Australian’s first attempt at steel fabrication was around the mid 1800’s with no real success due to lack of experience and inferior materials such as iron ore. Later in the 1800’s all attempts of manufacturing ceased and importing from overseas was an impractical option due to high costs and lack of work experience in modifications.
William Sandford made Australia’s first heat of steel at the Eskbank ironworks in Lithgow, NSW, in 1900. The Hoskins Family acquired this plant in 1907. By 1919, Hoskins had become dependent on the Port Kembla district for its coal requirements. These and other factors convinced Hoskins of the advantages of a tidewater site and, in 1921, land was acquired for the Steelworks at Port Kembla.
THE RISE OF STEEL MANUFACTURING
From this point onward steel manufacturing started to excel in Australia due to the minerals coal and iron ore mined from South Australia. However the steel industry was to receive another setback and with the onset of the depression in the 1930s, Australian Iron and Steel Ltd (AIS) (which had been publicly floated) experienced financial difficulties. Nevertheless, steelmaking began at Port Kembla in 1931, after which operations at Lithgow ceased. Despite the depression by the late 1930’s, Australia had four modern blast furnaces that were used solely for steel manufacturing. Steel fabrication in Australia was making its mark and local industry boomed in response to these advancements.
Post World War II the steel fabrication industry became one of Australia’s leading industries due to its demand from the domestic, agricultural, construction and residential sectors. From steel piping to transport elements such as gas to increased productivity across the agricultural sector as well as development of residential dwellings and city infrastructure, steel had a become a vital component in the growth of Australia.
In 1962, electrolytic tinning began and the wide plate mill was commissioned the following year. In 1972, the basic oxygen steelmaking (BOS) shop came into service, as did the fifth modern blast furnace. The first continuous slab casting plant was commissioned in 1978 and a third vessel was installed in the BOS shop in 1983. The second continuous slab casting plant was commissioned in 1986 and the sixth modern blast furnace was commissioned 10 years later in May 1996.
The John Lysaght (Australia) Limited, Springhill and CRM Works were acquired by BHP in 1979. Lysaght was originally an English company, and had been the principal supplier of sheet steel products to the Australian market from the late nineteenth century, under its famous ORB trademark.
CHALLENGES AND INNOVATION
During the 1980’s Australia endured through poor economic climate, this was to also impact the steel fabrication industry. Over production and lack of demand meant closure for many steel providers. With new global innovative technologies and products on the horizon, Australia manufacturers knew that they also needed to adapt to world standards to maintain their market position.
Today, Australian Steel Fabricators are recognised in the global market as world class. With stringent national quality procedures and environmental standards, Australian steel products can be compared to the best in the world.
The Steel Industry has become highly competitive, with an influx of overseas high volume low cost manufacturers. However with continuous improvement and keeping abreast of changes within the industry, Australian steel fabricators will continue to keep their highly regarded place amongst the worlds best manufacturers.
(Acknowledgement of Source, Australia’s Industry World for facts and figures)
Kurilpa Bridge – Brisbane