’s leading thermal processing specialists, Heat Treatment Australia (HTA) has worked with Lockheed Martin and other industry partners on the F-35 Lightning II program for almost 20 years. In that time, HTA has grown its presence across Australia and even opened a site in the United States. When reflecting on the group’s meteoric rise from family business to international entity, Dr Karen Stanton, HTA’s Director of Corporate and Strategy, said the journey was one born of focus and determination.
“When the F-35 program first came to Australia, there was no real aerospace industry to speak of. But the opportunity to be part of something as far-reaching and extraordinary as the program was reason enough for HTA to invest in developing our capabilities and capacity,” said Stanton. "HTA believed in the future of aerospace. And we wanted to be part of Lockheed Martin’s story here because of the potential it held for our business, and Australian industry as a whole.”
With Lockheed Martin’s support and encouragement, HTA invested in the processes, equipment and accreditations it needed to work within the F-35 supply chain.
"These milestones and achievements have been key to delivering on the F-35 program, and have also helped HTA diversify its business offering," said Karen. “Because of the capabilities we have and the quality we can deliver, HTA can now service almost every sector in Australia that has heat treatment needs."
In addition to the growth of the business’ sovereign capability, Karen is particularly proud of the culture HTA has built. There’s a focus on supporting the personal and professional development of its employees, with HTA providing upskilling and training so it can promote from within.
No one quite personifies this culture like Jon O'Donnell, who has been with HTA for over 30 years. From his first job as a trainee technician to his current role as global quality manager, Jon has contributed to many facets of HTA’s business throughout his career. For Jon, the F-35 program was an opportunity to work at the cutting edge of thermal processing.
“I wanted to learn. And I was lucky HTA was and is the type of business that supports its employees’ career aspirations. I’ve progressed from operating equipment for the heat treatment of landing gear of the F-35 to overseeing quality management at all our facilities,” said Jon.
Under Jon’s guidance, HTA established a presence in Los Angeles, something that he points to as a career highlight.
“HTA has consistently invested in emerging technologies, process innovation and leading-edge equipment to grow its service offering. Thanks to our work on the F-35 program, we have been able to expand our presence and share our capability with the world. It’s been an amazing experience,” he said.
Jon believes the success of HTA and Lockheed Martin’s relationship is due to the pair’s shared focus on quality and efficiency, which has generated new and innovative ways of working.
“HTA was an early adopter of automation. We have used computer-controlled equipment since the early 1990s and have been at the forefront of advanced thermal processing ever since. And we were able to demonstrate this would provide Lockheed Martin with better process improvement, repeatability and streamlined product reviews and approvals,” said Jon.
And although the practice of heat-treating metal dates back thousands of years, Jon says there is still plenty of room to innovate. Working collaboratively with Lockheed Martin, HTA purchased new equipment and developed a world-first process for the heat treatment of landing gear.
“We pioneered a new gas-quenching process to cool down the metal parts after heat treating. It greatly cuts down distortion of parts and reduces the amount of machining we needed to do, saving time and money.”
This technology also provided HTA with a competitive advantage, as it has one of the only gas-quenching furnaces in the southern hemisphere.
When reflecting on what the program of work has meant for the business, Jon says working with Lockheed Martin has helped HTA develop a strong reputation for delivering quality within the defence and aerospace industries.
“By trusting us and our expertise, Lockheed Martin has enabled us to collaborate with a great network of Australian industry partners and other defence Primes. In addition, working on a program of note, especially one that supports innovation and advanced manufacturing, has helped to unify and inspire HTA’s employees," he said.