Walker Die Casting to install new furnace

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Lewisburg family-owned Walker Die Casting plans to install a new furnace to increase efficiency, company leaders said after the city's Planning Commission granted site plan approval last week.

"It's not to increase business," company President John Walker said Monday of his building expansion project to accommodate a new furnace estimated at some $600,000 to $700,000. "It's to increase energy efficiency."

Something was apparently required since "the cost of energy went up $80,000 a month since February," Walker said. "That's 20-25 percent" more for electricity and natural gas used to melt metal.

He anticipates a project cost in excess of $1 million.

Charlie Allen, plant engineer of the business in operation here since the late 1950s, appeared at the Lewisburg Planning Commission meeting for the company.

"We're adding onto our building," Allen said. "We don't know that it will make any more jobs, but it will make us more efficient. It will add onto our Furnace Department for melting ... aluminum ingot.

"We're going to do it in two phases," the engineer said of a project that could eventually cover some 66,000 square feet. "The first phase is to be in the next four months. The second phase, we don't have a time frame on it."

The more efficient furnace that will eventually be installed may arrive in parts that are shipped by rail and truck, he said.

Walker Die Casting has employed up to 700 people. Its current employment is about 500 people.

Approval of the site plan came with a caveat that the business will win approval from the city's Board of Zoning Appeals because the addition will have the structure closer to a property line than normally allowed.

"We're not on any rigid schedule," Walker said. Completion of the addition could be "probably by the first of the year."

The first phase of the expansion, "we're definitely doing," Walker said.

That was said to be some 2,566 square feet, according to discussion during the planning commission meeting on Tuesday last week.

"The other we may not be doing, depending on what happens to business," Walker said, explaining, "Now, this business is pretty tough. Anything to do with U.S. automobile business is really slow."