Business and government leaders celebrated more than one kind of groundbreaking in New Haven on Feb. 10.
Allen County, the birthplace of the magnet wire that powers electric motors worldwide, has come up with technology to produce it more sustainably and affordably.
Executives referred to the groundbreaking research and development achievement during festivities marking the start of construction for a $16 million copper reclamation and production plant expansion at 1640 Ryan Road.
The plant is owned by a joint venture between Fort Wayne-based Steel Dynamics, Inc. and Barcelona, Spain-based La Farga Group. Formed in 2010, it began operating the plant two years later, making high-quality copper rod and wire from scrap copper it has reclaimed then refined.
Magnet wire is made from copper. Until now, conductivity characteristics have required its producers to rely on the electrolytic-tough-pitch version of the metal derived from copper mine ore.
The plant has been working with the magnet wire industry for years to improve its fire-refined, high-conductivity copper production process in a quest for a recycled version of the metal that is more competitive with electrolytic-tough-pitch, said P.C. Drouin, sales manager for SDI La Farga.
A new product that has resulted from that effort “should be an exact replacement,” he said.
The joint venture expects the magnet wire industry to become an important, sizable new market for its recycled copper, and the plant expansion will position it to serve customers in that business, Drouin said.
The thin, metal wires, coated with a thin layer of insulation, are used in the construction of electrical equipment, from motors to transformers.
With a local headquarters at 3600 E. Pontiac St., Rea Magnet Wire is the world’s largest magnet wire producer. It has a global workforce of more than 1,000 and operates five plants: a joint venture in North America and four joint ventures in China.
Rea is not the only magnet wire company based in Allen County, and the industry has a cluster of businesses in the area supporting it.
At SDI La Farga, “our group is innovative; our group is inspired. And our vision is to be the biggest copper supplier in the Midwest,” said Kurt Breishaft, its president, during the groundbreaking ceremony. “We’re taking an important step toward doing that today.
“The new furnace and vessel will allow us to serve our customers with even more product choices. We’ll continue a proprietary refining process and lead the industry in (electrolytic-tough-pitch) copper as well. We’ll be the only company in the nation to offer both types of copper.”
The plant makes 180 million pounds of its copper products annually with one furnace. The expansion will add a second furnace, increasing annual production capacity to 430 million pounds and allowing for around-the-clock operations.
“I’ve spent 37 years in the industry, most of that time pioneering new technologies that people said, ‘Well, now, that’s never going to work, never going to work,” Mark Millett, president, CEO and co-founder of SDI, said at the ceremony. “You start them up and they don’t work, more often than not. But, you’ve got to persevere.
“These folks, these men and women of SDI La Farga, have really persevered and persevered and persevered. And it’s only really in the last 12 months that it finally came together, held together,” he said.
“They’ve overcome the quality issues and everything that stood in their way. They’ve really done a phenomenal job and it’s always been exciting to me because SDI is about creating opportunity for our people.”
The plant employed about 75 when its expansion was announced last November. It said at the time it expected to add up to 30 positions to accommodate the growth.
Its workforce has increased to 88 since then, and it said it expects to add up to 20 more positions by the end of 2021.
Indiana Economic Development Corp., Northeast Indiana Works, Greater Fort Wayne, Allen County and the city of New Haven offered SDI La Farga a $1.7 million incentive package to support the expansion, including tax abatements and conditional tax credits.
Indiana Secretary of Commerce Jim Schellinger congratulated everyone involved in the project and spoke briefly at the ceremony about visiting La Farga Group at its operation in Barcelona, Spain.
“It was spectacular. The things they were doing in that plant were just mesmerizing,” he said.
Schellinger complimented La Farga on the choice it made with SDI in the selection of the plant’s Indiana location and noted direct foreign investment in the state has tripled during the last three years.