By Andrea Svendsen, Managing Editor.
Editor’s Note: This interview 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.
Tom Horter is the president and CEO of Alexin, LLC. He began in the extrusion and billet industry in 1988 at Cressona Aluminum, where he worked in technical roles for his first five years at the company and gradually moved into operations and commercial roles. This enabled him to gain the experience and connections to start up Alexin with the other founding members in 2007. Horter has served as president and ceo of the company since it commenced operations in November 2008.
What is the current status of Alexin’s aluminum billet business? What are the main geographic markets that the company serves?
Our core business is 6xxx series log and billet production. When we founded the company, one of our strengths was our breadth of product offering. And, as the billet industry has continued to evolve with greater imports supplying the North American extrusion market, we had to further diversify into new diameters, new alloy families, and into other products. This makes us a stronger company and a better partner for both our customers and suppliers. As with any remelter, scrap tolling is one of our key service offerings to extruders and this makes the remelt billet business a proximate one. We serve mainly the Midwest, within about 250 miles of Fort Wayne, IN, but have some longer hauls where it makes financial sense.
How much of the company’s aluminum billet is made from prime versus remelt/recycled material?
Alexin runs between 70% and 100% scrap content, depending upon the final chemistry we are making. We are impressed by the growing market for LEED certified billet, particularly to the building and construction markets. Our higher scrap content makes Alexin an attractive billet option for extruders looking to achieve the highest LEED points for their extruded products.
How does the company add value to its aluminum billet operations?
Our value offering, like any remelter, is mainly the services we offer that you just can’t get from a primary supplier, particularly an overseas primary supplier. The primary billet suppliers definitely have their niche and, quite frankly, North America needs substantial primary billet imports in order to satisfy the extrusion market’s appetite. But remelters offer a scrap solution and order pattern flexibility to the extruders that are relatively difficult for the primary players to provide. Another value offering we provide is for higher-alloyed products, particularly for the automotive industry. These products aren’t well-suited for primary suppliers. Their casthouses want to convert aluminum from their potlines into a solid form and want to do it relatively fast. Ideally, they’d want to turn the molten prime into a value-added product like billet. Lower-alloyed billet, such as 6063, gives them that opportunity.
Has Alexin 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 recently (2016) achieved TS-16949 certification for our quality system. That helped us button up several loose ends and helped us to improve our quality and service metrics. That was a huge undertaking and was very difficult to do, but it was worth the effort, we believe. Most of our investment is geared toward further broadening our product offering. Most notably, we will be commissioning our ninth billet diameter in the second quarter of this year.
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?
Without a doubt, the most notable change has been the well-foreseen evolution toward greater billet imports. Domestic smelters continue to close due to market drivers like electricity costs, and the extrusion market has grown steadily every year. This creates new challenges for all the players in the billet market, but it presents opportunities too. We expect this trend toward greater import volumes to continue and we will lean on our service and flexibility offerings even more in the coming years.
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?
We view the extrusion industry as being strong and healthy. The extruders have done an enviable job of expanding into new material markets, especially in passenger car automotive, and investing in capacity to meet that growing demand. After our start-up years of 2008-2009, this is so exciting to see. Speaking of the automotive sector, that area has been, and will continue to be, a bright spot for extrusion market growth. It’s great to see the extruders invest in new capacity for automotive part manufacturing, and also great to see the larger players acquire that capability through acquisition. Several recent consolidations have been automotive-centered. Again, I have to hand it to the extrusion industry, as they have impressively come out of the recession despite continued challenges. One incredible stat that continues to amaze me is that the extrusion market in North America, after about seven years of growth, is only now approaching the previous high water mark set in 2007.
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.