By Andrea Svendsen, Managing Editor.
Under the leadership of Momentum Manufacturing Group (MMG), Vitex Extrusion completed phase one of a $23 million capacity expansion project at its extrusion operation in Franklin, NH. This included the relocation of its fabrication department and the installation of a $13.5 million, 8 inch press line, which doubles the company’s production capacity for aluminum profiles to 55 million lbs.
“We’re excited to begin production on the new extrusion line,” said Andrew Curland, president and CEO of Vitex Extrusion. “Demand for custom extruded profiles from new and existing customers has surged since the pandemic and the new line will help us address this demand.”
In line with its investment in modern, state-of-the-art technologies, the company is in the process of changing its name to MMG Engineered Extrusions. “Dropping the ‘Vitex’ and changing the name of the business is a unifying approach,” noted Curland. “We work as a group and support each other with our various capabilities, personnel, and management. But we are still an aluminum extruder and are focused on growing our extrusion customer base. Around 75% of our shipments are lineal profiles without additional value-added features. ”
Merging for Growth
Sitting on 26 acres, the 115,000 sq ft extrusion facility in Franklin was initially constructed with two presses (a 9 inch and 7 inch) in 1986. Since then, the facility passed through various owners over the years before officially being incorporated and renamed Vitex in 2001. In May 2007, with backing from private equity, Curland acquired Vitex. The company grew its extrusion operations and added fabrication capabilities to become a successful aluminum solutions provider to a variety of industries.
“We look at ourselves as an industrial extruder,” said Curland. “While we do some work for B&C, trailers, and a limited amount of automotive, our primary market is advanced manufacturing, robotic automation, and consumer products. We’re well diversified, but essentially our approach is to look for opportunities that are a good fit for the capabilities we have.”
To support its customer growth, the company has continually worked to modernize and upgrade its operations with advanced technologies. In the eleven year period from 2008 to 2019, the company invested more than $18 million in various expansion projects, including the installation of an 8 inch, 2,750 ton Presezzi press with a Granco Clark handling system in 2011, which replaced the aging 7 inch press. The company later upgraded the new press with the installation of a state-of-the-art quench system and profile stacking system in 2015, followed by an automated lineal packing system in 2017 (all from Presezzi). According to the Aluminum Extruders Council press survey, it has been the highest performing 8 inch press in North America since 2016. As a result, the press quickly became the core of the company’s business.
Curland sold Vitex to MMG (formerly NSA Industries) in December 2019, largely with the aim of continuing the company’s growth trajectory. For MMG, the move was a strategic decision to expand its capabilities with the backward integration of aluminum extrusion into its group of companies. The group includes eleven facilities across the tri-state area of New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Vermont. With over 800 employees and about 750,000 sq ft of manufacturing space in total, MMG is able to provide a variety of metal manufacturing capabilities, including fabrication, precision machining, powder coating, assembly, and now extrusion. “MMG has a very aggressive approach to supporting customer growth via capital investment,” said Curland. “The group is continually investing and expanding across New England.”
With the backing of MMG and its new moniker of MMG Engineered Extrusions, the Franklin facility was able to implement its business plan for expansion. Phase one of the project included the expansion of the company’s fabrication and finishing capabilities and the installation of a new 8 inch press line, with phase two being the implementation of advanced auxiliary systems to support the new press line.
The MMG Engineered Extrusions operation in Franklin has seen growing customer demand for machining, fabrication, assembly, and other value-added features for extruded products. The company has continued to invest in these capabilities, but found that its existing building could no longer accommodate the growing capacity. In addition, having fabrication in the same building as the extrusion lines created logistical problems. “They’re two different types of manufacturing cultures,” said Curland. “For example, having a scrap truck move through a fabrication plant doesn’t work.”
Therefore, to continue growing the fabrication business, the company would need to move it to another building. Fortunately, a 50,000 sq ft building adjoining the existing Franklin facility became available. MMG Engineered Extrusions acquired the building and the 13 acres on which it was housed through a lease back arrangement in June 2020. The company’s existing fabrication and value-added machines were moved to the new building in the fall of that year. The company has been expanding capacity in the new building ever since, with room for continued growth.
The new building houses a number of machining, fabrication, and assembly operations, including eight vertical CNCs and six gantry CNCs that are capable of machining parts up to 144 inches long. The site also includes two CNC lathes, as well as various drilling and punching machines.
Most recently, the company installed a Modig 5-axis CNC machine, with a second machine of the same type on order. For the new machine, the aluminum profile is brought out of the extrusion rack and then placed in the infeed. From there, the machine automates the entire machining process and provides a finished part in a single-step operation.
In addition to their own fabrication operations, the MMG Engineered Extrusions business is supported by the capabilities of the entire group. This includes over 150 CNCs across various plants, as well as a large powder coating line, robotic welding, sheet metal stamping, and more. “Our capabilities as a group are unparalleled,” said Curland. ”There’s not a company on the eastern seaboard that has the metalworking capabilities of MMG. But in Franklin, we try to remain focused on custom aluminum extrusions and machined extruded components.”
New Press Line
The move to the new fabrication building opened up a 45,000 sq ft manufacturing bay within the company’s existing building, providing the space to house the new press line. Considering the success of their first 8 inch line, the company decided that a second 8 inch press would be the best option for the markets that they serve.
The new 8 inch, 2,920 ton press line was entirely supplied by Presezzi Extrusion Group. “We have had a very close working relationship with Presezzi,” said Curland. “We’re a small company, and don’t have a large engineering staff. We were able to explain our situation and what we wanted, and they provided the engineering and guidance, from the design through to the installation and start-up of the equipment.”
MMG Engineered Extrusions and Presezzi worked together through a number of challenges, including the COVID-19 pandemic (which required that the teams meet via video calls) and ongoing supply chain difficulties (including chip shortages and the unavailability of certain parts). Nevertheless, the companies persevered through these issues and the press was installed and successfully started up in March 2022.
Outfitted with the latest technologies and advanced safety features, the new press line is fully automated, from billet handling to extrusion through to the sawing and aging operation. The 8 inch press features an 11.5 second dead cycle time and is equipped with a Presezzi PE. E.S.S. energy-saving system that provides a 35% reduction in energy requirements compared to many existing systems. In addition, the press is outfitted with an advanced diagnostic system that constantly monitors all of the hydraulic and mechanical components (Figure 1).
Operation of the press line is managed using the Optalex press management system, which is electronic recipe software that runs the press in isothermal mode, which is a driving factor in achieving high performance.
At the front of the press line is a six-stage, energy-efficient tapered aluminum billet furnace from COIM (part of Presezzi Extrusion Group). The furnace has a maximum production rate of 11,000 lbs/h with a gas efficiency of more than 85% (Figure 2). Due to the multiple short heating zones near the exit door, the furnace is able to deliver a tapered heated billet to the press. This supports the extruder’s ability to achieve isothermal extrusion without having to change the speed of the press or the quenching rate afterwards. “What excited me most about the line was the COIM furnace,” said Curland. “I had visited COIM twice and was aware of the other companies in the U.S. that had installed this type of furnace. I knew that it was just a matter of time until we installed one of our own.”
Following extrusion, the profiles are processed through a double quench. The quench features a three-tier polar system that ensures fast cooling without distortion of the aluminum profiles, thus increasing the output of the line.
After the profiles are carried down the runout table and through the automated stretcher (Figure 3), they are cut to length (4–12 ft) at the high precision, double stage saw. Because of its double saw design, the system allows for two cuts to be made simultaneously. This avoids the typical bottleneck challenge that tends to occur at the finishing saw. Scrap from the saw is automatically processed through a chopping machine. An automated stacking system loads the profiles into racks (Figure 4), which can then be transferred to the aging area.
Phase two of the expansion is currently underway, including the construction of 35,000 sq ft of additional manufacturing space and the installation of new equipment that will complement the press line. It will also increase the level of automation for the line, thus improving safety. The new equipment, supplied by Belco Industries, includes new aging ovens with racking and packing systems, as well as an automatic die cleaning system.
The aging system to be supplied by Belco includes three new aging ovens along with a chain conveyor system. When racks loaded with profiles are delivered to the staging area, the system will stack and automatically feed them into one of the three aging ovens. The ovens are equipped with a PLC system that tracks trending data to ensure full control over the process. Once the aging process is completed, the oven doors will open and the racks will be transferred to the packaging area. The Belco packing equipment will destack the aluminum profiles, which will be bundled either for delivery to the fabrication building or for processing in the stretch wrapping machine before being offloaded for shipping.
In addition, Belco will supply an automatic die cleaning system, which will be installed as part of the expansion at the north end of the building. The system will allow the extruder to safely process the dies while using less caustic materials, making it safer for workers. Automatic valving and pumps will ensure a more efficient cleaning process and allow the operators to monitor the system.
With its expansion project nearing completion and operating under its new name, the MMG Engineered Extrusions business is moving towards its goal of being a value-added extruder for its key East Coast markets. MMG is not shy of further expansion either. “Our vision is to not only grow as an extruder, but also to grow within our group as a leading U.S. strategic manufacturing partner with backward integration into aluminum extrusion,” said Curland. “As a group, we are going to continue to be successful through investments in new technologies that will support our output and efficiency.”