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Automated Machining Lifting Forged Wheel Capacity

Feb. 13, 2012
Accurides expansion strategy is built on investments, improvements in product quality
Accuride’s Mega-Line in Erie, PA, is a fully automated operation that has eight robots processing forged and heat-treated products through turning, pre-stressing, milling, coining, and surface finishing to produce, high-gloss aluminum wheels for commercial vehicles. It uses a centralized, closed-loop system for chip and coolant management.

Accuride Corp. credits a fully automated machining installation for a 42% increase in its aluminum wheel manufacturing capacity in 2011, and more machining capability is planned as part of an extensive capital improvement program for its Accuride Wheels subsidiary during 2012.

“By strategically managing our existing capacity and investing in key acquisitions and capacity initiatives, Accuride is fortifying its status as a leading aluminum wheel supplier to the North American commercial vehicle industry,” explained Scott Hazlett, senior vice president and general manager of the Accuride Wheels business unit. Accuride Wheels manufactures forged steel and aluminum wheels for trucks and wheelend components, at eight plants in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico,

The Mega-Line is the new installation at the Erie, PA, plant that handles forged and heat-treated aluminum wheels as they are turned, pre-stressed, milled, coined, and surface- finished to yield high-gloss products for commercial vehicles.

“The Mega-Line established a new industry benchmark in process technology,” the company stated, offering one example of the ways its $35-million outlay during 2011 improved its ability to address rising demand for product quality in the commercial vehicle-wheel sector. Accuride produces commercial vehicle wheels in aluminum and steel, wheel-end components and assemblies, truck body and chassis parts, and other commercial vehicle components.

“Many factors, including fuel-economy requirements, residual value, and aesthetics, are driving the growth in aluminum wheel demand in the North American commercial vehicle industry,” stated Accuride president and CEO Rick Dauch. “Accuride is investing to ensure that we have the right production capacity in place when and where our customers need it, whether for steel or aluminum wheels. We’re also raising our standards for product dependability and finish to meet customers’ ever-increasing expectations.”

Another notable development during 2011 was Accuride’s acquisition of Forgitron Technologies LLC, a rotary forging operation Camden, SC, in June. Accuride Wheels converted the manufacturing systems and controls there to its own standards, increasing the group’s aluminum wheel capacity by 21%.

Also, last summer, Accuride relocated a manual-process aluminum wheel machining line from Erie, PA, to Monterrey, Mexico, establishing Accuride de Mexico as that country’s only “single-source supplier” of steel and aluminum wheels for the local medium- and heavy-duty commercial vehicle market.

The last item for 2011 saw Accuride install more polishing equipment for aluminum wheels at the Erie and Monterrey plants, improving efficiency and productivity at for quality aluminum wheels at both sites.

For 2012, Accuride Corp. has a $75-million capital-spending plan that it expects will increase wheel production capacity and improve manufacturing processes. To begin with, it has $20 million identified for improvements to increase capacity for aluminum wheels at Accuride Wheels in Erie, Camden, and Monterrey. This will include plant improvements, adding more new machining lines and processing equipment, and relocating some equipment among the three aluminum wheel plants.

“Accuride is committed to being a reliable and dependable supplier of steel and aluminum wheels and wheel-end components for our OEM and aftermarket customers,” Accuride president and CEO Rick Dauch told a conference of the aftermarket truck industry. “We made solid progress in boosting our production capacity last year, and are stepping up our investments to extend and accelerate that progress throughout 2012.”

Accuride said these coming projects will optimize material flow, standardize machining processes, and improve surface-finish consistency across its product lines. The company further indicated the investments will double aluminum wheel production capacity at Camden and Monterrey. The company predicted the commercial vehicle industry would hit the peak of its demand cycle in 2013-14.

As for its steel wheel product line, Accuride said it will make “targeted investments” in machining, equipment and plant upgrades, along with “engineering initiatives” to improve product and process quality.

Accuride also said its Lean Manufacturing initiatives are reducing variation and cycle times for its wheel products.

The second phase of 2012 investments will focus on Accuride’s Gunite business unit, which produces commercial vehicle wheel-end components, like brake drums, disc brake rotors, spoke wheels, disc wheel hubs, and other products. Details of the program will be announced later this quarter, the company said, but it indicated it plans to address production issues and capacity restraints and will increase capacity, throughput, and product quality.

“These investment plans further demonstrate our continuing commitment to improve product quality and ensure availability to meet growing demand by our customers and the industry,” Dauch continued. “We won’t be satisfied until Accuride becomes the premier supplier of wheel-end system solutions to the global commercial vehicle industry.”