"Welcome to the newest, most modern steelmaking facility in North America." Stelco, Canada's largest steel company, hasn't posted this greeting outside of its steel plant here, but it could. As such, the plant would make a perfect model for such companies as United States Steel Corporation, the largest US steel producer, which is thinking about building a "greenfield plant," that is, an entirely new steelmaking facility.
This plant is remarkable for a number of reasons.
1. It combines the best steelmaking technologies from around the world.
2. It is relatively pollution free.
3. It is a normal basic oxygen furnace instead of an electric furnace, which is the type increasingly being constructed at new steel plants.
4. Stelco says it is one of the lowest cost facilities in the world, working as efficiently as the Japanese.
Although operating currently at under 50 percent of its capacity due to today's poor market conditions, the plant is making a positive contribution to Stelco's cash flow. "We're not making the same profit as some of the older plants," says general manager William Wallace, "but it will equal or exceed those facilities eventually."
To even be able to operate a blast furnace at such a low capacity is considered remarkable; most companies would rather shut down their blast furnaces than risk damaging them at this low capacity. However, Mr. Wallace noted, "We've done a lot of things people said we couldn't do, and we've done it very successfully."
Stelco, in designing the plant, included extra costly items for environmental purposes. For example, the materials-handling dock on Lake Erie was originally going to be a filled- in, solid dock. However, environmentalists pointed out this would change the currents and fish migration patterns. So a covered- causeway-on-piles dock was constructed.
Also, a rainwater containment system was installed so that iron ore or coal dust would not drip into the lake. To cut down on the noise, 200,000 trees were planted around the borders of the 4,000 acre site. The company even ran its own nurseries. Then, huge mounds were built around the borders to act as natural sound and wind baffles.
In some ways, remarked Mr. Wallace, it was like building a golf course.
The company also decided to move most of its raw materials by huge rubber-tired vehicles rather than by rail as is done at most steel plants. This was done to cut down on maintenance time, says Mr. Wallace.
In the design of the plant itself, Stelco traveled all over the world to get the best technology possible. From Luxembourg it bought a Paul Wurth-designed blast furnace top; a West German firm designed the coking facility; the actual blast furnace was designed by Arthur J. McKee, a US company, which had designed another of Stelco's furnaces in Hamilton; a Japanese design was used for tapping the molten metal while a Soviet cooling system was used to cool it. By mid-1983 , a hot strip mill, designed by Wean United, a US company, will be in place, using some special Stelco technologies that improve the yield and lower the energy requirements.
About half of the 1,100-person work force had never seen the inside of a steel mill before. However, according to Mr. Wallace, the productivity of the workers has been good. In an interesting turn, the company sent its blast furnace supervisors to a Bethlehem Steel plant to learn how to operate a furnace that was similiar to its own and sent its caster crew to an Inland facility where they were trained.
The plant was designed to be enlarged in stages and could eventually be the third largest steel plant in the world, producing 12 million tons of steel per year. However, Mr. Wallace notes, that size facility is in "never-never land" considering the state of the market. For the moment it's maximum output is 3, 000 tons of raw steel per day. When the marketplace allows, says Mr. Wallace, the next step will entail increasing output to 5,200 tons per day.