Japan-based Kobe Steel Ltd. has announced it has broken ground on a $46 million plant in Bowling Green, Kentucky, that will manufacture and sell aluminum extrusions for the automotive sector in the United States. The new business will operate through a company called Kobelco Aluminum Products & Extrusions Inc. (KPEX).
The new facility will include a melt shop and casting line, an extrusion press and two vehicle bumper fabrication lines, according to KPEX. It will have extruded aluminum output of up to 500 tons per month.
KPEX says it will make bumper materials for cars and car frame materials. Plans call for fabrication operations to start in the second half of 2017 and the melting to extrusion processes to start up in the second half of 2018.
Kobelco says in North America higher Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards for 2025 are accelerating the need to lighten car bodies. “As aluminum extrusions are an effective way to reduce the weight of cars, demand for bumper beams, car frame materials and other extruded products is expected to greatly expand,” says KPEX.
Kobe Steel has been supplying aluminum bumper materials to Japanese automakers since the 1990s. The company says its weight-saving proposals include product development, such as for high-strength 7000 series aluminum alloys, and cross-section design technology for customers.
“The establishment of KPEX will enable Kobe Steel to manufacture and supply the same high-quality aluminum extrusions and fabricated products available in Japan in the North American market,” says the firm.
KPEX will be Kobe Steel’s second manufacturing operation in Bowling Green, following the establishment of Kobe Aluminum Automotive Products LLC (KAAP), which began production in 2005. KAAP makes aluminum forgings for automotive suspension systems and aluminum cast rods for compressors.
Cast shops and extruding operations commonly use aluminum scrap as a feedstock. “Nearly 40 percent of the North American aluminum supply is now created through secondary production, up around 10 percent since the early 1990s,” notes The Aluminum Association on its website.