Timken is not just feeling pressure these days.
The Canton bearings and steel maker also is adding pressure — specifically, 3,300 tons worth on the steel made at its Faircrest plant.
Timken officially commissioned its new $35 million in-line forge press on Wednesday, part of a larger $270 million investment in the Perry Township factory to increase output of its high quality bar steel.
The press takes in seven-ton ingots made at another part of the sprawling plant and, with the solid steel at a red-hot 2,200 to 2,300 degrees Fahrenheit, squeezes, or forges, the metal down from 28 inches to 22 inches using 3,300 tons of pressure before sending it along for further processing elsewhere.
“It’s unique to North America,” said Tom Moline, vice president for steel manufacturing. The end result of the forging process is a steel bar that is “sound” with no holes or gaps in the interior. Also significant, the new forge press allows Timken to make larger size alloy bars that it otherwise could not make.
“All told, this will give us an additional 40,000 tons of capacity [a year],” Moline said. “It took us about a year to build it.”
The Faircrest plant can produce about 1.4 million tons of steel annually; the $270 million in expansion and productivity improvements will add to that. About 375 people work at Faircrest, which began operating in 1985.
Timken has 15 shifts of people working around the clock five days a week making steel at Faircrest.
Timken initially spent nearly half a billion dollars in building Faircrest in what is a former cow pasture; it was the first alloy steel mill built in the United States since World War II. The investment was nearly as much as the company was worth in total at the time, said Moline. “They bet the company on this steel plant,” he said.
Faircrest initially was able to make 500,000 tons of steel a year; subsequent improvements brought that capacity to a million tons, Moline said.
The company realized that it needed to expand the plant to boost capacity further, he said.
Timken takes scrap steel into one side of the mill and melts 175 tons at a time to 3,100 degrees in a massive arc furnace, eventually turning the molten metal into more refined steel products sold largely to industrial and oil and gas industry customers. Some of the Timken customers were visiting Faircrest on Wednesday for the forge press commissioning.
Bob Perez, a team leader at Timken, began working about two years ago on the forge press as part of the project’s operations team. The idea is to increase capacity and capability, he said.
“We have a lot of big projects going on,” Perez said.
That includes a more than $200 million project under way outside Faircrest’s main walls where a new, massive continuous caster is being built and is expected to begin operations in the second half of 2014. Timken is also adding a second ladle refining station at the plant that should be put into production shortly.
The heat is on the Timken Co. in a couple of ways.
Activist shareholders Relational Investors and the California State Teachers Retirement System pension fund have joined up to pressure Timken to spin off its steel business into another publicly traded company. Timken management is opposed to the shareholders’ proposal, which will go to a vote at Timken’s annual meeting on May 7.
Jim Mackinnon can be reached at 330-996-3544 or firstname.lastname@example.org