Life at Steelworks – Oxygen Steelplant by Alan Swinburne

The Oxygen Steelplant opened in 1964,replacing the Open Hearth Steel Plant which had been in operation since 1920’s.

Originally it operated with two 20 ton Kaldo Vessels and two 120 ton LD Vessels,becoming the first steel making plant in the world to operate Kaldo and LD processes simultaneously.

It was soon realised that the Kaldo was more expensive to operate and that all Consett steel could be made by the LD process so a another 120 ton LD vessel soon replaced one of the Kaldo vessels and in 1968 a 160 ton LD converter,the largest in the Uk,replaced the remaining Kaldo vessel. 

A typical heat of 153 average ingots tons of ordinary quality steel could be produced in 39 minutes, this would have consisted of a charge of approximately 120 tons of hot metal and 50 tons of scrap.   

Consett was renowned for its development of new “special” steels to meet demands of industry  especially for the nuclear power stations and produced the  shell plates for the first nuclear power station in Britain at Calder Hall,followed by plates for Chapel Cross and Bradwell,the Italians used the same steel in their nuclear plant in Latina.

This was just one of the many steels developed at Consett all of which included CON in their name i.e Simoncon,Loycon,Nicon.Conlo


 I spent several months of my training in the Steel Plant Laboratory.it was a two storey building with  spectrographic analysis carried downstairs and  a “wet” chemical analysis laboratory on the upper floor .It was manned on a shift system by 4 chemists.

Your training start in the “wet” laboratory and you progressed to assistant  chemist in spectrographic  lab .(See photograph 1965).

The spectrographic lab carried out full chemical analysis of solid metal  “bath” and “pit” samples from each cast and the upstairs lab carried out analysis of Blast Furnace metal and slags using wet analysis.

A bath sample was a sample taken before the furnace was tapped  to check the specification had been met and pit samples were taken during the teeming process to give the final analysis of the steel. 

You worked a shift system,initially this was seven shifts of either 6-2,2-10 or 10-6,this later changed to a 2-2-3 continental system with quick returns which involved finishing one shift and starting again 8 hours later.

When working seven of the same shift I once got up for 6-2 ,complained that my bait wasn’t ready ,to be told by my mother it was my day off,my body clock had got so used to getting up at 5 a.m.!!!.

Also when we worked  a quick return from finishing at 10 p.m. and staring back at 6 a.m. one of my colleagues brought a change of clothes to work,went to Bottos Night Club until 2.am. went back to work,slept in the lab and started work at 6 a.m

As we were staff we didn’t clock on but couldn’t go home until your “buddy” came in,if he didn’t turn in you had to stay until a day shift chemist could replace you or on nightshift or weekends sometime work a double shift. 

It was very close knit work force and not many out of the ordinary events happened but I remember on the occasion when we made the first cast of 9% Nickel steel in an Oxygen Converter there was a lot of interest and several senior management present to witness the anaylsis.

The nickel content had to be determined from metal drillings using wet analysis.We had obtained some special drills to drill the bath sample and told the sample preparer to carefully and slowly drill the sample

He tended to be heavy handed and broke every drill before we had the required amount of drillings.

So there was a slight panic,with a vessel full of high Nickel Steel waiting to be tapped,but one of the chemists saved the day by jumping in his car and going to the local D.I.Y shop and bought some tungsten tipped drills.

You’ve  got to smile when you think that the outcome  of an important and valuable cast of steel was saved by a trip to a D.I.Y shop – and yes we did hit the specification  first time!! 

If anyone worked or had a relative who worked in the Steelplant Lab in the early 1960’s I have set of photographs of some of the chemists and you are welcome to copy.       

Next stop is the Foundry

My beautiful picture
My beautiful picture
My beautiful picture

One thought on “Life at Steelworks – Oxygen Steelplant by Alan Swinburne”

  1. Alan I was up on the stage one day servicing the charger with a fitter when the vessel started to tip on its own accord, it appeared that the pipes going into were restricting it. The stage was vibrating & the dust was coming down from the roof . I can remember that this had happened previously when it discharged its load & completely burnt out a dumper & Cat dozer.

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