The title of this long awaited book refers to the red hot strip snaking through the many stands of the wide hot strip mill, a technology first introduced in the USA in 1924 but not arriving in Europe until 1938.

It is taken from a poem by an anonymous author pinned on an office wall at Inland Steel’s Indiana Harbor 80” hot strip mill which opens with:

‘There is a Ribbon of Fire running around the World
It runs Day and Night
It runs out of the Past and into the Future…………..’

For the rest, you must get hold of a copy of this excellent book which is an elaboration of the Proceedings of a conference held ten years ago at the University of Manchester, UK and organised by the editors of the book, Jonathan Aylen, Senior Lecturer, Manchester Institute of Innovation Research, and Ruggero Ranieri, formerly of Manchester University and now Visiting Professor at the Universities of Padua and Perugia, Italy.

Divided into three parts, Part 1 reviews economic and technological developments in two papers by the editors showing how the wide hot strip mill evolved in the USA from narrow (max 3” wide) hot strip mills rolling ‘hoop’ in the 19th century, through wider (4”) mills rolling skelp to 7” wide mills rolling 100 ft (30.5m) lengths by 1890. Widths and lengths rolled slowly progressed – 24” wide and 500-1000 ft long (152-305m) – and then a breakthrough was made in 1923 by John Butler Tytus, an engineer at Armco. Armco had purchased the plant of the Ashland Iron & Mining Company of Kentucky which included a pilot hot strip mill. With a budget of just $10M, Tytus, with a band of 100 skilled workers all sworn to secrecy, travelled from Armco Middletown works to put this into operation. The task took nearly a further three years but in January 1924 the first 36” wide strip (914mm) was rolled in the multi stand mill down to a thickness of 0.065” (2mm). This was soon followed by an improved 36” mill at the Columbia Steel Co at Butler, Pennsylvania which soon was widened to 48” (1219mm). The main innovation of this mill was a four-high finishing stand using a small diameter work-roll supported by a larger back-up roll, this enabling greater reductions between passes. It was from this mill design that all future wide hot strip mills developed. The importance of producing wide strip was to meet the demands of the growing automobile industry which was calling for ever wider steel sheet for body panels.

The authors develop the related history with a short section on the cold strip mill and coating (tinplate and galvanising) but essentially the book addresses only the wide hot strip mill dividing these into five generations as the technology evolved.

The first pioneering wide HSMs to arrive in Europe were in Germany, USSR and UK in the late 1930s to early 1940s, but the more successful mills arrived after WWII. In Germany, the first HSM was installed by Vereinigte Stahlwerk at Dinslaken and started operations in August 1937. This was the first wide HSM in Europe. In the USSR, a mill was built at Zaporozhy, Ukraine in 1938 supplied by United Engineering of Pittsburgh. It is still in operation today, largely unaltered, and is Europe’s oldest continuous hot strip mill (Fig 1). A second mill was supplied to Russia in 1942 at Novosibirsk Metallurgical Plant in Siberia. In UK, two pre-war mills were installed in 1938 and 1939, respectively by Richard Thomas at Ebbw Vale in South Wales and the other by John Summers & Sons at Shotton, North Wales. With the exception of the Dinslaken mill, all these early mills were of American design and manufacture, the German mill being build by Demag of Germany, but the evidence suggests the finishing train to be largely of US design.

Part II of the book occupies the bulk of the pages and consists of case studies and developments of the wide HSM from the earliest days to 2000. The 13 papers are taken from the conference presentations with, sometimes, major additions and revisions. Papers describe mills in UK (Ebbw Vale and Shotton), the early mills of the USSR and Europe’s first mill at Dinslaken in Germany. Other mills described are post-war. The first mill in France came much later in 1951 at Denain in northern France, following the merger of the FADA and FANE companies to form Usinor. In 1953 a second mill was built by Sollac at Hayange, in the Lorraine district. In Italy, the first wide HSM was installed at Genoa by Cornigliano, and later a generation 2 mill at Terni in 1964.

These post-war mills proliferated with further mills in UK (Port Talbot 1951 and a generation 2 mill at Llanwern, Newport). Under the Marshall Aid European recovery plan, a mill was built in Austria (Linz 1953). Other mills were constructed in The Netherlands (IJmuiden 1952), Belgium (Liège 1950 and 1954) Luxembourg (1951) and not least in Germany (Duisberg 1955, Bremen 1958 and Dortmund 1942 and 1958). Section II concludes with a useful Appendix listing the so called First Generation mills including technical details.

Part III is devoted to plant suppliers, automation and users. The use of computers to control ferrous metallurgy was pioneered in UK from 1953 when a Ferranti computer at Manchester University was used by the British Iron & Steel Research Association (BISRA) for statistical analysis of blast furnace behaviour. In the USA, computer control of processes were first introduced in the 1960’s. By 1964, computer control was being used in many control situations including five hot strip mills in the USA, at Port Talbot and Llanwern in UK and Hoesch and Bochumer Verein in Germany.

While the book tends to focus on the earlier strip mills a useful Table divides installations into five generations starting with 1926 to 1958 with the earliest semi-continuous mills where initial reduction was carried out on a single reversing rougher stand rather than a train of synchronised stands as in a continuous mill. The evolution follows through to the Generation Five thin slab casting and rolling lines post 1988 such as SMS’s very successful Continuous Strip Processing (CSP) mills which use a tunnel furnace to buffer output between the thin slab caster and mill and ‘Endless Rolling’, to-date illustrated only by the Arvedi mill at Cremona where the speed of the caster is sufficiently high to enable direct rolling without the need to crop the thin slab as it exits the caster, a short induction heater ahead of the mill serving to equalise the as-cast temperature.

The book is 410 pages long, softback and includes extensive references, an Index of people involved in the development of the wide HSM, a glossary of steelmaking and rolling terms, and a list of definitions of acronyms.

A number of Tables summarise data, and while graphics are few and far between a selection of 21 archive photographs are presented on high gloss paper in the middle of the book.

‘Ribbon of Fire’ – How Europe adopted and developed US strip mill technology (1920-2000) edited by J Aylen & Ruggaro Ranieri Published by Pendragon ISBN 978-8865982389 Price €45.00


The wide hot strip mill at Zaporozhy, Ukraine was supplied by United Engineering of Pittsburgh in 1938 and is still in operation today making it Europe’s oldest continuous hot strip millThe wide hot strip mill at Zaporozhy, Ukraine was supplied by United Engineering of Pittsburgh in 1938 and is still in operation today making it Europe’s oldest continuous hot strip mill