Building on Success
By Brian Sandalow, Associate Editor
Click here to see this story as it appears in Modern Casting
Whenever a company announces a new or expanded casting facility, it’s a big deal for everybody involved. It shows a renewed commitment to the industry and their customers and also means the company is healthy and strong enough to bolster its operations.
That doesn’t mean it’s an easy process. Inevitably, challenges arise that throw up speedbumps and issues, issues that need to be overcome to make the projects successful. To see how growing companies rise to the occasion and finish their expansions, MODERN CASTING caught up with a pair of firms expanding their capabilities. They’ve both faced different issues and have faced them head on, with positive results.
In May, Pace Industries (Fayetteville, Arkansas) announced it would be expanding its Maple Lake, Minnesota facility. In a $6.3 million project, Pace is adding 60,000 sq. ft. to the plant in Maple Lake and also making adjustments to an existing structure. In any circumstance that would be challenging, but it could have been made even more difficult by the distance between Maple Lake and Pace’s corporate headquarters. There could have been times when communications would be garbled and important messages lost.
It doesn’t seem like that’s happening.
“A lot of the management on this project does take place locally. We have a team there that is involved in overseeing the construction. The general contractor does 90% of that work but certainly there is oversight,” said Rod Taylor, chief operating officer, Pace. “We also have a gentleman in our Fayetteville office that does a lot of our construction review, so he’s looking at plans and he’s looking at progress. He’s giving advice to the team onsite on certain structural and infrastructure thoughts because he’s been in the industry for years and years, so he does a very good job.”
That “gentleman” is Ken New, who’s done this type of thing before for Pace.
“We had a big issue in our Harrison (Arkansas) plant where we had to do a lot of construction work there in 2013 and he was very instrumental in helping us put that plant back together,” Taylor said. “He’s got a lot of experience in the construction of diecasting plants. So he’s been instrumental as the funnel back to our Fayetteville office.”
Because of the “funnel” of information, the construction process is about 40% complete and Pace hopes to start the move-in process by the second quarter of next year. To hit that target they have to be quick because, in Minnesota, there comes a time when construction can’t be done in winter.
“We’ve got to get indoors by the November timeframe,” Taylor said. “That’s a milestone for us. We’ve got to get a roof and cover on it in the next six weeks so we can be indoors finishing it up.
“Obviously, a lot of the infrastructure work we’re looking at carefully because the equipment we’re putting in there is going to require some of that infrastructure. We’re going to want to start moving that into place in that March/April timeframe. We have some hard dates that we really need to hit.”
Pace, one of the larger diecasters in the world, is doing this because they’re going towards larger-machine and larger-tonnage work. The eventual completion of the project would also be a milestone for the company.
“Historically, we’re in the 400-ton and below-type work up there. We’re in the process right now of getting two 600-tons in place,” Taylor said. “We also feel like we can get into the 850/900-ton machines up there. That’s what this expansion is really about. Expanding our capabilities into the larger-tonnage magnesium.”
That’s driving the vision for the project.
“As light-weighting goes on in the automotive world we’re going to see more and more opportunities in the magnesium arena to do some of that mid-tonnage,” Taylor said.
Beyond expansion into new markets, Pace will pick up other benefits from the project. For one, the Maple Lake facility will be organized differently and more efficiently.
“As facilities grow and start to become full, things kind of get shoved into places that they probably shouldn’t be shoved into, but you’re trying to maximize the output of the facility and maximize the utilization of floorspace,” Taylor said. “It kind of gets to where it’s not set up from a flow standpoint. One of the big attributes that we’re going to gain from this is a better flow of material, a more structured flow of material which we believe drives quality and productivity.
“We think those are key as we supply to the automotive industry.”
In March, KSM Castings USA announced it will be expanding its operations in Shelby, North Carolina. The $80 million investment from KSM will bring the hire of production workers, machine operators, pourers and other employees. The new building is planned to be 50,000 sq. ft. and will contain counter-pressure casting machines.
With the construction phase expected to be finished in March 2017 and slightly ahead of schedule, KSM is still facing challenges in its latest expansion.
“There have been scheduling conflicts with various logistical issues, coordinating operation of an existing plant alongside of a new plant,” said Keith Weaver, EHS director, KSM Castings USA.” One of the challenges with the construction of the facility is the current construction demands in the Carolinas. There’s a lot of construction going on right now, so that makes resources challenging.”
Because of the amount of construction happening in the region, availability of construction crews has been stretched, and as Weaver pointed out, “supply and demand increases costs.
Those factors, however, haven’t hurt the process.
“There’s been good weather. That’s one big factor. We’ve had a consistent project team. This is many of the same players that were utilized previously for design, construction and implementation. A lot of the same team members have done this before.”
As Weaver alluded to, construction has been a major part of life in Shelby for the last few years. The plant was first built in 2013, completed in 2014 and more machines were added in 2015. But this construction, Weaver said, doesn’t impact production much.
“It’s on the same site but it’s a separate manufacturing area,” Weaver said. “It’s partially connected with some of the facility services—water, gas, that sort of thing—but so far no major impact has been made to the current production at this site.”
Weaver does have some advice for any company looking to expand. It’s simple but valuable.
“Put a team together, develop a good plan and work your plan,” Weaver said. “That’s what’s happened here with the new construction.”