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CarTech tackles strong demand with new plant

Keywords: Tags  Carpenter Technology, CarTech, Athens plant, steel, specialty alloys, aerospace, energy, Jim Seitz David Strobel

NEW YORK — Carpenter Technology Corp.’s new $518-million premium alloy plant near Athens, Ala., originally due to open this coming April, is gearing up to meet strong aerospace and energy demand head on.

Carpenter decided to push the start date for the 500,000-square-foot facility, which sits on 230 acres in Limestone County, up to January in order to meet the increase in end-markets demand. The facility will have a ribbon cutting ceremony Jan. 27, when most key components will be operational.

"It was a huge task," Jim Seitz, the project’s program director, told AMM in an interview when asked about the challenge of finishing the facility three months ahead of schedule. "Almost superhuman."

Wyomissing, Pa.-based Carpenter plans to produce 8,000 to 10,000 tons of material at the facility through 2014, with hopes of ramping up to the plant’s 27,000-ton annual capacity over the next four years. The company has the ability to eventually triple the project’s production capacity, if needed, it said.

"This is not just for now," David Strobel, the company’s senior vice president of global operations, said of the Athens operation. "This can serve Carpenter Technology for the next 50 years."

Carpenter planned the facility to function as a highly automated production line for its specialty alloy products, such that "a human being never has to pick up the material," Seitz said.

Ingots are brought to the plant from Carpenter’s Pennsylvania facilities in Reading and Latrobe, which the company expanded last year specifically to feed the Athens operation. Automated cars will transport the material between the various stages of production, which will all be electronically monitored.

The high level of automation at the facility will reduce both lead times and the manpower required to run the operation, Strobel said.

One of the few aspects of production that the Athens operation seemingly doesn’t have is melting capacity, which Carpenter said it will look into in the future if required. The project’s highlights, however, include the world’s largest radial forge, produced by German manufacturer SMS Meer GmbH, as well as capacity to hold up to 16 vacuum-arc remelt (VAR) furnaces, although only eight will be installed when the plant starts up later this month.

"I think we’ll have more remelting capacity than anyone else in the world, as a company, in terms of furnaces," Seitz said, also citing the remelting furnaces’ control algorithms, which the company said are proprietary.

Carpenter is undaunted by slow market conditions in the very end markets that supposedly motivated the project’s accelerated start date, Strobel said.

Jet engine destocking within the aerospace sector was a primary factor behind an 11.7-percent year-on-year dip in Carpenter’s fiscal first-quarter net income (, Oct. 29), it said.

"We knew somebody was going to need to put in more capacity," Strobel said, noting that Carpenter "was starting to run out of capacity" to serve its customers at the time of the project’s initiation. "We see (destocking) as a benefit, as far as the timing. It’s going to end. And when that happens, it’s going to turn around fast. We do expect it to turn around."

For now, Carpenter is looking forward to reaping the benefits of its new plant.

"With the systems we have here, we do hope we can leverage it to other facilities as well," Strobel said of the technology at Athens. "We’re dead set on being No. 1 in the world. We feel that we are."

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