ASW Steel sale an opportunity to expand workforce: Clutterbuck

by Kris Dube, The Welland Tribune
Welland plant now operating at one-third capacity

The former ASW Steel plant in Welland is operating at approximately one-third of its potential capacity — and its recent sale to a company headquartered in Europe could change that.

That’s according to Tim Clutterbuck, president of the plant now known as Valbruna ASW Inc.

A deal was finalized earlier this month between ASW Steel Inc. — onetime Atlas Steels — and Valbruna, a company based in Italy that also has a factory in Indiana and a service centre in Milton, Ont.

ASW Steel Inc. was sold by Ampco-Pittsburgh Corp., which had owned the Welland factory since 2016.

Recently returning to Niagara from a weeklong visit in Italy with Valbruna’s top executives and administration, Clutterbuck said expanding production of specialty steels to be sold mostly in the U.S. is a focus of the re-branded factory in Welland.

He said the site on Centre Street has a “large footprint that allows for growth and new opportunities to be investigated,” adding an increase in the number of hours of operation is possible.

The longest workday at the plant currently, which does not occur consistently, is about 12 hours.

“We have a lot of extra capacity. This will give us a chance to expand the workforce a bit,” Clutterbuck said, adding significant growth may start being noticed in about a year.

The plant saw 10 to 15 per cent of its production drop when tariffs on Canadian steel were in place for a year, until May 2019. This resulted in “numerous weeks” of the plant being at a standstill, said Clutterbuck.

“We really struggled with our sales to the United States,” he said while noting about 70 per cent of the plant’s business is south of the border.

But the company is starting to “re-establish those connections” as U.S. tariffs have been lifted, he said.

Melting, casting and refining take place at the Welland plant.

Valbruna is a leading producer of stainless steels, nickel alloys and titanium long products. It has an annual output of approximately 200,000 tonnes of specialty steels.

Atlas Steels was built in 1918. By 1948, it was considered the largest specialty steel company in Canada, exporting goods to 53 countries.

In 1963, Rio Algom Ltd. purchased the company and operated under that banner until 1985 when the factory became a standalone company, Atlas Specialty Steels.

Atlas and its assets were sold to Slater Steel in 2000, then closed in 2003.

In 2010, ASW Steel Inc. emerged as a new entity possessing virtually all of the assets previously held by MMFX Steel of Canada, a company that took over operations in 2006 until Ampco-Pittsburgh’s acquisition three years ago.

The plant currently employs 108 people, a result of about 15 workers being lost to attrition and other opportunities being sought elsewhere when hours were cut, said Clutterbuck.