Sponsored by the American Institute of Steel Construction, the event is intended to educate others on the American steel industry and serve as a networking opportunity. Gerdau invited engineering students from Georgia Institute of Technology and Southern Polytechnic State University to provide a chance to tour the plant and ask questions about steel production. In addition to the students, a few fabricators and engineers attended the event.
“It’s not just a student awareness thing, although we want students to understand that there is a career out there in the steel industry, and a lot of the guys that come to this event will be engineering majors at some point in their lives and we would like to attract that talent,” said Rob Tuck, human resources manager for the Cartersville mill.
Tuck said past Steel Day events focused on sales and customer interaction before expanding to engineering students a couple of years ago. The mill, Tuck added, also liked to use the event as a chance to promote itself within the community, such as its charitable donations and volunteering with Advocates for Children and the United Way.
“We like to showcase what we’ve done. Not only at the mill itself, with respect to our safety record, but also in the community. We do a lot in this community,” he said.
The steel mill has been in Cartersville since 1975, when Atlantic Steel constructed it. In 1996 Birmingham Steel acquired the mill and installed the melt shop and upgraded the rolling mill. Gerdau, a multi-national Brazilian company, purchased the mill in 2002 and has since reinvested with upgrades as well. The mill remains the only one in Georgia, Tuck said, and one of the company’s premiere mills.
“I will say that the feedback that I have received from the owners — of course, we’re a Brazilian company — is that they have been very pleased with this acquisition, extremely pleased with this workforce and the community that we’re in. ... This is a preferred location for them because of the safety-consciousness and sort of the can-do attitude that the people have here,” he said.
During his presentation, Jim Christina, vice president and general manager of the Cartersville mill, explained how the mill fit into Gerdau’s operations. It is a mini-mill, which melts scrap steel for use as ingots or various forms of rolled steel. The operation does not use a blast furnace, but rather a large, electric arc furnace that has three 24-inch diameter electrodes. The electrodes melt the scrap steel into a liquid, which is then formed into the needed shape.
For Christina, Steel Day was an opportunity to highlight the real work engineers can do once they get their degrees.
“I started out a chemical engineer and I had a hard time understanding, my freshman year of college, how I was going to take and apply that in the real world. ... I ended up switching [to] mechanical engineering. It just made more sense as I started going through some manufacturing facilities,” he said.
Among the facilities he toured were a paper mill and a Grumman plant that manufactured the U.S. Postal Service delivery trucks.
“It was real interesting to see how those businesses actually took what you were learning in college and how you can apply it. That’s why I like giving them an opportunity to see those types of things,” Christina added.
In addition to an overview of Gerdau’s operations and the steel manufacturing process, guests also heard about the marketing aspects of the steel industry. Steve Murphy, a Gerdau marketing manager, discussed how the company looks at how international trends affect sales and production, in addition to trying to predict future growth.
Chris Williams, an account manager with Tekla, gave a short presentation on the company’s engineering software and how it has the ability to shorten the design process and increase communication between engineers and fabricators.
After the talks, Christina believed that while the information was useful, touring the steel mill itself would make the most impact on visitors.
“I think the best part is interacting with the students, and actually some of the customers. You get some face time and they can actually have time [to] ask questions and see the process,” he said. “I remember 20-something years ago what it was like sitting in a classroom. I think there’s a lot of value in getting out and seeing how you are going to apply your trade.”