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A four-month strike by workers at ATI hasn’t impacted plans to upgrade and expand the company’s Vandergrift operations from moving forward.

“We’ve been proceeding as planned throughout all of the strike activities,” said Danielle Carlini, Vandergrift’s ATI project manager for specialty rolled products.

The expansion is set to happen over the next three years.

On June 28, ATI was granted two variances by Vandergrift’s Zoning Hearing Board for a new annealing line planned at the facility.

Zoning board solicitor James Favero said there were no concerns raised over the variances and no members of the public attended.

Favero said no further action is required on the variances because the zoning board operates separately from council.

Vandergrift Zoning Hearing Board members are Sandra Shotts, Wes Boarts and Jean Holmes.

ATI spokeswoman Natalie Gillespie said ATI plans to invest between $65 million and $85 million to shift operations, exiting from the production of standard stainless products to produce specialty steel for a global market, primarily for aerospace, defense and energy.

“We’re excited to be able to expand this plant,” said Gillespie, noting the Vandergrift facility was originally a water-powered mill dating back to 1849. “Bottom line, we will add industry-leading finishing capabilities to our already excellent specialty melt capabilities and best-in-class hot rolling capabilities,”

The exit from standard stainless steel production is scheduled for sometime this year. The Vandergrift facility has already begun shifting its product mix from stainless steel products to the production of specialty steel.

What’s a bright anneal?

The new external furnace installed at Vandergrift’s facility will be the approximate height of a 10-story building.

Construction will take about two years and began about a month ago.

Gillespie said the anneal will be constructed on an existing building located on the far side of the plant by the river and will not affect borough residents in regards to noise.

“There will be no negative noise impact to the community,” Gillespie said.

Gillespie said the stack may release some steam emissions that will be visible, depending on the temperature of the furnace inside compared with the outside temperature.

The facility will meet or exceed all air quality requirements, he said.

Coils delivered from Brackenridge’s ATI facility will undergo the annealing process which heats the metal, then slowly cools it to improve its strength.

Gillespie explained the new “bright” anneal furnace will help establish required final mechanical properties in a closed and controlled environment— producing a shiny, bright surface, free of oxides.

The expansion of Vandergrift will include upgrading an existing cold anneal line.

ATI bought the Vandergrift facility from US Steel in 1988.

Carlini said the company is hopeful the transformation will position ATI as a global leader in the industry.

“When this is done we will have a world-class melt, hot-rolling and finishing —the three components of making special material products,” Carlini said.

Carlini said industry lead flow times, the amount of time each step in the anneal process, will be 25 percent faster because all work is done under one roof.

ATI said Vandergrift is an ideal site for consolidating sheet finishing operation, noting its geographic proximity to Brackenridge and a rail connection that eliminates the need for trucks. The coils provided by the Brackenridge facility can travel by train for delivery to the Vandergrift site.

The Vandergrift location employs about 200 employees.

Gillespie said no additional hiring is necessary at the Vandergrift facility because the equipment there will be more automated.

Other ATI facilities phasing out production of standard stainless steel are located in Ohio, Illinois, California and Connecticut.

Members from the United Steelworkers at nine ATI facilities have been on strike since March of this year. On Friday, the union and ATI announced they had reached a tentative agreement.

Joyce Hanz is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joyce at 724-226-7725 , or via Twitter .