For the first time since the sharp plunge in crude oil prices caused the support materials market to plummet in 2015, USC is launching its kilns, hiring a variety of new positions and hoping to have its second line up and running by September.
Wrens, Ga. plant was purchased. , formerly known as PyraMax and more recently as Imerys, by First Bauxite LLC (FBX), an acquisition that will allow the plant to expand its production lines to include a full range of trusses for sale to the domestic and international markets, as well as several new products that will use materials for the highest grade of bauxite reserve Non-metallic in Guyana.
“The acquisition will also allow USC to intervene in other market segments such as refractories, flame retardants and chemicals that can take advantage of the special properties of FBX low impurity bauxite,” said Thibault van Stratum, CEO of FBX.
FBX also purchased a processing facility in Andersonville, Ga. kaolin which closed in 2015.
Mike Burgess, who will move to CEO at US Ceramics, was one of the founders of PyraMax Ceramics and was responsible for the design and construction of the Wrens plant. He has been part of the management team there since the beginning. It was there when it opened in 2013, when Imerys took over, and when sales fell to nearly zero in 2015.
“We have reduced the number of employees to one line and operated that line intermittently until 2018,” said Burgess. “Maybe it closed more than it was operating during that time.”
In 2019, Burgess et al offered a management buyout deal with Imerys remaining as a joint venture partner and US Ceramics established. The plant, which has always focused on producing lightweight ceramic backing material, and small beads used in the oil and gas industry in the unconventional extraction of those resources, retooled the plant to focus on the international market.
Burgess said that while searching for a partner on this venture, they founded FBX, which plans to keep the US Ceramics name as a wholly owned subsidiary in addition to key employees and employees.
“The first bauxite is changing direction,” Burgess said.
Rather than focusing entirely on the lightweight support materials market, FBX’s access to high-quality bauxite will allow the Wrens and Andersonville plants to diversify.
“Many companies along the kaolin belt in Georgia are also buying bauxite,” Burgess said. “Georgia’s bauxite reserves are of lower quality and do not contain the volume required for many products. This provides American Ceramics with a source of high quality bauxite which will now allow us to expand our backing material portfolio into the intermediate, high strength and high strength support material markets.”
The company has already begun bringing shiploads of bauxite to the Savannah port and tapping local carriers to move it.
“One of the things we do at Wrens is, with our high-temperature centrifugal furnace, we are able to calcine and make refractory bauxite aggregates,” said Burgess. “This is a new production line. We will continue to use our bead technology to make these small, circular beads for the oilfield, but we will also make these beads out of bauxite for other industries, such as foundries and industrial milling applications.”
With the Wrens and Andersonville plants using different processing technologies, Burgess said there are a variety of new product lines the company is exploring.
“The processing capabilities of the manufacturers will open the door for substitution of bauxite produced in China at a time when there are significant issues with a steady supply from China,” said John Carson, Vice President of Sales and Marketing at FBX. “Guyana was a leading producer of non-metallic bauxite until the mid-1980s when low quality, especially low-priced Chinese bauxite, flooded the world market.”
FBX representatives said that the current market conditions have created supply gaps for many raw materials and Chinese materials and goods are affected by supply chain issues and other power outages. It expects the products planned for the Georgia plants to be the only locally calcined bauxite on the market that is not produced by a Chinese-owned company.
“The real goal is to use their bauxite with local kaolin combined with the technology at these two plants to create a variety of different products for different industries,” said Burgess.
These products include flame retardants that are used in products such as wall panels and the carpet industry, materials used in the refractory market and alumina industries, as well as end products such as foundry grains that can replace sand in these processes. Other product applications include aggregates used as a high-friction surface treatment in highway safety programs.
Burgess said FBX and USC have completed a 100-day integration process between the two companies and are in the process of returning employees to the plant.
“We’ve already restarted one line at Wrens and turned on the visceral material and shut it down again. We are now in the process of starting it on bauxite,” Burgess said.
Recruitment takes place largely in all areas with in-demand jobs at entry level as well as experienced production level, supervisor and management roles.
“We have added a specialist in the accounting department and ten production operators,” Burgess said. “We need seven more in this role now. We are trying to hire production managers and maintenance managers. We have an open scientist position for research and development in our lab.”
Burgess said the Wrens plant will also serve as the company’s global research and development facility. They hope to have the second line up and running by September there.
The company has appointed a COO of the Andersonville plant, and they plan to have it up and running by the end of the year.
“Maybe we were in the 1940s (as far as the employees at the Wrens factory go) into that acquisition and trying to get to the 60 or 70 range at Wrens. We’ll probably need that amount in Andersonville as well.”
All these jobs should be posted on US Ceramics website under Job Opportunities section and the company also publishes jobs on Indeed.
“From a company perspective, we can’t do all of that fast enough,” Burgess said. “All approvals have been made, it is just a process of finding and hiring the right people.
“We get some great candidates from the local area. It has always been a great place to work. One of the best decisions we ever made was to locate the facility in Wrens and Jefferson County.”