From Ashes to Castings: Cera-Met Recovers From Fire and Increases Capacity
Written by Maria Schwartz - Cera-Met
This article appears in the November 2020 issue of INCAST magazine (https://www.investmentcasting.org/current-issue.html)
Cera-Met LLC, located in Bethlehem, PA, has been an aluminum investment casting producer since its inception in 1974. Starting as part of the CERCAST group, it made its mark in the industry by supplying the aerospace market with superior custom aluminum castings. As it gained in renown, the CERCAST group was acquired by Howmet Corporation in 1989 which was then purchased by Alcoa in 2000. But Cera-Met was destined to stand on its own so in December of 2007, it was purchased by Henri Fine, owner of Uni-Cast, another leading aluminum casting foundry in New Hampshire.
Through all of Cera-Met’s history and ownership changes, one thing has remained – the desire to excel in the aluminum casting industry by providing high quality, complex castings. It seems that finally having the opportunity to operate as its own entity was the missing piece to a successful future. Cera-Met has primarily focused on the defense sector throughout its 46 years, but since 2007, and during a predicted downturn in the defense business, the company expanded into Solid Mold capabilities allowing them to take on some of the most difficult commercial parts in the aerospace market, such as complex cored pump housings. Adding that capacity to the existing alcohol-based shell process has given Cera-Met unparalleled expertise in the business.
Throughout the years, the company has continued to gain momentum, excelling each year with unprecedented results… until a devastating fire consumed the foundry in December 2019. News coverage in the early morning hours showed flames lapping over the roof of the building. Thick smoke billowed up from the source as employees and reporters watched in disbelief. The worst-case scenario had come to pass and time seemed to halt as fire-fighters tried to control the blaze. The call that no one thought they’d ever hear was made, “Don’t come to work today… there’s been a fire.” The severity of the accident wouldn’t be known until the building would be cleared to enter much later in the day. And they later found that the fire started at 4am - a new employee had used a torch to clean wax drippings in the wax reclaim area of the foundry.
The extent of the damage was dizzying. The entire roof over the foundry and heat treat areas was completely destroyed. Fumes and dust hung in the air as if caught in a web. Walking through the plant, the shock of the amount of debris and damage left little room for hope. The silence was eerie as the water-logged equipment sat inoperable, unproductive, and the rest of the plant was unusable as all the utility lines had been destroyed: power, natural gas, water, and compressed air.
But rather than be paralyzed by the enormity of the devastation, Cera-Met’s leadership, along with President and owner, Henri Fine, quickly jumped into action. By mid-morning on the day of the fire, contractors were already deployed and restoration was underway. Concerns of customer delivery needs remained at the forefront of the management team and alternative processes were put in place in order to continue to ship product. With the help of their customers, Cera-Met was able to qualify and approve outside contractors for several key processes lost in the fire. Vendors also reached out to Cera-Met to aid in meeting delivery requirements. Additionally, Cera-Met was able to take shells and a foundry crew up to their sister company, Uni-Cast, to pour metal in the evenings. These partnerships helped Cera-Met to resume shipping parts by the end of January and the company was able to maintain their delivery schedule on several critical programs.
While the effects of the fire were far-reaching, most of the heavy damage occurred in the foundry and heat treat departments. That allowed for Cera-Met to creatively configure a secondary foundry location in their warehouse so that they could produce castings and by mid-February, Cera-Met was pouring metal in-house again!
Reconstruction continued and more employees were brought back to work. By June, the original foundry location had completed most of its makeover: new equipment had been installed such as the autoclave and dewax system, push-through oven, and foundry robot, as well as additional melting pots, furnaces, and a new roof. Seizing this moment as an opportunity, Cera-Met also decided to increase capacity and capabilities by installing a new electric ladle and a large tilt furnace with a new crane system to manufacture larger castings.
Ten short months after what seemed to be a business ending event, Cera-Met is not only back to full production, but now has three fully functional foundries and a 50% increase in casting capability! Working through the trials of emerging from this devastation was certainly difficult, but Cera-Met was not alone in the effort. The quick recovery would not have been possible without the partnerships of its customers and vendors. Also, the guidance and quick response from its insurance carrier was
instrumental in coordinating the team that would complete the renovation in record time. Cera-Met has certainly risen out of the ashes and, through its tenacity and perseverance, as well as the team of dedicated resources, it continues to be a leader in the aluminum investment casting industry.
Cera-Met wins award in 2019 casting contest !!
Parker Hannifin visited us at Cera-Met to explain the functionality of the oil pump we produce for the XWB engine, installed in the Airbus 350 Jet Airliner. The photo on the screen above shows the Airbus 350 engine during assembly.
Pictured here are two Cera-Met employees who have spent many hours working on this part over the last 5 years. Beside them, the pump is fully assembled and ready to be delivered to our customer.
Lockheed Martin and Cera-Met celebrate delivery of 50,000 Hellfire guidance housings.
Cera-Met has been honored to work with Lockheed Martin to develop and produce this part since 1992.
Our partnership with Lockheed began in 1976 and continues today, serving our customer on multiple products and platforms for defense applications.
Cera-Met was proud to receive the Small Business Award from Lockheed Martin that recognized our performance for on-time delivery and quality. Cera-Met is continuing our partnership with Lockheed Martin through SPMT. SPMT was created by Lockheed Martin and stands for “Strategic Performance Management Teams”. We have been part of the SPMT program since 2/24/16. We have bi-weekly meetings with Lockheed Martin to review our “PEP” (Performance Excellence Plan). We use Critical Measurements (through the use of Cera-Met’s Impact Monitor) to monitor our success. Cera-Met will be attending a “SPMT Executive Summit” in Orlando, FL. on 11/16/16. We expect to graduate from the SPMT program in 2017!