Since 2018, when Indian steelmaker Jindal Steel Works (JSW) acquired an electric arc furnace (EAF) mill in Mingo Junction, Ohio, the company has tried to bring the mill up to its full operating potential.
The company’s latest move is bringing on Mark Bush, a 21-year veteran of SSAB Americas and a prior employee of Gallatin Steel, as chief executive in August to oversee upgrades at Mingo Junction and integration with the company’s plate and pipe mill in Baytown, Texas.
Bush discussed with Argus his goals for the company in the US. Edited highlights follow:
What led you to join JSW?
One of the things that I really like is a challenge. Learning new aspects of the business and really driving continuous improvement and manufacturing excellence.
In my discussions with [Parth Jindal], I saw a lot of potential for the company. What I saw lacking was an overall synergistic strategy for the facilities and a direction for the business. That really piqued my interest. I love to build teams, and I love to build facilities. That’s really been my 26 year career has been has been putting teams together that exceed expectations.
When I met with the chairmen during my process, there’s an absolute desire on the parent company’s side to make the US operations successful. I didn’t leave a career with a very good company that I’d been with for 21 years to come to a company that did not have the full support of the parent to not only improve the current operations but to grow our footprint in North America. We definitely have the full backing of the parent or I would not have made this move.
What upgrades are being made at the Mingo Junction mill?
All of the equipment that’s being replaced has been removed, and those areas are now being prepped for the new equipment. As we understand it from our supplier, the deliveries are all on schedule. We should start receiving new equipment in November.
Then as we come through December there will be a lot of assembling the equipment and then a fast and furious pace through the end of the first quarter of installing the equipment because, as we’ve announced, we are looking for a [first quarter] start-up of the facility.
What has been happening at the Baytown plate and pipe mill?
Since joining the company, there was a change in the quota system with Brazil that created our next challenge. We had Mingo shut down, not knowing there would be a change in the quota system, expecting we would be able to continue to meet our customer’s needs with slabs from Brazil, and suddenly we can’t get slabs from Brazil in the quarter.
That’s where the decision came from that led to the temporary idling of the Baytown facility. It has increased the urgency to get the Mingo Junction facility operational and improve the quality so they can make more of the grades that Baytown needs. I will say, 26 years in the industry, those were the first layoffs I’ve had to do. We reached out to our customer base, especially some of our long-term customers on the OEM side, to make sure that we were satisfying as best we could their needs prior to shutting the facility down.
We began layoffs the last week of September. The layoffs have followed the completion of processing materials, and then obviously the last thing that ends up is the shipping area. The plan is to start the facility back up in [the first quarter]. We already have slabs on the site, it just didn’t make sense at the current depressed pricing and at the run rates we were running because of the problems we were having with the new equipment that was installed, and it didn’t make sense to continue to struggle and produce at low rates and at low prices. The expectation is that Mingo will start up in [the first quarter], and therefore they will begin to ship slabs in early [second quarter] to Baytown. The expectation is the quota system for 2021 will look much like 2020 did.
We will likely start both facilities very close together.
What plans do you have for your scrap flows — which will grow — and are you concerned about the other new EAF capacity coming on line?
We’re looking at all of our internal logistics because we want to participate in all modes of delivery of scrap. We want to be able to buy truck, rail, barge.
We’ve really not handled those volumes previously on that site. The availability is going to be there. I agree that in the next three years, there are going to be some shifts. I think the south is going to see that more so. You’ve got Steel Dynamics’ (SDI) new facility in Texas, you’ve got Big River’s, and then they’re talking about the potential for a second facility, which would also be in Texas. You’ve got US Steel Fairfield coming on line, then the ones in Kentucky as well. I think the competition for scrap is going to grow. The other thing is, a lot of the [new flat-rolled steel capacity] will be more focused on scrap alternatives, and something I understand coming out of the thin strip world when I was at Gallatin, is the need to keep the residuals so low on those thin strip products. We don’t have that same challenge, so the majority of them will be meeting part of their scrap needs or their iron unit needs through alternatives. So we’re going to see, in the US, those become more available, just like that [hot briquetted iron] facility that Voestalpine built in Texas.
I don’t have a concern about not being able to get scrap. I do agree that the competition for it is going to grow, and we may see some changes in the import-export side of the world on scrap.