Steel supplier invests $9M in upgrades
White Cloud plant getting more floor space, new manufacturing equipment and technologies.
An international refractories company has completed $9 million in upgrades to its White Cloud manufacturing facility as a significant part of its investment in support of its U.S. steel industry customers.
Moon Township, Pennsylvania-based HarbisonWalker International (HWI) — near Pittsburgh — last month hosted a ribbon-cutting at its manufacturing operation in White Cloud to celebrate the completion of an expansion project that increases the warehousing space of the facility by 35% and adds new advanced manufacturing and hydraulic press technologies at the 110,000-square-foot plant.
HWI’s White Cloud facility — the company’s only Michigan plant — primarily produces refractory products that are used by the steel industry. According to Wikipedia, a refractory is a material or mineral “that is resistant to decomposition by heat, pressure or chemical attack” and that “retains strength and form at high temperatures.”
This $9 million expansion project is the latest in a series of capital investments HWI has made in White Cloud over the past three years, the company said. Last year, HWI integrated new equipment and technologies to modernize the facility.
“White Cloud is an extremely important facility that has been vital to our company and the community for more than four decades,” said Carol Jackson, chair and CEO of HWI.
“We’re so proud of the great work our White Cloud employees do every day for our company and our customers.”
The facility currently employs about 140 skilled and semi-skilled professionals. Since 2018, HWI has added about a dozen workers at the facility. The current plant expansion will result in greater efficiencies but no immediate hiring, Jackson said.
Jackson said the White Cloud expansion is helping HWI meet its goal to increase its steel refractory production capacity by 25% this year.
A small portion of the $9 million investment will go toward upgrades at HWI’s other steel refractory facilities in Windham, Ohio, and three in Missouri cities Fulton, Vandalia and Mexico.
Jackson said alongside the additional warehouse and shipping space in White Cloud — areas which she noted were constructed with American-made steel — HWI made upgrades to production technologies including a new brick press, along with manufacturing technologies that “improve production efficiency and worker safety.”
“These improvements will further optimize production, product quality and delivery efficiencies for our steel customers,” Jackson said.
“The new press and warehouse increase our capacity to supply our industry-leading products, including (magnesia) carbon brick for steel ladles, electric arc furnaces and basic oxygen furnaces. The new packaging line allows for increased handling safety and provides quality control benefits associated with our products.”
The upgrades will help the company keep up with the investments its steel customers are making to facilities and production equipment so that HWI can meet their demand for refractory products and services, Jackson said.
She said 2018 was a great year for many players in the steel industry.
“Although refractory is not a huge part of steel spend, it is critical, and our people are deeply involved on the floor and in the trenches with customers,” she said.
Jackson added as demand increased this past year, HWI was “able to source critical refractory raw materials when others could not.”
The $9 million investment in the refractory plants is meant to bolster HWI’s competitive edge.
HWI has about 50 locations in Asia, Europe and North America that focus on research and development, production and global sourcing, according to its website.
Jackson did not disclose the estimated impact of U.S.-imposed steel tariffs or shifting trade policies on her company in the past year but said HWI believes fair trade policies will benefit the steel industry, which will then benefit HWI.
She added the company believes the U.S. should play the long game in its trade agreements.
“Our position is that trade issues should be addressed as part of a broader, long-term policy plan, with goals that support a positive effect on jobs and a solid manufacturing base,” she said.