The contract, scheduled to take place this month, involves the demolition and installation of refractories to one iron taphole; repairs to the bustle pipe, hot blast main and stove-hot blast main connection; replacement of back-draught stack refractories and a complete ring of refractories to the Nippon Steel Corporation (NSC)-designed stave coolers. According to group sales director Trevor Dickinson, the project will take place this month during a shutdown phase, and some 70 to 80 people will be on site for the duration of the project.
“One of the significant aspects while undertaking projects at Iscor during a shutdown is that, for each day the furnace is inoperative, it costs the company significant sums of money.
“This is especially true at Iscor Vanderbijlpark, as there are only two blast furnaces at the plant: the C and D furnaces.
“Moreover, the D blast furnace has a larger output than the C furnace and, therefore, the repair work has to be completed as fast as possible,” Dickinson tells Engineering News.
He adds that state-of-art robotic equipment will be used to break the refractory materials on the project.
These electrically-powered remote-controlled machines are versatile, light in weight and have a high power-to-weight efficiency, enabling the operator to work unhindered at a safe distance in hazardous operations.
This project follows a contract to repair the C blast furnace at the plant in March this year.
The contract was undertaken in conjunction with Steinmuller, and involved the replacement of the throat armour steelwork and refractories, also based on NCS technology. The project started with the salamander tap by Iscor, and the Dickinson Group levelling-off the remaining burden with slag sand and the installation of a concrete slab to seal the slag sand. Steinmuller then installed a collapsible platform and removed the old throat armour plates, followed by the Dickinson Group demolishing the old refractories.
Steinmuller then reinstalled the new support system for the throat armour and the Dickinson Group installed the refractories. Dickinson notes that the C blast furnace repair was carried out on a turnaround basis over 16 days. The company has been active at a number of steel plants in the last few years, including Saldanha Steel, Highveld Steel and Columbus Stainless Steel, as well as Iscor Vanderbijlpark and Pretoria.
In terms of the company, Dickinson says that business has slowed down, with the order book lacking large orders that were present in last year’s order book. “We participated in several large projects last year, especially in the aluminium and platinum industries, with work being done at companies such as Lonmin and Anglo Platinum.
“One of the factors that have had a negative influence on the execution of large projects in the metal industry is the strong rand, coupled with an increase of more than 30% in the steel price in the last 18 months.
“Consequently, many large mining and infrastructural projects have been put on hold as they have become uneconomic,” Dickinson explains.
As a result, the company is pursuing projects abroad, especially in metallurgical and industrialised African counties and the Middle East. The company has undertaken projects in Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Mozambique, Zambia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, Niger, Senegal, Israel and Dubai in the past.
Of particular interest to Dickinson are projects in the aluminium industry, due to the experience gained at the Hillside and Mozal aluminium projects.
“One of the challenges of pursuing projects in certain African countries is the risk associated with logistics in areas where infrastructural development is lacking.
“Moreover, we believe that the strong rand is not sustainable, and that it will depreciate in the next 12 to 18 months.
“Once this occurs, the state of the metals industry will change considerably, as many of the projects that have been put on hold, will be executed,” Dickinson explains.
Another challenge for the com-pany is black economic empower-ment (BEE), even though one of its business units is operated by a BEE firm. “The company has been family-owned since 1910, which creates difficulty for us in parting with sections of it.
“However, we are aware that it is imperative and have, therefore, embarked on a strategy to increase BEE shareholding in the company.
“This strategy involves enabling employees to become equity partners, as we believe that it will provide reciprocal value.
“We are currently investigating this strategy, which is strategically beneficial to the Dickinson Group,” says Dickinson.
Looking ahead, he notes that the company will be pursuing larger mechanical and refractory projects, and that it would like to participate in more turnkey projects.
It is also focusing on expanding its aluminium ability, especially with its alliances with leading turnkey mechanical and refractory companies – Metallurgie Brasco, of Canada, and Lizmontagens, of Portugal – called DBL Aluminium Services – which was established in 2001.
This alliance simplifies the Dickinson Group’s ability to engage in projects abroad, allowing it to participate in an aluminium project in Dubai.
Moreover, DBL Aluminium has earmarked possible aluminium projects in Iceland, Russia and Norway in the future.
“We are confident about the future, and are currently submitting proposals for many projects,” Dickinson concludes.
The Dickinson Group was involved in the construction of Iscor Pretoria’s first blast furnace in 1982, and has, in the last 30 years, carried out more than 50 significant initial construction and rebuild blast furnace and combustion stove projects for Iscor’s steel plants.
The company supplies products and renders services to the aluminium, cement and lime, ferroalloys, paper and pulp, petrochemical and chemical and power generation industries, among others.