LONDON: Tata Steel on Tuesday marked a new start at one of the UK's largest steelworks at Port Talbot in Wales with the relaunch of a blast furnace at a cost of "tens of millions of pounds".
The life extension project of Blast Furnace 5, described by the Indian steel giant as the "biggest single investment" in its European operations in over five years, is seen as a critical part of its long-term strategy to strengthen its operations in the UK.
"This project demonstrates our commitment to building a stronger and more sustainable steelmaking business in the UK, now and in the future," said Hans Fischer, Chief Executive of Tata Steel's European operations.
In reference to the impact of Brexit on the company's operations, he said that Tata Steel would hope for a last-minute deal that does not result in a hard Brexit.
Fischer noted, "When you look to our production, more than 70 percent stays in the UK. So directly the impact of Brexit is maybe not that big. But if our customers are impacted very heavily then that immediately leads to a disturbance in the supply chain and that immediately leads to disturbances in our productions as well. In the short term that's what I'm really worried about".
Tuesday's furnace restart, attended by Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford, is expected to extend the operational life of one of two blast furnaces at the plant. Tata Steel said engineers drained the giant furnace last year in order to carry out vital engineering work, extending its life by five to seven years.
Following the relighting of the furnace, the first iron has now been produced and turned into a finished steel product before being delivered to a manufacturing business in the UK.
Once the heart of the furnace, which is normally more than 1,200 degrees Celsius, cooled in 2018, skilled engineers replaced part of the heat resistant interior and vital structural parts. "The waste gas and dust extraction system was also replaced. The final part of the process involved the hot blast main being opened, injecting air at 1,100 degrees Celsius, bringing the furnace roaring back to life," said Tata Steel in a statement.
This project had been announced in June 2018, alongside the announcement of definitive agreements being signed by Germany's ThyssenKrupp and Tata Steel to form a joint venture of their European steel businesses.
Tata Steel is one of Europe's leading steel producers, with steelmaking in the Netherlands and the UK and manufacturing plants across Europe. The company claims to supply "high-quality" steel products across different markets such as construction and infrastructure, automotive, packaging and engineering.