November/December 2016 – Digital Issue

November/December 2016 – Digital Issue

At the beginning of 2016 the bombshell was dropped: Tata Steel announced that it was selling up and pulling out of the UK – bad news for the British steel industry, bad news for British steelworkers and bad news for yours truly as a string of radio and television interviews followed in quick succession. I had to bone up on facts and soundbites to satisfy the insatiable appetite of the British mass media.

And now the year is drawing to a close – it’s 1 December as I write these words – and while it would be easy to say that the British steel industry is still awaiting a decision on ‘the big one’ (what to do with Port Talbot?) the official rumour is that some kind of merger or joint venture between the Indian steelmaker and ThyssenKrupp of Germany will take place. The big stumbling block? The British Steel pension scheme.

There’s nothing worse than uncertainty, but there are some lights at the end of the tunnel. A report by Graham Ruddick in the Guardian, a UK national newspaper, last week claimed that Tata was set to commit to UK steel for the next decade, ‘including the vast Port Talbot works’, but as Ruddick pointed out in an article published on 28 November in the same newspaper, despite a deal struck with Sanjeev Gupta’s Liberty House – to purchase Tata Steel’s speciality steels division for £100 million – the future of the rest of Tata Steel UK remains unclear. In short, 11,000 anxious British steelworkers approach the festive season with furrowed brows.

But if one of the lights at the end of the tunnel is Lord Bhattacharyya’s ‘major announcements about growth in Tata Steel’, then mention must be made of Sanjeev Gupta, the brains behind Liberty House. He will go down as the Patron Saint of the UK steel industry and the saviour of thousands of British  steelworkers’ jobs.

Liberty’s planned purchase of Tata’s speciality steels division is just the tip of the iceberg. When the company recently re-opened the Dalzell steel plant in Motherwell, Scotland, the Scots celebrated the survival of their steel industry and the saving of 270 jobs. Liberty has a strong ‘green’ agenda, promoting melting and upcycling of scrap using EAFs, and if market conditions allow, Liberty will re-open the Clydebridge steelworks too. 

November/December 2016 – Digital Issue Contents

October issue

October issue

There are plenty of jokes online that follow that tried and tested formula of delivering the bad news followed by the good. Like the joke about the man who visits his doctor for a physical and is told he has cancer and Alzheimer's. "Well, at least I don't have cancer," the man replies. Or the man in hospital who is told that both his legs must be removed, the good news being that the man in the next bed wants to buy his trainers.

The global steel industry at present suffers from a goodnews/bad news ailment. There are snippets of good news floating around, but the doom and gloom of overcapacity and plant closures persist and things start to resemble a huge pair of scales or a see-saw dipping one way and then the other. Life, as they say, has its ups and downs. You must take the rough with the smooth or, to quote the late Lemmy Kilmister from Motörhead, "You win some, you lose some, it's all the same to me."

In Brazil, the steel industry is being described as an 'endless nightmare' with the Brazilian Steel Institute's executive president telling delegates at ACO Brazil's 27th annual conference that 74 facilities were temporarily or permanently idled in 2014 and 2015, including five blast furnaces, eight steel shops, 14 rolling mills, one coke oven battery and one sintering plant. An additional 23 closures were planned for H1 2016, writes Germano Mendes de Paula in this issue.

The good news for Brazil is that 2018 will mark the start of a sustainable recovery.

While delegates at Steel Success Strategies XXXI in the USA were relieved to discover that the conference was not 'all about China', the saga of China's steel dumping continues despite political and legal steps taken by US steelmakers to curb unwanted Chinese steel. And the good news? The AISI reports that US steel mill shipments in September were up 2.6%.

As Jimmy Cricket, the 1970s Irish comedian, used to say, "there's more". In fact, the bad news for the British Steel industry was Tata Steel's decision, earlier in the year, to pull out of the UK.

The good news? British Steel, which rose out of the ashes of Tata Steel UK's long products division, recently announced massive investment and a return to profit for the year ending March 2017. Here's hoping for more good news as we head towards 2017.

October issue Contents

September issue

September issue

Global steel conferences. I've been to a few in my time and they have all been very inspiring in so many ways. As a magazine editor, the big steel events, such as this month's annual World Steel Association Conference in Dubai, and the CRU World Steel Conference, held every March, are two crucial events for any self-respecting journalist wishing to gain a broad understanding of the current state of the steel industry. There are, of course, many others... and now there's one more.

Steel Times International is to run its own conference, but it's not going to tread on the hallowed ground of the aforementioned established events – perish the thought! Rather than focus on the broader issues tackled by many conferences – China springs to mind – we will focus upon technology, and not 'technology' in the wider sense of casting and rolling, but something known as Industry 4.0, or 'smart manufacturing' as they call it in the USA.

Industry 4.0 might sound like a software package you can pick up from a PC store (life's not that easy) but it's much more than that; in fact, it is best described as a philosophy embracing a variety of different aspects of digitalisation, which, when joined together, form a digital manufacturing platform that brings with it greater control and greater efficiencies. In short, we're talking about the fourth industrial revolution. Industry 4.0 is the next stage in the evolution of industrialisation.

How well the global steel industry has embraced the technologies behind Industry 4.0 depends a great deal on who you talk to; some say not enough, while others state that steel, more so than any other manufacturing sector, is well-positioned and clued up to make the most out of the elements involved (big data, the internet of things, cyber security and so on); it's all a matter of 'connectivity' – another important buzzword associated with Industry 4.0.

But there is a need for discussion and that's why we have decided to run the Future Steel Forum in Warsaw, Poland, 14-15 June 2017. I am developing the conference programme and I want to hear from anybody keen on presenting a paper.

Email me today for more details.

Matthew Moggridge

Editor, Steel Times International

September issue Contents