By Kim West
Motorists driving over the Hudson Memorial Bridge early Monday morning glimpsed a strange sight among the usual pleasure crafts that dot the tranquil Tennessee River, as a barge bearing a mammoth shipment draped in blue-and-orange sheeting chugged into the Riverwalk Marina harbor.
Described by company officials as the world’s biggest hydraulic press, the 160-ton radial press frame was shipped three weeks ago from Germany and will be headed to the $500-million, 500,000-square foot Carpenter Technology facility under construction in southern Limestone County. After the frame is delivered overnight Tuesday to the Carpenter plant via a 9-mile route at an average speed of 2 to 3 miles per hour, it will be housed in the radial press building on the sprawling site.
The press frame, which will depart the marina with a police escort at 9 p.m. Tuesday and arrive by 5 a.m. Wednesday, will be used to apply finishing force to the specialty alloys in products manufactured at the plant.
Jim Seitz, program director for Carpenter’s Athens Operations Program, said the logistics of transporting the press, which cost between $35 and $40 million to purchase and ship, was “a months-long process.”
Following a tour of the Limestone plant on Monday, Seitz said it is on schedule to open within the next eight months. He described the product movement at the plant as flowing from west to east, with room to expand the plant to the north of the existing facilities, including the ingot conditioning and re-melting buildings, employee locker room and entrance and a product-testing lab that opened in April.
“April 1, 2014 is our full production start-up date, and we’re on schedule to achieve that,” he said.
The plant will be among Carpenter’s top three largest of “10 to 15 manufacturing facilities” in the U.S. based on square footage, Seitz said. The Limestone facility currently has 82 employees, with plans to hire more on a monthly basis.
“We have an equipment startup schedule, and we’ll be hiring employees to that schedule,” he said. “I estimate we’ll have 150 hired by the end of the year, and that’s including maintenance, staff and (production) employees. Over the next couple of years, we will ramp up to 200.”
Seitz said skilled workers are a plus, but the company is providing training for new hires while seeking employees that are team-oriented.
“We’re doing all the training ourselves, and we’re looking for employees with good attitudes and wiling to work in a team environment. Most of all, we want people that are able to work safely and with the highest regard for quality.”