Wisconsin Department of Commerce Newsletter
October 2006
Milk Trucks in Space ... KT Engineering Partners with Walker Stainless

Wisconsin wins major aerospace contract

Representative Ron Kind, Terry Whipple, Juneau County Economic Development Corportation, David Stephenson, NASA, Governor Jim Doyle, Dave Sisk, president, TK Engineering and David Nick, president of Walker Stainless-Aerospace.
Representative Ron Kind, Terry Whipple, Juneau County Economic Development Corportation, David Stephenson, NASA, Governor Jim Doyle, Dave Sisk, president, TK Engineering and David Nick, president of Walker Stainless-Aerospace.

Pictured above are "Wilbur" and "Orville" (blue columns on left and right) , the world's largest 12-axis robotics, simulating the welding of a space shuttle fuel tank.
Pictured above are "Wilbur" and "Orville" (blue columns on left and right) , the world's largest 12-axis robotics, simulating the welding of a space shuttle fuel tank.

Stainless steel fuel tanks made in New Lisbon may someday ride into space as part of a shuttle vehicle carrying important commercial and national payloads.

On Aug. 30, Governor Jim Doyle announced that KT Engineering of Huntsville, Alabama, has developed a partnership with Walker Stainless Equipment Group of New Lisbon (Walker), to produce fuel tanks for space shuttles. The Governor made the announcement at the new Walker facility in New Lisbon. The event drew more than 400 participants, including Rep. Ron Kind and David Stephenson, who represented NASA Marshall Space Flight Center and the U.S. Air Force.

With manufacturing facilities in New Lisbon and Elroy Wisconsin, Walker manufactures a full line of stainless mixing, processing, and storage vessels built to meet and exceed customer applications. The company is especially well known for fabricating milk tanker trucks.

"Manufacturing is at the heart of Wisconsin's economy," Governor Doyle said. "The partnership between KT Engineering and Walker offers a tremendous long-term opportunity for Wisconsin to gain a foothold in the manufacturing of aerospace components. Businesses are choosing Wisconsin because our companies are innovative, and we have created a thriving economy in our state."

"We came to Wisconsin because it is here one can find some of the best stainless steel fabricators in the world," said Dave Sisk, President/CEO of KT Engineering, which designs and manufactures aerospace components. "We were also impressed with the University and technical college systems within the state that are working aggressively to preserve and grow the manufacturing base. We chose Walker not only for its manufacturing expertise, but also for the work ethic of its employees."

In NASA's usual practice, individual factories exclusively build defense components. Each factory supplies a few items a year and remains idle the rest of the time, resulting in extensive downtime, cost overruns and production delays. KT Engineering has developed a process that enables aerospace components to be manufactured in a commercial factory as an additional product line, which saves 4-10 times the usual cost to manufacture the component.

KT Engineering designed the prototype tank for space shuttles. Walker will build the prototype and get it into production. This venture could eventually lead to more aerospace manufacturing business for Wisconsin. The project brings new fabrication capabilities such as resistance spot welding, 12-axis robotics and flexible tooling.

Governor Doyle activated a demonstration of the 12-axis robotics, which are the largest in the world. Dave Sisk gave a step-by-step narration as the robots simulated the welding of a shuttle fuel tank.

"KT recognizes that our area has a talented, educated workforce and we can put it to work building this exciting new technology," said Representative Ron Kind, who has been instrumental in securing federal grants for the company. "After working closely with KT over the last four years to create new economic opportunities here in western Wisconsin, I am proud to stand here today to mark this new beginning."

"Today we recognize an important milestone in the development of a low-cost rocket concept for potential government and commercial space launches," said David Stephenson, representing NASA Marshall Space Flight Center and the U.S. Air Force. "We look forward to the next step down the path, the fabrication and test of (the) pathfinder propellant tanks."

"We are excited to be working on this project and look forward to the potential of continuing the growth of Walker Stainless and the growth of manufacturing jobs in Wisconsin," said David Nick, president of Walker Stainless-Aerospace.

"This project will have a long term impact to our manufacturing potential to our region and to the industries in Wisconsin," said Terry Whipple, Executive Director for the Juneau County Economic Development Corp (JCEDC). "We are excited about the partnership that has developed between JCEDC, KTE and Walker to present aerospace, robotics and state-of-the-art manufacturing to young people in the hopes that they will consider careers in manufacturing."

If tests go well and the project continues to receive both federal funding and private investment, Walker could construct up top 300 tanks per year beginning in 2010. The project could create up to 150 jobs at Walker during the next several years.

Because of the shuttle's high visibility, the project also represents an opportunity to present manufacturing as a well-paying career for young people at a time when Wisconsin manufacturers need welders, computer programmers, quality control staff, and many highly-skilled employees

The Department of Commerce facilitated contacts between KT, state and local government and Walker. The project developed over three years. Governor Doyle recognized Commerce Secretary Mary P. Burke and JCEDC's Terry Whipple for their efforts in bringing the project from vision to reality.

-- Tony Hozeny

The newsletter is issued electronically every other month.

Please send comments or questions to Barbro McGinn, editor.

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