Wednesday, July 20, 2016

News: Tata Speciality Steel targets value over volume


When I'm in my back garden I can sometimes hear the scrap being loaded into the furnace at Tata Steel's Aldwarke site. This week I was lucky enough to find out what happens to it on its journey to becoming high grade speciality steel.

The South Yorkshire sites make up part of Tata's Speciality Steels business which now employs around 1,700 people. The Indian-owned steelmaker recently decided on a separate process for the potential sale of the business and opened the doors to its steelworks to the media as a showcase for what potential buyers would get.

Speciality Steels is not considered a downstream business linked to Port Talbot and strip products. It is Tata Steel Europe's only Electric Arc Furnace (EAF) based business and produces steel, predominantly stainless and low alloy grades, that is used in landing gear and aircraft engines including the landing gear of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

It has a £275m turnover with a reported £81.4m pre-tax loss in the year to March 2016 expected to become a £32.9m profit by the end of its 2018-19 financial year.

Lianne Deeming, recently installed as managing director of the speciality steels business, explained that this year's target output is 209,000 tonnes. A long way short of Aldwarke's previous 800,000 capacity and a world away from 18 million tonnes of steel a year that was once produced at nearby "Steelos."

But Deeming explained how the division was making use of its expertise and the serious investment in South Yorkshire in recent years to target the high value sectors over high volume. The operations produce some of the best carbon, alloy and stainless steels for demanding applications like aerospace, motorsports, industrial engineering and oil and gas. Customers include Roll-Royce, GE and Liebherr.

On our way round the steelworks we saw how value was added to the products with techniques such as vacuum degassing, ensuring that the purity of the steel met the needs of demanding applications that call for steel to be high strength but light weight. Samples were taken from the molten steel and whizzed off to the lab, tested and returned in minutes.


Investment in 2005 saw the Rotherham site at Aldwarke become the focus for steel making, casting and rolling of specialist steels. The steel is manufactured here before undergoing further refining at the Stocksbridge plant or the Thrybergh Bar Mill to improve the quality.

And it all comes from scrap metal - around 1.5 million tonnes a year. On our visit, a shiny pile had been delivered from the production line of Jaguar Land Rover, another Tata-owned UK business.

The visit also provided the opportunity to speak with staff as the prospect of another change in ownership hangs over the operations. Tata Steel completed the deal to buy Anglo-Dutch steelmaker Corus in 2007.

Steve Allard, works manager in South Yorkshire, said: "I would say it is unsettling but we have got a business we are proud of. All we can do is concentrate on what we can affect and put the work in to put ourselves in the best possible position.

"We are becoming more and more specialised whereas Tata Steel has a large presence in flat products. We may end up becoming part of a group focused on speciality aerospace steel which would provide great potential for us."

Allard added that Tata had invested significantly in the business, evidenced by the new £15m Vacuum Induction Melting (VIM) furnace at its Stocksbridge site that is currently in the commissioning phase.

The entire melting and casting operation is conducted in an oxygen-free atmosphere, resulting in clean steel with very low gas content. It followed a £6.5m investment in aerospace steel production in 2012, including two new Vacuum Arc Remelting (VAR) furnaces at Stocksbridge, which boosted output of these steels by 30% and safeguarded the South Yorkshire jobs.

If the steel already produced in South Yorkshire is considered to be high specification, the steel produced in the new VIM furnace, used in aircraft engines and components, is considered "ultra high specification." When it comes into full production later in the year it will produce just 3% of the division's output but is another indication of the quest for value over volume.

Tata Steel Europe website

Images: Tom Austen


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