Beryllium-free product fuels American-made innovation, business
November 2011- As a producer and distributor of specialty copper alloys, it is essential to offer a variety of products to an array of customers. Created under controlled processes, Arlington Heights, Ill.-based AMPCO Metal Inc.’s, patented micro-grain structure gives bronze products 20 percent to 30 percent longer life over commercially available aluminum bronzes.
After filing for bankruptcy in 2000, the company closed its Milwaukee complex, but the Arlington Heights manufacturing plant used for thirty years remained in existence and still is growing, according to Jack Zbiegien, CEO. After surveying customer perception at a trade show last summer, the company calculated that 60 percent of respondents were surprised to hear it was back in business, despite the fact it never shut down operations.
Zbiegien was surprised approximately the same percentage believed they were still purchasing the company’s brand of alloys. He believes this supports the very positive perception that bronze and AMPCO are synonymous to many of its customers. “Our challenge is to capture and provide those end-users with ‘the real thing,’” Zbiegien says. The company continues to expand its presence at trade shows and has employed telemarketing. It also has increased outside sales efforts and directed activity to get back to old customers as well as meet new customers.
Team behind the research
Alive and well, the company invests in its in-house technical team, which designs experiments and follows through with production. “This team consists of not only U.S.-based personnel but also our European and Asian colleagues,” Zbiegien says. “We work with several university or industry technical research facilities to prove out our results.”
Most recently, the company introduced AMPCOLOY 944 to replace beryllium copper material and saw significant improvement in product reliability of AMPCO 25 and the commercial alternative materials to overcome machinability issues. The company also saw improvement in the process and production of AMS 4880 in a waive method of manufacturing. The waive method refers to when the specifying body allows continuous casting as an acceptable manufacturing process, as long as the chemical and mechanical properties are met, Zbiegien says. “Current development work includes acceptance and standards updates to allow continuous casting as a waive method of manufacturing AMS 4881,” he continues, noting all these products are available in commercial quantities and many are in the current standing inventory.
A variety of applications use the company’s offerings, including desalinization plants and nuclear power production as well as sink manufacturers both in the Chicago area and in other Midwest manufacturing sites and in premier cookware production as part of forming dies for pots and pans. Zbiegien says other customers include tube-bending and roll-forming manufacturers in the Midwest, near West and internationally in India and Japan.
Major aerospace suppliers in southern California use these materials in rod and tube forming. One of the newest applications is the Boeing Dreamliner in which AMPCO 940 and 944 are used by a variety of plastic mold makers and injection mold manufacturers throughout the world. AMS 4880 in raw form is used by two of the three major aircraft re-fitters and AMS 4880 is used in finished parts by a key Boeing supplier in the Chicago area, among other aerospace suppliers, he says.
“A wide variety of alloys in many general machine shops [are used] throughout the world,” Zbiegien continues. “Production includes everything from cam arm rollers for corn planting to fail-proof components for the extreme vibration test requirements for the next-generation space shuttles to components for industrial mixing operations to engraved rolls producing Oreo and Keebler cookies.” AMS 4881 is used for rock bits and other down-the-hole boring processes.
On the fast track
Combining safety and strength is what allows the company to provide materials for roller coaster equipment. “The specification and use of AMPCO 18, in particular, is a significant safety issue for the integrity of equipment,” he says. “We sell material directly to the major designers/manufacturers of amusement rides—for example, in Pennsylvania and Switzerland—or to the shops they employ to construct and maintain the equipment.” The company also sells both the raw material and finished parts to amusement parks, including The Walt Disney Co. for its California theme parks in addition to Dollywood and others.
The same alloy goes into brake and brake-pad backing applications. The company also manufactures alloys for mass-production of heavy, deep-draw applications and high-temperature, high-stress glass-forming applications. These alloys serve a number of industries, including aerospace and aircraft, oil and gas, general machining, plastic mold manufacturing, injection mold manufacturing, tube bending, and roll forming in addition to amusement park, deep-draw and molding applications.
Made in America
“In the Arlington Heights facility, we have developed successful methods of gravity casting alloys in billet form that were difficult or impossible to produce successfully. These are key for large-part requirements and also for forging stock,” Zbiegien says, noting such material is available for sale and also for end-user requirements within the company’s customer base.
As an active member of the Copper Development Association, the Copper & Brass Forming Council and the American Foundry Society, the company provides technical support to several high school technical training programs and various Boy Scout programs either directly or through the American Foundry Society, embedding interest in tomorrow’s workforce. The company’s mantras—customers are the center of its business and growth through innovation—are fueling future endeavors, Zbiegien says. “From one location, AMPCO has grown to a position of valued partner [to customers] not only in the Americas but Europe, Asia and Africa as well,” he says, noting in 2010, it served customers in 52 countries throughout the world.
“Innovation, product and process development have not stopped,” Zbiegien says, adding the company stood at the forefront of many developments in bronze alloy manufacturing. Research and testing remain an important aspect of the current production processes, but changing market needs require continued development, he says. “Continuous improvement of existing products and introduction of solutions to market needs are primary focus activities of AMPCO,” Zbiegien says. He adds the company is a “global operation, and many of our activities in Arlington Heights are in direct support of worldwide successes of the corporation.” With the continued pursuit of innovative breakthroughs, AMPCO continues to ascertain and solidify its presence as an alloys producer. MM
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