Change agent
Thomas Modrowski say the time is right for a "nimble and disruptive” company in the aluminum industry.

Change agent

Thomas Modrowski, president of Braidy Atlas, seeks to bring disruptive change to the aluminum industry.

February 25, 2019

Earlier this year, Braidy Industries Inc., headquartered in Ashland, Kentucky, named Thomas Modrowski president of Braidy Atlas, its subsidiary that has plans to build a $1.6 billion aluminum rolling mill in Ashland. In this new role, Modrowski is tasked with overseeing mill completion and integrated aluminum sheet production for Braidy Atlas, a greenfield aluminum rolling mill that plans to serve the automotive and aerospace industries by providing lightweight sheet aluminum.

Modrowski has nearly 40 years of experience in aluminum and steel processing, as well as experience with greenfield construction in the steel industry. He says he is looking forward to this “once-in-a-career opportunity to build a best-in-class operation from the ground up.”

For Modrowski, this is an opportunity to eliminate “inefficiencies, customer frustrations, quality concerns and unnecessary cost drivers by design and from day one of operation.”

He is joined in this task by “several lifelong metals industry veterans” who he says are eager to “set a new standard for the industry.”

Modrowski adds, “With all of the rapid changes in the markets, it’s a great time in the metals industry to be nimble and disruptive.”

In the Q&A that follows, Modrowski provides an update on Braidy Atlas’ development.

Recycling Today (RT): Why is this the right time to build a greenfield aluminum rolling mill built in the U.S.?

Tom Modrowski (TM): At Braidy Atlas, we believe a greenfield aluminum rolling mill is long overdue. The youngest in the U.S. was built 35 years ago. The oldest was built roughly 99 years ago. The equipment layouts operating in facilities simply cannot efficiently meet the high demand of today’s automotive customers.

Throughout their careers, our experienced team has collectively processed and shipped millions of tons of carbon steel and aluminum sheet product destined to make hoods, deck lids, doors and other automotive outer body panels. Our facility has been designed utilizing the team’s collective experience to eliminate the inherent issues found in the older facilities of our competitors.

RT: Can you tell me more about the site you selected and why it appealed to the company?

We sought to qualify over 24 sites at the beginning of this endeavor. Ashland, Kentucky, became an easy choice, providing incredible transportation logistics to our target customers and positioning us to be the leader in closed-loop recycling.

In addition to favorable existing conditions and facilities, including an excess of available advanced manufacturing workforce candidates and a community college system fully capable of providing the required training, we have received local and state support for our vision. In fact, we had nearly committed to another site when Gov. (Matt) Bevin began his communication with Craig Bouchard, our CEO.

After our first visit, and once we were presented with the numbers, especially concerning the employable base of advanced manufacturing workers, it became a clear choice for us. Ashland is the right home and presents us with over 20 competitive advantages, including access to water, rail and land transportation, favorable utility rates and a very warm and welcoming community that has invested in our success from day one.

RT: How large will the facility be and what equipment will Braidy Atlas have on-site?

We’ll have about 1.7 million square feet under one roof. This will be the 13th largest building in the world—as big as two pentagons.

German mill builder SMS is providing both the hot strip mill and the two cold reduction mills, as well as the ingot preparation machines, roll shop, material handling automation and recoil line. Austrian manufacturer Ebner is providing our melting/casting machines through their subsidiary Gaustschi, as well as all heat treating equipment, including hot strip mill reheat furnaces, batch annealing shop and both CASH (continuous annealing solution heat) lines.

We have taken no technology risk, as all of the equipment is successfully in operation somewhere in the world, and both companies are recognized leaders in their fields of expertise.

RT: What products will Braidy Atlas produce and in what tonnages?

We have designed the facility to provide the widest fully processed sheet available at 104 inches. The facility has a designed capacity of 500,000 tons of hot roll and 300,000 tons of fully finished cold roll. We’ll be producing 3000x, 5000x and 6000x series alloys, with the capability on our CASH lines to produce 7000x series. 

Additionally, with our recently acquired company incubated at Northwestern University, NanoAl, we anticipate delivering material strengths 20 percent greater than those currently available.

RT: How will scrap factor into your raw material usage at the facility? What grades will you be sourcing and what radius do you expect to source material within?

We are on a constant quest to identify the highest quality, lowest cost metallic inputs.

As mentioned earlier, we intend to be the leader in closed-loop recycling with automotive customers.

Additionally, our technical team, born out of MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) and located in Massachusetts, has been working on technologies that have the potential to refine various scrap sources, including UBCs (used beverage containers), further distancing us on the quality/cost curve from our current competition.

RT: Have you begun discussions with scrap vendors and do you have any supply agreements in place?

We have begun discussions with a broad spectrum of potential partners, including those in scrap collection and processing. All scenarios demand a local presence with the ability to provide molten aluminum to our cast house.

RT: I understand the mill’s first seven years of production are already sold out. What companies do you have supply agreements with?


TM: We don’t disclose the names of our prospective customers. That said, we have nonbinding MOUs (memorandums of understanding) or binding take-or-pay arrangements from a domestic and international base of roughly 20 top OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) and large service centers exceeding the capacity of the mill. We are currently planning to size those commitments to the designed capacity of the mill.

These commitments also encompass closed-loop recycling arrangements and toll processing.

RT: Can you tell me more about NanoAl’s nanocrystalline metal alloy technology and the advantages that it will lend the mill?

TM: NanoAl has cracked the science of nanocrystalline strengthening technology as applied to aluminum applications, specifically. With this technology, our partner, one of the world’s largest wire and cable companies, is already producing high-performance aluminum wires for a number of conductor applications. At Braidy Atlas, we’re tasking them with producing versions of super-aluminum for rolled sheet products that are 20 percent stronger than what is available today.

In addition to making aluminum sheet metal stronger, NanoAl’s technology is able to make aluminum products that conduct electricity and heat better to operate at higher service temperatures. All of this would make for a seismic shift in the landscape of light weighting and high-performance applications for sheet aluminum.