One of Brazil's leaders in production of molten steel and special alloy parts commemorates its 90th anniversary this year - a celebrated history of innovation and industrial intelligence. Reuben Ford investigates the strategy behind sustained success.
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Altona is a global brand, based in Brazil, specializing in the manufacture of raw and machined parts, engineering solutions and equipment add-ons. The company caters for a range of industries from automotive to offshore, supplying the domestic market and exporting to 25 countries.
Over 90 years, Altona SA has established itself as a frontrunner, leading the way in foundry technology and sustainable solutions in steel and steel alloys.
Advances in foreign markets are notably aligned with the company’s strategy, which is suitably adjusted to sales regions and sets global standards. Cacídio Girardi, President of Altona clarifies: “The concept consists of changing traditional customs and producing quality parts at affordable prices. Thanks to this, Altona is a worldwide reference for steel parts and customer satisfaction.”
In the early 1920s, Brazil’s shores were the destination for many immigrants full of ideas and enthusiasm for developing the country. In 1924, a partnership between two Germans, an engineer and blacksmith, formed a simple foundry for the production of home and farming utensils.
Located in Blumenau, Santa Catarina state, the Auerbach and Werner Foundry was not only the first in the region, but one of the first in Brazil.
The company grew, incorporating molten steel components under the name Electro Aço Altona SA in 1933. “Early on Altona became a symbol of pioneering spirit and the courage to innovate,” Girardi says.
Parts for infrastructure projects, automotive manufacturers, thermal, nuclear and hydraulic energyplants, offshore platforms and mining and petrochemical applications entered production.
By the 1970s, Altona was not only consolidating its brand in diverse segments, but also establishing the first export links for steel parts. “Countries like the United States and Germany boosted the transportation, chemical and petrochemical, marine and offshore sectors,” Girardi confirms. Increased revenues were strategically used for reinvestment in the company’s production facility.
Recognition of Altona’s growing success was reflected not only in increased sales and markets, but also by formal industry certifications. In 1994, the company was the first Brazilian steel foundry to achieve ISO 9001 for the quality of its manufacturing processes (reawarded in 2008). Six years later, industry magazine Exame selected Altona as one of Brazil’s best companies and in 2006 ISO/TS 16949 confirmed the highest level of quality and customer service for the automotive industry.
One of the most important goals of the company is sustainable production. Girardi explains that investment in sustainability began in 1996. “Exportation was growing and we identified the need for environmental management and quality – it was another form of innovation.” In 2008, Altona was classified as a socially responsible company by the SA8000 standard.
To respond efficiently to the changes and challenges of globalization while maintaining the vanguard in domestic markets, Altona was organized into business units. Each division has its own production structure, but follows the guidelines established by the company’s strategic planning. The two units are ‘Repetitive Production’ (UPR) and ‘Production on Demand’ (USE).
The UPR is responsible for the planning and manufacture of mass-produced parts, primarily for the machine and construction, mining and heavy transport segments. USE handles the production of components made to order. Typically, the high complexity parts are larger and weigh between one and ten tons and can be manufactured individually or as part of lots, depending on customer requirements.
Altona produces molten steel parts such as hydraulic turbines, components for trucks and tractors (mining industry) parts for dredging in the naval sector and pumps used in all market segments.
Altona’s 34,000-square-meter foundry and factory in Blumenau, Santa Catarina employs 1,000 staff and produces all the company’s parts. With an installed capacity of 1,200 tons of raw castings and machined parts a month and technological flexibility and diversification, the plant is ranked among the leading steel foundries in the country. The facility is equipped to produce parts weighing between ten kilograms and twelve tons within a broad range of molten alloys, including:
- Steels and alloys resistant to abrasion;
- Steels and alloys resistant to high temperatures;
- Steels and alloys resistant to corrosion;
- Alloyed irons;
- Special alloys and super alloys.
Technology and Development
“There isn’t a single product that represents us as a brand. We have a diverse portfolio and manufacture steel parts according to our customers’ specifications,’ Girardi clarifies. The state-of-the-art technology available at the plant means Altona is prepared for the changing needs of different industries. Girardi also explains that staff training and participation in studies and research together with educational institutions and suppliers are instrumental in remaining at the forefront of the industry.
“With no ‘shelf products,’ our engineering team works with the client to ensure that their solutions are the most efficient and effective. We are here to offer support and experienced advice when discrepancies occur in design briefs and our clients trust us,” Girardi says.
While 40 percent of production is destined for overseas (The United States, Latin America and Europe), 98 percent of all raw materials are purchased in Brazil. “Our imports are minimal but the international market is increasing,” Girardi affirms. He reveals that a second facility is currently being analyzed to cater for growing demand.
Success in Numbers
Re-investment in its success has been an important element of Altona’s growth since the beginning. Today, “$500,000 a month is spent on the industrial park alone,” Girardi confirms. Updating machinery and adapting production lines to new products is an ongoing process. Recently, Altona installed a new AOD (Argon Oxygen Decarburization) blast furnace, which he explains was an instrument necessary to produce adhering to the specifications of a client.
It is no surprise that Altona is recognized for its excellence in solution in steel molten and special alloys. An established global brand and although production capacity may be slightly less than competitors Altona focuses on quality. The company made annual revenue of $100 million in 2013, projecting 5 percent growth for 2014.
“Ours are not the cheapest parts on the market – China sees to that! But we do offer intelligent and efficient solutions,” Girardi admits.
Altona is highly competitive due to an organized work structure, highly qualified engineers and technicians, speed of service and administration and primarily for its position as a technological leader in the market segment.
“This is the principle Altona works by, performing continuous actions in the pursuit of new market technology and novelties,” Girardi concludes. “Every day, Altona assumes its commitment to global economy, its customers and employees, being always present in important segments for development.”