Kobe Steel Ltd. is reporting details of a second expansion project now underway at its Kobe Aluminum Automotive Products LLC subsidiary in Bowling Green, KY. The capital program is estimated at $66 million and follows an earlier announcement, in November 2011, when the aluminum forging operation staged a ribbon-cutting event for an $11-million expansion of the current plant. That project will add casting capacity for aluminum bars to be forged into automotive air-conditioning compressor parts.

Now, Kobe Steel reports it will add a new extension to the plant, to increase capacity to produce aluminum forgings for automotive suspension systems.

Aluminum suspension parts are Kobe Aluminum Automotive Products’ main product line. It started operation in 2005 with one 6,300-ton mechanical forging press, installed two more presses in 2006, and then a fourth press in 2007.

KAAP is a joint venture of Kobe Steel (60%), Mitsui & Co. Ltd. (25%) and Toyota Tsusho Corporation (15%).

The new capital program will enlarge the operation by 87,000 sq.ft., and add new aluminum melting equipment and casting systems for forging bars. Two new forging presses will be installed, too, along with associated handling and finishing equipment.

A groundbreaking ceremony for the expansion was held recently, including Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear and other local elected officials, as well as Kobe Steel executives.

The project’s equipment suppliers were not announced. KAAP indicated the new capacity would be in operation by spring 2014.

Kobe Steel pointed to rising demand for lighter automotive components as automakers seek to reduce vehicle mass, and improve fuel-efficiency and CO2-emissions performance.

Currently, KAAP has four presses producing about 3.24 million forgings per year. The company is forecasting significant medium-term demand increases for aluminum suspensions, and thus for forged aluminum suspension parts.

“In response to this anticipated demand, we decided to invest $66 million for this plant expansion,” stated KAAP president Susumu “Sam” Koike. “We will install a second casting line and increase the number of forging presses from four to six.”