Just as a casting director worth his weight in Oscars knows how to hire talented actors to produce the best from Hollywood, Commonwealth Aluminum has assembled best-in-class facilities expert in delivering excellent performances in manufacturing aluminum products. In addition to its headquarters in Louisville, Ky., Commonwealth Aluminum operates eight facilities nationwide to provide the best in aluminum products and services. Commonwealth is one of North America’s largest producers of common alloy, coil, prepainted coil and welded tubing. Its aluminum mills are located in Lewisport, Ky., Uhrichsville, Ohio, and Carson, Calif. Its tube mills are located in Carson and in Kings Mountain, N.C. Its coil-coating facilities are in Lewisport, Bedford, Ohio, and Torrance, Calif. It employs about 2,000 people in about 3 million square feet of manufacturing space, and reported about $1 billion in revenues for 2000.
The 35-year-old company secured its principal role in the industry through its ability to provide both direct-chill (DC) and continuous-casting technologies. These capabilities have put Commonwealth on center stage in the aluminum business, notes Steve Kozusko, manager of coated products and new market development. “Our ability to recycle a broad array of aluminum scrap is not only cost-effective, but environmentally friendly,” says Steve Williamson, marketing and sales manager for distribution. “Our ownership and development of continuous-cast technology is unique in the industry.”
A (Common)Wealth of Products
Williamson notes another major distinction between Commonwealth and its competitors: using scrap aluminum as its source of raw materials. Scrap aluminum is readily available and competitively priced, and can be obtained locally. “So this helps in the bottom line for our customers,” he says.
The company manufactures more than 3,800 variations of aluminum sheet and tubing, in addition to products made according to customers’ precise specifications. Capable of making products of any common alloy in a range of tempers, Commonwealth can handle gauges of 0.008 to 0.25 inch in widths of up to 72 inches in a variety of coatings and finishes. The company can also fabricate aluminum sheet into welded tube products.
“The diversified portfolio of customers and markets is part of our strategy,” explains Williamson, who notes that Commonwealth’s major markets include the building and construction, transportation, consumer durable goods and machinery and equipment industries. Products are sold directly to OEM end users or through recognized metal service centers. Commonwealth’s metal service centers receive product from the company, changing it from a mill form of large coils into smaller forms. “This part of our supply chain accounts for about one-third of our business,” says Williamson.
Recognizing the value of cross-discipline functionality, Commonwealth employees function as team leaders and team members, depending on the scope of any given project. “We spend a lot of time, money and resources on team membership and team leadership training,” says Williamson.
New Cast Member
The company acquired its continuous-casting technology through its purchase of Castech in 1996. “Since that time, we have been developing and improving our processing techniques so they are equal to direct-chill cast products,” says Kozusko. Besides giving the company added capacity, the acquisition allowed for shorter turnaround times for continuous-cast products. “We also had to convert a lot of our customers who knew only DC-cast products,” he continues. “It’s a much shorter method of production than DC, so there’s a cost advantage as well.”
The primary difference, explains Kozusko, of continuous-casting technology is that it uses aluminum scrap for raw material, melts it down and then casts it in a hot mill. “We’re able to eliminate about 33 percent of the process compared with a DC-based production system,” he says.
“The lifeblood of Commonwealth Aluminum over the years has always been our DC operations in Kentucky,” says Kozusko. The products made at the DC facility enhance Commonwealth’s well-rounded offering to its customer base, since this facility can handle a wider range of alloys than the continuous-cast facility. Kozusko says, “The combination has really helped us be a lot more flexible in what we can offer our customer base.”
Close to Customers
Commonwealth prides itself on providing customers with value-added services, which include its tube business and its focus on coated, or prepainted, aluminum coil. The company’s two tubing mills are strategically located close to the markets they serve on the East and West Coasts and in mid-America. “These products take up a lot of cubic space in shipping, so our multiple locations allow us to be cost-competitive,” says Williamson, adding that the company’s continuous-cast sheet rolling mills supply raw materials to the tubing mills.
“We manufacture aluminum welded tubing from coiled strip sent to us by our Carson rolling mill,” says Bob Wright, manager of tube enterprises. The tubing ranges in size from 0.5 inch outside diameter (OD) to 3 inches OD. “The principal markets we target are health care, recreation, lawn furniture and the hardware segments,” says Wright. The three major product groups the tubing facilities manufacture are mill-finished products typically the color of aluminum; one-side bright products with a smooth and shiny finish similar to what you would find on a mop handle; and coated products. “We also can produce textured surfaces like embossing, as well as shapes that include rounds, squares and custom shapes,” says Wright.
Commonwealth’s three continuous-coatings operations process about 250 million pounds of coated products per year. “These finished, coated products range from widths of 10 inches up to 60 inches,” says Kozusko. The largest market for coated products is the building and construction industry. The company’s line ranges from small aluminum separation pieces used in residential insulated glass windows to high-end architectural building panels used in commercial and residential applications. Another substantial market for these coated products is the truck trailer industry.
Clearly, Commonwealth is positioned to grow substantially. “Our capabilities for continuous-cast, DC and continuous coating, along with our tubing mills, are at the heart of our strategy to forge ahead,” says Williamson. Kozusko notes that one of the company’s most promising areas for additional future growth lies in its aluminum service-center partners, who are warehousing and processing experts. The service centers are crucial links to Commonwealth’s rolling mills, offering customers thousands of pounds of aluminum coils in every alloy, gauge, width and color. These centers help customers reduce the cost of possession while providing efficient preproduction services.
“It is through the service center supply chain that Commonwealth Aluminum reaches a lot of the end users of aluminum products we are not equipped to handle on a direct basis,” says Williamson, who also notes that the trend in the aluminum industry is toward consolidation. “We foresee ourselves participating in further consolidation somewhere down the line,” he says.
“New product development is ongoing at Commonwealth, and we are always looking for new applications and solutions to provide to our customers,” says Kozusko. “Over the last 30 or so years, aluminum has had the stigma of becoming an outdated commodity, so aluminum companies in general are challenged to find the next production market to develop.” The company is stepping up to that challenge in its Newport, Ohio, facility, which just received its QS 9000 certification.
Commonwealth regards that facility as key in its quest to develop new markets, particularly the automotive segment. “We see the automotive industry as one of those potentials for new development,” concludes Kozusko.