Dialing up diversity

Written by By Corinna Petry

Above: A Bonnell Aluminum employee racks extruded parts to ready them for anodizing.

Extruder revives auto market skills, adds finishing and machining capacity

MM-0215-aluminum-image3February 2015 - The North American aluminum extrusion market represents in excess of 4 billion pounds of annual consumption. A Newnan, Georgia-based extruder has been expanding into finishing and fabricating capabilities, aiming to capture additional sales by producing automotive-grade alloy extrusions. Through acquisition and multiple plant expansions, Bonnell Aluminum has already seen positive results from its ongoing initiatives. Through the first nine months of 2014, revenues improved 7.3 percent on shipped volume that rose 5.1 percent to 114.4 million pounds.

The vertically integrated company begins with its own casthouse billets or purchased billets and produces a wide variety of aluminum extrusions in alloy grades 6063, 6061 and 6082 (automotive structural alloys). Bonnell’s presses feature containers up to 14 inches in diameter, extruding shapes up to 16 inches wide and 20 pounds per foot, according to Ira Endres, vice president of sales and marketing.

The company’s three major consuming markets are nonresidential construction, specialty markets—which comprise consumer durables, machinery and equipment, electrical and distribution—and automotive.

“Nonresidential is what Bonnell Aluminum is known for, and it is what got us started 60 years ago,” Endres says. “Sixty-five to 70 percent of our shipments represent nonresidential applications, using painted or anodized extrusions. Those products are shipped from Carthage, Tennessee,” he says. 

Carthage operates a casthouse, presses ranging from 6- to 14-inch diameters, thermal treatment lines, anodizing and painting capacity. “If you are a nonresidential curtain wall contractor in North America, this plant provides you with everything you need for your projects.”

The specialty market includes a variety of extrusion applications: parts for exhibits and displays, machinery guarding, marine and others. “It runs the gamut. Our extrusions go into some electrical parts, washing machines, industrial ceiling fans and furniture,” Endres says.

Tier I targets

In 2013, Bonnell Aluminum embarked on a strategy to re-enter the automotive market. The company had serviced the industry in the past through its former Canadian operations.

“We started a greenfield plant in Newnan with a press targeted to manufacture structural applications, including crash management systems, body and engine mounts, and other structural frame and subframe profiles,” Endres says. “We look at supplying tier one suppliers and below. We also converse directly with OEMs because we have the technical and metallurgical expertise that can support their research and development work and help their supply base.” 

Bonnell Aluminum obtained its ISO/TS 16949:2009 registration in July 2013 and started up the 3,600-ton Newnan press during January 2014. “We are producing extrusions for several major automotive programs now, and more will be coming on line as this year progresses,” Endres says. 

“We were able to secure business before breaking ground largely due to our technical skills and relationships,” adds Bonnell Aluminum President Brook Hamilton. “The customers had faith in us and the project was completed ahead of schedule and below budget. We pressed a button and it worked,” he says of the $17 million investment.

By the end of 2016, the line will be filled with program orders “so, in 24 months, we will have gone from startup with PPAP (production part approval process) evaluations to full capacity,” Endres says.


Bonnell Aluminum has four production complexes.
They are:
• Newnan, Georgia: Casthouse, five extrusion presses, paint line, anodizing line, buffing line, precision cutting.
• Carthage, Tennessee: Casthouse, five presses, paint line, anodizing line, thermal barrier application.
• Niles, Michigan: Two presses, vast array of fabrication, finishing and assembly equipment.
• Elkhart, Indiana: Anodizing lines.


Extrusion: Shaping aluminum by forcing it to flow through a shaped opening in a die. The material is heated to soften it and then it enters a press. As it emerges, it becomes an elongated section with the same profile as the die opening.
Anodizing: An electrochemical process that converts the surface of aluminum into a decorative, durable, corrosion-resistant, anodic oxide finish.


Surface treatment

The second of three growth efforts is in finishing. Bonnell Aluminum launched plans last November to expand and upgrade its anodizing capacity to serve the commercial/architectural construction market. According to Endres, more than two-thirds of what the company produces is anodized.

Bonnell Aluminum will invest roughly $5 million to expand and modernize an existing anodizing line at Carthage, increasing capacity by 35 percent and improving the quality and reliability of the treated product. The expansion will be completed in the early days of the second quarter, “and we expect to start running immediately,” according to Hamilton.


Fabrication focus

The last of Bonnell Aluminum’s three-pronged growth plan derived from an acquisition it made in October 2012: AACOA Extrusions and Anodizing, with locations in Niles, Michigan, and Elkhart, Indiana. 

“It was a fabulous acquisition: a stable and profitable company that hit the ground running and which has contributed positively to the company’s financials,” Hamilton says. “AACOA diversified our customer base and brought fabrication skills to our business that we no longer had after we sold our Canadian unit. We continue to invest in AACOA: We increased the size and capability in fabrication and scaled up in anodizing.”

Over the next 12 to 18 months, Bonnell Aluminum expects to install additional machining capacity at its existing fab shops. “We are expanding our capabilities at Carthage to be able to produce medium-strength alloys. This will open up markets in which we have not participated much,” Hamilton says. 


Connections run deep

Accura Systems, a manufacturer of framing systems for commercial and public buildings, has worked with Bonnell Aluminum for over 15 years. “It is one our principal vendors for architectural aluminum,” says Accura’s president, Frank Finan.

“We tend to create a new system for every project we land so we require a pretty high degree of flexibility in the design and other aspects of the extrusions we get from our vendors,” he says. If those extrusions don’t reliably meet specified tolerances, “we would not be able to provide the products and services that make our business successful,” Finan says.

Bonnell Aluminum is “very committed to architectural aluminum and they do a great job executing,” he continues. “We know the members of their die committee and machinery operators who are responsible for various portions of our business, like coating. There is a strong degree of personal commitment down to the shop floor.”

Schupan Aluminum Sales has been a customer of Bonnell Aluminum’s AACOA division for at least 15 years, according to President John Barry, who calls the division “a fantastic extruder with anodizing capabilities that are second to none.” Schupan manufactures complex parts for office furniture that have to be cosmetically perfect because they are so visible in executive suites and conference rooms as well as in cubicles. “We have scheduled press time with AACOA and they always go above and beyond our needs, which is why we chose to partner with them,” Barry says.


A step further

Other than quality, capability and reliable service—which is standard among competitors—“we take it a step further and nail down how a customer wants to be served,” says Hamilton. “We don’t take anything for granted. We want to know how they want to be engaged and ask them, ‘How do you want this relationship to work?’ Some want to work with a plant manager, a quality manager, an account rep. Some want to hear from us every week or only once a month.”

Secondly, Bonnell Aluminum retains “a strong technical group, without whom we could not have re-entered the automotive market. They know about alloys, chemistries, post-extrusion treatments. Not every extruder has that, and those technical strengths flow over to our other markets,” Hamilton says.

Lastly, the company emphasizes integrity. “We try to do the right thing and stand by our word. That value runs strongly through the blood of the company.” And it’s paying dividends. “While we have experienced ups and downs, we are continuously profitable. We have a strong balance sheet, we self-finance our expansions and customers know we’ll be here tomorrow—as we have been during the last 60 years.” MM


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