2009 Distinguished achievement award: William Lenling

// Materials Science & Engineering

Tags: alumni, Engineers' Day, MSE E-Day, William Lenling

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William J. Lenling
Thermal Spray Technologies
BSMetE ’85, MSMetE ’86
Sun Prairie, Wisconsin

“When I started graduate school at UW-Madison, I had no idea what a thermal spray coating was,” says William J. Lenling, co-founder and president of Thermal Spray Technologies Inc., in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. He had been planning a research project for a bicycle manufacturer, but when the funding was unexpectedly cut, Lenling found himself scrambling. The late Materials Science and Engineering Professor Frank Worzala came to the rescue, involving Lenling in his research for Fisher Barton to develop coatings to make lawn mower blades last longer.

After earning his master’s degree in metallurgical engineering in 1986, the Madison native — who had also attended UW-Madison to complete a bachelor’s degree in metallurgical engineering in 1985 — joined Fisher Barton as a materials engineer, where he continued his coatings research.

Shortly after Lenling joined the company, Fisher Barton received a U.S. Department of Energy technology transfer research grant to work on thermal spray coatings at Sandia National Laboratories. Lenling and his newlywed wife, Lynn, moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico. His work at Sandia generated the basis for multiple patents and best paper awards, and Lenling developed a comprehensive understanding of how to create coating solutions for a variety of industrial applications.

The Lenlings returned to Wisconsin in 1990, where Lenling and Fisher Barton owner Dick Wilkey decided to create Thermal Spray Technologies in 1992 as a spin-off from Lenling’s work at Sandia. Lenling was vice president when the company officially opened its doors, and he became president in 2008.

Thermal Spray Technologies has grown from a small business with a handful of employees to a thriving company with more than 75 employees and annual sales of more than $16 million. The company has developed and produced many coatings that provide critical technology to its customers’ components. The coatings are used on life-saving electro-surgical instruments, aerospace components, national defense systems, food processing equipment, agricultural machines, bicycles and motorcycles, cellular communication devices, and automotive components, among many others.

Thermal Spray Technologies has received a variety of state awards, including the Wisconsin Small Business Innovation Award for Outstanding Achievement, the Wisconsin Innovation and Research Award, and Wisconsin Manufacturer of the Year, along with various customer excellence awards.

Lenling has also chaired several committees for the Thermal Spray Society of the American Society of Materials. He is also a member of the Thermal Spray Society Board.

Outside of work, the Lenlings and their three daughters, Mia, Ana and Alli, enjoy many outdoor activities, including, swimming, biking, running, cross-country and downhill skiing, boating, and fishing. They are also big fans of Badger sports.