There’s more hot news for the supply chain, although not the kind anyone’s happy about. The Detroit Free Press reports fire struck the factory of Tier 1 automotive OEM supplier Dicastal North America in Greenville, Michigan around 9:45 Friday evening. Discastal North America’s web site says it makes “lightweight aluminum alloy wheels” and its client list includes Fiat Chrysler, Ford, GM, Honda, Nissan, and Toyota. The cause of Friday evening’s fire remains under investigation, emergency personnel saying it appears to have occurred around the blast furnace room where molten aluminum and magnesium are prepared for the wheelmaking process. Whatever caused the burn possessed enough force to blow out the back side of the northeast corner of the building, creating debris piles outside made up of material that had been inside the plant. Residents miles away claimed to have felt their homes shake from the initial boom.
The North American arm is a subsidiary of Chinese firm CITIC Dicastal Co. The Chinese head office calls itself the “world’s largest supplier of aluminum alloy wheels.” Automotive News ranked the company 58th out of the top 100 global auto suppliers in 2020 based on sales.
One employee was injured in the blast, the man taken to an area hospital for severe burns. All workers have been accounted for. Emergency crews said they had the burn under control in four hours and were finished in six.
Aluminum and magnesium smelting is dangerous work at the best of times. In China in 2014, an explosion at the Kunshan Zhongrong Metal Products’ factory near Shanghai killed 75 workers and injured 185. The fire started because of aluminum dust created during the process of polishing aluminum wheels; Kunshan Zhongrong not only polished aluminum wheels for GM vehicles, it was a component supplier of Dicastal. One of the worst factory explosions in recent memory, it was one of a series of incidents around the time that convinced the Chinese government to overhaul factory safety standards.
Dicastal’s had a bit of a time of it here when it comes to fires. A smaller fire hit the same location two months ago, that one on the roof, said to be centered on the machinery that collects metal dust from the industrial process. Three simultaneous fires broke out in the plant in July 2020. There was a fire in another dust collecting area in October 2019, one report at the time mentioning “There have been several fires within three years at the DNA plant.” And if we switch to legal fires, the FBI raided the plant last July for reasons that still haven’t been disclosed.
We don’t know yet what potential disruption could occur from the incident. Dicastal’s plant here normally runs 24 hours, and despite extensive structure damage to the area where the blast occurred, other parts of the plant remain at work. The automakers among the reported clients who responded to Freep‘s queries either said there’d be no impact or that they were looking into the matter.