Issue September / October 2007
Alutec continues to expand
Speaking from his office in Poland, Lothar Thoni, the current managing director of Alutec provides an insight into the company’s background: “Historically we’re an aluminium foundry that was founded 40 years ago as a family business.
My father, Ludwig Thoni is a foundry man, just as his father was, and I have continued this tradition by running Alutec in Poland. In the past we’ve gone through different processes but have eventually found our place in large sand castings. Our typical casting weight starts from 15kg and goes up to 2500kg. Annual quantities reach up to 10,000 even for the heavier parts. With this process we’re very flexible and are able to cast almost anything regardless of shape, size and quantity. We still produce gravity diecastings, but this only counts for five per cent of our business. We are able to offer in-house casting design, pattern making, prototyping, serial production, heat-treatment, machining, leak testing, pressure testing and all the necessary quality checks like chemical analysis, tensile test, hardness test, crack test, x-ray and ultrasonic.
“Being pushed by the market to supply ready-machined castings, we decided to invest in machining facilities onsite two years ago so as to control this part of the business 100 per cent. Within two years, we’ve invested in a machine shop covering 50,000 sq ft, ten machining centres, three CMM machines and employ approximately 50 people in this field. The machining centres and CMM machines can produce parts of up to 4m length and at this moment we machine 20 per cent of our castings by ourselves, and this figure is still increasing.”
Supplying to various industries including energy, medical, robotics and engineering, Alutec’s main customers are well known multinationals like ABB, Siemens, Philips and Alstom, though it also supplies medium sized companies that are sometimes world leaders in their business, which makes them a strong and reliable partner. Continuing, Lothar talks about the importance of its R&D activities: “All of our knowledge is based on hands-on experience that we’ve gained over the last 60 years. We didn’t reinvent casting aluminium, but through our never-ending aim to break limits, we’ve collected a vast amount of foundry ‘brains’ in our company. The fact that casting stimulation software is being increasingly used in foundries is a sign for us that the foundry industry in our field is sometimes ‘walking in the dark’ when it comes to casting technology. We spent a lot of time on trying different casting systems on actual parts and not on test bars, which only gives a mere indication, not the real picture.” Alutec is equipped with state-ofthe- art test equipment that is no older than three years old and run by young, well-trained foundry engineers.
Moving on, Lothar highlights how Alutec has successfully tripled its capacity over the last five years and the effect this has had on the business: “Eight years ago, we extended our operations in Poland with 25 people but we now employ around 550 people. Over the last five years, we’ve steadily and constantly built on floor space nearly every year. As a consequence, we have, all of a sudden, become an important player in the European aluminium foundry business – where some suppliers didn’t want to deal with us before, they’re now knocking on our door on a regular basis to do business; where some companies didn’t want to give us any orders because our capacity was too small for them, they have all now become our most valued customers.
“We have recently acquired a new piece of land next to the existing foundry and will be installing a completely new foundry from scratch. The building will cover an area of 200,000 sq ft and will be equipped with the latest foundry equipment available on the market. This is, by far, our biggest investment ever and we want to become faster and more efficient in supplying our customers in lead times and quality, which they won’t be able to find anywhere else in Europe. Alutec is investing in every kind of recycling and reusable energy equipment possible, starting from recycling moulding sand at 95 per cent, swarf (100 per cent) and reusing the heat loss of foundry equipment to heat the production and administration facility at 100 per cent. Our goal is to become the number one jobbing foundry for large aluminium castings in Europe.”
Having attended the Hanover Messe exhibition in April 2007, Lothar explains its importance: “Because it attracts international interest, it is the main event for us where were are able to show our capabilities because castings that size must be seen in person and cannot be offered in catalogues like nuts and bolts. At the moment, our yearly increase in business is so big that we are trying not to advertise Alutec too much. This will change however in 2008, as we will be able to take on more orders.”
Lothar reveals his plans for the future: “I want Alutec to use up its new capacity within the next four to five years and then to consolidate. Although we still have ample land to expand further, the new foundry will be set up in a way to ensure this can be done very easily. Currently we already supply to countries including India, China and Israel, which makes me very proud as our company is becoming known all over the world. And our next goal is to get into higher quality markets, because we have the knowledge, equipment and the workforce to do so.”
Products: Large sand casting