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York plant enjoys red-hot recovery; eyes expansion

Three years ago, Ajax Rolled Ring & Machine hit bottom, laying off about one-half of its workers.

This week, the company announced a $5 million expansion that could bring as many as 25 jobs, increasing its workforce to pre-recession levels of about 130 employees.

The turnaround is the result of strong overseas markets in the oil and gas industry, mining operations, as well as firms such as Caterpillar and The Timken Co.

Ajax makes rolled steel rings, ranging from 12 inches to 100 inches in diameter. A forge heats steel rods to 2,300 degrees. The rods are then flattened using a 2,500-ton press and the formed into seamless rings. The company has two rolling mills and demand might lead to an additional mill.

Some of the rings are machined to buyers' specifications. Rings needing tighter tolerances are sent out for machining. The expansion will allow Ajax to keep its machining operations in house.

"This will reduce our costs, increase our revenue and reduce our lead times to get material to customers," said Simon Ormerod, the company's chief executive officer.

About $2 million is being spent on an 15,000-square-foot, air-conditioned building, located north of York off U.S. 321. About $3 million is being spent on the latest computer-aided machining equipment. It is the first expansion since the plant opened in 1980.

Seven of Ajax's machinists are enrolled in a specialized program at York Technical College to learn how to operate the new machinery, said Justin McCarthy, the company's executive vice president.

Ajax hopes to have the new facility running by March.

Demand in the industry is so strong that Ajax is running three shifts six to seven days a week, Ormerod said. It has hired about 24 full-time people this year and has 15 temporary positions.

Ajax hopes to hire nine people initially, and as many as 25, with the expansion. The company hopes to fill about one-third of the jobs created by expansion internally, Ormerod said.

Funding for the expansion is not coming from $13 million Ajax received from the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The company received that money in 2010 with the intent to add another mill to provide rings to the wind turbine industry.

Prospect Capital Corp., which owns Ajax, was skeptical of the wind energy business and decided not to pursue the project, McCarthy said.

The $13 million in funding has expired, McCarthy said.