The Timken Co. made a big bet in the early 1980s when it committed two-thirds of its net worth to build the Faircrest Steel Plant, its first new steelmaking facility in the United States since World War II.
Since the plant's electric-arc furnace poured its first heat of steel of Aug. 5, 1985, it has proven to be a wise investment, evolving into what Timken says is "the industry's most advanced alloy-steel manufacturing facility in the world."
At the heart of that evolution is a series of investments and continuous-improvement initiatives that have helped the plant boost throughput and break through constraints, says Ron Balyint, director-bar manufacturing, for Canton, Ohio-based Timken.
"The original design capacity was 500,000 tons," Balyint tells IndustryWeek. "Over the past 27 years, we've pushed that throughput level to over a millions tons, first in 2008 and again in 2011."
In its first two decades, the synchronous, highly automated plant -- located on a 450-acre site near Canton -- "broke through constraints with very modest capital investments, if any," Balyint says.
But with business booming, and the manufacturer of specialty alloy-steel and industrial components pushing into new markets, Timken is pouring $250 million into the facility to boost throughput even further.
The centerpieces of the expansion are a new ladle refiner and large-bloom continuous caster, which are "expected to increase the Faircrest plant's shippable capacity by 25% and enable the production of a broader range of large-diameter bars," according to the company.
"We've been a bottom-pour facility for the first 27 years, and that has served us well, producing very clean steel," Balyint tells IndustryWeek. "But in order to capture yield gain, we've moved to this casting process, which will allow us to step to the next level in terms of our productivity."
Timken broke ground on the expansion on April 23, and the company hopes to have the new refiner and continuous caster online by early 2014.
Timken's investments in the plant also include plans for a new inline forge press, slated to start up in January 2013.
"We also have some improvements in our finishing area that will give us some more capability," Balyint says. "We've added a new Olympus ultrasonic test unit, so there will be a number of these improvements throughout the plant that people will be able to see and we'll point out."
Switching from Railcars to Trucks
The Faircrest Steel Plant also has broken through constraints by making process changes.
Prior to 2007, the plant loaded scrap into buckets via railcars. But the time it took for two cranes to unload the scrap from the railcars to the buckets "was becoming an issue," Balyint says.
"We also faced a question of whether or not to reinvest in our rail equipment, the locomotives, etc.," Balyint recalls. "What we chose to do at that time was go to 100% truck unloading, and that significantly sped up the process and avoided the need for an investment. It also broke that constraint."
The Faircrest Steel Plant, which employs about 350 hourly workers, runs 24-7, with a 12-hour downturn every two weeks.
The steel produced at the plant goes into Timken bearings, and it supplies customers worldwide for applications that include aircraft-engine main shafts and leading gear, automotive transmissions, tools for oil and gas drilling and array of bearing types and demanding industrial components, according to Timken.
For those who have never seen the electric-arc steelmaking process up close and personal, however, those details likely won't be the most memorable part of the May 31 Excellence in Action tour of the facility.
The plant's 175-ton furnace, which uses a combination of electricity and natural gas to melt the scrap, tends to take center stage, especially when it releases giant flames.
"We always like to get our visitors to see that," Balyint says. "It's quite a sight."