John M. Storm

President and CEO/Founder
Contour Hardening Inc.
BSMetE ’77

For his outstanding technical leadership and entrepreneurship in developing induction hardening systems and services, and for his service to Purdue University, the College of Engineering is proud to present the Distinguished Engineering Alumnus Award to John M. Storm.

Finishing First

When Indianapolis 500 race car driver Arie Luyendyk crossed the finish line first in the 1997, he was driving on the stronger, lighter gears developed by Contour Hardening, Inc. Not coincidentally, Scott Goodyear, the second-place Indy 500 winner in that same year, was also using Contour Hardening’s patented gears, which are half as wide, yet twice as strong as the industry standard.

Founded in 1986 by John Storm, Contour Hardening sets the new industry standard in the world of metallurgy, providing better, more durable gears and engine parts for less money.

Storm had been working in the auto industry since graduating from Purdue in 1977, when he took a position as a process metallurgist with Detroit Diesel Allison, a division of General Motors in Speedway, Indianapolis.

“I had been out of Purdue for three months,” Storm says. “I was twenty- one years old, and I was in charge of a furnace the size of a small building. So I called my boss and said, ‘W we’ve got it all swapped out and ready to start testing.’ And he said, ‘Well, how long will it take to start?,’ and I said, thinking he was going to come down, ‘About thirty minutes.’ He said, ‘Great, I’ll be home in about thirty minutes, and you can start then.’ If it was going to blow up, he was going to be a long way away.”

The furnace did not blow up, and Storm was on the cutting edge of a new furnace application utilizing a methanol / nitrogen atmosphere, a technology that is now an industry standard. Storm’s innovations would eventually save GM over $6,000,000 per year.

“Soon after this,” Storm says, “ GM came to me and said, ‘What do you want to work on next?,’— which is kind of an odd situation.”

A New Direction

Storm was given a small staff, and he began investigating an advanced heat treating process for gears.

“We went through a series of analysis in 1980 on this distortion process associated with gearing,” Storm says. “And we came up with an alternative means to do the thermal processing—the keys to the process were very rapidly heating the working surface of a gear approximately a millimeter deep to 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit in less than half a second. So it’s like a light bulb going off instantaneously on the diameter of a part.”

GM gear specialist Mike Chaplin took note and approached Storm about this new hearting technology, soon to be called the Micropulse Process. “He looked at me very frankly and said, ‘We need to build one of these and put it in our garage,’” Storm says. “And this is a million- dollar machine that does all this.”

In 1986, when GM declined to patent the improvements, Storm and Chaplin found investors and struck out on their own. “We get the tough ones,” Storm says of Contour Hardening’s industrial assignments., “Wwe get the cats and dogs. After someone has exhausted multiple ways of trying to process these types of parts, they pick up the phone and call us.”

The first four years of business were difficult. “We thought we would populate the world with these very large, rather expensive machines,” Storm says. “We didn’t sell any of them for five years—probably lost between three and four million dollars in this time frame. We were in what I called a survival mode. All businesses need to go through that because you learn in that mode how to survive long term.”

In 1990, however, Contour Hardening sold its first system to a South Korean transmission manufacturer. From June 1995 to January 1997, the company had a 300% growth period. Due to this rapid growth, in 2000 the company relocated to a larger facility in order to accommodate new staff and equipment. In 2002, sales were $11 million.

“Customer education is crucial in our business,” Storm says. “Once the customer is educated, almost ever customer becomes, very quickly and very easily, a repeat customer, because they see the absolute value of the process.”

Lessons Learned

”The one thing that Purdue teaches you is the mechanics of how to solve problems,” Storm says. “This is the key to success in engineering--—the methods that you use to analyze a problem, testing, and data collection. Good engineers collect data and that’s the first thing they do. Once you collect data, you can create a hypothesis. Many people don’t go through those steps, but, time after time, when you do, answers and solutions become obvious.”

2003 Materials Engineering Board of Advisors, Purdue.
1999 Materials Engineering Outstanding Engineering Alumni, Purdue
1998 Appointed to Rose-Hulman University Board of Advisors, Purdue
1996 Entrepreneur of the Year Award, State of Indiana
1994-present President and CEO, Contour Hardening, Inc.
1992-94 Co-Founder and Vice President of Research & Development, Contour Hardening, Inc.
1989 Received first patent (Advanced Rapid Thermal Processing)
1987 Society of Manufacturing Engineering, Outstanding Young Engineer of the Year Award
1986-92 Co-Founder, Contour Hardening Inc.
1979-86 General Supervision, Manufacturing Development, Detroit Diesel Allison
1977-79 Process Metallurgist, Detroit Diesel Allison

BSMet’77, Purdue University