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Steel production ticks up as Region blast furnaces return to service
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Steel production ticks up as Region blast furnaces return to service

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Steel production ticks up as Region blast furnaces return to service

A worker walks through rows of ArcelorMittal coils in 2011 as they are loaded onto a ship bound for Macedonia from the Port of Indiana.

Great Lakes steel output ticked up last week after U.S. Steel and ArcelorMittal brought more blast furnaces that had been sidelined during the coronavirus pandemic back online.

But steel production remains depressed nationally.

Steel production has dropped by 20.1% for the year, while steel capacity utilization is down by more than 18 percentage points as compared to the same time last year, largely as a result of the coronavirus pandemic that greatly gutted demand for steel in the short term.

Great Lakes steel production rose by 9,000 tons last week, according to the American Iron and Steel Institute. Steel mills in the Great Lakes region, clustered mainly in Northwest Indiana, made 471,000 tons of metal, up from 462,000 tons the previous week, a 1.9% increase.

U.S. Steel brought Blast Furnace No. 8 at Gary Works back online a few weeks ago and ArcelorMittal started back up the No. 4 Blast Furnace at the Indiana Harbor steel mill in Indiana Harbor. ArcelorMittal also is working to repair Blast Furnace D at ArcelorMittal Burns Harbor after it exploded in an industrial accident last month.

Overall, domestic steel mills in the United States made 1.354 million tons of steel last week, up 2% from 1.328 million tons the previous week but down 26.5% as compared to 1.841 million tons the same time a year prior.

Steel demand started plummeting in mid-March when automakers like Ford, General Motors and Honda, some of the largest consumers of North American steel, temporarily ceased production to limit the spread of COVID-19, forcing Northwest Indiana steel mills to idle some operations and temporarily lay hundreds of workers off. But auto plants across the country have come back online and have been slowly increasing production volume, leading local steel mills to restart their blast furnaces and ramp back up.

So far this year, domestic steel mills in the United States have made 47.4 million tons of steel, a 20.1% decrease compared to the 59.3 million tons made during the same period in 2019. 

U.S. steel mills have run at a capacity utilization rate of 66% through Aug. 8, down from 80.7% at the same point in 2019, according to the American Iron and Steel Institute.

Steel capacity utilization nationwide was 60.4% last week, which was up from 59.3% the previous week but down from 79.1% at the same time a year ago.

Steel production in the southern region, a wide geographic swath that encompasses many mini-mills and rivals the Great Lakes region in output, was 538,000 tons in the week that ended Saturday, up from 515,000 tons the week before. Volume in the rest of the Midwest rose to 146,000 tons last week, up from 145,000 tons the week prior.

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Business Reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.

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