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RTI production begins
Titanium plant makes first certified product
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State and local officials join RTI officials on a tour of the company’s new Martinsville plant Thursday when it produced its first certified commercial product. The hot ingot being forged is the yellow bar behind Mary Rae Carter (in the pink jacket). (Photos by Steve Sheppard and Bulletin photographer Mike Wray)
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Friday, October 12, 2012

By GINNY WRAY - Bulletin Staff Writer

RTI International Metals Inc. is up and running in Henry County.

On Thursday, the titanium plant in the Patriot Centre industrial park held its inaugural Airbus forging ceremony, producing its first certified commercial product.

RTI’s forging, grinding and hot rolling plant has been in production since January, according to Dawne Hickton, RTI vice chairman, president and chief executive officer. Since then, it has been undergoing testing to meet qualifications of Airbus, the aircraft manufacturer headquartered in Toulouse, France, which will use much of the plant’s titanium output in its passenger jets.

The testing culminated in Thursday’s production.

Gov. Bob McDonnell called the milestone “a job well done.” He was joined by local and state officials, congressmen and state delegates at the ceremony.

RTI has invested $135 million in the plant that now employs 25 people, Hickton said, adding that number is expected to grow with expansion of the plant’s operations.

According to a news release, further qualifications for the grinding and rolling mill processes will take place in the future. When they are completed, RTI expects the facility to deliver titanium for use in all lines for Airbus and EADS, its parent company.

At full capacity, the forging facility can produce up to 14 million pounds of product annually, the release added.

“The Martinsville plant is a key new addition to RTI’s ability to meet the expanding titanium needs of Airbus,” Hickton stated in the release. “RTI is the largest North American titanium supplier to Airbus and ... EADS, and this new facility adds an additional link in RTI’s ability to meet their needs across the entire supply chain.”

She thanked McDonnell and other state and local officials for their assistance in reaching the milestone, and also praised RTI’s strong relationship with Airbus.

Eric Zanin, material procurement senior vice president for EADS and Airbus, returned the compliment, and told the crowd that Thursday, Airbus was ordering 2,500 tons of titanium that will be processed in Martinsville.

RTI’s plans to construct the Martinsville facility to serve Airbus were announced in January 2008, and the company had hoped to open the plant in 2010. But that was before the global recession hit in 2008, Hickton said Thursday.

RTI made other changes, but work on its Martinsville plant continued, she said. Two years ago, she came here to reassure people that the plant would become a reality.

Now, “we’re not shut down, we’re running and producing product,” she added.

“I appreciate your staying the course” and leadership in times of economic uncertainties when shipments leveled off, McDonnell told Hickton.

The governor, who said he was here in 2010 for what he called RTI’s “mid-term inspection,” also noted that the plant now is cutting titanium, creating jobs and tax revenue. All that is good for the quality of life and the rebound of Southside Virginia, he said.

He also said the state is becoming known as a hub for the aerospace industry with companies such as Lockheed and Rolls Royce. Now, “RTI is a big piece of that,” he said, adding that he hopes more jobs will be created as the economic recovery continues and uncertainties in the defense industry are resolved.

In simple terms, the process that occurs at RTI in Martinsville starts with raw materials that are melted into an ingot, which is delivered to the Martinsville plant, according to Gary Urso, general manager of engineering and capital projects for RTI.

The ingot is heated — as Hickton put it, into “real cool, red-hot metal” — and a forging press then presses it into shapes, such as circles or squares, Urso said.

The surfaces of those pieces are ground in another part of the plant, and in some cases they may go back to the forging area for more processing, he said.

The items then are sent to RTI facilities in Ohio for further finishing, some of which eventually may be done at the Martinsville plant as volume grows, Urso said.

That growth would be driven by Airbus and the defense industry, he said, adding that the plant was designed to employ as many as 155 people.

McDonnell noted that now, when people go to an airport and get on a plane, it may have titanium that came through RTI’s Martinsville plant.

Hickton said after the presentation that the titanium would be in a plane’s structural support, wing supports, fasteners, door frames, seat tracks and other areas.

All of the titanium processed in Martinsville will go to Airbus, which is RTI’s largest single customer, she said. She added that RTI will ship more than 6 million pounds of titanium, and more than one-third of its mill product business is with Airbus.

“Our material is on every Airbus (plane) today,” she said, noting that RTI has been one of Airbus’s key suppliers for more than 30 years.

One-third of Airbus’s procurement is in the United States, Zanin said, putting the value of that at $12 billion and growing.

 

 
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