COMPANY PROFILE: Firth Rixson,Ring Leader
Is the forging industry strong?
Take a look at Firth Rixson Limited to appreciate the degree to which global forging activity has ramped up this year-and is likely to ramp up even further in 2007. Buoyed by a surge of orders, the company will exceed $800 million in sales for 2006, more than double the sales of only a few years ago. Today, the name Firth Rixson is synonymous with rolled-ring forgings. The company claims to be the world’s largest seamless-rolled-ring supplier, with 60% of its annual production dedicated to this product category. With eight ring facilities on three continents, Firth Rixson supplies the needs of OEMs in jet engine, airframe and other industrial businesses for rings in diameters from 4 to 180 in.
With capabilities spanning this range of ring sizes, Firth Rixson is able to serve the needs of aircraft as small as the new six-passenger Eclipse 500 Very Light Jet and as large as the new Airbus A380, which can transport 555 or more passengers. Each of these aircraft is in the early stages of its product life cycle, offering Firth Rixson an opportunity to supply product for decades to come. And that doesn’t include comparable competing products that will soon follow these pioneering aircraft.
“Our ring facilities have learned how to ramp-up production to keep pace with demand,” says David Mortimer, the company’s CEO. “As long as we satisfy customer demand for delivery, we will continue to grow share,” he says.
Mortimer was appointed CEO in April of this year, succeeding Armand Lauzon, who became Chairman of the Board. The company is headquartered in Sheffield, England, with U.S. group headquarters located in East Hartford, Conn.
FIRTH RIXSON SCHLOSSER FORGEThe largest rings Firth Rixson supplies are made at Schlosser Forge in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif. Firth Rixson acquired Schlosser in 2004. Since then, sales have skyrocketed. According to Mike Carr, Schlosser’s general manager, “Sales growth in 2006 will be 100% greater than in 2005, and 2007 promises to be 20% better than 2006.”
Carr says many factors converged at exactly the right time to trigger growth. Firth Rixson reorganized its management team and invested in Schlosser to drive growth. With extensive forging resources in place and a base of experienced employees, Schlosser had its improvement program well underway when an upswing in orders coincided with the expiration of many long-term agreements.
“We were able to absorb orders and write new long-term agreements because operational improvements were helping us stay price competitive at the same time it was freeing up capacity to handle the increase in orders,” Carr says. He adds that Schlosser was deriving benefits from being a member of SEA – short for Suppliers Excellence Alliance – a consortium led by aerospace OEMs dedicated to improving supply chains by sponsoring education and training. “The support from SEA couldn’t have come at a better time,” he says.
FORGED METALSThe Fontana, Calif.-based Forged Metal operation, a sister facility eight miles down the road from Schlosser, specializes in mid-to-large-size rings. Forged Metals is also in a growth mode. Sales for 2006 will likely be as much as 30% higher than in 2005. Profitability is also rising, as local management participates in a company-wide effort to rationalize the distribution of work across North American ring facilities. The unit is also pursuing operational improvements with help from SEA to install a suite of best practices based on lean principles.
“Forged Metals is known for supplying fast turn of small batches,” says Chris Bohlmann, general manager, who joined the company in 2004. “To strengthen that reputation, we have focused on workforce development. For example, we have invested about 1,200 hours in five Kaizen events since the beginning of the year. We have invested in the training of 12 employees, who have become certified trainers in their functional areas. And we have invested significant staff time to develop a strategic plan and identify needed process improvements.”
The result, says Bohlmann, is an operating culture that is shifting to practices, policies and procedures that will make Forged Metals more competitive in the years ahead.
“We have established six strategic goals, named champions and process owners, and developed a balanced scorecard with dozens of metrics that go way beyond tracking sales and earnings. We’re making sure that critical activities are measured, so we know exactly what needs to change and how much it needs to change,” Bohlmann says.
MONROEFirth Rixson Monroe, Rochester, N.Y., specializes in small-to-mid-size rings and forged bearings. Its business is up 40% in 2006 from an already historically high 2005. A lean manufacturing veteran, with an enviable on-time-delivery performance rating of 96%, Monroe did not have hidden capacity waiting to be uncovered. When the sustainability of the increase in orders became apparent in 2005, the operation made immediate plans for capital investments to increase capacity.
“We ordered a 3,000-ton press in the fourth quarter of 2005, re-laid out the plant in the first quarter of 2006, installed the press in the second quarter and commenced production in the third quarter,” says Mike Belmont, Monroe’s general manager. “This investment has doubled our press capacity.”
Belmont says Firth Rixson Monroe is well established with the primary OEMs – General Electric, Pratt & Whitney and Rolls-Royce – and well-niched with associated aerospace and bearing manufacturers such as SKF, FAG Bearings and Timken Ball Bearings.
“We’re known for two-to-five-week lead times and on-time delivery,” he says.
Monroe has expertise in nickel-base alloys, titanium and alloy steels. Its performance during three decades of operation has established Monroe as a source for rotating components, structural rings and complex bearings.
FIRTH RIXSON VIKINGThe Viking operation, in Verdi, Nev., specializes in titanium rings and is known for its contoured-ring-rolling capabilities. This unit supplies sophisticated shapes for near-net rings and cases, primarily to aerospace OEMs. Viking has radial-axial, ring-rolling equipment supported by in-house conversion, heat treatment and machining. In addition to titanium, the unit forges nickel-based alloys, stainless steels and aluminum alloys into seamless rings up to 173 inches in diameter and 36 inches in face height. Viking serves aero-engine, power generation and general engineering industries and contributes to many OEM development programs.
OFFSHORE RING OPERATIONSWhile the bulk of Firth Rixson’s forged ring production takes place in its North American facilities, these four operations by no means constitute the company’s entire ring-production capability. Rotherham, South Yorkshire, UK, is home to three ring-forging operations.
Firth Rixson Ickles concentrates on the manufacture of specially engineered open-die forgings. Using its rotary forge capabilities, Ick-les supplies components to the oil, petroleum and power generation industries, in addition to a wide range of aerospace OEMs.
Firth Rixson Parkgate makes small-to-medium-size seamless rings in a full range of alloys for aero-engine, power generation and bearing manufacturers and their subcontractors. Parkgate has profiled rings up to 700 kg.
Firth Rixson Turbine Rings specializes in flash-butt-welded, cold-rolled and sheet-metal rings, as well as rough and finish machining. The unit, acquired in 2003, serves airframers, jet engine and land-based gas turbine manufacturers.
Firth Rixson Aerospace Components, located in the Suzhou Industrial Park near Shanghai, began commercial production just this year. The seamless forged rings produced by the company’s only Asian operation go to supply the aero-ring market in China and other Pacific Rim countries.
NON-RING PRODUCTIONFirth Rixson sometimes refers to itself as a “business of thirds.” The first third is rings; the second is forgings. Firth Rixson has four closed-die forging operations in Europe, with three in the UK: the Meadowhall and River Don facilities in Sheffield, South Yorkshire, and the Darley Dale plant in Matlock, Derbyshire. The fourth is Firth Rixson Hungary in Eger, Hungary. These plants forge parts in a variety of metals for virtually every sector of heavy industry, manufacturing load-bearing components for transportation, automotive, off-highway and construction equipment to name a few.
The third segment is metals. This group is comprised of three facilities. The Firth Rixson Superalloys operation, located in Glossop, Derbyshire, manufactures superalloy materials in cast and wrought form, as well as specialty steels and titanium.
Enpar Special Alloys, as the name implies, supplies a variety of forged and rolled products, manufacturing round, square, hexagon and profiled, rolled and forged long products in special steels, stainless steels, nickel superalloys and titanium.
Firth Rixson Castings makes wear-resistant castings of steel and iron. The casting operation routinely produces parts that weigh up to 12 tons. These parts are used in the manufacture of grinding, crushing and shot-blasting equipment. Firth Rixson Castings also makes large steel castings for gear wheels, kiln support rollers, body scanners, pump casings and numerous other industrial applications.
The majority ownership of Firth Rixson by The Carlyle Group changed somewhat on August 30 of this year when Carlyle announced that Lehman Brothers Co-Investment Partners agreed to acquire 36% of the company.
“The recapitalization provided by this arrangement will help Firth Rixson invest for growth, customer satisfaction and the strengthening of our competitive position in the global forging market,” says David Mortimer.