JW Aluminum Co., Goose Creek, South Carolina, first announced the $250 million Phase I of a two-part expansion plan for its Goose Creek/Mount Holly operations in 2018. Phase II of the project will bring the company’s total investment to more than $300 million.
JW Aluminum says the project also represents the fourth largest economic development announcement in South Carolina. JW Aluminum says its expansion is the second largest in Berkeley County (Google made the largest expansion in the county) and it adds 50 new jobs to the area.
Phase I will replace the existing melting and casting capacity at the South Carolina mill, while Phase II will add new mills, annealing furnaces and other processes that will allow JW Aluminum to realize the full capabilities of the caster, says, CEO Lee McCarter, as well as further expand the company’s production. He adds that JW Aluminum expects Phase II of the expansion to come online in 2022.
As of the close of 2019, the Phase I expansion was well underway. According to the company, it represents the most significant capital investment in domestic continuous cast technologies and capabilities since 1998, making JW Aluminum’s Goose Creek plant one of the most technologically advanced continuous cast facilities in the world. The expansion also will enable the company to increase the amount of scrap used in production from 65 percent to 100 percent.
South Carolina’s Berkeley County is home to the company’s corporate offices, which are in Daniel Island, and its largest sheet mill, which serves building and construction customers. The mill primarily produces 3000-series and 1000-series aluminum alloys.
Phase I includes construction of a new 220,000-square-foot building—the size of nearly four football fields—and installation of equipment that will result in 50 million pounds of new capacity. Following completion of Phase II, JW Aluminum will increase its production capacity by 175 million pounds in total.
The company was founded in 1980 as a division of Jim Walter Homes Inc., which made prefabricated homes and aluminum siding. “It was a backward integration play for them into an aluminum source for the siding of homes,” McCarter says.
Today, JW Aluminum manufactures flat-rolled aluminum products, including sheet products for the building and construction markets, fin stock used by the heating and air-conditioning industry, light-gauge converter foil for the flexible packaging industry, honeycomb foil for the aerospace industry and other sheet and foil products.
Investing in growth
Over the years, JW Aluminum has expanded through acquisition, purchasing plants in Russellville, Arkansas, and in St. Louis from Alcoa in 2004 and a mill in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, in 2007.
The Russellville mill serves customers in the consumer durables and general distribution markets, focusing on 1000-series and 7072 alloys. Its St. Louis facility produces foil products, including gauges as low as 0.000275 inches, and serves customers in the container and packaging and general distribution markets. Its focus is on 1000- and 8000-series alloys. The Williamsport mill specializes in rolling foil products for the aerospace, containers and packaging and general distribution industries. It produces 1000-, 3000-, 5000- and 8000-series alloys.
“JW is in a unique position compared to, say, Aleris in that we cover the gamut of gauges out in the marketplace from thicker products for building and construction to thinner products for packaging,” McCarter says.
Its Goose Creek/Mount Holly mill is the largest of JW Aluminum’s operations, producing some 230-to-240 million pounds annually, depending on the product mix, he says. The other facilities produce roughly 120 million pounds annually, for a companywide yearly production capacity of 360 million pounds.
After weathering the Great Recession, JW Aluminum embarked on a project in 2010 to standardize operations across its four mills, McCarter says. This project, which took roughly five years to complete, involved developing consistent business processes and sourcing and marketing strategies.
“At the end of 2010, we changed ownership, and those new owners invested a considerable amount of money into JW Aluminum, and we furthered our efforts around people, processes and how we deliver value to the marketplace safely,” McCarter says. “It’s something we call WIN.
“The investment we are making now for vastly upgraded technology and the capabilities of the company, it’s going to make us more scrap-based,” he continues. “That facility is predominantly scrap-based today and will be fully scrap-based tomorrow with our new investment.”
JW will have the latest melting and casting technology available as a result of the expansion. The site will employ environmentally efficient melting and recycling technology from U.K.-based Mechatherm International Ltd., the Hazelett Twin-belt Continuous Casting Process from Colchester, Vermont-based Hazelett Corp. and a hot tandem mill from Mino SpA of Alessandria, Italy.
Many aluminum mills use a multistep process to melt scrap today, McCarter says, that includes preprocessing or pretreatment in a rotary furnace, for example. “We are putting in a technology that is very efficient and allows us to consolidate those steps so there will be no pretreatment of our product. In the furnace, when we burn our scrap, it will burn off the impurities, preheat the material and then dump it in the bath, if you will, that will ultimately be cast through the caster.”
After the operator loads the scrap bin, an automated guided vehicle will pick up the bin and transport it to the furnace. “From the time the operator loads the bin to the time it comes off of the first pass out of the mill—about 225 feet—it will not be touched by a person,” McCarter says.
He adds that he expects the technology to improve safety at the mill as well as expand the careers of JW Aluminum teammates because it will take them out of the hottest part of the process.
Additionally, the consolidated casting process “will vastly improve the throughput and the quality of the product that is being produced,” he says.
Increasing scrap use
The company’s thin-gauge plants do not consume scrap, though its St. Louis plant does use some of its internally generated scrap.
“Our Russellville, Arkansas, facility, which is HVAC, is partially scrap-based,” McCarter says. “But it’s a higher purity alloy that is in that particular market.”
He says JW’s Goose Creek/Mount Holly facility plans to use 300 million pounds of aluminum scrap in 2020. “That is inclusive of what will be fed into the startup of our new equipment.”
The aluminum scrap grades JW commonly consumes in South Carolina include painted siding, mixed low-copper clips (MLC), 3004, 3003 and 1100 alloys.
“We will only produce one alloy going forward: 3105,” McCarter says of the Goose Creek mill. “We are going to be the best 3105 domestic producer that there is” using the highest level of scrap.
The new melting technology from Mechatherm will allow JW Aluminum to use a wider range of its traditional scrap grades as well as used beverage cans (UBCs). McCarter says the company will blend its incoming scrap “to our chemistry in the most economical way.”
He adds, “Because of the environmental controls and the melting solution that we are putting in place, we can use a wider array of the scrap within the families of painted siding and MLCs.”
He adds, “When we go to the completely new melting technology, that allows us to use the full range of scrap. Because of the environmental controls and the melting solution that we are putting in place, we can use a wider array of the scrap.”
In 2013, JW Aluminum began using Cincinnati-based David J. Joseph (DJJ) as its primary scrap buying agent for its Goose Creek/Mount Holly plant.
“We work together in going to the market to source scrap,” McCarter says.
“We have three different avenues for us to get raw materials,” he says of JW Aluminum’s approach to scrap sourcing. “I can go directly to my customer and get a closed-loop system in place, and we do in fact have those arrangements in place. We do have arrangements where we will go directly to a yard. And we also have arrangements where we work through DJJ to source products through their yards or other yards in the United States.
“We will go wherever it is most economically feasible to get the scrap,” McCarter explains.
He adds that most of the company’s incoming scrap is supplied from within a 300-to-350-mile radius of Charleston, South Carolina.
McCarter says JW Aluminum’s Goose Creek/Mount Holly mill “should be ready to utilize hot metal sometime in the second quarter of 2020.”
The company is running its existing melting and casting operations until the new operation is ready to “turn on” later this year, he says. “But because of the capacity upgrade we are putting in place, this new operation effectively only has to run three-and-a-half days a week, whereas the existing melting and casting operation has to run seven days a week.”
McCarter continues, “When you can make an investment that provides a good return, when you can invest in your teammates and provide them with a return and when you can invest in our country and allow it to become more environmentally sustainable, that seems like a good formula for success.”