NORTH JACKSON, Ohio – A rebound in the aerospace industry has facilitated a major expansion at a specialty-steel manufacturer in North Jackson that will bring new jobs to the community.
“We expect to have a record this year sales-wise and we expect to double the sales coming out of this plant in the next two years,” says Dennis Oats, chairman, president and CEO of Universal Stainless, which operates a 256,000 square-foot production plant along South Bailey Road.
Universal Stainless has invested more than $200 million into the plant since 2011, and plans to spend another $15 million in new construction and equipment. The investment will expand the plant’s footprint by 13,000-square-feet and house two new, high-tech vacuum arc re-melt furnaces in addition to the five already in operation.
Construction has started. The project should be completed and the new furnaces commissioned by the second quarter of 2023. And the new equipment should be in by the fourth quarter of this year, Oats says.
On May 5, the company welcomed reporters, contractors, engineers, development and community officials, and employees to a groundbreaking ceremony at the site, presented by the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber.
Oats says aerospace represents approximately 65% to 70% of sales from the North Jackson plant. “Coming out of the pandemic, we see a significant growth in air travel, which is driving the aerospace aftermarket,” he says.
Major original equipment manufacturers such as Boeing and Airbus plan to ramp up their build rates in 2023 and 2024, Oats says. That means these companies need to secure orders for steel and metal well in advance, since lead times have been stretched because of supply-chain concerns.
“Every Boeing airplane has some Universal material on it,” Oats says. These range from high-end structural parts to engine components. “We do business in North America and internationally,” he says.
The company also supplies the defense industry, which composes about 20% of its aerospace business. Universal Stainless also serves the power-generation market and the oil and gas industry.
There are few companies in the world capable of producing the high-grade stainless steel manufactured at the North Jackson plant, Oats says. “The radio-hydraulic forge we have here is one of only two in the Western Hemisphere,” he says. “It’s highly automated.”
Universal Stainless produces and re-melts stainless steel ingots in the company’s five vacuum arc re-melt furnaces, says Joseph Waggoner, corporate engineer.
Ingots are lowered into the furnace chamber and are re-melted while the metal undergoes refining. Once the ingot cools and solidifies, the steel is removed from the furnace by crane and either processed into round bar in North Jackson or sent to one of Universal Stainless’ other facilities for further processing.
The entire melting process could take between 12 and 24 hours, Waggoner says.
The North Jackson site is among four Universal Stainless plants within a three-hour drive. The company, based in Bridgeville, Pa., in suburban Pittsburgh, operates a plant there as well as in Titusville, Pa., and Dunkirk, N.Y., halfway between Erie, Pa. and Buffalo.
The North Jackson plant employs between 65 and 75 people, but that number is likely to grow to as many as 95 employees once the expansion is finished and production begins, Oats says.
Universal Stainless employs more than 600 companywide, he adds. The workforce is likely to expand to between 750 and 800 employees over the next several years.
Universal Stainless purchased the North Jackson site in 2011 from Patriot Metals, which constructed the factory in 2007.
“The reason why we continue to invest in this company is that we see the growth opportunity,” Oats says.
The CEO points to three factors that have enabled this plant to succeed: teamwork among its past and present employees; partnerships with the company’s other locations and divisions; and those suppliers, vendors and equipment manufacturers that have helped build the plant.
“I’m very optimistic about the future of not only the company, but also of this facility and its contribution to the overall company,” he says.
Pictured: Dennis Oats, CEO of Universal Stainless, shows a rendering of new vacuum arc furnaces.