Reliability of Suppliers of High-Purity Chromium Metal
The reliability of a chromium-metal producer is of utmost importance to a superalloy or engine manufacturer. This is especially true with the recent closures of a number of chromium-metal production companies around the world. This chapter presents criteria by which the reliability of a supplier can be judged and assesses the reliability of the four major high-purity chromium-metal producers in the world. The chromium-metal producers in Japan and China are not discussed in this chapter because both countries currently produce only small quantities of aerospace-quality material for internal consumption.
DEFINITION OF A RELIABLE SUPPLIER
Reliability is simply defined as the ability of a company to consistently supply an acceptable product at the required time. There are seven criteria by which reliability can be judged.
Quality—A quality product must be consistently delivered that satisfies the customer's needs. Quality should be guaranteed through documented production practices and defined process controls.
Process Equipment—State-of-the-art equipment must be maintained and improved through organized maintenance procedures and capital investment to ensure that quality is maintained on a long-term basis.
Research and Development—Initiatives and resources must be continually invested to improve the product in response to market demands.
Geography—Plants must be located in countries where economic, political, or naturally occurring phenomena or infrastructure will not inhibit production or delivery.
Financial Health—A solid financial situation must be demonstrated, including good cash flow for flexible operation of the business and strong support for capital investment. The company cannot be financially burdened by either a second-party owner or subsidiary.
Management Commitment—Commitment to the future must be evident and supported by long-term business relationships.
Raw Materials—Reliable sources of raw materials must be available as well as strategies to maintain them.
RELIABILITY OF THE HIGH-PURITY CHROMIUM-METAL PRODUCERS
This section examines the reliability of the four major high-purity chromium-metal producers (i.e., Elkem Metals Company, Delachaux Metals Division, the subsidiaries of Metallurg, Incorporated, and the Russian manufacturers) based on four of the seven criteria described above. Management commitment, raw materials, and the economics of the industries will not be considered because these areas are outside the technical scope of this study. The committee collected the data for this chapter at a two-day briefing session held in Ohio. The first day of the briefing session consisted of a site visit to the Elkem Metals chromium-metal facility in Marietta, Ohio, and briefings on the health of the domestic chromium-metal industry by their representatives. The second day of the briefing consisted of presentations on the health of the international chromium-metal industry and the alternative methods for producing high-purity chromium metal by representatives of London and Scandinavian Metallurgical Corporation, Shieldalloy Metallurgical Corporation, Delachaux Metals Division, and Niddam, Incorporated.
Elkem Metals Company
Elkem Metals Company, a Norwegian-owned company, currently produces electrolytic chromium metal in the United States that consistently meets the specifications stipulated by the aerospace engine manufacturers. The Elkem plant maintains four full-size, electrically heated vacuum furnaces for degassing. Each furnace has a charge capacity of approximately 80 metric tons of chromium metal and is capable of processing one charge per week, for a plant total of 16 charges per month. Current furnace usage in chromium-metal
production is approximately two charges per month. Although these furnaces are also used for the production of low-carbon ferrochrome and ferromanganese products, Elkem has easily enough reserve capacity to convert all of its electrolytic chromium metal to vacuum grade, with additional capacity to spare, if demand were sufficient.
Elkem has an ongoing research and development program. Research and development on the vacuum-degassing process is conducted using a small-scale electric vacuum furnace. Current projects are concerned with improving product quality (simultaneously reducing carbon and oxygen), identifying ways to increase throughput, and testing improved binders (lower impurities and higher mechanical stability of briquettes).
Being located in the United States, the plant has an advantage for domestic consumers in terms of geographic location. The chances of disruption of supply because of economic, political, or naturally occurring phenomena are minimal, as long as the supply of raw materials is either secure or present in the United States. The infrastructure of the United States is also sufficiently good to ensure safe delivery of materials within the time constraints required.
The representatives of Elkem who briefed the committee were very optimistic about the company's future in the industry. Elkem is also accepting orders for high-purity chromium metal through 1996. In conclusion, the information available to the committee indicates that Elkem Metals Company is a reliable supplier of high-purity chromium metal for the foreseeable future, with respect to the criteria of quality, equipment, research and development, and geography.
Delachaux Metals Division
Delachaux Metals Division, a French-owned company located in Pau, France, currently meets the quality specifications required by their customers. Chromium metal produced by Delachaux has been certified for use in aerospace engine applications by Pratt & Whitney, Howmet, Rolls Royce/Allison, Special Metals Corporation, and others. The total capacity for Delachaux is approximately 3,500 metric tons, 750 of which is currently the double-degassed grade.
The committee was unable to travel to France to tour the Delachaux production facilities and thus could not directly assess the company 's equipment and research and development program. The steady improvement in the purity of the chromium metal produced by Delachaux over the past 10 years and the increasing number of certifications for its material by aerospace engine
companies would indicate that Delachaux possesses and maintains both state-of-the-art equipment and a healthy research and development program.
France is a long-standing ally of the United States and a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). As allies, NATO forces would probably maintain safe shipping between the two countries in the event of a crisis. The infrastructure within France is also extremely good. Thus the transportation of chromium metal from France to the United States should continue to be reliable.
The representatives of Delachaux Metals Division who briefed the committee were very optimistic about the company's future in the industry. Delachaux is also accepting orders for high-purity chromium metal through 1996. In conclusion, the information available to the committee indicates that Delachaux Metals Company is a reliable supplier of high-purity chromium metal for the foreseeable future, with respect to the criteria of quality, equipment, research and development, and geography.
Two wholly owned subsidiaries of the U.S. company Metallurg, Incorporated (i.e., London and Scandinavian Metallurgical Corporation, Limited (LSM), of the United Kingdom and Gesellschaft für Elektrometallurgie (GfE) of Germany), annually produce approximately 2,000 metric tons of high-grade aluminothermic chromium metal that meets some aerospace-engine quality specifications. Their capacity is also scheduled to increase with the opening of a new plant in the United Kingdom in the next few years and the possible full utilization of the capacity of the GfE facility.
The committee was unable to travel to either the United Kingdom to tour the LSM production facility or Germany to tour the GfE production facility. It thus could not directly assess the companies' equipment and research and development program. The steady improvement in the purity of the chromium metal produced by Metallurg subsidiaries over the past 10 years, the establishment of a new plant in the United Kingdom that can produce larger buttons with better process control, and the potential unused capacity of the GfE facility indicate that Metallurg possesses state-of-the-art equipment and maintains a healthy research and development program.
The United Kingdom is a long-standing ally of the United States, and both the United Kingdom and Germany are members of NATO. As allies, NATO forces would probably maintain safe shipping between these countries and the United States in the event of a crisis. The infrastructure within the
United Kingdom and Germany is extremely good. Thus the transportation of chromium metal from Europe to the United States should continue to be reliable.
The representatives of LSM and Shieldalloy Metallurgical Corporation who briefed the committee were very optimistic about Metallurg's future in the industry. As stated above, LSM is also currently constructing a new plant in the United Kingdom, which is scheduled to open in the next few years. In conclusion, the information available to the committee indicates that the subsidiaries of Metallurg, Incorporated, are reliable suppliers of high-purity chromium metal for the foreseeable future, with respect to the criteria of quality, equipment, research and development, and geography.
Russian High-Purity Chromium-Metal Producers
One of the major unanswered questions regarding the international availability of high-purity chromium metal is the future role that Russian technology and production may play. The reports available to the committee on the purity levels of the Russian chromium metal are quite varied. Some analyses find the material to be extremely pure, while others show great variability in the impurity levels. The picture should become clearer in the future as more companies attempt to qualify the material.
The Russian producers appear to use an electrolytic process. Since the committee was not briefed by any representatives of the Russian industry, the committee could not judge the state of either the equipment or the research and development efforts. However, the current economic and political situation in Russia has resulted in minimal finances being available for the support of the infrastructure for the dependable delivery of products, the maintenance of equipment for the consistent production of quality material, and the support of research and development programs (NRC, 1994a, 1994b).
In conclusion, the information available to the committee indicates that the Russian suppliers are currently not reliable based on the fact that the high-purity chromium metal is extremely variable. The material requires further characterization before being considered for the production of vacuum-melted superalloys.