By Kim West
The sprawling Carpenter Technology plant teemed with activity Thursday morning as passenger vans filled with local officials toured the site and 650 construction workers maneuvered machinery and installed equipment at the 500,000-square-foot site in southern Limestone County.
The $518 million facility, which broke ground in April 2012 and is scheduled to be fully operational by April 2014, is home to the world’s largest hydraulic radial press frame, said Jim Seitz, program manager for Carpenter’s Athens Operations Program. The press frame arrived at the plant July 30 after being shipped overseas from Europe.
Turner Construction workers installed one of four cylinders to the looming, bright blue press frame this week. Mike Pace, project executive director for Turner Construction, said the cylinders apply hydraulic pressure to the specialty alloys manufactured by Carpenter. The pressure is said to produce a higher quality of finished metals compared to the traditional forging process.
Pace said two manipulators for the press frame will be shipped from Germany by late October. He said after the cylinders and manipulators are installed, the remaining work on the press frame — “a lot of pipe work and the electrical work” — could be completed by Thanksgiving.
Plant Director Ernie Jones said ingot bars will be sent from two Carpenter plants in Pennsylvania to the Tanner plant, where they will be manufactured into finished specialty alloys for customers in the aerospace, defense and energy industries.
Sietz said the ingot bars are 4 to 18 inches in diameter and up to 40 feet long. He said the first phase of the Tanner construction project will allow the plant the capability of manufacturing 27,000 tons of specialty alloy products.
Bernie Mara, vice president of global engineering for Carpenter, said the company generates about $2.5 billion in sales annually, with more than 4,700 employees.
Sietz said the Tanner plant currently has 82 employees, with plans to increase to 168 production and maintenance workers by June 2014.