Friday, 16 December 2016

THE FUTURE OF THE STEEL INDUSTRY - A NEW COMMERCIAL OUTLOOK FOR WALES


Robin Burn argues that commercial steel is still viable in Wales

In a recent article, The Llanelli Herald, published November 11th, Assembly Member for Llanelli, Lee Waters, analyses the prospects for the steel industry in South Wales. The thrust of his argument discusses the role of the Government in Wales and the United Kingdom, and how Governments can influence policy decisions of the steel making industry in respect of support interventions. Similar comments were voiced by the Member of Parliament for Llanelli, Nia Griffith published in the Llanelli Star Wednesday 14th December issue.

As the Assembly Member contemplates the role of Government from a political viewpoint, more importantly the actions of the steel making companies themselves , in safeguarding their own futures, play an equal part.


History tells us Government intervention, however well intentioned, has never been the solution to industrial strategy, and long term survival, as Governments’ change their intervention strategy, depending on the nature of the political decision making, of the party in power.

The steel industry in the United Kingdom has been serving the economic welfare of the United Kingdom and its industrial base, longer than some political parties have been in existence. Its ability to change, meeting the demands of the engineering sector, has been the basis of its survival strategy.



The argument, proffered by the Assembly Member for Llanelli, Lee Waters, government intervention as a sole solution is misguided in as much as, it ignores the role played by the steel industry itself , by its engineers and scientists, developing the techniques and industrial practise to ensure its long term survival. Government has a role to play in ensuring the industry has a stable platform on which it can develop to survive, not give it an artificial prop as a short term solution.  Government with its policy may not always be favoured by future regimes.

The engineering industry in the United Kingdom, is one of the provision of  products of increasing sophistication, to meet the needs of advanced technology, of high integrity engineering. The United Kingdom is in the forefront of increasingly advanced engineering, in aerospace, defence and power generation, all of which have the requirement of advanced, special high specification steel, it all of  its producable forms both cast and wrought.

The need for mass produced, high volume wrought long product of a reduced quality, and by nature lower value, has to be scaled back as no longer viable, replaced by the higher specification steels required by the advanced engineering industries.

The steel making industry is a global one, according to a report from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) the worlds installed steelmaking capacity, is projected to increase to2.36 billion tons by 2017. One third more steel than the world actually needs.

It was argued in an earlier discussion document,(A different Nuclear Solution; People First website,www.peoplefirstwales.org.uk ; 6th August 2016) that the replacement nuclear power station at Hinkley Point could be a solution provided by the building in the United Kingdom utilising existing technology used in building small nuclear generators used in nuclear submarines. The special steel cast and wrought steel product used in the building of such nuclear reactors exist made in United Kingdom steel production plants.

The home based steel production plants can, and are being contemplated in, replacing their production techniques and equipment to make the very high steel product required for  advanced engineering needs.

On October,13th , the annual event Bessemer Day, held jointly by IOM3 and the Iron and Steel Society, was held in collaboration with the South Wales Materials Association (SWMA), at the new Bay Campus at Swansea University.
The culmination of the day was the presentation by Professor Alan Cramb, President of thee Illinois Institute of Technology, winner of the 2016 Bessemer Gold Medal, of the Bessemer Lecture.
Cramb, born in Scotland, studied metallurgy in Scotland, has worked for many years in the American Steel Industry, and a worldwide teacher of steel technology in steel plants.
His presentation, Steel Processing Technology: Potential Futures, a review now published in Materials World Vol.24 No.12 December 2016, reviewed steels past, then looked forward to the future posing the question- what is the future for steel processing?

His progressive thinking suggested, the capability to produce liquid cast iron in volumes less than 500,000 tonnes per year, to carbon-less low temperature reduction of iron oxide to controlled size iron powder for 3D laser splintering to form steel products.

Cramb made three future suggestions for the steel Industry, some options already being practised in other dominant steel making countries.

Firstly, the use of recycled steel scrap, electric arc furnace re-melting is the preferred industry route. In America, 65% of steel tonnage comes from scrap metal. 
 As an example of steel making practise being contemplated to improve efficiency, one steel making plant in South Wales, is replacing its steel melting practise, to the use of re-melting graded scrap in electric furnaces.
However, continuous recycling practise has a detrimental effect on the quality of the end product due to build up impurities of copper and tin, both of which are responsible for reduction in quality, in terms of mechanical properties.
Current practise is to blend; with blast furnace produced pig iron free from copper and tin to offset the reduction of quality. The news of the retention of the two blast furnaces in Port Talbot is welcomed to supply impurity free iron product to steel melting practise.   

Other countries’ steel making plants are utilising municipal waste , to convert into energy, for their internal needs, as a cost reducing measure, which eases the burden on the Local Authority’s for its waste disposal management. The announced building of an electricity generating power station in a TATA plant in South Wales possibly fuelled by recycled biomass and other municipal wastes would be following established practise.

Robin Burn at Tata Steel. Llanelli



The engineers and scientists employed in the steel industry, via their various Chartered Institutions of Engineering, Metal and Material production, are working together collectively; to provide the engineering and scientific solutions needs of today’s high quality engineering. 
Seminars and conferences pertaining to developments in steel making practise are planned.
Since the development and utilisation of the converter by Sir Henry Bessemer in 1856,to the use of strip casting of carbon steels in 2000, the industry itself has progressed continuously with production innovation , as well as development of new steel types, most notably the development of stainless steel alloys by Brearley, and Krupp in 1914.

Robin Burn I Eng. FIMMM







1 comment:

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