The plant that has improved performance in terms of both production and safety was started up in October 1992
“Not many of us we’re convinced. Because we couldn’t imagine seeing a coil coming out of a machine as the finished product without anyone having to literally “handle” it.” Exactly 25 years have gone by and Andrea Pestarino, shift foreman at the Pickling and Rolling plant, remembers that period well. It was October 1992 when the Pickling and Rolling plant was first started up in the Novi Ligure facility. “I’d been working at ILVA scarcely a year. When the Pickling and Rolling plant entered service, I was a recorder, working at a station close to where the coils came out and, after inspection, are bound and labelled. I’ve been shift foreman since 2005.”
“Not many of us we’re convinced. Because we couldn’t imagine seeing a coil coming out of a machine
as the finished product without anyone having to literally “handle” it.”
The Novi Ligure Pickling and Rolling plant was designed to make steel for the car industry, the sector with the highest value added. The manager of the plant, Roberto Ravera, tells us about it: “Our Pickling and Rolling plant enables us to process coils up to 1,840 mm wide, which is the biggest size that can be produced. This enables us to get the most out of our plants”. During the start up of a new plant, small glitches may occur – it’s normal – but no one was surprised that day. “We weren’t able to get the coil to the necessary thickness. Then, thanks to our rolling mill colleagues, who’d been working the product manually for years, we managed to solve the problem and start continuous cycle processing. Where technology stops short, it’s expert artisans who make up the gap, and this is a fine example of how technology and innovation can work alongside human experience.”
“Our Pickling and Rolling plant enables us to process coils up to 1,840 mm wide,
which is the biggest size that can be produced."
When everything started working properly, the operatives were amazed, overjoyed in fact. “There was a lot of scepticism amongst the older colleagues. According to them, the sheet couldn’t move upwards and then turn and enter a second reel. Few believed it was possible, but when for the first time we saw the machine cutting the sheet and working automatically, we were all amazed.”
In the window of an office opposite the Pickling and Rolling plant we see a big white sheet on which “The Big One” is written in block capitals alternating the colours of the Italian flag. Under this, a date - 26 March, 2012 – and “Daily Production Record”. On that day, the Novi Ligure Pickling and Rolling plant produced 10,306 tonnes of rolled steel, a record everyone’s particularly proud of. “I was there that day,” say Rocco Paolo, a Pickling and Rolling plant technician who monitors the whole production process, also in terms of quality. Rocco smiles on remembering that “historic” day, of which he, like his colleagues, is so proud. “It wasn’t easy, but in the end we got round all the small hitches and broke all the records with our Big One. Afterwards? We celebrated of course!”
26 March 2012: the Novi Ligure Pickling and Rolling plant produced 10,306 tonnes of rolled steel. “I was there that day,” say Rocco Paolo
Continuing on our tour, Roberto shows us round one of the pulpits in the Pickling and Rolling plant. “This is the rolling mill control room. Here we control the forces used by the plant, the thicknesses and shape of the product being processed. We monitor everything: if there’s a problem, we either solve it from here in the pulpit or if necessary intervene on the line.” The two uncoilers that enable the plant to work two coils one after the other without interruption are also monitored from this pulpit. A real revolution considering all the work that used to be done before 1992. “It all used to be manual,” Andrea explains, “and the coils were fed into the various machines by hand. Technology helps us a lot these days.”
"In the past the work was exclusively physical. A different approach is needed now, because everything’s technologically more advanced and there aren’t many manual tasks. Now everything’s much safer."
Production has increased and so has safety. “In the past the work was exclusively physical. A different approach is needed now, because everything’s technologically more advanced and there aren’t many manual tasks. The operatives used to work just 10 centimetres away from the sheet, with all the risks that entails. Now everything’s much safer. Even the materials were more dangerous. With the new Pickling and Rolling plant, for example, a new pickling system was created: it uses hydrochloric acid instead of sulphuric acid, which is decidedly more dangerous.”
It’s time to get back to work. Andrea turns, puts on his earmuffs and goes back to his station. The celebrations will have to wait till this evening.