For those who don’t know me, I started with the company in September 2017. I’m currently based in Scunthorpe, but working within the Special Profiles Commercial team, so often find myself up and down the A1, hot-desking in Skinningrove. On the first week of the mill shutdown, I was sat in the offices minding my own spreadsheets, when I was asked if I’d like to join a tour of our furnaces, errrrr, yes please! (Excel blur had just begun to set in).
After receiving a brief on shutdown health and safety and completing a group ‘4 Whats’ risk assessment, we headed out. The mill was unusually quiet, bright, and crawling with teams of engineers – a completely different experience to when it is rolling.
Starting with the Inter-furnace, we signed onto the confined space register, padlocked our Danger Boards and headed for the charge entrance. It took me a few seconds to realise we were walking down the roller tables – I’ve never felt so small (no short jokes please).
The doors had been removed for shutdown so, taking a torch with us, we dropped to our knees and began to crawl along the refractory, until we could sit up in the body of the furnace. Alongside me was my colleague Amy. We both had little technical experience before starting our roles, so were obviously wowed by the experience already. It was probably top of the list of weird and wonderful places we’ve seen.
Amy and I are both office based, so we found it an invaluable opportunity to go out on site and mix with engineers/technical managers to learn first-hand about the plant we hear so much about, day in day out.
The Inter-furnace is a walking hearth furnace and it was amazing to see, what would be, moving parts in a hostile environment. The furnace is heated using huge gas burners, at maximum temperatures ranging from 1000-1250 degrees. It took 4 days for the shutdown team to cool the furnace, and purge it to make it safe to enter, ready for the refractory replacement.
Sat there in the dark, seeing the light at either end, made me feel like I was in the beating heart of the mill, waiting to be pumped out around the maze of roller tables, through all the stands and passes.
After the Inter-furnace we explored the Bloom furnace, which was thankfully easier to climb into! It operates using a pusher system, one in, one out, so can never be empty. It was huge - I could quite comfortably set up residency in there! The size of it allows the heat to circulate from the burners at the bottom to the material being pushed along rails at the top, whilse ensuring the blooms avoid being licked by the fiery flames below. At 900 degrees, the gas is self-igniting, so it’s important the furnace doesn’t drop below this temperature.
All in all, it was an amazing, eye-opening trip, and both myself and Amy would highly encourage others to get out on site as much as possible, and soak up the knowledge. Taking an interest in other departments/areas of work can really lead to better collaboration and especially helps when you’re returning to an office environment, to be able to visualise and understand your work. For example, one of my weekly tasks is to report in the Sales and Operating Planning meetings - I can now talk more confidently around the mill performance updates, having a clearer understanding of the vast processes.
To sum up, in the words of Irena Cara, ‘what a feeling.’ The weekend after the tour I quite fittingly went to see Flashdance (set in a steelworks) at the Theatre, and this song clicked with my recent mill experience. We might not be dancing in brighty-coloured leg warmers, but donning a set of flashy reflective PPE, getting out there, and working together to the beat of the furnaces heart, we can ‘take our passion, and make it happen.’