A little known but highly automated forging plant in Buchanan, Va., is expanding to double its output of wheel hub components for pickups and SUVs.
Virginia Forge Co., a Tier 2 supplier, will spend $18.3 million to double its forged steel hub capacity to 10 million pieces a year.
The forgings are used primarily by bearing supplier Timken Co. to assemble wheel structures for vehicles built by DaimlerChrysler, Ford Motor Co., General Motors and Nissan North America Inc.
The 8-year-old plant uses modern vertical presses to turn out one steel forging every two seconds. A single plant operator can tend to four different computerized machining cells, which run three shifts a day.
Despite the high production volumes, the plant will employ only 80 people when fully ramped up. That's only 21 more than are on the payroll now.
The expansion will net almost 240,000 additional forgings a year for each added employee.
This level of automation has become common among forging operations in Japan and Europe. But the U.S. forging segment has not caught up, Virginia Forge Plant Manager David Nelson said.
The plant is part of privately held MFC Group of Meadville, Pa., which includes Meadville Forging Co. of Meadville, Pa., and Carolina Forging Co. of Wilson, N.C.
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