By Andrea Svendsen, Managing Editor.
Editor’s Note: This is a slightly extended version of an interview that first appeared in April 2017 issue of Light Metal Age, as part of a longer article on the the current status and outlook of the aluminum billet industry in North America. The original article included interviews from executives at Alexin, Hydro, Matalco, Nanshan America, UC Rusal, and Service Center Metals, each of which will appear online over the coming weeks.
Christopher Boland began as manager of Business Development for Nanshan America in 2016, and in January of this year was named director of Sales & Marketing. Prior to this he has had 30 years of experience in sales and marketing roles with companies like Alcoa (now Sapa), Kaiser Aluminum, Alcan Rolled Products (now Constellium), and Aluminum Shapes. Boland began his career in specialty steel and titanium with Carpenter Technology and TIMET, respectively.
What is the status of Nanshan America’s aluminum billet business? What are the main geographic markets that the company serves? What are the alloys you most commonly sell?
We sell billet primarily to the central, northeast, and southwest regions of the U.S. Our principal alloys are: 6061, 6063, 6082, 6101, 6005, and 6005A. We also produce specialty alloys for specific applications.
How much of the company’s aluminum billet is made from prime versus remelt/recycled material?
The casting line is fed with a mix of scrap material and prime ingot. The prime versus remelt varies by alloy produced, but overall, we utilize approximately 85% remelt/recycled material and 15% prime in our melt. The facility can support 100% scrap usage and still provide a high-quality product for extruders, as the equipment is designed to efficiently manage the alloying needs demanded by the industry.
How does Nanshan America add value to its aluminum billet operations?
We offer several services including meeting customer specific analysis of common grades of aluminum; custom log and billet lengths; wide range of diameters; ultrasonic inspection; in-house quality assurance laboratory services; and a facility that is designed and operating under LEED initiatives.
Has the company implemented any new technology developments recently to improve production efficiency, quality, and specification of the billet produced? Does it plan to make such improvements?
We began casting operations in 2014, utilizing state-of-the-art technology in equipment and processing based on 110,000 lb batches. Nanshan America selected NuMax casting technology from Wagstaff for its complete casting system, which includes a model 500S ShurCast casting machine, AutoCast automated casting control system, and a custom reverse tilt mounting system engineered to pivot the table in a reverse position to allow for simultaneous mold maintenance and pit stripping.
Homogenizing equipment for the casthouse was supplied by GNA alutech, including four 50 ton homogenizing furnaces, two 50 ton cooling chambers, and a charging machine equipped with two separate motor-driven carriages. Each homogenizing furnace is equipped with six low-NOx natural gas burners.
How has the manufacture and supply of billet changed over the past decade? What do you predict for the future of the worldwide aluminum billet industry?
The technology has enabled producers to produce a better-quality product, controlling key metallurgical elements that can be better matched to new sophisticated applications for aluminum extrusions. The latest technology has meant that producers of billet can utilize a higher percentage of scrap and still produce high quality products adding to the green element that aluminum has in renewable resources.
Regarding the future of the industry, it is not clear how current and pending trade agreements will impact the global transfer of billet. For now, the industry will continue to be one that is positioned on a regional, cost efficient basis to the end-use customers.
How stable would you say the North American aluminum billet industry is at the moment? What are the challenges it is currently facing? What are the growth opportunities?
The North American industry is doing well. While there continue to be new players coming into the market and additional investments made at both the extruder and casting business level, the industry continues to innovate to maintain a competitive edge versus imports and enable downstream manufacturers and users of aluminum extrusions to refine their design and application specifications. The most immediate challenge is from imports, but keeping up with the latest in technology, staying close to the customer regarding trends in applications, and providing service and fast turnaround of material units will continue to give a competitive advantage to the domestic industry.
There has been some new consolidation in the extrusion industry recently—with UACJ Corp.’s acquisition of Whitehall Industries and Bonnell’s acquisition of Futura Industries. Has this form of consolidation had an effect on billet sales?
Certainly, where there is consolidation of companies, particularly in cases where one party now brings in-house casting to the other, the supply chain dynamic will change. However, the overall need for billet will continue to depend upon the most cost efficient and highest quality producer.
How much has the growth in the use of aluminum extrusion for automotive impacted the aluminum billet industry?
Automotive as in the case of the aerospace industry, with its new, stringent requirements for aluminum extrusions, has created new demand for aluminum in both volume and alloys required for these applications. This has led to the need for better processing technology, product development, and working more collaboratively throughout the supply chain to produce the alloys and quality required. This has enabled some producers to specialize in niche applications and differentiate their businesses.
How will the company’s aluminum billet business thrive in years to come?
Nanshan America will continue to develop in our core extrusion operations, where our own use of high quality billet will be a key component to our success, as both an extruder and supplier of billet to other extruders. We are in a unique position to offer technical support and translate the needs of our billet customers into products that we have a practical experience in producing. Log and billet sales will remain a significant and growing portion of our business going forward, as we will continue to provide innovative services to our extrusion customers.
Andrea Svendsen has been with Light Metal Age for over ten years. In her role as managing editor of , she addresses all areas of the magazine’s editorial focus. She works with authors, participates in industrial plant tours, performs interviews with industry managers, and writes feature articles to ensure relevant information is featured. Her editorial experience, along with her attention to detail, is critical in the production of the magazine.