COLUMN: South Yorkshire’s steel industry could still have a bright future

Steel making.
Steel making.
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By Bob Rae, communications manager at the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre

The future of Britain’s steel industry has been front and centre stage in recent weeks.

There is little doubt that retaining an indigenous steel producing capability is strategically important to the UK’s economic and physical security and the sector is a key supplier to the majority of our industries, which rely on a secure supply of raw material.

Investment and innovation are two key ingredients in any industry’s success and no one could accuse the UK steel industry of failing to do either, which bolsters the case for support when the industry is assailed by external forces that are beyond its control.

While focusing on the problems of bulk steel production, we shouldn’t neglect the opportunities that exist for steel and other metals at a time when the UK automotive industry’s output has been at its highest for a decade and its aerospace sector has just produced the wings for a record 636 Airbus aircraft. The successes of the automotive and aerospace industries are important for the speciality steels sector.

Investment and innovation by AMRC Castings, on the Advanced Manufacturing Park, has also been opening up opportunities in the castings sector. Recent developments of its Replicast® technology have improved the performance of critical pumping equipment, while also helping to reduce manufacturing costs.

Pumps find their way into a wide range of products and AMRC Castings’ developments will particularly benefit applications where performance is important, maintenance is challenging and halting operations to carry out repairs involves serious expense. The new castings facility is being used for innovative research and development projects in collaboration with industrial partners to develop new and improved castings techniques.

Meanwhile, the most recent investment at AMRC Castings will create opportunities to reduce the time it takes to produce large scale, accurate castings.

The investment significantly increases the size of replica patterns machined from polystyrene by CNC technology and used in the Replicast® process to make ceramic moulds, into which metal is poured to create finished castings.

The machine is already demonstrating its worth in trials to replace an expensive and complex safety critical fabrication with a lower cost, one piece casting. It will come into its own when the biggest furnace for casting Titanium aerospace components in Western Europe is installed at AMRC Castings.

The furnace and other investment is intended to enable UK companies to break into global markets for large-scale titanium aerospace engine and structural components weighing up to 500kg, currently exclusively dominated by the United States. Keeping the UK at the forefront of technology and innovation and ensuring it maintains the capability to supply its manufacturing industries with essential materials is crucial for the future.