Editor’s Note: Top Extruders in North America is a new series of interviews, highlighting the growth, changes, and challenges facing the extrusion industry from the perspectives of major extruders in the U.S.
Bonnell Aluminum, headquartered in Newnan, GA, is a leading manufacturer of custom aluminum extrusions. Over its 65 year history, the company has grown its market footprint, unlocking capabilities far beyond the imagination of its founder, William L. Bonnell. Strategic acquisitions have allowed Bonnell Aluminum to become a full-service designer, manufacturer and supplier of aluminum extrusions. Under the current leadership of W. Brook Hamilton, Bonnell is working to leverage its expanded capabilities to bring custom-fabricated and finished aluminum extrusions to customers across practically every industry.
Hamilton joined Bonnell in 2005 as general manager of the company’s Woodbridge, Ontario, fabrication facility, which was part of the company’s then-owned Canadian division. In 2006, he became plant manager for the company’s extrusion facility in Newnan, GA. Hamilton was promoted to director of Business Planning in 2012, a position he held until becoming president of Bonnell in 2013. In this interview, Hamilton discusses the company’s vision for the future and how their core values and beliefs—including safety, communication, trust, diversity, accountability, respect, integrity, and celebration—have acted as a foundation for consistency and adaptivity throughout the company over the years.
Bonnell recently completed a rebranding effort, which the company considers to be equally as important to its manufacturing prowess. What led you to that work?
With the acquisitions of AACOA (2012) and Futura Industries (2017) in the past few years, we felt the time was right to consolidate and unify all our brands into one, allowing us to better serve our customers as a single entity. Following our recent rebrand initiative, including a refreshed and unified look, Bonnell Aluminum is setting itself up as being ready for additional growth.
What is the current status of your company’s aluminum extrusion business? What are the main geographic markets that the company serves? How many plants and extrusion presses do you operate?
With 15 extrusion presses and six operation facilities, Bonnell Aluminum is a leader in the aluminum extrusion industry in North America. We are headquartered in Newnan, GA, with additional manufacturing sites in Carthage, TN, Niles, MI, Elkhart, IN, and Clearfield, UT. Altogether, our U.S. facilities employ approximately 1,900 people involved in the transformation of mostly soft and medium strength aluminum alloys into semi-fabricated and downstream products. Our extensive array of capabilities, including press size ranges, fabrication, finishing, and value-added services, such as stocking and custom packaging, provide complete aluminum extrusion solutions to our customers.
We are also uniquely positioned with two remelt operations producing a large percentage of our aluminum requirements. This enables us to use as much recycled content as allowed by our customers based on their specifications.
Our served markets include building and construction, passenger cars and light trucks, sporting goods, pleasure craft, furniture, appliances, medical equipment, solar, conduits, electronic, LED lighting, industrial machinery and equipment, and custom distribution. In addition to our custom extruded, fabricated, and finished aluminum offerings, we also have two distinct product lines in Futura Transitions (flooring trims) and TSLOTS modular architectural framing systems.
How has your company been able to reach its position as a leading extruder in North America? What do you feel are the keys to your company’s success?
We have focused on the fundamental elements that have been the backbone of our company’s history: continuously adjusting our business model to meet our customers’ requirements; unceasingly balancing short-term and long-term objectives in every decision; and engaging and empowering our most critical asset in the execution of our strategies—our employees. Our growth and success rely on the diverse backgrounds, personalities, and talents of our employees, leveraging best practices across all our facilities, and the relentless pursuit of achievement and customer excellence. We acknowledge, respect, and nurture the unique talents and efforts each employee brings, and empower every one of them to be key contributors to our success.
When you acquired Futura, the company was fairly unique among extruders in that it had an onsite healthcare facility for its employees and their families. Has this benefit been extended to other Bonnell facilities?
It has. As a matter of fact, earlier this year, we opened an onsite healthcare center for our employees and family members at our Carthage, TN, facility. Based on what we see, it is a wonderful benefit for our employees. In addition to the benefits of a healthy lifestyle and convenient access to excellent health care, we believe this concept produces higher employee satisfaction and lower healthcare costs. While improving access to health care and reducing overall costs through education and encouragement of healthy behaviors, employees are receiving top-quality and patient-focused health care assistance. Our plan is to also develop similar innovative healthcare solutions at our other Bonnell sites.
How does your company add value to its aluminum extrusion operations? Does the company have fabrication, forming, finishing, or assembly operations?
Our company has very extensive fabrication and finishing capabilities. In addition to robotic stations for program-specific applications, we have a wide array of CNC machines used for a variety of operations such as drilling, milling, countersinking, and nut inserts. We have precision straight and miter saws, end-deburring machines, break and punch presses, hydraulic benders, and welding stations.
Also, as an industry leader in the commercial-architectural construction market, our in-house capabilities also include anodizing from four different facilities, as well as paint and thermal improvement. As we move forward, we are determined to add more capabilities to further enhance our product and service offerings.
What sorts of extrusion die technologies does your company implement? Do you source your dies from an outside vendor and/or do you manufacture them in-house?
We are a manufacturer of custom, fabricated, and finished aluminum extrusions. That’s what we do best! It is for this reason that we procure all our extrusion tooling from qualified die vendors that continuously invest in technology to improve the performance, reliability, and longevity of their tooling to us.
Has the company implemented any new technology developments recently to improve production efficiency, quality, and specification of the profiles produced? Does it plan to make such improvements?
We’ve been delivering on our mission to provide improved quality products and services to our customers via automation, robotics, high-precision capabilities, quality systems, and the use of lean six sigma methodologies across all our facilities—not to mention working in partnership with our customers.
How has the manufacture and supply of aluminum extrusions in North America changed over the past decade? What do you predict for the future of the North American extrusion industry?
Many extruders, including Bonnell Aluminum, are gradually offering more fabrication and finishing services. This is meant to help customers reduce in-house fabrication and allow them to focus more on assembly and distribution operations. This is one reason why Bonnell continuously assesses new capabilities and technologies to meet our customers’ requirements.
How has the growth in the use of aluminum extrusion for automotive impacted the industry in North America?
According to industry data, extrusion shipments to passenger cars and light trucks more than doubled in 2018 compared to 2010. Demand for automotive applications has definitely had a positive impact to our industry. We also believe the automotive market, which is known for precision and close-tolerancing, improved our industry’s overall standing for capability and service.
How stable would you say the North American aluminum extrusion industry is at the moment? What are the challenges it is currently facing? What are the growth opportunities?
We remain optimistic about the future of manufacturing. This is why we continue to invest in our business by upgrading existing equipment or adding new equipment and technologies to meet our customers’ product and service requirements. Above all, we are committed to building long-term and trusting relationships with our customers.
How will Bonnell’s aluminum extrusion business continue to thrive in years to come?
By continuing to invest in our business, we want our customers to know we are committed to serving their needs and we will do so for many years to come. We know that supply stability and security is more important today than ever; our customers can count on us as they have been for the last 65 years.
In addition, our recent rebranding initiative signifies the beginning of a new chapter for our company, symbolizing a company that continues to move forward, adapting to new market dynamics. The revitalized brand further positions Bonnell Aluminum as a premier manufacturer of custom, fabricated, and finished aluminum extrusions. This is a very exciting time for our company.