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Technology in Australia 1788-1988Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering
Table of Contents

Chapter 12

I The First Half Century - The Initial Struggle

II The Second Fifty Years - The Start Of Expansion

III The Third Fifty Years - Federation And The First World War

IV The Fourth Period - Second World War To The Present
i General Conditions
ii Iron and Steel Production
iii Aluminium Technology
iv Innovative Copper Refining Process
v The EDIM-4WD Load-Haul-Dump Vehicle
vi Copper Rod Production
vii Copper Wire and Cables
viii The Diecasting Industry
ix Automotive Components
x Whitegoods or Consumer Durables
xi Hardware
xii Some Recent New Industries
xiii The National Measurement System
xiv Manufacturing Industry in this Decade
xv Acknowledgements



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Iron and Steel Production

Port Kembla

At Port Kembla in 1927, Cecil Hoskins was completing plans to close the iron and steel plant at Lithgow and open new works at Port Kembla. Capital was provided from British steelmaker Baldwins Ltd., mainly in the form of rolling mills, from Dorman Long and Company and from Howard Smith Limited. In 1928, the newly established business became a public company, Australian Iron & Steel Pty. Ltd. with about two million dollars cash for the works establishment. This was to consist of a blast furnace, open hearth steel furnaces, rolling mills to produce rails, structural steel, bars and sections together with ancillary units such as power and machine shops. The installation of a spun pipe manufacturing plant was also listed.

The blast furnace (No. 1) was commissioned in 1928. Based on an American design it was 47.5 metres high with a rate capacity of 800 tonnes/day and was perhaps the largest in the British Empire at that time. Its introduction also forced the closure of the two smaller furnaces at Lithgow.

The depression years followed, with a major reduction in demand, and processing was now complicated by a production schedule that required the blast furnace iron being sent from Port Kembla to Lithgow for processing to steel. The new open hearth (No. 1) shop at Port Kembla was not commissioned until the end of 1931 at which time the last of the rolling mills at Lithgow was closed. A 685 mm mill and later a 915 mm mill had by this time been installed at Port Kembla and finally the 250 mm mill from Lithgow was resited at Port Kembla.

It was a time of acute business difficulty; in 1929 pig iron was selling for $13 a tonne in Australia against the UK domestic price of $7 and Australian wages were also much higher than UK and Europe wages. A devaluation of the Australian currency helped to keep the steel works viable for a period, but the Company had been too under-capitalized from the start to survive and BHP acquired control in 1935. At this time the plant consisted of a blast furnace, three open-hearth furnaces, a bloom mill, and rail and structural mill, a merchant bar mill and a spun pipe plant together with a colliery, eighty coke ovens, and limestone and cement works. With the acquisition, a contract for the supply of iron ore to Port Kembla by BHP was cancelled and one introduced along the lines of contracts under which Newcastle works operated.

Early in 1937, a second blast furnace installation was begun and this was blown-in in 1938; steel making furnaces were increased in number to five by early 1939 and a continuous billet mill came into operation towards the end of the same year. At the outbreak of the Second World War the annual capacity was around 600,000 tonnes. During the war, a sixth open hearth furnace was constructed, with a seventh commissioned in 1943. An electric steel plant had been completed three years previously.

During the war, along with most other industries, the works diversified into items of military hardware, producing gun barrels on a substantial scale. It was in the immediate post-war period, however, that the important expansion decisions were made, decisions that were to result in the Port Kembla steelworks becoming, finally, the largest industrial plant in the country. The major decision was to produce flat rolled products at Port Kembla which, then, became the site for Australia's first hot strip mill, opened in 1955 by Prime Minister Menzies. An additional requirement for flat rolled strip production was an upgrading of the bloom mill which would be required to roll twelve tonne ingots into slabs as feed for the hot strip mill. A third blast furnace was commenced.

Organisations in Australian Science at Work - Australian Iron and Steel Pty Ltd (A.I.S.); Dorman Long and Company, Middlesborough, England; Howard Smith and Co. Ltd

People in Bright Sparcs - Hoskins, Cecil

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© 1988 Print Edition pages 878 - 879, Online Edition 2000
Published by Australian Science and Technology Heritage Centre, using the Web Academic Resource Publisher