Astrolite Alloys is a high-wire act that has soared to great heights. “Our core business is the aerospace industry,” says Rick Barnes, Vice President and General Manager of the Oxnard, Calif.-based Company. “We provide customers with high-end alloys for weld wire applications.”
For the aerospace industry, these Aerospace Materials Specifications (AMS) alloys range from aluminum to stainless steel, nickel and cobalt-based alloys and titanium weld wire (a company specialty). A division of AstroCosmos Metallurgical, Astrolite boasts the broadest line of welding wire for the aerospace industry. “But we also have growing interests in other areas,” adds Barnes.
In business since 1971 as full-service supplier for aircraft engine maintenance, repair and overhaul requirements, Astrolite has moved toward providing wire products for industrial markets and specific applications such as land-based gas turbines for power generating plants and commercial applications.
With a huge in-house inventory of raw materials and finished product, the company can process all orders in a fashion that coincides with its customers’ unique requirements. Specifically, the inventory includes more than 150,000 pounds of bulk raw wire material ready for as-needed processing, as well as a complete supply of high-end finished welding wire in lengths of 18 inches and 36 inches and a broad range of diameters. All wire is packaged and ready for immediate shipment (another company specialty). In addition, Astrolite provides welding powders and weld coupons in various alloys for turbine engine repair.
SMALL BUT ROBUST FACILITY
A relatively small organization, Astrolite Alloys has but one production facility, a 10,000-square-foot plant located in Oxnard, but that site is fully integrated and certified for complete wire processing. Within the plant, the company produces a full range of fine to heavy gauge welding wire. “We can reduce sizes to take wire anywhere from .125-inch diameter down to .020-inch diameter.” Indicates Barnes. “That’s something that mills don’t want to do, and that is where we fit in.”
In addition, the facility includes state-of-the-art technology related to drawing, ultrasonic cleaning, straightening, cutting and precision spooling. “We continually make investments in our facility and equipment as well as in personnel and training to meet current and future customer needs,” says Barnes.
The equipment and capabilities enable Astrolite Alloys to exercise strict control over all raw materials and finished product – an important consideration, as the company deals in reactive metals. Such control ensures that all products are properly labeled for size, alloy and heat traceability. Packaging is critical, and the facility color-codes and tags wire to customer specifications. “Color coding identifies wires by colors,” explains Barnes. “The ends are color-coded for easy identification of a particular alloy necessary to industry requirements, such as AMS, or a customer’s own requirements. We also tag wire, piece by piece, with plastic tape to identify product and proper specification.”
All wire is also 100-percent Acromag tested. “This process ensures that every wire is identified and contains the correct alloy. Essentially, it makes sure the wire is what it is and the quality isn’t corrupted by mixing of alloys,” reveals Barnes.
Further, with its integrated processing, testing and packaging operations, the company is capable of same-day shipments. Often, the company develops custom packaging and labeling to meet special needs. “Special packaging could include anything under a pound,” says Barnes. “Standard packaging ranges from five to 10 pounds, but we get a lot of requests for bags that weigh less. Thus, we have developed capabilities for different packaging needs. It’s another one of our specialties.”
Barnes admits that the operation might sound somewhat simple on the surface. But it is actually complex and highly detailed. “If you entered the facility and looked around, you’d see a lot of detail work going on. When you engage in Acromagging, color coding and tagging, you’re talking about working piece by piece. So, when you have a wire that’s .020 inches in diameter, and you’re looking at how many pieces might be in a single pound that amounts to an awful lot of pieces.”
Obviously, such intricacies require a high degree of efficiency. As an ISO: 9001/AS9100 company (an aerospace industry certification used throughout the world), Astrolite strives to increase production efficiencies from year to year – a constant improvement process necessary to maintain the rigorous certification requirements.
Today, Astrolite Alloys operates as a division of AstroCosmos Metallurgical, which is part of Groupe Carbone Lorraine, the world’s largest producer of reactive metals equipment for process industries. Astrolite’s genesis dates back 37 years ago, when it was started by Dennis Walsh. “Basically, he began the business with one other person, brokering welding wires, but with a focus on the high end of the market – that is, the nickel- and titanium-based wires, with the bulk of the product deployed in the aerospace industry,” relates Barnes.
As the company advanced into the 1980s, Walsh brought in an investor (Cosmos Minerals) and subsequently received critical approvals and certifications. The company earned ISO approval and certification by Pratt & Whitney and gained approval by the engine manufacturing and repair divisions of General Electric, Rolls Royce, Boeing, Honeywell and Volvo, among others. “That’s when the business really started to grow,” recalls Barnes.
The company was eventually sold to Astro Metallurgical, which soon merged with Cosmos to form AstroCosmos. “As such, things swung around full circle,” comments Barnes. “Two companies that were in competition came together.”
Within that framework, Astrolite Alloys found its niche. “We fit between the actual producer, or the melding source, and the actual wire drawer,” explains Barnes. “We come into the middle and deal with the distribution network and, in some cases, directly with the original equipment manufacturers.”
Essentially, as Barnes points out, Astrolite Alloys serves as a processor for an area that doesn’t interest mills: “We specialize in the little things – the identifications and the processing of the cutting and spooling.”
The company can cut wire precisely to customer specifications, while it also provides level-wound one-pound, five-pound to 10- pound, and 25-pound spools. Moreover, it effectively handles small quantities. “But we also work with blanket orders, where we ship so much a month, like when a company wants to plan for a whole year. They will place a large order with us. Those are the kinds of things mills would rather not do. They want to take orders for really big, two to three thousand pound quantities and let a company like ours be concerned with the rest.”
As such, Astrolite Alloys fits nicely between the mills and end users and the distribution network, says Barnes. “In many cases, we’re labeled as a master distributor to other distribution networks and end users. In this way, we service worldwide.”
Currently, Astrolite Alloys has nearly 25 employees including technical staff, sales people and agent representatives. All are focused on assuring company clients quick response when it comes to technology, service and sales. “We’re definitely a service-oriented company,” remarks Barnes. “Though there isn’t any kind of metric that measures what we accomplish, I do feel that we are the best at what we do.”
In recent years, Astrolite Alloys’ fortunes and ongoing development have been driven by market circumstance. “In 2005, we witnessed increased usage of our products in the aerospace industry,” relates Barnes. “We peaked toward the end of 2007, when we began seeing a softening of the market as well as a softening of the economy. But that is normal, as everything works in cycles.”
To go with that natural flow, the company began directing efforts toward the industrial and commercial markets. “We’re seeing growth in the power side of the business, such as the land-based power turbines,” says Barnes. “The growth in the industrial and commercial markets helps make up for the softening on the OEM business and aerospace side. So, our business remains strong. As it has slacked off in one area, we are taking up the slack in other areas.”
Moving forward, the company applies strong focus on those growing markets, according to Barnes. In addition, it has expanded into a new corrosion line. “That looks to be our big growth area, at least within the next five years,” says Barnes.
As the only company offering the full spectrum of corrosion resistant materials, Astrolite Alloys can solve virtually any corrosion problem with the most cost-effective solutions. “Corrosion solutions reside at the high end, meaning that they’re sometimes nickel-based or cobalt-based weld wire for the commercial market and, in some cases, the oil industry, as well as in overlay and manufacture of chemical vessels,” says Barnes. “Our line, which we only recently placed upon the shelf, includes things that when people need them, they needed them five minutes ago. Mills that produce in bulk don’t have such items. But we do, and we can provide same-day shipment. Again, that goes back to something we thrive on. We can process materials and get them out within 24 hours after we receive an order.”
That capability points to the company’s mission. As customers push the envelope as far as technology, Astrolite Alloys extends its own envelope toward customer service. Competitors may sell the same kind of products, but only Astrolite Alloys offers the kind of consideration that takes care of the small details that are integral to achieving large ambitions.