By Budd McLaughlin
TANNER — The idled Delphi automotive plant on U.S. 31 here will be humming with activity in a few months — but it won't have anything to do with cars.
Carpenter Technology, which is building a $518 million manufacturing facility across the road from the plant, announced Tuesday it will build a $20 million superalloy powder for use in aircraft engines.
Just three weeks ago, the company signed a 20-year, $600 million agreement with United Technologies, through its aerospace Pratt & Whitney division, for the production of the powders. Carpenter supplies United Technologies’ aerospace businesses with a portion of their overall demand for nickel, stainless, and strip laminate products.
Construction is expected to take about 18 months, with production slated to begin in late 2015.
The facility will be constructed within one of the Delphi buildings, the renovations needed to build furnaces, said Carpenter spokesman William Rudolph.
“We looked at the vacant lot and the buildings,” he said. “We decided we're going to make another investment (in Tanner).”
Limestone County Commission Chairman Stanley Menefee was “thrilled” upon hearing the announcement.
“It's great. I'm thrilled,” he said. “Carpenter's a great company; they're good folks.
“We have a great workforce here.”
Carpenter officials cited the local workforce as one reason for expanding its operations.
“There were several reasons why we selected Athens two years ago, including the location being ideal for future growth and expansion,” President/CEO William A. Wulfsohn said. “We also remain extremely impressed with our access to a strong pool of skilled workers.”
The company expects global demand for superalloy powder — its “ultra premium product” — to grow substantially as aircraft engine temperatures increase. The powder, which has the consistency of flour, is created by melting and atomizing ingots. Carpenter also expects demand for the powder to increase for applications such as energy and additive manufacturing.
With the addition of the new facility, Carpenter’s Athens operations are expected to employ 250 people by 2017.
Menefee sees the expansion and the recent designation of the area as an industrial park to possibly be the beginning of more growth there and elsewhere in the county.
“This makes me feel good for everyone in this area — Athens, Limestone, Lawrence, Madison, Morgan,” he said. “People will want to know what’s going on in Limestone County and want to come here.”