Case Study: Howmet Aerospace
Seven Decades of Manufacturing Leadership
Howmet Aerospace Inc. has been a manufacturing leader since 1951. That was the year a group of engineers from Detroit-based Michigan Steel Casting Corp. arrived in Whitehall to found Misco Precision Casting Company with just 26 employees. During those early years, Misco perfected its monolithic shell process of investment casting, a process that creates molds by using wax forms coated with a ceramic material. The wax is melted away to create the final ceramic mold, into which molten alloy is poured. Once cooled, the ceramic mold is broken to produce the metal part. Thanks to its research and development expertise, the company was acquired by the mining and metals company Howmet Sound Co. in 1959, and later by metals giant Alcoa Inc. in 2004. Following a corporate spin-off in 2016, the operations in Whitehall became a part of Arconic Inc. Today, Howmet Aerospace is a leading global provider of advanced engineered solutions for the aerospace and transportation industries, having separated from Arconic in 2019. Howmet’s Whitehall Operations serves as the company’s headquarters for its aerospace engine components research and manufacturing.
Jet Engines Take Off
As a world-class producer of aerospace engine components, Howmet specializes in investment castings, fasteners, rings and forgings. The company’s vacuum melted superalloys, machining, performance coatings and hot isostatic pressing for high performance parts power the next generation of quieter, cleaner and more fuel-efficient jet engines. With demand on the rise from global customers such as General Electric, Pratt & Whitney, Rolls Royce and Safran, the company’s Whitehall Operations began to run out of capacity to produce high-nickel alloy jet engine blades and vanes in 2018. Despite its global footprint, Howmet decided to expand its manufacturing capacity in Whitehall where it’s R&D expertise was located and where there was an existing technically trained production workforce. The expansion project for Plant 1 began in April of 2018 with the design of a 160,000 square foot facility housing 15 casting furnaces allowing the campus to improve capacity by 22 percent. Demolition of the existing plant began in August followed by the first delivery of steel on site in November. Equipment followed with the locally sourced casting furnaces being commissioned in September 2019 and the first castings shipped in December.
Howmet’s $92 million Plant 1 expansion was planned, designed and built with West Michigan expertise. The company contracted with Grand Rapids-based architect Prein&Newhof for the design and brought in Rockford Construction out of Grand Rapids to oversee construction on site. All materials and labor for the project were subcontracted from West Michigan, including steel from Legacy Steel, concrete from Cascade Cement Contracting Inc., mechanical work by Andy J. Egan Company, Inc., and electrical work by Feyen Zylstra and Newkirk Electric. Even the casting furnaces were a product of West Michigan talent. The Howmet Research Center, which is located on the Whitehall campus, designed and built the furnaces and manufacturing line in collaboration with Holland-based JR Automation.
Commitment to the Environment
The Plant 1 expansion underscores Howmet’s commitment to the environment. The facility employs many energy saving features including LED lighting with automatic on and off sensors as well as state-of-the-art, high-efficiency natural gas combustion systems and cooling water systems for processes. The building includes bottle fillers that promote employee water consumption while reducing waste from disposable water bottles. The expansion also included a complete rebuild of the Whitehall Operation Waste Water Treatment Facility, which improved the quality of waste water going into the Muskegon waste water system. The new facility even uses recycled process water from the plant to heat campus sidewalks to melt snow, which reduces the amount of salt needs to keep employees safe from slips, trips and falls during the winter.
Commitment to the Community
In addition to a commitment to sustainability in its manufacturing and products, Howmet Aerospace has a strong legacy of involvement in the local community. As the largest manufacturing employer in Muskegon County, Howmet actively supports community organizations through leadership participation on community boards, food drives, fund raising, volunteer activities through the United Way of the Lakeshore, as well as education initiatives and COVID-relief through the Community Foundation of Muskegon County. The company also has a long history of supporting the arts in all forms including the INSPIRE campaign for the Muskegon Museum of Art and renovation of the iconic Playhouse at White Lake. In 2020, Howmet renewed that commitment with a $250,000 grant to help renovate the historic Frauenthal Theater in downtown Muskegon. The combined giving of the company through the Howmet Aerospace Foundation exceeds $10 million.
A Global Leader, Here in West Michigan
Howmet Aerospace is a leading global provider of solutions for the aerospace and transportation industries including engine products, fastening systems, engineered structures and forged wheels. Through its aerospace engine research and manufacturing here in the Muskegon County, Howmet is advancing the next phase of more fuel-efficient, quieter aircraft.
Howmet Aerospace Inc.
3850 White Lake Drive
Whitehall, MI 49461