Sandvik Coromant's new insert finishing plant in Stafford, a suburb of Houston, Texas, doubles the company's U.S. capacity to produce cutting tool inserts, including advanced-material inserts for global markets. It represents the company's commitment to an increased presence in the NAFTA carbide insert market as well as an expanded role in the global advanced-material inserts market. NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, covers the largest market for inserts in the world. However, this $15 million plant also says a lot about the company's perceptions of key trends in machining, and about the United States as a manufacturing country.
Part of a $37 million U.S. capital expansion for Sandvik Coromant, the new Stafford plant raises the company's annual output to 20 million inserts per year. It replaces a smaller plant in Houston, which Sandvik outgrew. The other portion of the two-year capital project is a $22 million capacity expansion within the existing plant at Fair Lawn, New Jersey. Together the plants produce tungsten carbide inserts and advanced materials for the global and NAFTA markets.
With 51,000 square feet under roof, the Stafford plant will handle finish grinding and assembly of inserts on a three-shift, five-day-a-week schedule. Carbide insert blanks will come from Fair Lawn, where all sintering and coating of the inserts takes place. Finish-grinding of these inserts will account for about 60 percent of the Stafford plant's output.
However, the plant will become the parent company's global finishing center for advanced-material inserts, which include cubic boron nitride (CBN), ceramics and polycrystalline diamond (PCD). CBN, ceramic and PCD blanks will come from Sweden. Advanced-material inserts are expected to grow in world market share, and will ultimately represent 40 percent of Stafford's output within the next three years. These inserts represent only 5- to 10-percent of the world insert market today, the company says, which indicates the level of growth that is expected.
According to Lars Pettersson, president of Sandvik Coromant AB, the principal market drivers for these inserts are demands for faster material removal and alternatives to grinding of hardened parts and growing use of cast iron and heat resistant super alloys. These materials are difficult to machine. Also contributing is development of faster spindles, machine tools and controls, he says.
To improve cubic boron nitride insert performance, the new plant will use a new sintering-like process that bonds the boron nitride tips to the carbide substrates. The resulting bond is said to be more than twice as strong as conventional brazements, even at cutting temperatures that can melt brazing metals. This eliminates tip breakout, a main cause of catastrophic failures with CBN tooling. These inserts are designed with four or eight usable tips so that indexing one insert reduces the cost per edge and improves process economics. These inserts are targeted for cast iron machining, hard part turning and finish machining of hardened dies and molds.
Stafford also will finish-grind the company's new Si-Alon 6080 and silicon nitride 1690 ceramic inserts. Grade 6080 permits 20 to 50 percent higher machining rates than conventional ceramic inserts for Inconel, Waspaloy and other difficult-to-machine heat resistant specialty alloys, the company says. The PCD inserts finished at Stafford permit higher machining rates, longer tool life and finer finishes on aluminum.
Sandvik's intention to remain a major global player in advanced-material inserts is only part of the strategy behind the new plant. The company's commitment to the NAFTA manufacturing market are also important.
"The Houston-area location reflects our belief that the United States remains a world-competitive place for manufacturing high-tech industrial products," says James T. Baker, president, Sandvik Coromant/US. "Leaders in U.S. government, industrial management and labor should feel good about that. Remember, NAFTA is the largest single market for cutting tool inserts in the world." Speaking at the opening of the plant, Mr. Baker pointed out that the United States has the strongest, most stable economy and government, and the best distribution infrastructure for serving world markets. He also noted that very favorable labor policies here give global manufacturers a great measure of operating flexibility.
The site will also house a new training facility to help customers increase productivity, reduce manufacturing costs and capitalize on new tooling developments. To serve NAFTA markets better, training will be offered in both Spanish and English. The company expects training and support to become larger factors in its anticipated growth, says Mr. Baker, because customers need guidance in tooling selection and use, especially when faced with a constant stream of new product introductions.
Plans call for the Stafford operation to create 30 new jobs, raising local employment to approximately 140 and annual payroll to approximately $3 million.