Castings Play Key Role in New Roof at Arthur Ashe Stadium

Cast Connex and Bradken combined to produce a key connection for the renovation of a famous tennis arena.

Brian Sandalow, Associate Editor

(Click here to see the story as it appears in the March issue of Modern Casting.)

The U.S. Open is one of the most exciting tennis tournaments of the year. Castings will help make it even better.

For two weeks every year, Arthur Ashe Stadium is the center of the tennis world. Located in Queens, New York, it serves as the main arena for the Open, hosting the biggest matches in one of the planet’s most important tournaments. Tens of thousands of ticket-buying spectators and millions more in a worldwide television audience see the stadium as it welcomes international stars like Serena Williams, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic.

But currently, Arthur Ashe Stadium is undergoing a major renovation that will dramatically change its look and feel. It’s a renovation with massive and noticeable aspects, but also one made up of less-noticed but equally important phases.

Completed in 1997, the stadium was built without a roof. Because of this, matches were susceptible to the elements and the tournament schedule was often altered because of delays and cancellations. To fight the elements, the U.S. Tennis Association (USTA), the body that owns and operates the facility, announced in 2013 it was adding a retractable roof to the arena, following the lead of fellow major venues for Wimbledon and the Australian Open.

That roof, at a cost of a reported $150 million, is structurally independent from the stadium itself and is expected to be operational by the 2016 event in late August. The hulking steel frame was already in place for last year’s tournament, missing the polytetrafluoroethylene fiberglass membranes that will eventually cover the roof and provide protection when inclement weather hits.

Of course, the project is much more complicated than simply slapping a roof structure over an existing arena. The new structure is supported by eight steel columns spaced around the perimeter of the stadium that are joined to ground-level concrete piers. Each base is a point where two diagonal braces are connected to a vertical steel column by cast steel connections. As fans walk into the arena, they stride right past the connections that are in place to help keep the roof up.

Enter Cast Connex, Toronto, and eventually its chosen partner for the project: Bradken, Kansas City, Missouri.

Around February 2014, Cast Connex, a supplier of castings and forgings with engineering and design capabilities, was contacted by steel fabricator Canam Group (Saint-Georges, Quebec, Canada). After a 2014 request from the New York City Design Commission, the USTA and the outside builders were tasked with creating the connections for the structure base that were strong and also attractive, since they are visible to spectators entering the arena.

Cast Connex was asked to deliver a custom-designed product, with the connections and braces in place by November 2014.

“From a structural perspective, the entire weight and lateral system of the roof goes through these connections,” said Carlos de Oliveira, principal, Cast Connex. “The connections are also important from an architectural perspective, given that these connections are the only location where spectators can interact directly with the new roof structure.”

According to de Oliveira, each of the connections weighs around 7,700 lbs. (3,492.7 kg) and connects to 30-in. (76.2 cm) diameter steel braces on one end. On the other, they’re welded to the 40-in. (101.6 cm) diameter columns.

“They’re at the interface between the very large diameter bracing and columns,” de Oliveira said. “The casting transitions from the round brace down to a relatively thin vertical plate, providing an organically shaped transition between the two geometries.”

The Connections’ Role Is Key

As de Oliveira alluded to, the components need to do more than look good.

“The components are structural; they each support a large portion of the weight of the roof. And when the wind blows on the structure, they have to transmit the resulting lateral forces down into the foundations,” de Oliveira said. “And if there was ever an earthquake, the inertial forces caused by the excitation of the structure would also be transmitted through the cast steel connections.

“As such, these are absolutely critical structural components.”

Cast Connex is not a casting facility. It designs the cast steel structural components for the construction of buildings and bridges, and partners with steel facilities for the manufacture of the components it designs. Cast Connex has designed critical components for many other large-scale projects like the architecturally exposed cast steel nodes for the Transbay Transit Center project in San Francisco. The company offers a variety of standardized components, like universal pin connectors, that are used in a wide range of buildings, including the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York.

“From an architectural perspective, we can create geometries and connections that offer very different aesthetics than one could achieve by fabricating connections from welded platework,” de Oliveira said.

Metalcasting also brings structural advantages as well, like a smooth force transfer between different shapes.

“Ultimately, we can put the material where it ought to be for the flow of forces through the structural component, rather than trying to build up or stiffen platework. We literally shape the part as nature would shape it,” de Oliveira said. “When you do that, you often end up with something that looks very elegant. So we leverage the geometric freedom that casting offers to improve structural performance and also to improve the aesthetic quality of connections.”

In the Ashe project, Cast Connex turned to Bradken and its Atchison, Kansas, facility for tooling, casting production and machining. The two companies had worked together in the past, and based on their strong professional relationship and the size and complexity of the part, Bradken was the right facility for Cast Connex.

“It’s increasingly difficult to have those relationships today when so many people try to commoditize an engineered component,” said Wayne Braun, director of business development – industrial products, Bradken. “The value added to that relationship put forward co-designing the component to yield the best results and lowest cost of quality.”

The components were cast via the nobake sand casting process utilizing a 50 ksi grade of steel casting to an ASTM A958 specification, which is one of a number of standard grades for the structural market.

The two companies used a collaborative relationship to produce the connections. There was feedback, give-and-take, input, and evidence of a strong professional relationship.

“Not everybody can do this because there are a lot of technical and quality back-and-forth between the two because of the importance of these components, not only the structural integrity but also the expectation visually,” Braun said. “In addition, the precision needs to be put in the weld-prep areas so that these castings fit into the plane. This allows them to be fabricated in position without creating potential dimensional issues at the fabricator when he goes to do fit-up.”

Braun said “getting off on the right foot” was important for the project. The metalcaster didn’t want to get far along and find out the finished component did not match expectations. Representatives of different parts of the project’s chain were invited to see the castings and provide feedback.

“Getting that first article done and understanding that you’ve laid the part out properly, and have machined it within the plane is why we do the 3-D overlay,” Braun said. “Or we’ll lay it out and then send them the file, and they will then put it in the envelope to make sure that it complies. Once you’ve got that locked down, then you can be sure your subsequent parts are going to yield the precision that’s required in the dimensional component.”

Other manufacturing processes theoretically could have been used to create this component. Casting, however, brought many distinct advantages. Beyond the aesthetics, it holds an ability to handle a bigger range of challenges, not to mention the absence of weld joints, leading to more capability to handle stresses.

“One of the advantages is the ability to make shapes that are aesthetically pleasing to an architect,” Braun said. “If you combine those with the various grades and strengths that steel offers in addition to its weldability, it really gives you a number of options that allow you to cast shapes that are extraordinarily difficult or almost impossible to fabricate.”

Projects like these have another advantage: it can help a firm like Bradken continue to make its mark in the architectural world. Bradken is a member of the American Institute of Steel Construction, and Braun and de Oliviera have given co-talks on the use of steel castings and the benefits they can bring.

“We can say not only do we believe this, we’re actually doing it and we’ve done it in this example, this example and this example,” Braun said. “You don’t want somebody who’s never done one before that says ‘Yeah, I think we can cast that shape,’ because it’s about understanding what you’re casting, why you’re casting and what’s important on that casting.” 

ncountering a scenario in which you are forced to suddenly and immediately suspend melting operations for an extended period can be a death sentence for many metalcasting facilities. Small to mid-size businesses are the backbone of the industry, but many do not survive when forced into extended downtime. One disaster-stricken metalcaster, however, found resilience through its own perseverance and a circle of support from peers, friends, suppliers, teams from installation and repair providers, an original equipment manufacturer and even competitors.
Tonkawa Foundry, a third-generation, family-owned operation in Tonkawa, Okla., was entering its 65th year of operation this year when a significant technical failure ravaged the power supply and melting furnaces on January 17. Thanks to the textbook evacuation directed by Operations Manager Carrie Haley, no one was physically harmed during the incident, but the extent of emotional and financial damage, and just how long the event would take Tonkawa offline, was unclear.
Tonkawa’s power supply and two steel-shell furnaces would have to be rebuilt. No part of the reconstruction process could begin until the insurance company approved removal of the equipment from the site. The potential loss of Tonkawa’s employees and customers to competing metalcasters seemed inevitable.
Within two days of the incident, repair, installation and equipment representatives were on site at Tonkawa to survey the damage. Once the insurance company issued approval to begin work, the installation team mobilized within 24 hours to remove the equipment and disassemble the melt deck.
Since the damaged equipment was installed in the 1980s and 1990s, Tonkawa and an equipment services and repair company quickly strategized a plan and identified ways to enhance the safety, efficiency and overall productivity of Tonkawa’s melt deck.
“The most critical issue was for our team to organize a response plan,” said Steve Otto, executive vice president for EMSCO’s New Jersey Installation Division. “We needed to arrive at Tonkawa ready to work as soon as possible and deliver quickly and thoroughly so they could get back to the business of melting and producing castings, and minimize their risk of closing.”
Several years after Tonkawa’s melt deck was originally installed, an elevation change was required to accommodate the use of a larger capacity ladle under the spout of the furnaces. Rather than raising the entire melt deck, only the area supporting the furnaces was elevated. As a result, the power supply and workstation were two steps down from the furnaces, creating a number of inconveniences and challenges that impacted overall work flow in the melt area. Additionally, the proximity of the power supply to the furnaces not only contributed to the limited workspace, but also increased the odds of the power supply facing damage.
The damage to the melt deck required it to be reconstructed. It was determined to be the ideal opportunity to raise the entire deck to the same elevation and arrange the power supply, workstation and furnaces onto one level. The furnace installation company provided the layout concepts, and with the aid of Rajesh Krishnamurthy, applications engineer, Oklahoma State Univ., Tonkawa used the concepts to generate blueprints for the new deck construction. The results yielded a modernized melt system with an even elevation, strategically placed power supply, enhanced worker safety and increased operator productivity.
“Eliminating the steps and relocating the power supply farther from the furnaces was a significant improvement to our melt deck,” Tonkawa Co-Owner Jim Salisbury said.
Within four days of insurance company approval, all damaged equipment had been removed and shipped for repair.
The insurance company required an autopsy on the damaged furnace before any repair work could begin. The forensic analysis was hosted by EMSCO in Anniston, Ala., in the presence of insurance company personnel, as well as an assembly of industry representatives from the companies who had received notices of potential subrogation from the insurance company.
Tonkawa’s furnace was completely disassembled while the insurance company’s forensic inspector directed, photographed, cataloged and analyzed every turn of every bolt on the furnace over a nine-hour workday. The coil was dissected, and lining samples were retained for future reference.
While the furnace sustained extensive damage, it did not have to be replaced entirely.
Structural reconstruction was performed to address run-out damage in the bottom of the furnace, a new coil was fabricated and the hydraulic cylinders were repacked and resealed. Fortunately, the major components were salvageable, and ultimately, the furnace was rebuilt for half the cost of a new furnace.
“The furnace experienced a significant technical failure,” said Jimmy Horton, vice president and general manager of southern operations, EMSCO. “However, not only was the unit rebuilt, it was rebuilt using minimal replacement parts.”
Though work was underway on the furnaces, Tonkawa was challenged with a projected lead time of 14 weeks on the power supply.
When accounting for the three weeks lost to insurance company holds and the time required for installation, Tonkawa was looking at a total production loss of 18-20 weeks. From the perspective of sibling co-owners Sandy Salisbury Linton and Jim Salisbury, Tonkawa could not survive such a long period of lost productivity. After putting their heads together with their furnace supplier, it was determined the reason for the long turnaround on the power supply could be traced to the manufacturer of the steel cabinet that housed the power supply.
The solution? The existing cabinet would be completely refurbished and Tonkawa would do the work rather than the initial manufacturer. This reduced the 14-week lead time to just five weeks.
Tonkawa is the single source for a number of its customers. Although lead-time had been significantly reduced, the Tonkawa team still needed a strategy to keep the single source customers in business as well as a plan to retain their larger customers.
Tonkawa pours many wear-resistant, high-chrome alloys for the agriculture and shot blast industries. Kansas Castings, Belle Plaine, Kan., which is a friendly competitor, is located 50 miles north of Tonkawa. Kansas Castings offered Tonkawa two to three heats every Friday for as long as it needed.
“We made molds, put them on a flatbed trailer, prayed it wasn’t going to rain in Oklahoma, and drove the molds to Kansas Castings. We were molding, shot blasting, cleaning, grinding and shipping every Friday,” Salisbury Linton said.
Others joined the circle of support that was quickly surrounding the Tonkawa Foundry family.
Modern Investment Casting Corporation (MICC) is located 12 miles east of Tonkawa in Ponca City, Okla. Though MICC is an investment shop and Tonkawa is a sand casting facility, MICC’s relationship with Tonkawa dates back years to when Sandy and Jim’s father, Gene Salisbury, was at the helm.
“Gene was always willing to help you out,” said MICC owner, Dave Cashon. “His advice was invaluable for us over the years, so when the opportunity arose to support Sandy and Jim, we volunteered our help.”
 MICC offered to pour anything Tonkawa needed every Friday in its furnace. Tonkawa brought its alloy, furnace hand and molds, while MICC provided its furnace and a furnace hand for three heats. Many of the specialty parts Tonkawa produces were completed with MICC’s support.
When Salisbury Linton approached Cashon and asked him to issue her an invoice to cover the overhead Tonkawa was consuming, Cashon told her if she brought in six-dozen donuts every Friday morning they’d call it even.
“We’re all kind of like family,” Cashon said. “We’re all part of the same industry and though we may be friendly competitors at times, you don’t want to see anybody go through what they’ve gone through and it could have just as easily been our furnace that failed. While we all take the appropriate measures and perform maintenance to prevent these scenarios from occurring, they unfortunately still occur from time to time in our industry.”
Tonkawa had recently added steel work to its menu of services and Central Machine & Tool, Enid, Okla., was able to take Tonkawa’s patterns and fulfill its steel orders so it would not fall behind with those customers, while CFM Corporation, Blackwell, Okla., took three of Tonkawa’s employees on a temporary basis and kept them working during the downtime. Additionally, a couple of Tonkawa’s major suppliers extended their payables terms.
Thanks to Tonkawa’s suppliers, friends and its personnel’s own passion, persistence and dedication, the business is up, running and recovering—placing it among the few shops of its size to overcome the odds and remain in business after facing calamity.
 Nearly eight months after that devastating Saturday evening in January, Salisbury Linton reflected on the people and events that helped Tonkawa rise from the ashes. “We certainly would not have the opportunity to see what the future holds for Tonkawa if it weren’t for all the kind-hearted people who cared about what happened to us. Everyone still checks in on us.”