Matalco Inc., a division of the Giampaolo Group, started up production at its new $80 million remelt and casting facility in Wisconsin Rapids, WI — making it the company’s fifth production plant in North America. The greenfield facility is capable of producing over 250 million lbs of billet or rolling ingot per year and is expected to generate almost 80 new jobs for the region. This recent expansion project marks a significant milestone in Matalco’s massive expansion project (announced in 2018), through which the company plans to increase its casting capacity by approximately 75%. This project enables Matalco to supply underserved market geographies, as well as to increase its product range in order to meet the demand from specialty alloy aluminum billet markets and the automotive industry.
“Matalco continues to see strong demand for both billet and ingot slab in the North American market,” said Robert Roscetti, vice president of Corporate Development, Matalco. “We have been looking to expand in the upper Midwest region for quite some time now. Based on ongoing discussions with customers in that area and a number of prospective clients, it made strategic and financial sense to build our latest facility in Wisconsin.”
Matalco Inc. is a part of the Giampaolo Group of Companies, a fully integrated metal management company that operates four complementary businesses. In addition to Matalco, the group includes Triple M Metal LP, one of the largest ferrous and non-ferrous metals recycling and processing companies in North America; Quantum Lifecycle, a recycler of electronic waste; and Venture Steel Inc., a steel service business.
As part of the group, Matalco is North America’s largest independent producer of remelt aluminum billet for the extrusion and forging industries. The company operates five facilities, including its headquarters in Brampton, Ontario, Canada, and its U.S. facilities located in Canton, OH; Lordstown, OH; Bluffton, IN; and Wisconsin Rapids, WI (which started operation this year). Thus, the company is well situated to serve Canada and the Midwest and Northeastern regions of the U.S., both as a billet supplier and as a local recycling center for aluminum scrap conversion.
Producing high-quality 6000 series billet, Matalco has an annual capacity in excess of 900 million lbs. The company’s business model maximizes the usage of scrap versus prime aluminum, with a typical scrap to prime aluminum ratio of 75:25%. “The majority of the raw materials consumed in Matalco’s production process are supplied from within a 500 mile (800 km) radius of our plants,” explained Roscetti. “This includes all aluminum scrap generated from our customers’ processes, most of our own scrap, and primary aluminum purchases.”
Wisconsin Greenfield Expansion
Wisconsin Rapids was selected as the site for Matalco’s new remelt facility due to its close proximity to customers in the Midwest. “We felt that this was an under-serviced region for a number of extruders,” noted Roscetti. “We also liked the excellent on-site rail access and the overall financial incentive package offered at both the local and state levels.”
During the planning stage of the project, Ramboll was appointed as the engineering, procurement, and construction manager (EPCM) for the project. In addition, the company provided support in the form of cost scheduling, vendor coordination, and construction and startup oversight. One of the key aspects of the planning process involved obtaining air permits for operation. By commencing these efforts in parallel with early design and procurement activities, Ramboll was able to facilitate timely environmental agency approvals.
For the equipment selection process, Matalco drew on its knowledge of the existing technology used within its network of plants. All of the suppliers went through a tendering process, including both new suppliers and equipment partners that the company had used in the past.
Working together, Matalco and Ramboll developed an aggressive construction and equipment installation timeline. Groundbreaking and construction commencement started in late 2019, with startup commissioning scheduled for August 2020. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the schedule was readjusted and revised. Construction management was provided by an on-site team comprised of experienced Matalco and Ramboll professionals. As construction came to an end, commissioning activities began in parallel allowing for a more rapid startup of the factory.
“Matalco’s new Wisconsin Rapids facility represents the second greenfield project that I have been fortunate enough to lead for Matalco,” said Roscetti. “Any project of this size and complexity offers its fair share of challenges (including the COVID-19 pandemic), however through an unwavering commitment from our project team at Matalco along with our engineering and construction management firm, Ramboll, and cooperation from our equipment suppliers, we were able to complete the commissioning and startup of operations and come in under budget.”
The approximately 110,000 sq ft Wisconsin Rapids facility is capable of recycling and remelting a variety of raw materials, including prime ingot, process scrap, and contaminated materials. This is thanks to the tilting rotary furnace (TRF) from Altek Melting Solutions and the tilting melting furnace from Gillespie & Powers (G&P).
The Altek TRF has a 33,000 lb charge capacity. Fired by air/natural gas burners, the furnace features a very high thermal efficiency (under 1,200 btu/lb) without the need for oxygen fuel. It provides the casthouse with the flexibility to process a wide range of contaminated low-grade scrap (including in-house dross), which would otherwise be unsuitable for the main melting furnaces. Aluminum scrap material is directly charged into the TRF through the wide-diameter door (Figure 1). With a rapid melting cycle of around four hours, the furnace is able to boost casting capacity at the site by around 150,000 lbs per day, depending on the scrap mix. Metal from the TRF can be transferred into the tilting holding furnace via a transfer launder or crucible, or it can be cast directly to sows.
G&P supplied a 115,000 lb tilting melting furnace and 115,000 lb tilting holding furnace, as well as a charging car and related equipment. Both furnaces feature natural gas burners supplied by Bloom Engineering. An electromagnetic stirring system from Altek enhances the efficiency of the furnaces and provides a more homogenized melt. Skimming of the molten aluminum in the melting and holding furnaces is performed via a rail-mounted machine supplied by RIA Cast House Engineering GmbH (Figure 2). The skimming machine, which can operate in either manual or automatic mode, features a 31 ft boom and laser sensors to ensure precise positioning. In addition, laser safety scanners check for any objects that may restrict its movement, enabling it to slow down and stop before coming in contact. The machine is also able to provide mixing and stirring of the bath for good chemical and temperature homogeneity prior to casting, as well as cleaning the furnaces between cycles and alloy changes. Skimmed dross is collected in a selection of Altek cast-steel molds, which can be delivered to the TRF for recycling.
One of the key molten metal processing steps prior to casting is degassing the molten aluminum to remove hydrogen. Matalco installed an aluminum compact degasser (ACD™) from STAS. The in-line degasser has ten rotors that allow it to operate at high metal flow rates. It can easily treat different types of alloys, one after the other, while also achieving optimal metallurgical performances with improved safety.
The heart of the new casting facility is the Wagstaff DC casting line with a ShurCast™ casting machine designed to support the starting head and base metal as it descends during casting (Figure 3). To cast billet, the facility installed a new NuMax™ mold table capable of producing 72 strands of 8 inch billet, as well as an existing NuMax mold table for 50 strands of 10 inch billet (which was brought over from their Bluffton facility). To cast rolling ingot, the facility installed an LHC casting table capable of casting three strands of ingot. The LHC technology is geared towards improved surface quality, with minimal oil consumption, and no casting water contamination. A reverse tilt system was installed to support and move the casting table away from the pit following casting. In addition, a maintenance tilt system allows for mold preparation and changes while the table is off the casting pit. The casting line includes an AutoCast™ automated casting system with SCADA to manage the casting process, as well as an automated casting water cooling system.
Billet handling and sawing systems were supplied by Advanced Dynamics (Figure 4). After casting, the billet is stripped from the pit using an overhead bridge crane and lowered onto the lay-down table, which features accumulation conveyor chains. The tables move the billet through ultrasonic inspection to the stacking tables and then on to either the homogenizing area or to the strapping and packing area for shipment. Prior to homogenizing, the billet is stacked into loads using a gantry crane, which also places spacers in between each layer. The entire handling process is automated via the Advanced Dynamics’ billet handling PLC program, which will receive feedback from the furnaces and coolers, enabling the charge car to select the appropriate destination for each load as it is processed through the batch homogenizing system.
For the homogenizing area, G&P supplied three batch homogenizing furnaces, two batch cooling chambers, and an automated load transfer car to process the loads through the system (Figure 5). The homogenizing area is fully automated, requiring no operator interaction. Each furnace features three control zones using one large and one small Maxon low NOx Kinedizer burner per zone. Both furnaces and coolers are rated to handle 120,000 lb nominal loads. They are equipped with high-performance axial recirculation fans, which can operate in either single-direction or reversing air flow. Adjustable internal roof baffles automatically account for varying load heights, assuring consistent air flow across every load regardless of height. A continuous elevated access platform across the entire homogenization system allows for increased safety and ease of access for plant personnel.
The automated load transfer car retrieves an unprocessed load from the stacking table, handles it through each stage of the homogenizing area, and then deposits the completed load at a de-stacking table for further processing through to the sawing area.
From the homogenizing area, an accumulation chain conveyor will deliver the billet one at a time to the Advanced Dynamics band saw system. The billet is automatically cut to length and then engraved with a laser marking unit to indicate any information required by the customer. Automated scrap handling delivers scrap from the cutting area to a scrap bin.
Two stacking systems were installed, one for short billet (ranging from 16-60 inches long) and one for long billet (ranging from 144-300 inches long). Both systems feature automatic strapping units for bundling the billet prior to shipment. Bundles are removed from the strapping area by the forklift operator.
With the start up of its Wisconsin Rapids casting facility, Matalco is now working to ramp up capacity. Once it reaches full capacity by the end of 2021 or beginning of 2022, this facility will be able to produce up to 250 million lbs per year of 7-16 inch diameter billet, as well as rolling slab.
Further Expansion in Kentucky
Matalco is continuing its North American expansion plans with a $53.5 million investment in the construction of another remelt facility in Frankfort, KY. Operating under the name Matalco Kentucky LLC, the plant will be housed within a 461,000 sq ft facility, where it will produce 270 million lbs of aluminum alloy billet and slab per year from recycled aluminum also for customers throughout the Midwest.
“We are extremely excited about entering this next phase of our corporate strategic growth plan. This investment demonstrates our continued commitment to serve our customers and expand our market share,” said Roscetti. “Overall, we are delighted to be part of this progressive community as this will bring new jobs and opportunities to the region.”
Selection of new equipment for the Franklin facility is already under way. Matalco entered into an agreement, for the engineering, supply, and installation of melting and holding furnaces from G&P. The order includes a 180,000 lb melting furnace, a 180,000 lb tilting holding furnace, and related equipment. The furnaces will be outfitted with natural gas burners from Bloom Engineering and Siberforce under-floor stirring equipment from Altek and will be designed to interface with the two automated charging and skimming machines from RIA. In addition, casting equipment will once again be supplied by Wagstaff. “Our new project in Franklin is progressing very well,” noted Roscetti. “The planned commissioning and plant startup date is set for Q3 2022.”
With the completion of its new casting facility in Wisconsin, Matalco is well positioned to serve the Midwestern extrusion market. As the company works to ramp up production, it will continue to focus on serving customers with high quality aluminum products, while also providing new capabilities. “Matalco represents a growth division of the Giampaolo Group of Companies,” said Roscetti. “Both the ownership team and senior executives are very positive on the growth potential and the various opportunities in the North American industry, especially regarding expansion into other alloys and product lines. We strive for continuous improvements in all areas of our business.” •