Weldaloy Knows Nonferrous
Weldaloy in Warren, Mich., is a specialist in nonferrous forgings of copper, aluminum, brass and titanium. This full-service forging company supplies hammered and pressed forgings, including seamless rings, to customers in the aerospace, semiconductor, oil and gas, power equipment and material-processing industries.
Just north of Detroit is the city of Warren, Mich. On a campus-like setting within Warren is Weldaloy Products Company, a copper, aluminum and other nonferrous metal forging and machining company that manufactures custom products according to its customers’ specifications. It is a vertically integrated, full-service company that employs about 80 people. It starts from raw materials, forms products through its forging operations and finishes them through thermal treatments and machining operations.
Weldaloy was founded 70 years ago by Joseph O’Grady, who took advantage of advances in resistance-welding techniques developed during World War II. The company purchased extruded copper alloys and developed tooling techniques to produce precision-shaped welding caps, tips, sleeves and shafts. The company soon installed furnaces to melt copper billets and produce its own alloys after experiencing difficulty in finding reliable suppliers of the raw materials it needed. As more exotic copper alloys were developed for the faster welding of rust-resistant steels, the company became one of the few sources of these alloys. In the late 1960s, Weldaloy added forging capability and became a reliable source for seam-welding wheels.
In September 1994, the company was purchased by its current owner, Rick Warren. Since then, Weldaloy has emerged as a leading supplier of forged copper, aluminum, brass and other nonferrous forgings (including seamless rings) to the aerospace, oil and gas, power equipment, semiconductor and material-processing industries.
Markets and Products
Weldaloy recognizes that even within the broad category of forging processes different product applications require the use of different forging methods. Consequently, the company produces open-die forgings‚ closed-die forgings and seamless rolled rings for its customers. Weldaloy stresses its ability to work with customers to design and manufacture products with processes best-suited to their ultimate application. The benefits of forging as a superior forming technology yielding high-performance products are stressed by the company to its customers. Weldaloy works closely with its customers to optimize the performance characteristics of the parts it supplies, whether cold work, cross-grain, hot forge, upset, upset and cross-grain or warm work.
Currently, about 75% of Weldaloy’s annual production is copper and copper alloys. The rest is brass and aluminum products, with some titanium processing as well. A large portion of the company’s annual output serves the aerospace and semiconductor industries, with the remainder split between the oil and gas, material-processing and other heavy industries.
The company’s extensive experience in working with copper and aluminum alloys is one of its greatest assets. As such, a customer’s need for a part may be similar to something it has already produced, thereby enabling expertise on choice of material alloy, selection of forging processes, etc.
The Production Cycle
As with any integrated manufacturer, everything starts with the raw materials. The company uses copper and aluminum cast billets up to 28 inches in diameter to start its production. Some billets are of rectangular cross section. Weldaloy typically stocks a large amount of material in at least 17 alloys of various shapes, sizes and configurations to help ensure quick turnaround when customers need it.
When an order comes in and the proper raw material is selected, it goes to the sawing department, where it is cut to the appropriate volume or weight requirement. The sawing operation consists of the cutting of initial stock before forging. Precision in this operation allows the company to minimize any raw-material waste and keep costs in line. It acknowledges that sawing nonferrous materials is not “rocket science,” but the speed, feed rate and pressure at which the saw blade is fed into the material must be controlled to effectively and efficiently process the materials. The company uses special blades optimized for nonferrous metals that allow it to increase the rate the saw blade is fed into the material and the speed at which the material is cut.
Once cut to the specified sizes, the sawn billets are preheated for forging in gas-fired furnaces. Once at temperature, billets are removed from the furnaces and hammered or pressed into shape. In some instances, parts can be formed in one heat/deformation cycle. In others, material may go through several cycles until the part is properly formed.
Most parts are forged on one of five steam-powered Chambersburg hammers: two 4,000-pound hammers, two 2,500-pound hammers and one 2,000-pound hammer. There also is one 2,000-ton Erie press (rebuilt in 2008), which is used for larger parts or closed-die forgings.
Weldaloy manufactures only in Warren, Mich., but has several buildings on its property. The Wagner 4025 ring-rolling mill is located in the same building as the press. This is used to form large seamless copper rings (up to 40 inches in diameter). These large rings are commonly used in bearings and motors where copper is desired because of its superior thermal and electrical conductivity.
Weldaloy is a strong proponent of vertical integration and, as a result, performs almost all its own thermal treatments and rough and finish machining. The company believes that vertical integration improves product quality by having all processes controlled and maintained in-house, enables shorter lead times, reduces the potential for production delays, and offers the efficiency and full-service of a one-stop shop.
A case in point is Weldaloy’s internal heat-treating operation.
“Every part we make has a recipe of time and temperature cycles that we follow,” said Kurt Ruppenthal, Weldaloy’s vice president of manufacturing.
Nearly all the copper and aluminum parts produced require thermal treatment that is done in-house (with the exception of vacuum heat treatment). Four heat-treating furnaces are in a building separate from the one housing the hammers, presses and rolling mill. All of these meet AMS 2750 Class III certification.
The company recognizes that properly heat treating material is vital to superior part performance in service. Consequently, it has recently completed rebuilding and re-bricking its furnaces and added state-of-the-art controllers. The furnaces are periodically inspected and maintained to ensure setpoint accuracy and that variation within the chamber meets its standards. The company understands that knowing the right time and temperature relationships is essential to maximize material properties. Its services include annealing and/or stress relieving, quenching, solution treatment and aging. All quenching is done in water.
Weldaloy’s machine shop is also a large part of its vertical-integration scheme. It has more than 20 turning and machining centers, the majority of which are state-of-the-art CNC-operated. The company considers itself a machining specialist for copper and aluminum applications, with the necessary experience to effectively machine copper alloys that have inherently low machinability ratings.
Rounding out Weldaloy’s vertical integration is its measurement and testing capabilities. Once parts are made to the correct size, they are verified as to dimensional accuracy on coordinate measurement machines (CMMs). Additionally, manufactured parts may need to be checked for a particular grain size or structure, hardness, conductivity, mechanical properties or other requirements. Along with its two CMMs and full range of dimensional inspection equipment, Weldaloy also provides testing for mechanical properties (tensile-yield-elongation), grain size, hardness and conductivity. Nondestructive test (NDT) services such as dye penetrant, ultrasonic and radiographic testing are also done on site.
Weldaloy is formally registered to the AS 9100C aerospace certification and ISO 9001:2008. The company, however, maintains that quality is built into its closely knit corporate culture. Weldaloy points out that where forging and machining operations share the same location‚ one can’t pass along an inferior part to the next associate down the line. It is a matter of personal integrity to ensure that the part passed to the next operation is the absolute best it can be, and this continues all the way to the customer.
Consequently, the operation doesn’t have an army of inspectors because it doesn’t need one. Every operator – from the forge and machine shop to the shipping department – is responsible for the part they make and sign off on it before it is sent to the next operation. That means that each operator has checked each part and that it meets all requirements up to that point. Any operator may stop production if there is a quality problem‚ and they can reject a part back to the previous operation if they do not agree that the quality standard is met. As a result‚ the product is inspected twice at every step by people who are best qualified to produce good product.
Finally, every manufactured part is marked with a serial number to maintain traceability throughout the manufacturing process. Parts can be assigned a tracking number if the customer requires it or if there is an internal need to do so. The pedigree of each part can be traced back through every operation and operator to the raw material.
The Softer Side
Weldaloy’s faith-based vision statement sets the tone for its business culture: “To glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us. To demonstrate the love of Christ Jesus to all we encounter.”
Beliefs aside, the company conducts business with three principles in mind:
- Specialize in customer service
- Under-promise and over-deliver
- Seek partnerships, not just customers
Weldaloy does its best to treat its employees fairly and respectfully.
“We try to treat people really well and offer them a safe and good working environment,” Ruppenthal said. “We train our forging and machining operators, and we re-invest in our employees and their equipment so they can do their jobs right.”
Additionally, Weldaloy and Warren have regularly supported causes that help the needy and underprivileged over the years.
Weldaloy is a producer of nonferrous forgings of copper, aluminum, brass and other nonferrous forgings (including rings) to the aerospace, oil and gas, power equipment, semiconductor and material-processing industries. It is a vertically integrated company that processes raw material from its metal suppliers through to finished parts that have been heat treated and machined according to customer needs.
For additional information, visit www.weldaloy.com.