When German steel tube manufacturer Benteler Group completes its first U.S. plant in Shreveport, La., in 2015, its workers will have undergone hands-on training at a state and locally funded training center built in part to simulate Benteler’s manufacturing environment.
Benteler is in the process of erecting a $900 million, 1.35 million square foot hot rolling steel tube mill on 330 acres at the Port of Caddo-Bossier in Shreveport, La. The move increases efficiency for the company, which was already exporting about 25% of its steel tube production to the United States.
After evaluating more than 100 sites in 13 states, Benteler executives say they chose the site in Shreveport in part because of the area’s strong energy sector. Benteler sells a large portion of its seamless steel tubes for oil and natural gas exploratory drilling and transport and to secondary markets in power generation and for mechanical applications in plants.
Benteler also credits Louisiana for a workforce training solution uncommon in manufacturing. State and local governments agreed to fund a $22 million workforce training center, now under construction at Bossier Parish Community College in Bossier City, across the river from Shreveport. The 65,000 square foot BPCC Center for Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering Technology will feature training labs that mimic the forthcoming Benteler facility, as well as other labs and classrooms meant to help the college expand its advanced manufacturing, construction and energy curricula.
Scheduled for completion in May 2015, a few months ahead of the opening of first phase of the steel mill, the training center will be the first stop for Benteler’s 675-person workforce, says Matthias Jaeger, president and CEO of Benteler Steel/Tube.
“Benteler has a variety of jobs to fill, from administrative to engineering to technical, and the availability of a skilled, proven workforce was a major factor in choosing North Louisiana for our first U.S. manufacturing facility,” Jaeger says. “We are making a major long-term commitment to the Shreveport-Bossier area, so we need to have certainty about the workforce of the future.”
First of Its Kind
Training facilities like the one benefiting Benteler are much more common in the auto industry than in the industrial sector. The facility will be the first of its kind in steel manufacturing.
“The value of the training facility is almost immeasurable,” Jaeger says. “It helps upgrade the entire regional workforce, creating a deeper reservoir of skilled workers, and for Benteler, it ensures a supply of people who are eager to be part of the next generation of innovation in steel tube manufacturing.”
Executives from the Louisiana Economic Development FastStart workforce training program and from Bossier Parish Community College are designing the training center’s programs for Benteler. FastStart Executive Director Jeff Lynn says the center will simulate the seamless steel tube processes used by the company, and will include a complete ghost rolling station.
“We will house systems for Benteler that will mimic the flow of work in their new facility,” Lynn says. “We’ll be able to train their operators and technicians on their entire processes within our training center.”
BPCC Chancellor Jim Henderson and Louisiana Economic Development officials flew to Paderborn, Germany, to observe Benteler’s workflow and production cycle firsthand at its main steel tube mill, which produces customized seamless hot-rolled steel tubes and seamless cold-drawn precision steel tubes for international customers in the automotive, OCTG line pipe, heat transfer, hydraulics precision engineering and construction sectors.
“It was extremely valuable to see the Paderborn plant,” Henderson says. “It gave us a concrete understanding of Benteler’s process and culture, the high-tech skill set that will be required at the new North Louisiana facility, and how we can craft curriculum to support the company’s ongoing workforce needs.”
The training center is designed to be highly flexible, Henderson says. Half of the space will initially be dedicated to Benteler. The other half will support BPCC’s expanding advanced manufacturing, construction and energy curricula and will include classrooms, e-training technologies and laboratories. The facility will also accommodate the evolving needs of current and future advanced manufacturing companies in the region, says Scott Martinez, president of North Louisiana Economic Partnership.
“We have Benteler moving to northwest Louisiana, we have Ronpak opening the first paper bag plant in 10 years in the country here, and we have other longtime established manufacturers,” Martinez said. “The plan was to develop a flexible, state-of-the-art training center that can respond to the needs of the expanding manufacturing sector.”
The Benteler team will work closely with BPCC to develop curriculum and customized programs that will train skilled steel manufacturers and operators, electrical specialists and maintenance experts.
“Our immediate priority,” says Jaeger, “is to have the training program running apace with our construction program so that we are ready to begin production just as soon as the facility is built and operational.”