Spring 2019 Catalyst
Hydro, a global supplier of aluminum products, is Schuylkill County’s largest manufacturing employer, operating a production facility in Cressona. A fixture in the community since the 1940s, the plant makes extruded products that serve a variety of industries, including construction, automotive, transportation and energy.
The Cressona location is the largest extrusion operation in the U.S. for Hydro Extrusions. Norsk Hydro, the extrusion division’s parent company, owns operations for the entire aluminum value chain, from mining raw materials to manufacturing the finished products.
Hydro Extrusions is the market leader for aluminum extruded products. The extrusion process requires powerful presses to force aluminum through a die to create a desired shape, either solid or hollow. Visually, it compares to squeezing toothpaste from a tube or pushing Play-Doh through the outline of a shape.
While Hydro itself is a Norwegian company, the plant in Cressona has American roots and a history of supporting the local economy.
Designed and built by Alcoa Corp., the $39 million1 plant was initially commissioned to support the wartime effort during World War II. Construction began in 1942 at the former Schuylkill County Fairgrounds and the 117-acre plant officially opened on Nov. 19, 1943. For its first two years, the plant made extruded aluminum shapes used principally in military aircraft. In 1944, after meeting the emergency needs for aluminum, the U.S. Army Ordinance moved into the plant to repair and salvage automotive parts damaged on the battlefields.
In 1946, the War Assets Administration sold the plant back to Alcoa for $6.5 million.2 In 1947, the first peacetime aluminum shapes were produced, and normal operations continued until 1950 when the plant returned to defense production to support the Korean War. Following the war, Alcoa resumed operations until closing the plant in 1977.
Two years later, the plant reopened under the ownership of the Cressona Aluminum Company. Over the next 40 years, ownership changed several times, starting with its purchase by Alumax Extrusions Inc. for $430 million. Ownership of the Cressona facility returned to Alcoa in 1998 when the company purchased Alumax.
In 2007, the plant became a joint venture of both Sapa AB and Alcoa; eventually, Alcoa relinquished its stake in the joint venture and Sapa purchased all of the North American Extrusion operations. Cressona’s operations then were officially consolidated under one brand, which transitioned from the Sapa to Hydro name in 2017.
Today, the company employs over 1,100 people, contributes an annual revenue of $650 million and produces over 330 million pounds of aluminum extrusions each year. The Cressona operations also include a cast house used to re-melt and produce aluminum ingot that creates Hydro’s extrusion products.
Hydro and Cressona Today
With over one million square feet of factory floor, nine aluminum presses and an ongoing expansion project, Cressona remains a vital piece of the Hydro organization. The plant primarily makes extruded components for the automotive industry, which uses aluminum to make vehicles lighter — known as “lightweighting” — in an effort to improve fuel efficiency and range. In 2017, the plant received Ford’s Q1 supplier award for excellence in quality, service and on-time delivery. Hydro was the first company in the aluminum extrusion industry to receive the award.
In 2018, Hydro committed to a $100 million expansion of the Cressona facility. This includes a 96,000 square foot addition adjacent to current operations and a state-of-the-art aluminum press to help meet increasing demand for extruded products. The project will add around 60 jobs and bring the plant’s employment close to 1,200. Completion of the new addition is expected by yearend.
For more information on Hydro Extrusions North America, visit https://www.hydroextrusions.com/en-US/profiles/aluminum-extrusions-north-america/.
1 “Production of Aluminum will Stop at Cresson” The Call 1 Sept. 1944. Print1
2 “Alcoa Takes Over Cressona Plant as Army Leaves” The Call 1 Nov. 1946. Print2
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