Abar Corporation – A New Era in Heat Treatment

Vacuum Furnace Technology Takes a Giant Leap

The space race of the 1950s and 60s opened up new horizons for manufacturers in the United States. The development of vacuum furnace technology allowed for the production of cleaner, stronger and ultimately safer metal parts. For Harold Ipsen, it brough new business from the aviation and aerospace industries. Around the same time, in a different part of the country, another man had a similar vision.

A man looks into an Abar brand laboratory vacuum furnace circa 1960s
A brochure for an Abar brand laboratory vacuum furnace circa 1960s

In 1960,

Charles Hill established the Abar Corporation in Willow Grove, Pennsylvania to design and manufacture vacuum heat-treating equipment. Hill’s company was known for high-vacuum, high-temperature furnaces, which were primarily used in the electronics industry by companies such as Aerovox and Western Electric, and for research and development purposes. Abar’s early designs were primarily top loading, laboratory style vacuum furnaces with work zones no bigger than a breadbox. Advancements in the early 1960s included the development of a large water quench furnace and production of a 12-foot long annealing furnace. During this time, Abar also started producing larger, horizontal vacuum furnaces, including the first model HR-34.

1962 “Electrical Heating Device”

Charles Hill’s earliest patent was for a cylindrical electrical heating device capable of sustaining high temperatures while increasing thermal efficiency.

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1962 “Electrical Heating Device”

The heating element design compensated for expansion stresses to avoid cracking and distortion.

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1964 “Heating Elements for Vacuum Furnaces”

He later improved upon that invention by designing a square heating element to better prevent distortion and improve temperature uniformity.

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1966 “Heating Elements for High Vacuum Furnaces”

His third patent further increased the maximum operating temperature and lifespan of the heating element. Other changes to the design made for easier replacement and modification.

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The Sky is the Limit

In 1965, Abar was acquired by King Fifth Wheel, an airplane parts manufacturer, and soon after, relocated from Willow Grove to Feasterville, Pennsylvania. They also produced their first large, bottom loading furnace this year, and established a heat-treating division in nearby Ivyland in 1967. By the end of the decade, Abar had produced its first batch aluminum brazing furnace and its largest vertical furnace, a model VR-96 with a 96″x96″ work zone.

The 1970s

brough even more changes to the growing company. Abar’s first two- and three-chamber aluminum brazing units were developed in 1972, followed by its first diffusion bonding furnace and high-temperature, semi-continuous furnace in 1974. The second half of the decade produced furnaces for oil-quenching, ion nitriding, and tempering. In 1977, Abar produced its first three-chamber oil and gas quench furnace. A spare parts and service division was established in Huntingdon Valley in 1979.

In 1981,

King Fifth Wheel was acquired by Tube Investments Ltd. (TI) of Birmingham, England, where they opened an additional Abar manufacturing operation. This decade also saw the emergence of automation, and increased vacuum pressure with their first 5-bar furnace in 1983.

Abar and Ipsen operated as competitors until 1985 when the two companies merged, becoming a wholly owned subsidiary of the TI Group. At the time, Abar’s focus was on vacuum furnaces, while Ipsen’s expertise was in atmosphere technology, so it was only natural for the two industry giants to come together. Another major development occurred that year when Abar Ipsen introduced the TurboTreater vacuum furnace to market.

Advancements in Engineering

Prior to the merger, Ipsen designed vacuum furnaces with rectangular hot zones and internal gas cooling systems, and Abar designed vacuum furnaces with round hot zones and external gas cooling systems. The group’s engineers were challenged with designing a vacuum furnace with a round hot zone and an internal gas cooling system to capture the advantages of both designs. The result was the TurboTreater, one of the most popular vacuum furnaces, still built today. More significant developments came in 1987 with the release of the Ivadizer for aluminum vapor deposition, and 1988 with the release of the ToolTreater vacuum furnace for hardening high speed tool steels.

The End of an Era Brings New Beginnings

In the early 1990s Abar Ipsen closed its manufacturing site in Pennsylvania and moved operations to Illinois. They also relocated sales, engineering, and marketing personnel to Bensalem, PA. In 1992 the LOI Group, part of Germany’s Ruhrgas Industries GmbH, acquired Abar Ipsen. In 1996 Abar Ipsen became part of the Ipsen International Group and all operations were consolidated at the company’s Illinois headquarters.

While Abar is no longer included in the name, the company remains a big part of Ipsen’s history. Without the contributions from Abar and its employees, Ipsen may not be the leader in vacuum furnaces that it is today. To learn more about Ipsen’s history, continue to follow our blog series.

Abar History at a Glance

  • Founded by Charles Hill in Willow Grove, PA
  • Produced first large Water Quench Furnace
  • Produced first large production annealing furnace at 12′ long
  • Designed and built a furnace for a major jet engine manufacturer with 74” x 48” work zone
  • Produced first production model HR-34 furnace with 24” x 24” x 36” work zone
  • Purchased by King Fifth Wheel
  • Produced first large Vertical Furnace
  • Relocated from Willow Grove to Feasterville, PA
  • Established heat-treating division in Ivyland, PA
  • Produced first batch aluminum brazing furnace
  • Produced largest vertical vacuum furnace with 96” x 96” work zone
  • Produced first 2- and 3-Chamber aluminum brazing units
  • Produced first diffusion bonding furnace
  • Produced first high-temperature, semi-continuous furnace
  • Produced first oil quench furnace
  • Produced first ion nitriding furnace (installed at Ivyland)
  • Produced first 3-chamber oil and gas quench furnace
  • Produced first vacuum tempering furnace
  • Established a spare parts and service division in Huntingdon Valley, PA
  • King Fifth Wheel and subsidiaries were purchased by Tube Investments Ltd, of Birmingham, England
  • Opened furnace manufacturing operation in England
  • Produced first robot furnace
  • Produced first 5-bar furnace
  • Abar Corporation and IPSEN Industries merged
  • Abar Ipsen Industries became wholly-owned subsidiary of TI Group
  • Produced first ausquench furnace
  • TurboTreater vacuum furnace released
  • Produced first chemical vapor deposition furnace (CVD)
  • Ivadizer vacuum furnace released
  • Produced first nitemper/nitrotec furnace
  • ToolTreater vacuum furnace released
  • Produced first ECOVAC de-oiling furnace
  • Produced first flexible carburizing line
  • Produced first annealing line
  • Abar Ipsen Industries purchased by LOI Group
  • Abar Ipsen Industries became part of Ipsen International Group
  • Operations consolidated at the company’s Illinois headquarters
  • Abar is dropped from the Ipsen name
Original ABAR logo from 1960
Vintage photo of people standing in front of an ABAR vacuum furnace
Vintage photo of several people standing in front of the ABAR building
Vintage photo of a man operating a large horizontal vacuum furnace
Vintage photo of a man operating a large vertical vacuum furnace
1980s Abar Vertical Vacuum Furnace
Abar Ipsen 1985 logo
Vintage photo of a blue horizontal vacuum furnace
Vintage photo of a green horizontal vacuum furnace
Ipsen 1996 logo

Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol.72. St. James Press, 2005.