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Winsted’s AAA Galvanizing open for business by Feb.

January 14, 2008

By Linda Scherer
Staff Writer

What does the “AAA” in AAA Galvanizing stand for?

“An Awesome Advantage.”

The Winsted plant, to become the seventh AAA Galvanizing plant in the country, will be ready to give its customers that “awesome” advantage when it opens for business at the end of January, or the beginning of February.

The hot dip galvanizing process used by AAA Galvanizing, Inc. protects all types of steel products from corrosion, increasing the life of these products up to 50 years longer than untreated steel products, according to Winsted’s AAA Galvanizing Director of Operations Pat Fordham.

Preparing the kettle for the plant’s opening is a major project that is underway. Workers were placing pure zinc squares that weighed 50 pounds each into the dip tank or kettle to be melted last Monday. The squares were shipped in solid form from Canada.

The eight-day melting process will eventually bring the zinc to 835 degrees Fahrenheit.

The kettle to be holding the zinc is 10 feet deep, seven feet wide, and 53 feet long, and when all of the zinc is melted, it will hold at least one million pounds of zinc.

The zinc is valued at $1.40 or $1.50 a pound.

The kettle to be used in the Winsted plant is the largest kettle AAA Galvanizing has in any of its plants which are located in Hamilton, Ind.; Chelsea, Okla; and four plants in Illinois at Joliet, Dixon, Cicero, and Peoria.

AAA Galvanizing has some of the largest kettles in the US, as well as the deepest kettle in North America, according to the company’s web site.

Right now, the plant only has five people working to help get everything ready to open.

“Probably the first month, we will have about 20 employees and then, after two or three months, we should be up to around 35 to 40 employees and probably running one or two shifts,” Fordham said.

The actual number of employees to be hired will depend a great deal on how much business the plant receives.

“It’s a risk to come here and this is a very expensive plant to build. You have to have a certain amount of work to cover your costs to get this plant going,” Fordham said.

“We know what kind of product Millerbernd has, but that is not enough to keep this plant going. We are counting on the whole industry in the Twin Cities area to help make this plant successful.”

“There are plants from this area waiting for us to open so they don’t have to ship all the way to our plant in Dixon (Ill.), which is one of the closest ones that has a big enough kettle. Millerbernd, at this time, is shipping all of the way to Dixon,” Fordham said.

Some of the products to undergo the galvanizing process include cell phone towers, threaded rods and U bolts, scaffolding, bridge and highway components, refrigeration coils, utility trailers, building components fasteners, struts, agricultural material handling systems, handrails, and ladders.

“The galvanizing process has been around for about 100 years and is a very simple process,” Fordham said.

The process begins by attaching the metal product to a type of ceiling crane, and then it is placed in a hot caustic tank or an acid degreasing tank to remove any soil, oil, grease, and soluble plants.

Once cleaned, the steel is then immersed in a hydrochloric or sulfuric acid tank to remove surface rust, mill scale, and similar deposits.

From there, it is then immersed in a hot pre-flux solution of zinc ammonium chloride, which helps prevent oxidation and makes the surface of the metal more reactive to molten zinc.

When properly prepared, the steel is then immersed in a kettle filled with zinc at a temperature of 815 to 850 degrees Fahrenheit. During this part of the galvanizing process, the zinc metallurgically bonds to the steel to form a zinc coating of uniform thickness.

The zinc bonds into the steel rather then just coating it. It can be hit with a hammer and it will not chip.

AAA Galvanizing takes special pride in being environmentally friendly.

“There is zero discharge from the plant, no chemicals in the atmosphere or the ground and we work with a licensed waste hauler,” Fordham said.

Before moving to Minnesota, Fordham had been working at the AAA Galvanizing plant in Dixon, for eight years. His wife, Tracy, who is office manager at the Winsted plant, has been with AAA Galvanizing for a year. They have a daughter, Sydney, who is in fifth grade at Holy Trinity.

“We were ready for a move and think this is a great area to live,” Fordham said.

AAA Galvanizing founder originally from India

The founder of AAA Galvanizing is Laxman Alreja, a structural engineer who arrived in America from India in the 1970s.

He is the president, and CEO of AAA Galvanizing’s seven plants in northern America.

In his early years in the US, he supervised construction of the 103rd floor of the Sears tower in Chicago, where he realized the need to galvanize.

“In Europe, 40 to 50 percent of the steel is being galvanized. In our country, only about 4 or 5 percent, so I thought I should promote galvanizing in our country,” Alreja said.

At the ceremony this Friday, Alreja, who is a member of the Hindu religion, has asked his guru to be present to place a blessing on the plant.