Isaiah A. McCray Jones – 2022 Steel Intern Scholar
How does a mill run as safely, efficiently and profitable as possible? While my intentions of accepting this internship was not to find out that exact thing, it was one of the many things I learned over the twelve weeks of my internship.
All good management has two foundational pillars: clear communication and good managers. The rolling mill side of SSAB Iowa has nearly perfectly “built” these two pillars with one singular practice: daily morning meetings. The meetings between members of each department with the rolling mill superintendent are used to share important information, safety warnings and noticeable events. While these pillars: clear communication and good management, allow for the foundation of a successful mill, they are not the only things necessary for one.
SSAB Iowa has a robust quality assurance department that I was part of. The quality assurance (QA) at SSAB Iowa starts from nearly the moment the steel is molten with chemistry checks to ensure the steel we are making from recycled scrap conforms to chemistry specifications. Once the continuously cast strand of molten steel has solidified, QA will sometimes select slabs for metallographic etching to analyze their internal slab quality. The primary aspect of internal slab quality is the centerline, a collection of not-steel particles that instead a properly dispersing throughout the solution have instead collected. The more well defined a centerline is the worse it is. These macroscopic samples (macros) are ground, etched, photographed and rated by me. These results were sent throughout the department and beyond, allowing everyone to see how well our product was casting into the molds. But arguably the most important part of QA happened in the next room over from where I did the macros.
Then we took the samples precisely cut to the ASTM’s standards and broke them for constructive purposes. We measure impact strength and yield strength with Charpy V-Notch test and standard tensile tests, respectively. We filled a container made from HARDOX© steel, a SSAB specialty steel, the size of dumpster you might find behind a restaurant of broken steel samples several times a week. We had a cabinet full of a month worth of broken charpy impact samples just in case we needed to analyze the samples of failing tests using an optical microscope. We had chillers to test the charpy impact tests at the myriad of order specified temperatures and a furnace to allow for simulated heat treatments. The quality of our products was assured; it only cost its weight in broken steel.
Excellent products and good managements are important, but without good workers to follow the good management or to perform their jobs well enough to make such excellent products, the mill would not be what it is. Management maintains the workers’ wellbeing through a variety of means from third party safety trainings and visual safety displays throughout the mill to monthly meetings. The sub department meetings allow individual employees to air grievances and other problems, while the managers can address any small problems before they grow larger and remind them of necessary safety procedures at the same place and time. Both things help any remaining negativity from spreading and affecting the work of other employees. Many might overlook the importance of a positive work culture and uninjured employees, but a culture that prevents resentment, allows the employee to feel safe to admit and seek help with their mistakes, and keeps employees in a condition fit for working is one that will find their workflow moving efficiently and quickly as seen at this site.
Internships are funny things. You plan on learning one thing and learn another. I did not plan on learning what I learned, but when you are in the thick of things, how can you not?