By Corinna Petry

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Breaking the mold, service center pushes against constraints to become one of a kind

April 2016 - It stands to reason so many aluminum suppliers pursue automotive and aerospace clients. Those are lucrative growth sectors. Yet there is a singular North American company saying, ‘While my peers are doing that, I will pick up big chunks of business they overlooked.’

The company going zag while the competition goes zig is Champagne Metals. “We have built a business model no one else is building,” President and CEO Mike Champagne says, adding that the strategy is working.

Based in Glenpool, Oklahoma, Champagne Metals is on a breakneck pace of expansion. Soon after installing an Andritz Herr-Voss Stamco Inc. six-high cut-to-length line—built to edge-slit and process up to 100-inch-wide aluminum coils—the company ordered a 111-inch-wide line for Middlebury, Indiana, from Butech Bliss. It allows the company to level, edge trim, blank and even reverse unwind aluminum coils in one pass, increasing yield from each coil.

The first major phase of expansion was to erect a new aluminum coil processing facility in 2014 in Middlebury. The investment in plant and equipment for phases two and three came in just under $10 million. Phase two, the line commissioned last month, is the “111,” or as Mike Champagne calls it: “The largest nonferrous machine built in North America.” 

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Installed in March, the ‘111’ line is the widest aluminum cut-to-length and blanking line in the world at the moment.

“We are running trials and everything so far is perfect,” he says. “We have sent samples to OEM customers and to mills and the feedback is that the product is great.” Commercial quality processing commenced at the end of March.

The 100-inch-wide CTL line in Oklahoma served as a test pilot, too. “Everything we like about the 100-inch-wide in Glenpool, we put into improving on the 111, and it’s working out as planned.”

Phase three is a just completed 80,000-square-foot addition—on a facility that’s only two years old—so Champagne can house the inventory that’s needed to feed the 111. 

Double duty

“The 111 can offer services no one else in North America offers: Edge trimming, reverse unwinding of coils and cutting to length. We are double-converting and, at times, triple-converting material at once,” Champagne says. 

For example, if a mill wants a change in the sheet width and wants to cut it to length simultaneously, it’s possible; that compares with running coil through the line once to trim edges, then a second time to cut sheets. “We save freight, time and money by doing both processes at once.”

If a customer wants to take a 96-inch-wide coil down to an 84-inch-wide coil, “we can cut that and level it at once. That’s critical for mills like Alcoa, Novelis and Constellium.”

Champagne Metals’ mill customers had been sending coils to be trimmed and cut to length to Oklahoma, and then Champagne shipped the material back east. The Middlebury line is centrally located nearer to the major domestic aluminum mills. Especially for metal that is bound for export, “We needed to be further east for the freight difference,” Mike Champagne says.

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Morgan Olson, the top builder of delivery and work vans for retail, packages and more, buys millions of pounds of aluminum per year, says Vice President for Global Supply Chain John Lee.

Constellium is among the producers taking advantage of this greater flexibility. “With the addition of the 111-inch line in Middlebury, Champagne Metals has been able to enhance their processing position with ... Constellium. The location, unique capabilities and the fact that the line provides exceptional appearance—clarity—to the surface of the material are key attributes that led [us] to develop a deeper partnership with [them],” a spokesperson said in an statement. 

“Middlebury is not only closer to our Ravenswood, West Virginia, mill but also to our key customers. The ability to reverse unwind coils and edge-trim up to 8 inches per side gives us and our customers unprecedented material flexibility.”

Winning contracts

Apart from buying and selling aluminum, Champagne Metals has increased its contract tolling business for OEMs and distributors as well as aluminum producers.

Morgan Olson, which builds walk-in vans and dry freight delivery vehicle bodies, “awarded us one of the largest aluminum contracts in North America. They switched that business to us because we can handle every size or piece of metal they use,” Mike Champagne says.

John Lee, vice president for global supply chain at Morgan Olson, says, “Our portfolio services a multitude of markets: baking, newspaper, textile, parcel delivery.”

From the truck’s instrument panels to every part that goes on a chassis, Morgan Olson makes it. “We buy millions of pounds of aluminum per year,” Lee notes.

“We were searching for a domestic provider for our metals platform and that’s how we found Champagne,” he continues. “Our national account manager at Champagne Metals, Corwin Meyer, was in constant contact with my purchasing manager and then he called on me.”

After reading a previous Modern Metals article about Champagne Metals (November 2014), Lee learned about the processor’s capabilities and visited the newest cut-to-length line. “It’s only 25 minutes from our facility,” he says.

Reputation and proximity weren’t the only attractions. “We want to completely dominate our market. To do that we must have strategic supply chain partners. That’s why Champagne is critical—they miss zero shipments, they are 100 percent on time.

“The support and subject matter expertise we have received is outstanding. They also make great recommendations, such as, ‘Hey, look at this metal and let us do this with it, and we can save you time and money.’ Those inputs are appreciated,” Lee says.

Follow-up service is also key. Meyer checks in weekly to make sure Champagne Metals is meeting Morgan Olson’s requirements. “They are looking at opportunities to support us and improve our processes,” he says. “The product and service sell themselves.”

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View of Champagne Metals’ wide aluminum processing line from the leveler. This line and the 100-inch-wide in Glenpool, Oklahoma, has helped the company to win major supply contracts.

Market niches

According to Mike Champagne, his company has the “meat and bread” business by processing aluminum for manufacturers of livestock and grain trailers. Another end use market is liquid and dry bulk tankers, including oil and gas.

“Our goal is to go after the market leaders. While everyone else is still chasing automotive, that leaves a void for us to fill. That’s why we are investing in more space and equipment.”

As aluminum mills get busier producing automotive sheet, they have been attempting to get more throughput. That’s where the toll processor makes its mark. “We take 40,000-pound coils off the hot line, trim and level it to size, performing a mill function.” Champagne also produces blanks. “The Glenpool 100-inch-wide line is already doing millions of pounds per month,” the company owner says.

Scaling up

One might wonder what the key difference is between a 100-inch and 111-inch cut to length line. As Mike Champagne explains, the 100 allows trimming of 3 inches per side of each coil, while the 111 allows trimming of up to 8 inches per side of a coil.

“Customers asked us if we could trim more and change the coil size. The 111 is capable of changing sizes. We can trim more from a wide coil, which helps to improve material yield and throughput for many applications. “We can take inventory that is no longer relevant, make different sizes and level it at the same time,” he says.

He credits Butech Bliss for engineering this behemoth. “They were the only company that could do what we wanted and build for us the equipment no one else has, so we could go after new markets.” MM

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