“The biggest, baddest radial press in the world” resides in Limestone County.
And as of 12:20 p.m. Monday, it is in operation at the new Carpenter Technology facility.
“You have no idea how happy I am seeing it do that,” said Dave Strobel, vice president of Carpenter Technology, while the press went to work in front of a ribbon-cutting ceremony audience that included Gov. Robert Bentley, the company’s board of directors, elected officials and employees.
“The Athens Operations is unique,” said Gregory Pratt, chairman of Carpenter’s board of directors. “Athens Operations is lean; Athens Operations means quality.
“No effort was spared to make sure we have the best product in the world.”
The $518 million facility is seven football fields long and is across U.S. 31 from Pryor Field. The press forges specialty alloys for use in the aerospace, automotive and medical fields.
“Let ‘er rip,” said Strobel after company officials cut the ribbon.
And with that command, the monstrous press hummed to life.
An orange-hot billet about a foot in diameter was inserted for shaping by a claw-like manipulator. Several minutes later, after rolling and shaping the billet, the manipulator “handed off” the billet to a manipulator on the opposite side, which placed it on automated straightening equipment.
After finishing, the product is transported for delivery to customers worldwide. The specialty alloys and titanium products are found in aircraft landing gear, engines and the airframe itself. Other applications include uses in automobiles’ power train, braking and safety systems, as well as medical uses in dental instruments and joint reconstruction.
The plant, which employs about 150 workers now with another 50 expected to be hired when the plant is fully operational in May or June, will produce some 27,000 tons of the alloy product every year.
Carpenter recently celebrated its 125th anniversary, and CEO Bill Wolfson linked the company’s history to its future here.
“I believe the facility will be here, thriving, 100 years from now,” he said. “This facility is actually ahead of schedule.”
Bentley spoke of talking with Carpenter executives at the airport three years ago “about coming to Limestone County.”
“The products fit into what we’re doing in Alabama — aerospace, automotive and medical,” the governor said.
In the words of William Rudolph, Carpenter’s director of corporate communications: “We’re ready to rock and roll.”