CLEARED FOR TAKEOFF: Airplane engine parts maker completes expansion

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U.S. Sen. Todd Young, R-Indiana, left, watches Tech Castings employee Chris Wicker work on Monday. Tom Russo | Daily Reporter

SHIRLEY – Two brand new industrial furnaces towered behind U.S. Sen. Todd Young, R-Indiana, in the recently completed addition at Tech Castings.

In his address to a crowd that had gathered to celebrate the airplane engine parts manufacturer’s expansion Monday afternoon, Young noted the goods and services the facility provides to the nation’s defense sector.

“They’re teaming up with the likes of Rolls-Royce and other aerospace companies outfitting our war-fighters,” Young said. “So we are finding a way right here in Shirley, Indiana to ensure that people can take care of their families and grow prosperous at the very time we defend our values.”

Tech Castings, which makes airplane engine parts for commercial and military aircraft at 1102 South St. in Shirley, added 12,000 square feet onto its facility, bringing it to a total of over 40,000 square feet. The $5 million project resulted in new manufacturing, office and administrative space. Along with the new furnaces, the expansion also brought pre- and post-cast processing equipment additions and upgrades. The new equipment increases the maximum size and weight of parts the facility produces and more than doubles the company’s output capacity.

Jeff Lantz, president of Tech Castings, said work on the expansion started in February 2022. He said long-term agreements with several engine manufacturers, including Honeywell, drove the need to grow. The expansion is expected to double the company’s workforce over the next couple years, taking it to just under 50 employees, he added.

“We think it’s a great thing for the town of Shirley,” Lantz told the Daily Reporter. “We think it’s really going to be nice for our current employees. We’re excited to be here, and our customers are excited. They’re thrilled that we’re expanding.”

One of the furnaces in the addition is a vacuum induction melting furnace used to melt metal, Lantz said. After the metal is melted, it is poured into ceramic molds of airplane engine parts. The other new furnace preheats molds at 2,100 degrees before they’re sent to the other furnace to have metal poured into them.

Lantz said the new equipment joins a machine about 50 years old that Tech Castings is not getting rid of, allowing the company to maintain capacity. He added the new equipment is more efficient, has more controls, more data capture and is slightly more automated.

“So we get some efficiencies and some consistency that we didn’t have before we bought it,” he said.

Andy Ebbert, representing the town of Shirley at Monday’s celebration, recalled the history of Tech Castings’ site around the time the town was founded in 1890. He noted the railroad that ran just about 75 feet from the facility in the 1870s and the crossing that was added in the 1880s.

Natural gas was discovered in the area in the 1890s, Ebbert continued, sparking a manufacturing surge. He added the Tech Castings site had been home to a glassblowing company and that a heating radiator foundry operated north of the railroad tracks. A tomato canning factory stood to the west and Kraft Cheese operated in the Tech Castings building before Metals Technology started doing metal casting in the facility. That company went out of business, and then Tech Castings resurrected the property around 2012.

“There’s a lot of houses nearby, which is not ideal for a manufacturing facility, but in 1880 there weren’t any houses here,” Ebbert said. “The town grew toward it and kind of enveloped around it. So for a small town, industry not only creates jobs, it strengthens the community and supports families and the local activities that are here.”

He called Tech Castings good neighbors.

“They listen to concerns of the community, and they’re always eager to help with our local initiatives and programs,” he said.

Young, recently elected to his second term in the Senate and who serves on the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, reflected on the transformation of the site and area that Ebbert spoke about.

“It’s important that each generation assesses its strengths and weaknesses and figures out how it can continue to be not just relevant, but to ensure its workers and community survive as we look to adapt to all sorts of changes,” Young said.

He said multiple people and institutions could likely claim credit for Tech Castings’ prosperity.

“One would probably not mention the federal government in that vein, and that’s fair,” he continued.

But there are some aspects of it that are important to the company’s future success, Young continued, like being able to write off capital expenditures on taxes to incentivize purchases like the multi-million-dollar furnaces behind him.

“Of course, workers will work on that equipment,” he said. “That allows them to add more value to the economy and help take care of their families.”

Tech Castings has another upgrade on its horizon. In 2021, the Indiana Economic Development Corporation awarded $171,500 to the company through a match grant program to implement robotics at the facility. Lantz said the equipment will lift and dip part molds into slurry, increasing the productivity from carrying out the process by hand.

“The next phase of our expansion will be to utilize that grant to put in robotics,” he said.