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Wellman wins casting of the year award

The company's Aerojet project received honorable mention.

Shown is the high pressure boost pump housing casting made by Wellman Dynamics in Creston for Aerojet, which was recently named honorable mention casting of the year by the American Foundry Society.
Shown is the high pressure boost pump housing casting made by Wellman Dynamics in Creston for Aerojet, which was recently named honorable mention casting of the year by the American Foundry Society.

Just months after Trive Capital, a Dallas-based private equity firm, announced its purchase of Wellman Dynamics Corporation in Creston through its WDC Acquisition LLC, Wellman has won a national casting award.

Wellman Dynamics is an aerospace supplier known for manufacturing large scale, complex magnesium and aluminum castings for the defense and commercial aerospace markets and other industrial segments.

The American Foundry Society (AFS) named Wellman Dynamics’ rocket engine casting for Aerojet honorable mention casting of the year.

According to John Nish of Wellman Dynamics, the high pressure boost pump housing casting used F357 aluminum, which is beryllium free for environmental and safety reasons. The casting was made using conventional sand casting methods, where sand is placed in core boxes and stacked, as well as using new technology with 3-D printed cores.

Wellman Dynamics submitted the casting for judging, as well as some of the printed cores so judges could see what was printed.

The company was notified shortly before the show it had been selected as one of the winners.

“I still think we should have won first place, but out of however many submissions there were, we still got one of the awards,” Nish said. “Some of the castings I didn’t think were as difficult to make, nor do they fly men into outer space.”

The casting weighs approximately 150 pounds and is 22 inches by 25 inches by 26 inches. One of the unique aspects of the casting is that the casting walls vary in thickness to allow the piece to flex and withstand the rocket’s shaking, as well as the extreme temperature differences.

As Nish explains, fuel flows into the high pressure boost pump housing and gets turbo charged.

“Another reason these castings have to be so sturdy and thick is you have sub-zero liquid oxygen, you’re talking -250, -300 degrees to have liquid oxygen,” Nish said. “Then, by the time it gets expelled at the other end of this chamber, it’s being attached to a component that is burning at several thousand degrees. You have a tremendous temperature gradient these castings have to withstand.”

Nish estimates that, at one point or another, about 70 percent of Wellman Dynamics’ approximately 350 employees had a hand in the production of the casting, including sales group, estimating group, quality control, engineering, metallurgy and other departments.

“Probably 200 people have had a hand in getting us from a design from some young guy’s CAD system to something that hopefully in the next few months gets its first test flight,” Nish said.

Nish had his first meeting with Aerojet in February 2016. If all goes well with approvals, Wellman Dynamics will be shipping production castings to Aerojet soon and have the first actual engine test before the end of the year.

Typical project timelines for Wellman Dynamics vary between 18 months to three years. Nish said this project should beat the three year window.

Aerojet is supplying the part to NASA, so both organizations had to give their approval for Wellman Dynamics to submit the casting for the contest.

After years of financial troubles caused by previous parent company Fansteel, which included filing for bankruptcy twice in 15 years, morale at Wellman Dynamics is finally climbing, thanks in large part to the purchase of the company by Trive Capital, and now this national award.

“I think a lot of people think of Wellman as that place that puts out the bad odor that drifts across town. We sometimes get a bad rep because people don’t understand,” Nish said. “Most of the people out at the plant understand, but I think sometimes the people in the community don’t understand how awesome it is to have an aerospace foundry right here in Creston. People need to understand it’s a high-tech place. I think it’s time the people in Creston understand just how fortunate they are to have this piece of technology sitting right out here on the highway in little Creston, Iowa.”

The sale of Wellman Dynamics to Trive Capital’s WDC Acquisition LLC (WDC) affiliate closed on May 7.

“This is a really big win for all of the Company’s stakeholders. Our customers include many of the world’s leading producers of military and commercial helicopters, jet engines, rockets and missile systems,” WDC CEO Jim Mahoney said in a press release published in the CNA at the time of the sale. “They rely upon us to supply some of the largest and most complex sand castings in the world. After years of neglect, the business is finally positioned to re-establish itself as a world class aerospace foundry as new capital investment is made. This investment will not only serve to revitalize a sole source supplier for many critical helicopter programs in the U.S. military arsenal, it forecasts to preserve millions in annual payroll in rural Iowa.”

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