More than a year of construction on AK Steel’s $36 million Research and Innovation Center will wrap up in the coming weeks and employees will fill the facility by year’s end, company officials said.
The 135,000-square-foot research and innovation center will be filled with equipment next month, then staffers during the following two months before fully opening to customers next spring, according to Eric Petersen, vice president of research and innovation at AK Steel.
The company will fully support its business and its customers during that transition period, he said.
The center is divided into three areas with a front portion featuring a “modern, updated” office area with plenty of natural light, Petersen said.
“I like to say that we designed it with the mindset of take your Panera Bread eating area (and combine it) with your university library and melding the two together to provide an environment that’s encouraging, that’s enriching as the diverse crowd of engineers that we have in our facility,” he said.
Laboratories toward the back of the facility will allow workers to analyze steel and will include newly purchased state-of-the-art equipment, such as field emission microscopes with electron back-scatter diffraction.
The back right portion of the building will include a high bay containing “everything we do to replicate the steel process, to actually take rocks and make them into steel,” Petersen said.
Stainless steel ribbing around the trim and roof of the building will be entirely comprised of AK Steel products, highlighting a number of its steels from the architectural side of things, he said.
“You’ll see it within some ductwork inside,” Petersen said. “It’s not painted but it is open so you can see the actual steel within our framework. It’s within our offices, it’s within the appliances, a lot of different places that we’re highlighting the use of steel from architectural construction use, as well as appliance use.”
The facility is being constructed on a 16-acre site west of Union Road and I-75 in the Renaissance District just north of the Atrium Medical Center campus. Once completed, it will replace the facility at 705 Curtis St., near to where the company’s former headquarters once stood in Middletown.
Activities at the center will focus on the development of automotive lightweight steels as well as advanced, high strength steels for other industries served by the company such as electrical and stainless steels, the company said.
Petersen said AK Steel built the facility with customers in mind, adding a conference center with an auditorium that seats 85 people.
“We hold what we call customer symposiums, where we will actually bring our customers in for an entire day and we teach them about steel,” he said. “We talk to them about the different grades, the different types, how do you utilize it, how it forms, how it welds, how it shapes, how to buy it, all the different things to make steel more efficient for them.”
After a presentation and meal with customers at the facility, AK Steel will then bring them out to Middletown Works for a tour, Petersen said.
More than 100 researchers, scientists and engineers with work in the facility when it is completed.
The facility will also house pilot lines that simulate the company’s steel manufacturing operations, ranging from melting and casting, to hot- and cold-rolling, to final finishing. The pilot lines are used for research, enhancing existing products, problem-solving in production, and experimentation for new and improved products, according to the company.
AK Steel is Butler County’s third-largest employer with a total of approximately 2,400 full-time employees at its Middletown Works and corporate headquarters in West Chester Twp.