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April/May 2016
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Executive Hire News › Archives › April/May 2016 › Forum : Save our steel - save our mixers!

Forum : Save our steel - save our mixers!

The UK steel industry is in crisis and this is an issue that we care passionately about. So – be warned - you may read more raw emotion than reasoned argument in the following paragraphs as, for nearly 40 years, we have driven past the Port Talbot steel works and admired the massive site as a great example of British industrial production.

Not for much longer, possibly. Port Talbot and the other steel plants must be saved. In the event of closure, there would be enormous social and attendant economic costs. To the direct 15,000 jobs at risk must be added many times this in downstream industries. Whole communities, regions even, face disaster stretching through generations. Social costs are economic costs as well - we could be talking of billions of pounds spent on social benefits in the future throughout these areas.

Paul Ratcliffe, CEO of welfare accommodation units manufacturer, Groundhog UK Ltd - based in nearby Neath - agrees. “The impact
to the support industries locally would be huge. For example, our supplier of gas products is based at the Tata site, and it can supply gases competitively because the volume of gas directly supplied to Tata covers the bulk of its overheads. If this supplier was to lose the Tata work, our gas prices could escalate dramatically.”

Groundhog certainly does as much as it can to support the local Port Talbot steel works. “We consume approximately 120 tonnes of steel per month. Our aim, wherever possible, is to purchase materials and components locally in Wales. As far as steel sheet material is concerned, the bulk is currently supplied from the local Tata works, through a steel stockholder. However, we do have very sophisticated machines which laser cut, punch and profile our material which are extremely sensitive and require material to be of an extremely high tolerance in thickness, also having a high standard of finish and need to be perfectly flat. This material, although sourced and supplied to us by a British company, originates from Russia.”

Similarly, Altrad Belle, the UK’s leading manufacturer of light construction equipment, is a big consumer of British-produced steel. According to MD Ray Neilson, “the majority of our steel is produced by Tata in the UK and the balance is sourced from Europe.

“Our factory processes steel through laser cutting and automatic punching machines, tube benders, deep drawing presses and
press-brake bending machines. This steel is then robot, or manually, welded and shot blasted and protected using powder coating and then assembled into our extensive product range.

INDUSTRY STANDARD MIXER

“The Belle 150 Minimixer is the hire industry’s standard mixer, regarded for its high quality and low whole life cost. This mixer has steel specified from Tata’s Port Talbot facility. This plant is better than any other facility at maintaining the very tight and specific tolerances we demand. These tolerances enable the very hard-wearing steel to be deep drawn, thus producing our drum that will have a very long life.

“Obviously Altrad Belle has risk minimisation strategies in place, ensuring that we have other European steel facilities that can meet our various specifications so our business is not at risk. However, we would much prefer to purchase the steel from UK producers, and Port Talbot, in particular.”

So what has to be done? For a start, the Government must find ways to mitigate the disastrous impacts of its energy and carbon emissions policies. The immediate cause of this crisis is the glut of world steel caused by the downturn in China’s home demand, resulting in the expansion of cheap exports of steel. Hence this is a global crisis, faced just as much by US steel-makers. Urgent action must be taken to stop the dumping of this cheap Chinese steel.

Critics will, rightly, point out that UK steel production is out-dated and inefficient, and will only become more of a problem for a buyer if one is brave enough to step forward. We do accept that heavy manufacturing is never again going to be our industrial future.

Let us hope, for the sake of the humble cement mixer - such a fundamental item in every hire fleet throughout the UK - that something sustainable and worthwhile emerges from this crisis.


     
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