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Republic Steel troubles a tale of fire and ice

Keywords: Tags  Republic Steel, special bar quality, fire, severe weather, plant closures, electric-arc furnace, caster, rolling mill Ted Thielens

CHICAGO — Special bar quality bar producer Republic Steel Co. has had its share of woes stemming from fire and ice, sometimes at the same time, over the past three months.

Most recently, firefighters were called Jan. 7 to extinguish a blaze at Republic’s plant in Lorain, Ohio, which started when workers used space heaters to warm up pipes frozen by the Arctic blast that swept across much of the United States.

"That was really a weather-related issue. We tried to heat the pipes and the insulation caught fire," executive vice president Ted Thielens told AMM. "We lost power for a day because of a concern about mixing water and electricity," but that section of the mill complex returned to normal operations Jan. 9. "It was a minor fire with minimal damage and no injuries."

Because severe weather closed major roadways, Republic had to briefly shut down its Gary, Ind., and Lackawanna, N.Y., plants, Thielens said. "Even the railroads were down. We couldn’t ship by rail for a couple days." Both plants are open again and shipping product.

Back in Lorain, a fire erupted Nov. 30 at the new electric-arc furnace (EF) that was undergoing hot commissioning (, Dec. 2). "We had a problem with the oxygen system, which caused the fire," Thielens said. "We are repairing damage to the equipment and that work is progressing on schedule."

Republic anticipates restarting steelmaking operations there in February. "We will operate the furnace and billet caster then, and will start operation on the bloom caster in March," he said. Cast product will start rolling through the 20-inch bar mill in April.

Since the late-November outage, "it’s obviously been challenging to meet customer orders and we have had to adjust our schedules. We are two months behind where we thought we would be," Thielens said. "We are fortunate that most customers have been understanding. We have tried to meet all their steel requirements and look forward to the operations starting up that will make us more on-time and reliable."

The Canton, Ohio-based company broke ground on the Lorain EF in May 2012 and produced its first heat this past November.

The EF replaced a blast furnace that ceased operations in December 2008. Republic’s rolling mills have long been fed with semi-finished steel made at its Canton plant. The goal, said Thielens, "is to establish greater capacity." Combining the new Lorain EF with the Canton furnace operation, Republic has 2 million tons of annual hot metal production, which is "back to where we were when we had the blast furnace operation," Thielens said.

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