BURNS HARBOR | ArcelorMittal USA President and CEO Michael Rippey believes a rebirth in manufacturing is under way in the United States.
And proof of that renaissance can be found in the company's $60 million investment to upgrade its 160-inch plate mill operation in Burns Harbor.
About 50 local business leaders and politicians along with ArcelorMittal executives, employees and customers attended Thursday's dedication of the new heat treat line and renovations at the facility.
Production launched on the new heat treat line in April and executives believe the upgrades help the company remain competitive in the industry and help the facility remain viable long-term, Rippey said.
John Mengel, chief operating officer of the ArcelorMittal USA Plate division, said company Chairman and CEO Lakshmi Mittal visited the facility two weeks ago and was impressed with the quality of the product following the upgrades, "which bodes well for the sustainability of the plant."
"We have an opportunity to really assume a leadership role in this product line," Mengel said. "That (helped justify) making the investment."
With the new heat treat line, company officials said the flow of material through the facility is improved and it takes less time to produce a higher quality product. The centerpiece of the project is the installation of a new leveler - which is better equipped to reduce stresses in the steel. Plate product also can be painted with a "fabrication friendly" primer.
The heat treatment process is important as a steel finishing application because customer specifications may need steel to have certain properties and the steel may be required to undergo temperature changes to modify its ductility or hardness.
It took nine months to build the line, which the company expects to supply products to the machinery, mining and construction industries and steel service centers. Nucor and SSAB are among the companies ArcelorMittal competes with in this product segment.
The plate mill was the first operation launched at the former Bethlehem Steel facility when it opened nearly five decades ago. United Steelworkers Local 6787 President Paul Gipson said the investment in the facility helps realize a goal the predecessor company didn't get to fulfill.
ArcelorMittal officials also praised employees for their efforts because while the construction launched July 1 in Burns Harbor, they were transferred to work at the company's Gary plate production plant to maintain service to customers.
There are three types of plate products the company can produce at the facility – normalized, quench along with quench and tempered. The highest value items are the quench and tempered plate products, which are heated to 1,650 degrees, rapidly cooled with water and then reheated to between 800 and 1,250 degrees to meet certain high-strength applications.
The company's four plate facilities can now produce more than 2 million tons of plate annually, Mengel said.
Indiana State Rep. Ed Soliday said Thursday he laughs when he hears people say American manufacturing is dead.
"It's not dead, we just do it better every day," said Soliday, R-Valparaiso, standing in front of a hulking machine at the plate mill.