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Big River's Ready for Business

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Sept. 14, 2016 Big River's Ready for Business Big River Steel, the self-proclaimed “Flex Mill” under construction in Osceola, Ark., is ready to begin taking orders. “Big River Steel is open for business,” said Mark Bula, Big River’s chief commercial officer, in his remarks Aug. 31 during Steel Market Update’s 2016 Steel Summit in Atlanta. Big River Steel, which was championed by renowned steel innovator John Correnti who died unexpectedly last August, has been criticized for adding capacity to an already oversupplied steel market. The mill plans to produce hot-rolled, hot-rolled pickled and oiled, cold-rolled and galvanized steel products, as well as electrical steels and the latest advanced high-strength steels for the auto industry. Bula defended Big River’s strategy to the 400 steel executives at the summit, asserting that the new mill will not worsen the market’s overcapacity and put downward pressure on prices. The $1.3 billion Flex Mill combines the best of minimill and integrated mill technologies, giving the steelmaker the flexibility to produce both commodity grades and niche steels for underserved segments of the market, depending on swings in demand. “Big River is not your typical steel mill. We’re really trying to do something different. It’s about innovation and challenging our industry to think differently about how we do business,” Bula said. Construction continues at the site on the Mississippi River. If the phased startup goes according to plan, Big River should be ready to deliver hot-roll in December, cold-roll in January and galvanized in March, Bula said. Meanwhile, the company intends to start processing the paperwork for new customers. Big River claims it will employ the latest in steelmaking technology, evolving beyond the traditional electric arc furnace to deliver chemistries and mechanical properties not previously possible from a minimill. The company says it will be able to produce the widest and thickest hot strip ever produced by a North American EAF/compact strip mill at up to 78 inches wide and 1.00 inch thick. It will be equipped with a Ruhrstahl Heraeus degasser, which will allow it to produce steel with lower carbon and nitrogen levels for improved forming and drawing applications. It also will be able to direct charge hot briquetted iron into the furnace, which is critical for producing niche steels for the automotive and electrical industries. New “smartmill” technology will automate the communication of information from one piece of equipment to another. The site has space to add a second furnace and caster at some point in the future, which would raise its annual steelmaking capacity from 1.6 million tons to about 3.0 million tons per year. “At Big River, it’s not about what we want to make, but what our customers need. It’s not about having overcapacity, it’s about having the right capacity. We have to understand that our industry competes in a global market,” Bula said. Bula called for a more long-term, collaborative approach with customers and even competitors. “We need to come together and innovate. If we don’t pull together as an industry, carbon fiber and aluminum will take more of our market share. We’ve got to stop fighting each other and start working together against global competitors and other materials,” he said. Big River is backed by deep-pocketed investors that include Koch Industries, the Arkansas Teachers Retirement Fund, Global Principal Partners, the Ross Perot Group and the Correnti estate, among others.