Engineering insight into British Steel's Scunthorpe site and the technological toolbox

By Scunthorpe Telegraph | Posted: 8 Oct 2018

New technologies and techniques are ensuring Scunthorpe’s ageing steelworks are in the best possible condition, with emerging maintenance methods helping save millions of pounds. 

British Steel’s director of engineering, Grahame Wallace, has taken over the presidency of Lincolnshire Iron and Steel Institute, and used his inaugural address to shine a light on the cutting edge work undertaken to keep the company producing safely and efficiently.  

Mr Wallace told how looking at the images accompanying the presentation from his predecessor - when Chris Vaughan walked members through the first century of steelmaking – underlined to him the role played.

“I looked at the photographs and we still have most of that equipment in operation, so I thought it would carry on with the theme,” he said. “We may have had elements of investment but we haven’t had as much as we would have liked over the years."

Giving examples of horrific failures from allied industries such as oil and gas, heavy transport and fuel storage, he said: “It is a difficult job, so why do we monitor and maintain assets?

“If we are not applying  current techniques and appropriate maintenance regimes, and not following up on recommendations, there will be potential for catastrophic incidents. Asset integrity in British Steel is a key strategy, and it focuses on the condition of our assets. We look at understanding what the degradation mechanisms are and look at associated risks. A process safety incident in our business would give us a major issue, potentially result in fatalities and considerable cost to the business, so we look at best practice inspection techniques and target at expected degradation mechanisms. 

Chris Vaughan, left, welcomes new president Grahame Wallace.

“We are not doing it to comply with legislation, it is about removing the risk and operating our assets in an appropriate manner.”

Techniques used by the engineering team include thermal imagery, endoscopy, drone inspection, ultrasound thickness corrosion mapping and crack detection, vibration monitoring, finite element analysis, acoustic emission monitoring and digital radiography.

It is a toolkit that those who formed LISI would struggle to comprehend, but Mr Wallace highlighted uses, from surveying the 1.5 million square metres of roofing with flying ‘eyes’, to examining the internal condition of gear boxes and boiler tubes. 

“There are a lot of assets on our site installed many years ago – older than most in the room – stresses weren’t fully understood too the level they are nowadays,” he said.

Read more: Major British Steel rail win is 'ray of hope' for Scunthorpe steelworkers after planned job cuts

A high profile case study that is bringing major benefits, is the maintenance and overhaul of the Anchor Mixed Enhanced Gas Main - a 2.7m diameter pipeline you can drive a Land Rover through, which snakes round the plant for three kilometres and was installed back in 1972.

In 2015 a 90m stretch was replaced at a cost of £720,000 – or £8,000 per metre. The issue is pitting and corrosion at the four o’clock and eight o’clock positions, where a waterline between liquid and gas forms. 

“We came up with a different process of tackling this, a process where the bottom third of the pipe is lined, shotblasted and then a screed, a coating of the pipeline, is applied,” Mr Wallace said.

Hatches for access were installed at various points, with the ultrasound thickness corrosion mapping showing where on the main the work was required.

“For us it has been a significant step forward, an application of technology to find issues and new technique, the coating, to deliver improvement of integrity and significant cost reduction. Instead of £8,000 a metre it was £2,000 a metre to carry out repairs to a mile. It gained us £9 million in savings and improved asset integrity.”

Plans for a further 840m are now being brought forward for summer 2019. 

Also at the forefront of the engineering team’s agenda is concrete structure integrity, with the Genoa bridge tragedy acting as a major alert.

“We have numerate concrete structures across the site, and it is an area we are focused on understanding. There are risks and as a business we will be spending more time on in the future.”

And while the tools are there to apply, Mr Wallace said the initial works were key.

“You can monitor condition by different techniques but you need to do the job right first time. We need traceability and history or work undertaken. It might not be required next week, but a couple of years down the road. We incorporate that in our business engineering standard.”

The £50 million rod mill investment will be the focus of LISI’s next meeting, on November 12. 

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