Men of Steel

18.07.11 | Text: Svitlana Kornienko Photos: Dmytro Alimkin

With the push of a button a man controls a huge steel furnace nearly 100 meters in height. He operates a ladle containing 300 tonnes of steel, pours the metal into a mould, lifts 10-t ingots with the hands of steel and sends them off to the rolling mill. The feeling of personal strength adds romance to this fiery profession

First, cast iron is derived from iron ore. Steelers call this the first round. Hot-rolled billets are considered the products of the second round of reprocessing. Cast iron gets into the blast furnace and made into steel. The smelting of steel goes on for hours. Over this time a steeler takes a sample from the furnace using a long metal ladle or dipper and sends it to the express laboratory workshop, where the content of carbon, manganese, flint, sulfur and phosphorus is established. Then, the steeler adds the missing substances to attain the necessary composite. Further on, the steel is poured into ingot castings and sent on for the third and fourth phases of production. Re-bar, rails, girders, sheets or plates and many other products are made in the cold-rolling workshops.

Smelting of billets can be compared to the preparation of dough in a bakery. You can make anything from dough: pies, sweet buns, pastries - whatever your heart desires. This could all be baked in a bakery, but the steel mill dont have the ovens needed to prepare cakes and pies so the mill limits itself to producing semi-finished products that are bought by weight. The Chinese buy Ukrainian secondary processed steel and do whatever they want or need.

New open-hearth furnaces have not been built anywhere in the world since the 1970s. The open-hearth furnace method has been practically replaced by the much more effective oxygen-converter method (nearly 63% of worldwide production) and electro smelting (more than 30%).

According to the National Federation of Metallurgists, one Ukrainian steelworker produces 150 tonnes of steel per year. At the mills of the Korean company Posco this figure is 1,100 t/year and at Nippon Steel 2,300 t/year.

The management of Ukrainians steel mills announced on several occasions their plans of switching to modern technologies, but when the financial crisis hit blast and open-hearth furnaces were completely snuffed out and even doused with water. Very much like the Soviet army did before surrendering so nothing would not be left to the damned enemy. Heat-resistant bricks of which the furnaces are made would not withstand the temperature drops

Today, things are slowly getting back to normal. The injection of billions in investments into the modernization of Ukrainian steel mills is in the plans of government investment projects. How could it be otherwise? This industry is a major contributor to the national budget revenues after all. Of course, with modernization of the sector the manual control of furnaces will become a thing of the past together with the romance of the profession of fire tamers. But nothing to be done here - everything has its price.

Photoreportage