Alcoa has started construction on a $100-million expansion at its Alcoa Howmet investment casting operation in La Porte, Indiana, where it manufactures compressors and turbines for aerospace and industrial gas operations. The 320,000-sq.ft. addition is intended to expand Alcoa’s product range to include larger-dimension parts in nickel-based superalloys, as structural engine components for larger aircraft, including narrow- and wide-body commercial and military airplanes.
The plant’s current range of products is supplied mainly to manufacturers of business and regional jets.
Construction is expected to be complete by Q4 2015, and Alcoa noted it has already booked orders from customers that will support the anticipated capacity.
The new operations will increase Alcoa’s capacity to supply engine parts for narrow-body aircraft, but also larger components than it now produces (up to 60% larger), which will encompass compression parts and airfoils for jet engines on wide-body jets.
Narrow-body commercial jets represent the highest volume product lines Airbus (e.g., A320) and Boeing (737), for which both OEMs are listing increasingly high volumes of orders and commitments, as new carriers emerge to serve rising demand in developing markets like China and India, and established airlines replace aging fleets and adopt newer designs capable of higher carrying capacity, longer range, greater fuel economy, and lower fuel emissions standards.
OEMs also report high demand for new wide-body aircraft, including the Airbus A350 and A380, and Boeing 747, 777, and 787 “Dreamliner”, reflecting many of the same market factors.
“Aerospace growth is soaring and Alcoa is ramping up our downstream capabilities to capture that demand,” stated chairman and CEO Klaus Kleinfeld. “Applying our industry-leading expertise, this facility will deliver highly engineered parts our customers need to build some of the best selling engines and at high volumes.”
Alcoa did not detail the new operation’s production capabilities, but it indicated it would be deploying digital x-ray capabilities for real-time quality control; 3D printing for prototypes; NDT systems that include “blue light technology”, for dimensional inspection; and advanced process controls for the automated investment casting furnaces.
The Indiana Economic Development Corporation has offered Alcoa up to $4 million in conditional tax credits, indexed to the number of new jobs to be established by the expansion. Alcoa predicts the expansion will lead to 329 new jobs by 2019.
Also, the city of La Porte approved tax incentives worth $7.1 million over a 10-year period for the new operation.