Kamtek opens $60 million Birmingham expansion
Kamtek officially opened its $60 million aluminum casting plant today, bringing a new capability that is in high demand as the automotive industry seeks to make lighter cars while retaining strength and safety.
Kamtek, an operation of international automotive supplier giant Magna, added high-pressure vacuum die-casting to its existing stamping and assembly operations in Birmingham’s Pinson Valley. The nearly 150,000-square-foot plant will eventually employ more than 100 workers.
“It allows us to produce aluminum castings at a much faster and higher-quality rate,” said John Hackett, general manager of Kamtek’s Birmingham operations. “They help to lightweight the vehicles of the future to reach better fuel economy, but it also gives them a much safer vehicle and a stronger structure to the aluminum. Typically, what we’re making here will replace maybe an 11- or 12-piece component with one part.” Hackett pointed to one such recent automotive success due to the process. “If you look at the Cadillac CT6 released last year, it has 13 casting components all produced by Magna that replaced 35 previous components,” Hacket said. “It helped contribute to the 200-pound weight savings on the vehicle.”
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey toured Kamtek's new aluminum casting plant in Birmingham. (Michael Tomberlin / Alabama NewsCenter)
Parts produced at the plant will supply automakers in multiple states in addition to Alabama automakers. The new facility is among other expansions taking place at Kamtek’s growing Pinson Valley footprint. Hackett said it is currently adding to one of its existing facilities to make engine cradles for an upcoming Mercedes-Benz vehicle to be produced in Tuscaloosa County.
Brian Hilson, CEO of the Birmingham Business Alliance, “Kamtek is one of the world's finest companies, not just in the automotive industry but in any industry sector. We're very, very proud to have them here in Alabama and obviously here in the Birmingham area. Their investment is something now in the vicinity of a $1.5 billion, and while this is a very large facility that we're dedicating and recognizing today, it's really actually only a small part of all the investment and the job creation that they have sustained here. All of that is happening because of the original equipment manufacturing presence that we have in Alabama, companies like Mercedes Benz, Honda, Hyundai, and others.
William Bell, Mayor City of Birmingham, "We've been working with Kamtek on their expansion plans for some time now, and to finally get to this day where we have the governor here to have the ribbon cutting, it let us know that all the hard work that we put into it has finally paid off. To create new jobs here in Birmingham and in Alabama, that's really the greatest responsibility that we can have to our citizens. I'm just happy for this day to be here.”
John Hackett, General Manager of Kamtek’s Birmingham operations, “We set our first column in February of '16 and made our first casting in July of '16, so if you think about that time frame, four months, it's actually unheard of, so they did a fantastic job. We actually expanded on what we call our K2 building. We're just finishing up that, so hopefully we can have you back early next year.
We've added in the cradle business, which is an engine, front and rear cradles for Mercedes' new vehicle, and we'll be launching those next year through '19. So, we added on another 90,000 square feet and brought in another new technology to Kamtek there with E-coating, motor coat, cavity wax, and high-speed MIG welding line.”
William Bell, Mayor City of Birmingham, “This is part of our workforce development. We work in conjunction with the state to make sure that our citizens are trained to take on these high-tech jobs, and believe it or not, these are high-tech jobs. When you walk around this facility and you see all the technology that one has to master in order to make these parts, it's a credit to the talents and the abilities of the citizens of Birmingham.”
John Hackett, General Manager of Kamtek’s Birmingham operations, “I had lunch here in the new hire orientation yesterday with eight of our new apprentices that are going to start this year, so to me I think skilled trade workforce development is key. It's how I started with Magna. We budgeted to have 35 to 40 apprentices at any given time, so each year we want to add six to eight new apprentices and graduate the classes in each year.
We've gone out now to the local high schools, even to our employees if they have children graduating high school so that we can grab those minds and get them here and tell them there's another option besides university. Not that there's anything wrong with university, but you can come here, get a skilled trade. It's a similar four-year degree without the debt, right, and get paid, so other options in high tech die casting jobs are available.
It's tough to convince parents sometimes that there are other options, but I think once we show them that this isn't what you would typically, your old typical factory. We have over 700 robots, very high-speed press lines, a lot of very latest technology. You can see it here in this facility, it's clean, it's a casting plant. Once we get that message across, it becomes a much easier decision to let them maybe come and try it out.”
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