Thermal-Vac’s team keeps kicking butt, and the industry is taking notice.
Shannon Driscol, operations manager at Thermal-Vac’s Santa Fe Springs facility, has been named to the 2020 cohort of Heat Treat Today’s 40 Under 40. We caught up with Shannon to pick his brain about his work at Thermal-Vac, the trials and tribulations of working with family, and how he stays grounded as the company continues to soar.
Cradle will rock
Shannon didn’t just grow up around the heat treat industry. He grew up in the thick of things. Though he officially started working for Thermal-Vac at the age of 17, he began coming to the shop before he was old enough to lift a torch. “We have pictures of me in my crib right next to my mom’s desk,” Shannon said.
Shannon is the youngest of four siblings, all who work at Thermal-Vac. In other words, the business isn’t just family owned, it’s family all over.
Such a strong family connection has strengthened and sustained the company over the years, but not without the occasional rough patch. “The dynamic of working with family is like no other,” Shannon said. “That closeness can hurt you sometimes; you know how to push each other’s buttons.”
Those rough patches ultimately are the tempering grounds for building the team’s core assets: closeness and familiarity. “It’s brought us closer together as a family,” he said. “We know we have to work together or we won’t succeed. We’ve become a hell of a lot clearer when communicating with each other.” It’s a safe bet his own 18-month-old will be working here in no time flat.
Building from the ground up
There’s no fast track for family members at Thermal-Vac. The kids start at the beginning and work their way up. That’s why Shannon knows the business inside and out. He spent his teenage years on the shop floor, driving forklifts and loading furnaces. “I think my actual first title was ‘maintenance helper.’” Shannon ran around emptying trash cans, mopping floors, and scrubbing toilets. He worked his way up through maintenance, eventually becoming manager of the department.
Having proven himself with mop and broom, Shannon was eager to get his hands dirty. He became a furnace operator, then moved up to lead, and finally earned his stripes as a foreman. He took over the operations manager role when Thermal-Vac expanded to its Santa Fe Springs location.
Proud of the dirty(ish) work
Shannon likes to say he’s worked on plenty of “sexy” projects: high-end aerospace parts, custom jobs for exotic cars, that sort of thing. Today, the job finds him working on projects that are more, shall we say, grounded.
When it first began, Thermal-Vac operated strictly in the vacuum heat-treat space. However, we’ve since expanded our services to include a bunch of less tidy work, like hardening steel using oil quenching. Shannon says that compared to the pristine conditions required for vacuum heat treating, an oil quench is “a little more nitty gritty.” The process is used to harden automotive parts, tubing, piping, tools, and any other commercial components you can think of. “The Allen screws in that chair you’re sitting in? I probably hardened those,” he laughs.
It’s all about the technology
Shannon takes pride knowing the pieces he hardens—literally nuts and bolts—keep the world turning. “It’s the stuff nobody thinks about, but if we didn’t do it, it wouldn’t exist,” he said. And it goes even deeper than that. Thousands of feet deeper, in fact. The oil industry uses heat treating to get their drill blades to the ideal hardness. Thermal-Vac’s exacting capabilities allow them to arrive at a lower level of hardness, which means the blades will snap (and be easy to replace) rather than dulling.
Finding that happy medium of wear resistance and overall structural rigidity isn’t Shannon’s only area of expertise. He’s also a master of operational workflow, improving the layouts of workspaces, reducing waste, and implementing technology that facilitates efficiencies. It’s a mindset he’s developed over years of working with his family. “It’s how our father raised us,” Shannon said. “He’s a very engineering-, operational-minded person. We didn’t get the option of not thinking like that.”
A bright future
Shannon is excited for Thermal-Vac’s future. “When I first started here, we were a fairly small, niche brazer,” he said. “We wanted to be the best at that one thing.” He points to Thermal-Vac’s involvement in other industries as examples of the company’s continued growth. “Getting into steel was big,” he said. “Now we’re up to 80 employees spread over three facilities, taking on these different disciplines and saying we’re the best at those too.”
Pros like Shannon are eager to help your business solve its most complicated manufacturing challenges. How can Thermal-Vac be of service? Give us a call at (714) 997-2601.