Steel Products

SMU Steel Newbie: Fire and Brimstone—The Mill Tour

Written by Sandy Williams

Written by: Sandy Williams

Billowing flames, sparks careening upward like thousands of fireflies, the brilliant blue-white glow of the arc, and heat—intense heat. It is hard to adequately describe the power emanating from the electric arc furnace as one stares at it enthralled. Our Steel 101 class felt that power up close and it was an experience to remember.

The tour of the Severstal Columbus mini-mill was definitely the highlight of the workshop. As our bus approached the facility we saw hundreds of steel coils cooling outside in the yard. After meeting our guides and dressing in blue jackets, helmets, safety glasses and earplugs, we broke into two groups to begin our foray into the mill.

The interior of the mill was huge! We walked for nearly three hours, climbing stairs to multiple levels, following the steel from its great melt in the furnace through its journey by huge ladles to the tundish where molten steel was poured into a mold and cooled while moving, then in a continuous process by conveyor to roughing stands, finishing stands and its final ejection as hot coiled rolls onto robotic carts to be whisked away. Then we followed the cold rolled line as it moved its way to the hot dipped coating operation. This ribbon of steel seemed to extend endlessly through the mill until we caught our last sight of it coming out of a zinc bath, rising toward the ceiling.

Each of the mill operations are run by banks of computers located in rooms high above the main floor operated by one or two technicians who may follow an entire line through its processing. Steel making is a highly automated process so we saw very few workers on the floor itself. Robotic cranes and overhead conveyances moved objects, while sirens blared out warnings (the earplugs were a necessity not an accessory). To me it looked gloriously sci-fi.

This was so different from how I envisioned my father’s time as a steelworker in 1950 through 1980. As a child, I thought my dad worked in a subdivision of Hell in downtown Cleveland. It was very dirty–dirty skies, dirty windows, dirty cars in the parking lots and, of course, those ever burning smoke stacks and fires.

Severstal Columbus is nothing like that. The air is clean, the facilities are clean, and efficiency and safety are the norm. Our guides on the tour were terrific–knowledgeable and patient when answering our questions.

As day one drew to a close, we rode back to the hotel exhausted but excited by what we had seen. I was now able to take what we had learned earlier in the day in the classroom and put together a few more pieces of the puzzle of steelmaking.

Next time: Day Two—Marketing Fundamentals

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