Relocated Steelmaker Forges New Efficiencies
27. February 2013
Sherry Baranek, senior editor at Moldmaking Technology, and I take in the sights at A. Finkl & Sons’ new plant in Chicago.
Where a layperson sees nothing more than a plastic consumer product on a store shelf, a machinist might muse about the processes and equipment used to produce the mold that birthed it. Even that machinist, however, might not give a second thought to the fact that the products' origins actually lie in superheated furnaces that transform scrap metal into blocks of steel with all the qualities necessary for machining. During a tour of A. Finkl & Sons' brand new facility in Chicago, I got a first-hand look at that process.
As interesting as that was, the company's move to a new plant has significant implications for buyers of its steel and forgings. Tim Nealt, vice president of sales, says the company's sprawling 44-acre plant on the South Side will offer significantly shorter lead times for higher-quality products compared to its previous 22-acre facility in upscale Lincoln Park. Here are a few reasons why:
- More advanced equipment. The new plant is fully stocked with the latest in steel production technology, such as a new 90-ton electric arc furnace that reduces processing time from four hours to one. Likewise, a new ladle metallurgy furnace and an improved vacuum argon degassing cycle boost steel quality by providing finer control of the chemical mix.
- Improved Logistics. At the former plant, buildings were separated by city streets, and space was tight. In contrast, the new space facilitates a smoother, more linear workflow, from the melt shop to the forge shop to the machine shop and everything in between. Additionally, the new site is already linked to major railways, so the flow of material both into and out of the plant is more efficient.
- Sufficient power. During the tour, Mr. Nealt recalled one instance in which the steelmaker was asked to turn off its furnaces so there would be adequate electricity to allow the Cubs to play a night baseball game. Such problems should now be a thing of the past, given that the new South Side site has its own electrical substation with more powerful transformers than the previous location.
By the end of the year, the company expects operations at the old site will be fully phased out and the new South Side plant will be operating at 100 percent.