Towns in Pennsylvania and Ohio are littered with closed steel mills and it would be easy to conclude that the future of steel production is in China or India. But that isn’t entirely the case.
James Carpenter launched a mill in 1889 next to the Schuylkill River in Reading, PA. Unlike mills launched by mightier magnates, such as Andrew Carnegie, this one is rapidly growing.
Carpenter Technology just broke ground for a $115 million premium vacuum melt furnace and will invest another $85 million in finishing capacity, updating a mill already loaded with new equipment installed in the last eight years.
New high-alloy grades are aimed at applications such as titanium replacement in aircraft landing gears and performance enhancement in golf clubs, two markets with vastly different design cycles. “It can take eight years to get a new alloy qualified for an aircraft application,” says Dave Wert, specialist, stainless alloys R&D, “and that may just be for tests.” On the other hand, the golf market has about a six-month development cycle as OEMs race to get enhancements in the hands of tour pros.
Specialty alloys account for 46 percent of the company’s revenues, up from 32 percent in 1996. Sales of stainless have dropped from 58 percent to 35 percent in the same time frame. Development of specialty stainless grades, such as custom 465, are replacing grades of stainless such as 316 that had become low-value commodities dominated by low-cost Asian producers.
Custom 465 stainless is a double vacuum-melted, martensetic, age-hardenable alloy that offers corrosion resistance as well as strength and toughness. When aged at 950F, it’s capable of ultimate tensile strength in excess of 250 ksi.
Nike Golf is using another alloy, cold-rolled custom 455 stainless, in the front of some irons in what it describes as a “slingback” design that allows weight to be repositioned to improve the moment of inertia, thus reducing twisting and allowing crisper ball striking, says Peter Thompson, product application engineer in the strip products business unit.
The most recent special alloy introduced at Carpenter Technology is a new controlled-chemistry, free-machining, ferritic 13 percent chromium alloy developed for use in magnetic components that offers better corrosion resistance and good magnetic properties. Chrome Core 13-XP alloy is targeted at fuel injection components and other electromechanical devices where corrosion resistance must be better than that of pure iron, low carbon steel and silicon-iron alloys.