Red hot strands of steel are once again emerging from a major section of Liberty Speciality Steels in South Yorkshire, as its new owners today [4th October] mark a key milestone in their programme to make the pivotal business viable again.
Liberty, part of the global GFG Alliance, will today officially re-activate the ‘small bloom’ caster at the Aldwarke works, Rotherham, more than 18 months after it was mothballed by previous owners during the steel crisis.
Re-commissioning this key piece of equipment, and an associated coiler at the neighbouring Thrybergh mill, has already created 64 new jobs with a further 150 to come over the next six months, as production from the revamped caster increases dramatically to provide more high-grade steel bar for automotive and engineering components in the UK and beyond.
Sanjeev Gupta, executive chairman of the GFG Alliance is visiting the plant today to congratulate engineers and operators whose work has brought the crucial caster back on stream. He is also expected to announce that the company is aiming to re-ignite Rotherham’s second electric arc furnace early in the New Year, restoring the site’s position as one of the UK’s leading producers of recycled steel.
Yorkshire MP, Angela Smith, who represents the nearby Stocksbridge constituency, will join Mr Gupta on a tour of the plant to meet some of the workers, including young apprentices who have joined the business recently as the Speciality Steels business starts to grow again for the first time in many years.
Liberty purchased the 1,700-worker Speciality Steels business from Tata Steel UK in May this year and began an initial £20m investment programme to boost output by repairing and upgrading mothballed machinery, adding new equipment and generating a total of 300 new jobs.
The business, which is an important supplier of steel for the global aerospace and oil & gas industries, includes major sites at Stocksbridge and Rotherham, as well as processing and service centres in Lancashire, the West Midlands and in China.
Liberty aims to deliver a brighter future for Speciality Steels workers by claiming a bigger share of the aerospace and energy markets and by meeting the growing demand for high-grade steels to make vehicle parts such as gearbox parts, suspension springs and hydraulic drives. British car makers are looking to buy an increasing proportion of their vehicle content from UK sources and this trend is expected to accelerate post-Brexit.
Speaking ahead of his visit to Rotherham today, Sanjeev Gupta said: “Speciality Steels is an operation of the highest international calibre with highly-skilled people. We’re investing to ensure this business can capitalise on growing opportunities and reclaim its leading position in the market.”
He said Speciality Steels was already benefiting from being part of the wider Liberty Group. For example, off-cuts from the engineering processes at Liberty’s automotive pressings plant in Coventry generate around 24,000 tonnes of high-grade steel scrap a year for melting at Rotherham. Some of this metal is eventually engineered into high-value auto-components at Liberty’s plants in the West Midlands and other parts of the country.
“This is an example of a sustainable circular economy that can grow and become resilient, thereby protecting jobs for the long-term,” Mr Gupta added.
Peter Hogg, chief operations officer for Liberty Speciality Steels said: “We plan to increase our production of steel bar threefold within a year by bringing this equipment back into use. I’m optimistic that we’ll achieve that. There is a great spirit of determination in the business and people are eager to change and move forward. We’ve still got a lot of work to do but re-commissioning the small bloom caster and the coiler is an important and very encouraging milestone for us.”
Angela Smith MP said: “The workers in Rotherham, Stocksbridge and elsewhere in the Speciality Steels business went through a period of great anxiety and uncertainty when the steel industry was in turmoil, but the re-commissioning of key pieces of equipment and the creation of new jobs is a clear sign that things are now heading in the right direction.”
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