Hall of Fame Class of 2012

Irving Rossi

Irving Rossi worked as an investment banker and an engineer, but he’s best remembered for bringing continuous casting to the American steel industry. His efforts, which built on the work done by John B. Tytus at American Rolling Mill Co. (later known as Armco) in the 1920s to perfect automatic rolling mills, made the nation’s steel industry among the world’s most productive.

A 1909 graduate of the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, New York, Rossi spent much of the interwar years as a representative for an investment banking house in Germany and Poland. He first considered the potential that continuous casting held for the steel industry in 1936, when he met German metallurgist Siegfried Junghans. Systems for continuous casting dated as far back as the 1890s, but because of the tremendous pressures and heat involved the process was uncommon until the 1930s, and even then it was only used for nonferrous metals.

Junghans invented a reciprocating mold that prevented the solidifying molten metal from sticking to the mold and creating costly breakouts of liquid metal. The German metallurgist patented the discovery in 1933 and began independent research efforts into continuous casting of steel in 1935. When Rossi met with Junghans a year later, he immediately recognized the huge potential of his work and acquired exclusive rights for Junghans’ patents in the United States and England. In return, Rossi agreed to finance commercialization of the process outside Germany.

Less than three years later, Germany and England were at war, and Rossi was unable to exploit Junghans’ ideas. But in 1949, Rossi convinced Allegheny Ludlum Steel to use the technique for casting steel at its Watervliet (N.Y.) Works. Meanwhile, Junghans continued innovating in postwar Germany, helping Mannesmann AG to set up a continuous caster in 1950 at the Huckingen Works in West Germany.

In the mid-1950s, Rossi and his partner, Heinrich Tanner, co-founded Concast AG in Zurich, Switzerland, and Concast Inc. in the United States to develop continuous casting in the steel industry. Rossi engineered his companies to franchise comprehensive licensing with both steel companies and steel equipment manufacturers. The result was a system in which Concast benefited from new knowledge and patents arising from the operation of the continuous casting plants, as well as a powerful tool for marketing the technique worldwide.

Throughout the 1960s, continuous casting made slow inroads in the U.S. steel industry, which was still committed to casting ingots, billets and blooms. Specialty steel mills were the first to introduce continuous casting. Canadian steelmaker Premier Steel commissioned a Rossi-Koppers continuous billet caster at its Alberta mill in 1959 to meet the growing demand for pipe and tube from the province’s petroleum industry. High-grade carbon steel manufacturers, however, had to work out a number of technical problems with continuous casting, including the production of poor-quality steel riddled with oxygen blowholes.

The introduction of continuous slab casting in the late 1960s had the potential to transform the production of steel, but American producers were slow to adopt the technology, partly because of the substantial investment involved and partly because the technology cut across the jurisdiction of departments within mills and left slab casting without grassroots sponsors within companies.
As a result, the U.S. had only 45 production-scale casters in operation in 1971, fewer than one-third of which were at integrated company mills, and only four were slab casters for carbon steel. In contrast, Japan operated more than 100 continuous casters in 1975.

But the savings and efficiencies involved in continuous casting convinced most in the industry that slab casting and continuous casting was far superior to the old methods of ingot, billet and bloom casting. Continuous casting was a much faster process—taking one hour as opposed to one to two days previously—and metal yields were close to 99 percent. As steel mill executives examined energy and labor savings of 50 to 75 percent with continuous casting, the technology rapidly became the standard for the steel industry.

Concast captured as much as 60 percent of the world’s continuous casting business during the 1970s and 1980s. The company built the first caster installed at Ken Iverson’s flagship Nucor Corp. mill in Darlington, S.C., as well as at Willy Korf’s Georgetown Steel in Georgetown, S.C., laying the foundation for the creation of the modern mini-mill industry.

Between 1975 and 2000, continuous casting penetration in the United States and worldwide increased to between 90 and 95 percent of production from 10 percent. Rossi’s introduction of the continuous caster in the 1950s and 1960s led inevitably to the introduction of the compact strip production facility, or thin slab caster, which would further revolutionize the production of sheet steel.

The problem, as one author described it, was that the Junghans-Rossi technique for continuous casting produced a slab “as thick and wide as a queen-size bed mattress and about as long as a driveway.” The thin slab casters developed in the 1980s produced a slab about 1.5 inches thick. Most of those thin slab casters were installed by the German firm SMS Siemag, whose predecessor, Schloemann, had acquired Concast in 1970.

Irving Rossi, who was 72 years old when he sold Concast, found it impossible to retire. In 1972, he started Irving Rossi & Co., an investment banking firm that Rossi ran until he was in his mid-80s. In 1990, Rossi’s contribution to steelmaking was recognized by the Association of Iron and Steel Engineers, a predecessor to the Association of Iron and Steel Technology, which honored the centenarian with the first Tadeusz Sendzimir Memorial Medal for Excellence in Steel. He died of heart failure at his home in Harding Township, N.J., in 1991 at the age of 101. 

Luigi Danieli
Thomas C. Graham
William Hogan
John B. Tytus