Wednesday | 21 April, 2010 | 4:08 am

Specialty materials for high-tech projects

By Lauren Duensing

April 2010- Looking for a particular alloy? Send out an SOS, and Aerodyne Alloys, South Windsor, Conn., can answer the call. SOS at Aerodyne stands for the Specialists On Sourcing department, which will take on the mission and locate hard-to-find products.

Founded in 1979, Aerodyne Alloys is an international supplier and processor of high-temperature specialty alloys. The company stocks a wide variety of alloy products, including nickel, cobalt, titanium, stainless and alloy steel.

aerodyne alloysAerodyne is privately owned by O’Neal Steel, Birmingham, Ala., and is part of O’Neal’s High-Performance Metals group, which includes United Performance Metals, Supply Dynamics and TW Metals. In addition to its headquarters in South Windsor, Aerodyne has two other fully stocked locations: a state-of-the-art warehouse in Santa Fe Springs, Calif., and a Houston facility, which was part of the company’s purchase of Southern Nickel and Titanium LP.

"We have customers all over the country," says Jon Dymczyk, materials manager at Aerodyne Alloys. "Here in the Northeast, we have a lot of Pratt & Whitney-based customers; we have quite a few customers in the Midwest that are General Electric based. In addition, we have our facility in Houston that serves the oil and gas market and our service center in Santa Fe Springs, Calif., that has a lot of aerospace business tied into Honeywell. In terms of geography, we cover the entire country."

And Aerodyne considers itself an expert in specialty alloys, including titanium.

  "We stock titanium bar products," says Dymczyk. "We stock it to the 6-4 AMS 4928, which is Grade 5 titanium. It’s primarily used in aerospace applications. We’re stocking bar 1/4-inch diameter through 7-inch diameter. Generally, we stock it in 1/4-inch increments, although we do have some sizes that we stock in 1/16 or 1/8 increments, where required by our customers. Typically, we’re stocking material for small machine parts manufacturers that do work for the aerospace industry. A lot of our material goes into jet engines."

The company primarily provides material to the aerospace, power generation, petrochemical and MRO industries, all of which need specific materials cut to specific tolerances--a service Aerodyne can provide.

Adding value with inventory management
"We buy from the mill in bulk weights: 5,000 to 10,000 pounds," Dymczyk says. "Our customers often require cutting of the material, so we offer bar-cutting services. We cut a lot of our material into slugs at tight tolerances. We have 10 saws here in Connecticut, and we probably have about 15 companywide. We do have a plate saw that does plate cutting and a waterjet machine for waterjet cutting, as well."

Metalworking machining shop Dell Mfg. Co. is a longtime Aerodyne customer. Located in Farmington, Conn., the company specializes in products for the aerospace and other high-tech industries, machining stainless steels, titanium, nickel alloys and other exotic metals to customer specifications.

"When I first started purchasing at Dell Mfg. in 1985, I noticed right away that Aerodyne replied quickly to my requests for quotes, had competitive pricing and always met delivery and paperwork requirements," says Sean Clancy, raw materials buyer at Dell Mfg. "It was a no-brainer to consider Aerodyne to be a top supplier."

Clancy says round bar stock is the most important titanium product for the company, and he points out that Dell Mfg. uses Aerodyne’s value-added services on some of its other materials purchased.

"Aerodyne has done some waterjet cutting of nickel plate stock for us but not any titanium," he says. "Dell Mfg. has our own cutoff saws, so we don’t generally ask for cutting as a value-added service. Machining titanium is an everyday occurrence here."

In addition, many of Aerodyne’s customers require detailed specifications for their material, so the majority of the company’s titanium products are from domestic suppliers, and "everything we ship is with the original test reports," Dymczyk says.

"For instance, if we have a customer that’s doing aerospace or defense work, a lot of these customers require a spec for domestically produced material for government jobs. In addition, if it’s a Pratt & Whitney customer, they would require the Pratt & Whitney LCS specifications. If it’s a GE customer, we would know they need S400 and S1000 specification."

The company has a plethora of repeat customers and an experienced staff, so it can manage these specific requirements. In addition, "In terms of managing our inventory, we have a supply chain optimization software package for purchasing," Dymczyk says. "We utilize it for our nickel grades and our cobalt grades, as well as the titanium grades. There’s really no difference in managing titanium as opposed to the nickel grades. With titanium, however, pricing is extremely volatile at times. We have huge swings in prices up and down, and the lead times are volatile, more so than our other products. That would be a challenge when managing our titanium products."

But the wild swings in price rarely affect end users’ choices. "If our customers have a requirement, it probably has to be titanium," Dymczyk says. "They don’t have much of a choice. It’s a very unique alloy, a lightweight alloy, a strong alloy and a corrosion-resistant alloy. There’s really not a substitute at this point.

“When pricing gets at a high level, the big OEMs get up at titanium conferences and occasionally say that there is a point where the price gets so expensive that they really need to start looking at potential substitutes. But I haven’t seen that yet."

Soft market picking up
Dymczyk points out that in the past couple of years, the market for titanium products "was soft, but just recently, we’ve had some increase in demand, and the lead times for titanium products from the mills have jumped overnight. They were maybe at 10 to 12 weeks, and currently, they’re at 20 weeks. One of the reasons it’s been slow is there’s been a delay by Boeing for the 787 Dreamliner and for the Airbus A380 and A350. Maybe production is beginning to ramp up and there is some demand as a result of that now that we didn’t see previously."

He says that as these two programs start to take off, they’ll advance quickly and "there will be more demand over the next couple of years for titanium products as they get these airliners in production."

Because of the titanium market’s traditionally volatile cycles, suppliers often have to rely on other markets to "pick up the slack" when one is going through a downturn. Dymczyk says that when the aerospace market was very slow in early 2000, 'you saw a big increase in titanium going into golf drivers."

As a result, Aerodyne is also looking to increase its business in the oil and gas markets. Titanium is used in these applications to protect the sophisticated electronics within the drill pipes from the corrosive environment.

"We purchased a facility in Houston in February 2008," Dymczyk says. "The company was called Southern Nickel and Titanium, and now they’re called Aerodyne of Houston. We’re looking to grow titanium down in that Houston market. They use a lot of aerospace-grade titanium in oil and gas applications. We would like to increase that business and grow that market for us." MM

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