£50m Scunthorpe Rod Mill enhancement will see British Steel leapfrog European competition

By Scunthorpe Telegraph | Posted: 14 Nov 2018

A £50 million investment in Scunthorpe’s rod mill will put the specialist works on “the leading edge in Europe” as it leapfrogs continental competitors with technical advances.

Mark Cunningham, project director, has told how by spring 2020, the major enhancement will be complete, boosting capacity to 700,000 tonnes and crucially widening the product profile to an ever demanding market.

With 70 per cent destined for the automotive industry, the work will bring a host of commercial opportunities to British Steel, with suspension coils and clutch springs highlighted as well as fasteners and cord when it comes to end products.  

Mark Cunningham, left, with LISI president Grahame Wallace, ahead of his address.  

Mr Cunningham was speaking to Lincolnshire Iron and Steel Institute, and told how the investment was required to give the Scunthorpe site a platform in the market, with little advancement since the opening of what was originally known as Appleby Number Two Rod Mill in 1976.  

“Fundamentally the products from the asset we have in terms of size, shape and metallurgical properties, haven’t changed," he said. “Scunthorpe Rod Mill talked about upgrading to a technology that didn’t appear in the late Eighties and in the early Nineties talked about reducing sizing mills and never got there. It meant the mill kept getting pushed further and further out (from the leading pack of rod manufacturers) while a lot of low cost producers were catching us up at the back end. We found ourselves in a more generalist position, where we couldn’t compete on cost or quality - not a nice place to be.

“This announcement, made in July, should allow us to overtake, to leapfrog some of our European competition. It will give us a world-leading asset.

“The whole masterplan is to have a more enriched order book.”

The current 5.5mm to 17mm range, squeezed up from 13.5mm in recent years, will reach 28mm, with three separate rolling lines, additional cooling facilities and the ability to offer differing finishes.

It will house the biggest single motor on site, at 6MW “quite a beast”, Mr Cunningham enthused, with the ability to change the size of what is being produced in less than 10 minutes, and a forecast availability of between 85 and 87 per cent. It is in the larger sizes where the increased pace will really pay off with greater volumes.  

Read more: £65m investment unveiled as ABP takes over British Steel's Immingham port operations

To accommodate the additional infrastructure, the mill will be extended by more than 50 metres, and will also be operating at 65 per cent capacity to maintain supplies for customers as the work is completed.   

“We will be doing this at the heart of an operational asset, which brings with it plenty of challenges,” Mr Cunningham said. With fluids and power entering the mill from opposing sides, and a requirement to take out one side to do the installation, it brings complex preparatory work to allow for continuity of production.

Scunthorpe Rod Mill when it opened. Pictures courtesy of Frank Palmer. 

The entire mill has been 3D laser scanned to produce augmented reality walk-through capability to help in the design and de-risk the build, with 42-year-old as-built drawings and two significant enhancements and modifications since, not sitting comfortably with those managing it.

Seen as a flagship project for Primetals, it is also a return of sorts too, with it being a consortium involving Siemens and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, having taken over Morgan Construction, who put in the original mill.

Read more: Engineering at the fore as new LISI president looks forward to opening 101st year

Mr Cunningham said: “It is an exciting time in wire rod. We are developing a world class wire rod mill, commissioning in 18 months, with lots of new products and new markets. Customers are already asking us about what we are going to be able to do, what we are going to make and how we are going to move it forward.

“It is an exciting time for the engineers, and what is more interesting is how we are using modern techniques to develop the asset before we install it, de-risking the design and build aspect of the scheme.”

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