A steely investment for Corus
When we last spoke to Corus Narrow Strip (CNS) back in 2006, the company’s focus on meeting special and demanding customer requirements was driving the business forward, and this is still the case today.
With an extensive product range and material properties that can be optimised to clients’ specific needs, CNS has successfully developed its offering to overcome almost any challenge in the hot rolled steel market.
The organisation’s flexible approach has recently been further enhanced through a very important investment into its manufacturing facility based in Rotherham. Richard Nicholls, commercial manager for CNS explains: “During 2007 we upgraded the automatic gauge control system in the finishing mill. This investment replaced the computer systems so that the mill can now react extremely quickly to changes in the material’s properties during rolling, delivering improved mill stability. As a result, this has enabled us to produce hot rolled strip in thinner gauges than we have previously been able to do. It has also allowed us to develop an improved tolerance on our gauges.”
He continues: “This investment has been one of the key factors driving our product development – we can now produce hot rolled material down to a gauge of around a millimetre in thickness. We believe the advantage of products with gauges of this thickness is most beneficial to specialist cold rollers, as we can now supply them with a feedstock, which is significantly thinner than they have traditionally been able to buy. In addition, cold rollers can now remove some rolling and annealing processes in their production route. This in turn helps them to reduce lead-times to their end customers.”
Richard adds: “We have been working on thinner gauge developments throughout 2007 and have undertaken an extensive trials programme to prove our capabilities. Through the investment in our control system and the hard work of our internal Development Team, we are now in a position to present this offering to the market. There has been growing interest from specialist cold rollers so it is a very exciting prospect for us in 2008 and into the future.”
CNS has a long-established reputation for providing precision strip products in the hot rolled condition that can be tailored to meet the specific needs of customers in many market sectors. The company’s range of steel grades from low carbon and free-cutting steels to high carbon, alloy and stainless steels, offers varying strength, formability, durability and hardness properties to suit the requirements of many applications. Furthermore, the organisation’s range of highquality strip steels is used to manufacture diverse components, such as seat-belt mechanisms, ice axes, industrial needles and plough blades. The steels are also used for cold rolling and in presswork, roll forming and engineering industries.
In addition to CNS’ typical steel production, the company also offers hire rolling of special alloy materials. With one of the most capable hot rolling mills in Europe, CNS has built up extensive experience in this area and has rolled over 100 different materials including copper, titanium, cobalt and nickel irons. Within this area, material producers send their special alloy slabs to CNS and the mill hot rolls, processes and dispatches them for further cold rolling. These materials are supplied to producers and specialist cold rollers for the aerospace, medical and electronics industries.
Richard comments: “Our hire rolling business has been continually growing since 2006 and during this time we have nearly doubled our sales in this area. Although it is still a relatively small proportion of our business, hire rolling is a very attractive segment for us as it uses high value products. The flexibility that our mill offers is perfect for supplying these types of materials on extremely short and competitive lead times.”
He continues: “We have been working very closely with our clients in this area and looking at the new grades, which they are developing. We are also looking to stretch the capabilities of what has been traditionally offered. Consequently, we are rolling very difficult grades, which are both wider and thinner. Our business development team will continue to work hand-in-hand with our customers to look at pushing these areas forward.”
Another area CNS is continuing to focus on is the implementation of lean manufacturing techniques. This strategy forms part of the ongoing improvement programme adopted by the Corus Group, called ‘the Corus Way’. This is based on the following principles: best supplier to the best customer; world-class processes; selective growth; passionate people; and a safe and sustainable environment. In addition, each site has its own Continuous Improvement Coach to facilitate the process.
Richard explains: “The continuous improvement culture we have here at Corus looks for opportunities to improve our processes. This is not just within the manufacturing units but also for the whole business including communication routes and workforce training. Many employees here at CNS are involved in projects such as improving workplace organisation, improving engineering standards and tackling complex manufacturing problems. As a result, we have raised the overall performance of the whole business.”
As part of the world-renowned Tata Steel Group, CNS has access to world-class research and development facilities. The business is also able to offer local customer support all over the world through the Group’s extensive international office network. Consequently, as an integral part of Corus Long Products Division, CNS is able to source its raw material, narrow slab, from its sister companies. “This gives us a secure supply chain, which we can easily control and communicate,” Richard comments. Ninety per cent of the material is sourced from Corus Construction and Industrial in Scunthorpe and ten per cent from Corus Engineering Steels in Rotherham.
With a stable position in the UK market, CNS is now looking to grow its sales in mainland Europe and in the US. Richard concludes: “In order to achieve this, we have to remain flexible and continue providing products and services, which other mills find difficult, such as our hire rolling business. In the future, we will continue to drive the business forward by constantly focusing on specialist customer requirements. Our mill had its 50th anniversary last year and it is developments such as our thinner gauge materials that prove we still have an extremely capable and powerful business.”
Corus Narrow Strip
Products: Precision strip steels
Sites: Rotherham, UK