The Wuhan Iron & Steel Group (WISCO) has commissioned General Electric's power conversion arm to support, design, supply and commission electrical and automation equipment for the steelmaker's continuous annealing line at Fangchenggang in Guangxi Province, China.

The system to be employed by WISCO includes level 1 and 2 automation, low voltage equipment and instrumentation for the continuous annealing line. The latter will produce high quality mild steel and high strength steel strips with thicknesses between 0.4mm to 2.5mm and widths between 1,000mm and 1880mm.

"To achieve a continuous annealing process, very fine controls are needed over the electrical systems that accurately anneal the cold-rolled steel strips and prepare them for the next process. GE’s technology is able to deliver the level of precision required thanks to the power of its variable speeddrives and the sophistication of its electrical and automation systems," GE explained.

According to GE, its LV7000 low-voltage drive guarantees a steady state speed error of less than 0.01% (with encoder) and reduces power requirements by more than 50% compared to traditional mechanical drives.

Production is due to commence at Fangchenggang early in 2016 with a capacity of 900kt per annum. The plant’s core product is planned to be high-quality steel strips for the high-end Chinese car industry, some of which are currently imported as other Chinese plants lack the technical capability required to manufacture them.

Fangchenggang is located on China’s South Coast and is claimed to be strategically placed to expand WISCO’s sales in southern and western China and Southeast Asia. The coastal location also means that global iron ore imports can be processed as soon as they reach Chinese soil, avoiding a lengthy journey to Wuhan in Central China where WISCO’s existing steel plants are based.

Wangming Hu, WISCO's deputy general manager, said: “To become a world-class enterprise, WISCO cannot be separated from co-operation with world-class companies." He said that GE's technology and performance had given WISCO great confidence."

Anthony Lyons, global metals and mining business leader for GE’s Power Conversion business, said that WISCO is seeing strong market opportunities for high-quality steel products in Southern China and Southeast Asia and that GE's power conversion business was best placed to provide technical excellence and support to make the plant a success. "Our technologies will minimise risk and production downtime and deliver unparalleled efficiency to support WISCO’s market-leading ambitions," he added.

The Chinese automotive market has seen phenomenal growth and is set to nearly double by 2019. Auto sales in China are expected to reach 27.7 million units by 2019, compared with15.8 million in 2012. Domestic market share of Chinese brands, however, stands at only 42% with consumers reportedly preferring imports according to the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers (CAAM).

Perceptions around product quality are cited as key issues for Chinese automotive manufacturers, something that the industry is working to address with high-quality steel panels being a significant example.