Design Matters: A Tale of Two Steel Mills




When’s the last time you really thought about the planning that went into designing your workspace? It seems like most people think that their desks and computers magically appeared in the office one day. Actually, someone thought about everything from the ergonomics of our desk chairs to how the office carpeting would withstand a fire.

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And rightly so, because when workspaces aren’t designed well, the consequences can be deadly. One extreme example took place at the Qinghe Special Steel Corporation in Tieling, China in 2007.

Aftermath of accident.

What happened at Qinghe?

Qinghe steel had been in operation for 30 years. It employed 650 workers. The factory produced 70,000 metric tons of steel in 2006, and hoped to increase 2007 production by 70%.

On the morning of April 18, a ladle full of molten steel was on an overhead rail, moving from the blast furnace to a pouring table. Suddenly, the ladle broke off the rail. Thirty tons of 1500°C steel fell from six feet above the workers on the floor.

Six people on the factory floor suffered severe burns. That would have been the worst of it, had the molten steel not hit a flatbed truck that was next to where the ladle fell. The truck then deflected the molten steel into a workroom just a few feet away.

More than 30 factory workers were trapped and died.

The main cause of the Qinghe disaster was the mechanical failure of the overhead rail, causing the ladle to fall. But, many lives could have been saved, and terrible injuries could have been prevented, with just a few safety measures. Among those measures? A workspace design that kept passages clear of problem objects, like that flatbed.

A workspace that works.

Accidents, like what happened at Qinghe, are ominous reminders to the people who engineer factories and mills today that even the smallest oversight can cost lives.

Who are those people? Meet SMS Siemag, a global player in the plant construction industry. Whether it’s an integrated solution for making iron, hot or cold steel rolling, or furnace technology— for decades SMS Siemag has been putting together the machinery and mills companies use to process metals.

Here’s an example. The video below shows a hot strip steel mill designed by SMS Siemag for the Turkish company Çolakoğlu.

In the video, you see the roughing stand (the first round of rolls the metal squeezes through during the production process), compact coil boxes (a step where the hot metal is rolled up and slowed down before finishing), cooling systems, and a number of other technologies that make up a steel plant. What it doesn’t show is the sophisticated effort that goes into fitting all those pieces together.

No matter the industry, most engineers worry about parts bumping into each other, lubricants having enough space to flow through the system, etc. But in factory design, engineers also have to think about obstructions blocking crane tracks and escape routes. As illustrated in the Qinghe disaster, anticipating and planning for failure is crucial.

Among the tools SMS uses to validate its plant designs is PTC Creo View MCAD with the extension PTC Creo View MCAD Interference Analysis. The extension finds parts that will physically interfere, touch each other, or just don’t provide enough clearance.

Using PTC software, SMS Siemag then prepares digital mockups that can be used by engineering, manufacturing, and even support throughout the lifecycle of the plant. Plus, the virtual model can then go on to help train customer maintenance teams.

Ralf Kiedrowski, head of the CAD department at SMS Siemag, says that with PTC software, “We shorten our process time and enhance the quality of our plants and the satisfaction of our customers.”

And it’s safer, too. All of the molten steel in that video went exactly where it was supposed to--without endangering anyone’s safety.

[Ed. Read about more companies successfully overcoming design challenges in our case studies here. And stay up-to-date with PTC Creo, PTC Mathcad, and PTC Windchill product news by subscribing to our eNewsletter  PTC Express.]