Reinventing steel production leads one mill to sustained growth

In Jewett, Texas, the Nucor (www.nucor.com) steel plant is one of the first electric arc furnace plants in the United States. By using the electric arc process to melt and recycle scrap steel, Nucor plants avoid a significant part of the cost and pollution that are involved in integrated iron and steel production with blast furnaces. Nucor was an early participant in the shift from refining torecycling as the primary source of steel in the United States. Today the company is the largest U.S. steel producer with an annual capacity of more than 25 million tons. It also is one of North America’s largest recyclers.

Since 1975, the Jewett plant has been producing merchant bar quality (MBQ) long-bar steel products from scrap. The plant is 989,000 sq ft under roof and provides work for 360 employees and 40 contractors.

Effectiveness and efficiency

“Nucor Jewett has sustained growth in profitability despite today’s macro-economic challenges,” says Tommy Massey, maintenance department manager. Nucor plants have never had employee layoffs due to business reduction. This performance is not characteristic of steel or most other U.S. primary materials industries.

Corporate citizenship

Since it was founded as a steel recycler, Nucor’s impact on the industry has been one of “increased energy efficiency and output” over conventional processes, says Massey. The company’s annual output indicates that a similar amount of automotive, construction, and other steel products have been diverted from salvage yards and landfills back into useful production.

Profitability and ecology are important, of course, but the topic about which Massey is most excited is safety. “Our team achieved OSHA’s Voluntary Protection Programs (VPP) Star site status in 2010 for having one of the best, if not the best, safety performance in our industry and for meeting the requirements of that program at a high level,” says Massey. “Our electric arc furnace produces approximately 200 standard tons of steel per hour. Our team pioneered an innovative solution to the slag door on this furnace that significantly improved safety by removing operators from the front of the furnace and greatly increased efficiency due to less ambient air being drawn into the furnace.”

One of the common types of accident in steel melting equipment results from accidental mixing of hot steel or slag with impurities like water in the containers that receive the molten material. The water can flash to steam from the heat and eject the molten contents of a slag pot into the surrounding area. Removing the workers from this zone is an important safety advance.

Recommendations

Massey recommends a three-pronged approach to safety, which includes personal responsibility of the team members, a safe work environment, and excellence in safe work practices and procedures. Nucor Jewett has also installed high-efficiency fan designs reducing energy consumption while maintaining designed flows.

Massey’s formula for the kind of success Nucor has had in Jewett has several parts, including “change leadership, Nucor culture of team member empowerment, internal and external team member development programs and tools, and strong relationships with OEMs, suppliers, and partners.”

Source: PlantServices.com