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Expanding Transformer Production for U.S. Market

June 24, 2010 - 3:09pm

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Giant spools at Metglas' facility in Conway, S.C., hold the thin metal alloy used in the cores of Amorphous Metal Transformers. | Photo courtesy of Metglas

Giant spools at Metglas' facility in Conway, S.C., hold the thin metal alloy used in the cores of Amorphous Metal Transformers. | Photo courtesy of Metglas

Since the 1980s, Metglas, Inc. has manufactured an amorphous metal alloy with unique mechanical and magnetic properties. The alloy is primarily used to construct the cores of highly efficient electrical transformers called Amorphous Metal Transformers (AMTs), which are used on power grids to manage the distribution of electricity from power plants to residential, commercial and industrial buildings.

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"Electricity is transmitted across power lines at very high voltage, and transformers are needed to reduce that voltage to a usable level," says Dave Millure, Metglas' Senior VP of Sales and Marketing. "Amorphous Metal Transformers can be more energy efficient than traditional silicon steel transformers, which means that power plants don't have to generate as much electricity to begin with."

As part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, Metglas received $4,890,000 in Advance manufacturing (48C) tax credits. The money helped the company add an additional casting line at its manufacturing facility in Conway, S.C., that has increased the facility's production capacity by 50 percent and provided 25 additional factory jobs.

The expansion began in August 2009; Metglas has added 10 additional employees to man the new line. According to Dave Millure, Metglas' Senior VP of Sales and Marketing, the company plans to add 15 more full time employees within the next year. Those jobs are a boon to South Carolina, which, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, had the nation's seventh highest unemployment rate in May 2010. Horry County, where Metglas' facility is located, had an unemployment rate of 10.7 percent in May 2010, according to the South Carolina Department of Employment and Workforce.

Targeting domestic market

With the new casting line in place, Metglas' South Carolina facility can produce enough alloy to build 150,000 AMTs a year. Traditionally, Metglas has exported most of its alloy overseas, but Millure says the new casting line was built to service the domestic market, as American power companies continue to look for ways to increase energy efficiency and reduce operating costs.

Electrical transformers use the principle of magnetic induction to reduce voltage to a useable level, and the process requires transformers to constantly maintain an alternating magnetic field within their cores. The random molecular structure and thin nature of Metglas' amorphous metal alloy allows AMTs to maintain a magnetic field without losing as much energy through friction and other means as traditional silicon steel transformers. This reduces the total amount of energy needed to maintain the alternating magnetic field in AMTs by 60-70 percent, making them much more energy efficient than traditional transformers.

In 2007, the U.S. Energy Information Administration estimated that 6.5 percent of all energy produced in the U.S. was lost during transmission and distribution. Using AMTs to increase grid efficiency can help significantly reduce the amount of energy lost in transmission.To manufacture the alloy, Metglas uses a proprietary process in which the alloy's components are melted together. The liquid is than subjected to a rapid cooling process, which prevents the atoms from crystallizing naturally and leaves them in an amorphous state. The process produces little material waste. "Any metal that ends up on the floor gets put back into the melter, giving us close to a 100 percent yield from a material use standpoint," says Millure.

Amorphous metal alloy is not the only green technology that Metglas produces. The company also manufactures a nickel based foil metal that is used in exhaust gas recirculators, which are mechanical devices in diesel engines that help reduce NOx emissions.

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