Alton Steel, Inc. has announced plans for a $4.75 million upgrade that will allow for the production of a new variety of processed steel.
The plant, located in the southeast corner of the city, currently produces steel bars which are refined by other companies into component parts for machinery everything from lug nuts to axles.
“We don’t make I-beams and structural components,” Jeffrey Hoerr, the company’s general manager of sales and quality, said. “Our products are forged, and are machined and fashioned into mechanical components for hydraulics or rail cars or even motorcycle components.”
These parts are produced through a “cold draw” process, where Alton Steel’s customers pull the unfinished items through a dye to shape them into the parts.
The upgrade, which involves installing new equipment in Alton Steel’s existing building, will allow for bars hundreds of feet long to be produced by the foundry currently the length of bars is limited to what a semi-trailer can accommodate.
The bars will be rolled into a coil, which Hoerr said looks somewhat like giant slinky. The advantage, he said, is that whereas before manufacturers had to individually feed the short bars into their machines, with the coiled bars the process can operate uninterrupted for significantly longer periods of time.
“We’ve joked that it is Alton Steel 2.0,” Hoerr said. “It’s the next generation level of activity for us, and it gives our customers a lot of faith that we are in it for the long haul.”
The mill will continue to make both traditional bars and coils, depending on the needs of its customers.
Company executives expect that the upgrade will be completed by early 2018.
Hoerr said the possibility of an upgrade has been in consideration for years, but improved market conditions, brought on by increasing gas prices, brought the idea to the fore. The company was also able to purchase the equipment it needed for coil production used from a shuttered mill, at a significant discount from new equipment.
“It’s easily the biggest project we’ve taken on,” Hoerr said. “You see big numbers in the steel industry when people make investments that wouldn’t catch people’s attention, but this is very well spent money for a company of our size for the focus that this product brings. It’s almost a surgical investment, and we are very exited about it.”
The move could also mean more jobs and fewer layoffs for steelworkers, Hoerr said, as the company expects its market share to increase.
“The outlook is pretty favorable,” Hoerr said. “Overall it looks sustainable and healthy, so we are looking at a pretty good run here.”