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Report - SSI and the Death of Teesside Steel - The Final Cut!

Discussion in 'Noteworthy Reports' started by Speed, Oct 4, 2016.

  1. Speed

    Speed Got Epic?
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    Introduction

    This is the story of one of the best explorations of my life, the closure of the vast Teesside Iron and Steel works at Redcar, Southbank and Lackenby. I'm an engineer by trade and always thought i understood the way steel is produced but this past year even i've had my eyes opened to quite what an amazing process it is. The sheer scale and complexity of the equipment has many times left me open mouthed in disbelief at how something this vast can be built in the first place let alone just be shut down and cut up for scrap! I feel immensely lucky to have had what is a quite possibly a 'once in a lifetime' opportunity to immerse myself this industry and really get to grips with nearly every part for the process from the Redcar stockyards full of raw iron ore, lime and coal to the red hot ingots of steel rolling off the end of the SSI production line at Lackenby.
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    Rails snake towards the Blast Furnace at Redcar

    Back in September 2015 a 'pause in production' was announced at all SSI sites. In reality we all knew what that really meant. It swiftly transformed into a full blown mothballing operation and by the end of October the company was in liquidation. With the economic downturn in China sending steel prices plummeting it was inevitable really that without major changes in economic policy UK steel products would simply be priced out of the market. High energy costs forced on us by the EU and high wages and living standards simply make it too expensive to produce in this country. Everyone seems keen to blame the government's free market economy but in reality this is only one string to the bow of steels downfall. Successive governments have followed the path of spend now pay later and have spent not on investment for the future but to fluff the pillows of voters who will keep them in power for the next 5 years and to hell with the next 50.

    Whatever the cause these photos are the effect, the closure of the vast majority of Teesside's steel industry in all likelihood never to restart.
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    Fluted chimney of the Sinter Plant at Redcar

    The majority of the industry you will see here started life in 1917 as the Redcar Ironworks under the famous Dorman Long company. The company is probably most famed for supplying steel to build the Sydney Harbour and Tyne Bridges. It rapidly expanded across Teesside forming three main works at Redcar, Cleveland and Lackenby but in 1967 the company was nationalised and became part of British Steel. Shortly afterwards despite the new company facing serious political and business issues the decision was made to invest in Teesside by building nearly all of the equipment we see today.
    30005989261_04339ecd10_b.jpg
    Coke works At Southbank showing a concrete coking tower that still bares the Dorman Long name

    By 1988 the company had been re-privatised and after a 1999 merger with a Dutch steel firm changed its name to Corus. In 2007 Corus was bought out by the Indian company Tata which ran the plant until 2009 when it was forced to mothball the blast furnace due to a loss of major contracts. In 2011 the works was sold again to new owner Sahaviriya Steel Industries which at great cost restarted production but alas three years later they too would be forced to close.

    Part 1 - Southbank Coke Works

    I will start at what is essentially the start of the steelmaking process. Coke is the fuel that provides the energy used to smelt iron. It is basically coal that is baked at high temperatures in the absence of oxygen to remove impurities that would otherwise taint the iron and unsettle the furnace. There were two coke works on Teesside one adjacent to the blast furnace at Redcar and one further west at Southbank on the former Cleveland works.

    Southbank would originally have been surrounded by its own furnaces, rolling mills and sinter works but now it stands alone as the last remaining part of the Cleveland works. Infact even the coke works was once double the size or at least had double the amount of ovens! The iconic Dorman Long branded tower at Southbank is the remains of an earlier 1950s set of ovens that are now, apart from the tower of course, mostly demolished. The current ovens were built in the 1970s nationalised era but the gas byproducts side of the plant to the north was shared leaving us today with what is effectively a 1950s gas plant and 1970s ovens.

    Although closed Southbank, like all the SSI sites, is still a relative hive of activity compared with the usual 'derps' or 'infrastructure' explores we frequent. We arrived here on our first trip north to see diggers bombing about on the stock yard and men wandering up and down the gas plant. We almost turned around and left it for another day but all of a sudden there was a pause in digger movements and we noticed some guys heading back to the front of site. It was luckily knocking off time! This gave us hour or so of daylight to get around the majority of the site with only security to worry about. A luxury! Heading in from the west we headed through various pump rooms adorned with great 50s signage and eventually made it over to the now 'cut' coal conveyor that looked like our most discreet way up the tower. The oven side of the site seemed to have been decommissioned already as all entrances were now barricaded in some way but with a little climbing it was easy to get around and inside the tower and ovens it felt virtually untouched. We headed up the conveyor, down the silo tower and onto the top of the ovens where the 'charging car' was parked up underneath. Then down in the ovens themselves and the basement level. When we eventually surfaced it was dark but we elected to keep going and ticked the older dorman long tower of the list too. Something i had been meaning to do for many years!

    Heading out the site i couldn't help but notice how much further potential it had. Since November i have returned several times but nothing appears to have changed. Men are still on site doing decommissioning work and security still circle the largely intact site
    23185818316_ca45fafaf4_b.jpg
    The works viewed from the south

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    The long derelict Dorman Long branded silo tower

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    Cooling towers on the fringe of the gas refinery

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    Inside a 1950s pumphouse

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    Gas holder would have held 'waste' gasses from the coking process

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    Enamel signs in the dated 1950s section of the site

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    Refraction towers in the refinery section of the site

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    The view from the top of the 70s coking tower and a gas flare stack

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    Looking back at the site of the now mostly demolished 1950s batteries

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    On top of the later 70s batteries

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    Heading down in the the battery itself

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    Pedestrian entrance already blocked with heras fence and the control room entrance

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    'Beehives' in the battery

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    Battery Control Room

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    Inside the control room

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    Much grubbier outside!

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    Down into the cellars

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    Sucking eggs

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    Pipe clamp in the battery cellars

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    Valves

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    More details from the cellar level

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    Popping back outside the battery we find it's now getting dark

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    Back along the railway side of the ovens where coke would have been unloaded in to trains heading for Redcar

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    Finally we climbed the 50s coking tower for a view over the whole site.
     

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    #1 Speed, Oct 4, 2016
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  2. Speed

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    Part 2 - Redcar Coke Works

    The second coke works on Teesside is situated on the main Redcar site adjacent to the blast furnace itself. In many ways the sites are similar but there are some marked differences between the two. For a start Redcar has two sets of 70s ovens intact and joining in the middle. There are no concrete silo towers here either instead having coal transferred into stubbier steel framed examples towers straight from the stockyard via a maze of conveyors we will see a bit more of later on. At the ends of each of the batteries i found interesting workshops for maintaining the battery doors but i've somehow managed to miss the control room after several trips. With the gas plant here being much more modern i've neglected to spend much time poking around it, it's unlikely to be of the same standard as Southbank.

    Nowadays the coke works here are still intact but a lot of lighting has been turned off making photographs difficult.

    30055234526_6497c82fe9_b.jpg
    Hiding under the cooling tower at the northern end of the works

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    The battery doors where coke would be unloaded into waiting trains

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    Workshop for maintaining the doors

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    Cooling tower at the Southern end of the works where cars full of hot coke would be cooled with jets of water

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    On the other side of the work No.3 Pusher Machine.

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    Inside the pusher cab. This machine pushed the coke out of the opposite side of the battery once it was baked

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    On top of the ovens now we can see the byproduct of the process - Coke Gas

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    Up on the battery roof

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    Underneath the towers where a charge car would fill up with coal and then could move along on the rails to fill each individual battery

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    You can see the hatches in the floor where coal was loaded and vent sacks down either side

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    Battery door repair at the other end

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    Down into the bowels for more beehives, im not sure the exact purpose of these?

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    Warning signs, this area would once have been respirator only i believe

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    On the other side of the beehives

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    Heading down to the cellars

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    Cellar Level

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    More hatches of unknown purpose?

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    Signs to a control room on the refinery side i think

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    Climbing the towers we find ourselves at the conveyor where coal enters

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    The view over more of the Redcar site

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    Train that would have unloaded the coke
     

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  3. Speed

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    Part 3 - Redcar Sinter Plant

    Next up in the whole steel making process is the production of 'Sinter'. You see it's not just a case of chucking everything in the top of the furnace and hoping it all burns up nicely, for efficient steel production the components must be properly mixed before smelting. This is where the sinter plant comes in! Coke, lime flux, iron ore and fine steel waste from the furnaces dust capture system are mixed in this plant in a kind of 'giant toaster' forming small pellets that can then be fed to the furnace.

    Redcar Sinter posed one main problem as far as exploration goes, namely it was quite far away from our pioneered Redcar access point and with the various circling security cars and sporadic CCTV on site it seemed risky to attempt to dash across no man's land for what is actually a deceptively long distance to get there. I solved this problem by simply walking there from the top of the blast furnace through the now redundant conveyor system. This little trek ended up quite an adventure in its own right really, why dodge security when you can just walk right over their heads unnoticed! I took a surprising 45mins to get to the plant and when i got home i measured the distance there and back to the coke works at nearly two miles! No wonder i was knackered that evening..

    Arriving at the plant itself i found it totally deserted. External doorways had already been barricaded and the offices and control rooms looted for anything of use. The plant was very much a sea of conveyors and heavy, largely unidentifiable, process plant. It reminded me of a cement works in many ways but it was good to see something totally new to me nonetheless. For me the exploration of this industry is far more than just going and getting pretty pictures of the latest derp. Over the years i have been very slack following closures of UK steel plants and before i started exploring here i must admit didn't have a huge understanding of what the exact process was. This exploring is as much a self education as anything else, learnt so much already!

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    On my way to the plant

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    Miles of conveyor belt

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    The main furnace bed

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    Looked like the bed rolled along on track like little rail cars

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    Visitor route

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    More gas warnings

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    Top floor was a long tube, i must admit my knowledge of exactly how the sinter plant works is a bit vague

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    The main control room

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    Conveyor leading over toward the chimney and its pair of large air scrubbers

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    More conveyors inside the plant

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    A sense of humor

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    Substation

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    A political point

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    Ducts and pipeworks

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    More conveyor plant

     

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  4. Speed

    Speed Got Epic?
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    Part 4 - Redcar Blast Furnace

    In essence the blast furnace is actually pretty simple. It's a big bottle shaped container, you put your sinter in the top and blow air into the bottom and have a nice hot fire inside! The fire melts the iron and you're able to drain it off from taps around the base. The molten iron flows into giant 'torpedo tankers' to be transported to the Lackenby steelworks by rail. The furnace itself had a number of ancillary processes that extract waste gasses, filter out waste dust and preheat inlet air but overall it's quite simple stuff.

    Our first attempt at climbing the furnace was at the end of our first weekend trip. It was a horrid night and with rain lashing down the whole time we were soaked through within 10mins outside, no good at all! I returned again a week later on my own and this time managed to get a few photos although this time the danger of getting spotted, the rush to the top before darkness and the bitter cold winds freezing my hands solid didn't help matters either! By the third trip in January power to the lighting had been turned off.

    I was surprised to find the furnace here is actually the second biggest in europe, it certainly felt smaller than those i've climbed in europe before but maybe it's deceptive. Anyway here you are.

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    Approaching from the north

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    Pausing at the top of the air preheaters

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    Skip full of dust

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    Creeping about near the top. It was very exposed up here in the daylight

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    A view down the conveyor that brought sinter up from the sinter plant in the distance

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    Looking slightly the other way you can see the pre heaters under the conveyor and the power station chimney

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    Looking over the top of the electrostatic precipitator that separates dust and ash from the gases coming out of the top of the furnace

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    South Gare in the distance

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    The power station viewed through the various gantries and pipework.


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    Up to the very top where excess gasses could be vented. An amazing sight when it was stil going!

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    Now starting to get dark, looking down where the conveyor drops sinter into the top

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    On the very top while the rail hammered down on us. At least the air was still being fed at this point and the heat coming out the top was still very toasty even after being shut down quite a few weeks.

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    Heading back down in the maze of gantries and pipeworks surrounding the furnace

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    Valves and more valves

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    At the base of the furnace there are two large tap houses where molten iron is tapped off

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    There are four tapholes, two on each side

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    Around the base of the furnace there is a large ring of pipes called 'tuyere' that inject air straight into its heart

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    Tuyere level up close


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    Absolutely soaked but very excited on our first night in there, they say it's all in Belgium you know!
     

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  5. Speed

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    Part 5 - Redcar Powerstation

    The last part of the Redcar site i needed to cover was the power station. This building has the multifunction of both supplying power to the site and supplying the air that is blown into the furnace. I believe it does all this by burning gas from the coke works and running either turbine generators or turbine compressors on the steam produced.

    The powerstation was always going to be a big target on the site, we all love turbines after all! For me however it was pretty frustrating. My first attempt to access it in November all went well until i got inside and found the entire building fully operational and full of men. At the time they were still burning the last of the gas and blowing air through the furnace to keep it cool. I got out again rather hastily and gave it a miss for a month or so over Christmas but was excited to see photos of the inside from other explorers finally appear just before my next trip up was planned. Again however i got there to find bad luck had struck again. The lights were now off in the turbine hall.. damn! I had a good look around anyway but again went away a bit annoyed. The next thing i saw is photos from the control room that was locked up on my earlier mooch. Again we go there and again frustrated as we find the whole building is now locked with some kind of alarm system on the outside.. again frustrated! This is one of problems with living so far away from the place. 3 hour drives can't be done just for a quick check or to immediately follow the last guys who went. Every time i've been it's felt like the pressure has been on to see the next bit before its too late. Each time you go back the lights are off or a door is locked and you see less and less new bits. A year on i feel like although i've not seen the site in its absolute entirety it's time to have a break from worrying about it!

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    Caution was indeed needed on the first night in here!

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    The turbine hall showing two turbo generators in the foreground and two turbo compressors at the rear

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    The boilers

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    A tough area to photograph and bloody noisy when it's all still running!

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    Looking back at the boilers

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    End of a boiler pressure vessel

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    What a sign!

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    One of the turbo generators that produced electricity with a compressor used to charge the furnace behind.

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    Condenser under the turbine

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    A different style of condenser used on the compressors

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    A nice find was this backup diesel generator. The heater was still on in here which was nice in deepest January!
     

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  6. Speed

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    Part 6 - Basic Oxygen Steel Plant

    Moving on from Redcar now we can look at the next stage of the process that took place down the road at Lackenby. Now i must admit i didn't actually know they owned this bit before closure. The majority of the Lackenby site is still owned by the new 'British Steel' company so i assumed before the rebirth of British Steel came about Tata still owned had this part too. However when Tata sold the ironworks they also sold two plants covered here The 'BOS' plant aka Basic Oxygen Steel and the 'Concast' Aka Continuous Casting.

    BOS is essentially the process of turning the raw iron into steel. Bessemer pioneered industrial steelmaking back in the 1800s but at the time he blew air through the steel to remove impurities. After a while they discovered that it was better to use pure oxygen, hence the name. Molten iron came over from Redcar by train and was poured into giant converter vessels where a water cooled lance was inserted and oxygen blown through the iron to 'burn' out all the carbon content. Afterwards slag was removed and a small quantity of carbon put back in to bring the steel to a specific carbon content depending on what job it would be used for.

    Now i must make sure you understand how immense this building really is. This part of the explore eclipsed the rest of SSI put together. The scale of the equipment in here alone was mind boggling and i have to say its really is above and beyond most things ive seen whilst exploring. Lackenby, despite holding the last processes in the system was actually the first explore we attempted. After getting beaten to the furnace and Southbank coke i wanted to do at least some 'pure exploration' here. We rocked up right in the middle of the day not really sure what to expect, scoped out a sensible looking way in and went for it. Within 30 seconds we were hiding as security's van cruised past stopping right by our entrance point. We could have been rumbled before we had even got going but luckily they didn't stop for long and with a mad dash across all the rail sidings and roadways between us and the massive building we eventually made it inside. We set about snapping a few photos still not really sure quite how dead the place was but it seemed quiet enough considering.

    I headed up on the the main crane gantry. Probably the biggest crane you will ever see, so big in fact it had full sized rooms inside its twin cross beams! Unfortunately at this point i came face to face with our first workman. There was really no choice than to talk to him but luckily it turned out he too was taking photos and 'shouldn't have really been there' so he basically said if we got out immediately then we would be out before he told anyone we were there.. We ummed and ahhed if we really needed to leave or not and if indeed he would tell anyone at all but it seemed sensible as we were just starting to get out while we could and pop back at a later date. For me that date was the next Sunday morning. I arrived nice and early and was inside again for 6am. All was quiet at first but shortly afterwards two workers wandered across the floor below me and started up banging and crashing around the BOS converters themselves, right where i wanted to be heading, typical! The third trip was made a few weeks later during the night. It was quieter but still needed to watch out.


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    Lackenby viewed from Southbank, it doesn't look too big from here!

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    Let's start from a shot from the very top to show the true scale. this building is tall enough to rival skyscrapers but it sheer vastness masks this in photos

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    The 'the floor level' in the previous shot is actually at the roof level in this one!

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    And here's little old me

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    So starting off at ground level we can get up close and personal with one of the massive ladles.

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    Even in this part the building towers above you but the main BOS section is several times taller.

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    Up on the first crane gantry now you can see where some ladles have been emptied on the floor

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    The smaller ladles were for the slag waste i believe
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    This was taken from the Concast end of the building looking back down towards our
    entrance

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    At this level we could see a few ancillary processes

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    And marvel at the size of the cranes! Steel weights 7 ton per cubic meter so you work it out!

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    A bit further along some more ancillaries
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    I believe these were used to add either scrap iron or possibly the lime flux into the mix

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    And here's where the ladles were sprayed with their linings to stop them simply melting away when full of molten steel

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    Heading up a bit higher in the building now

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    Here we see where molten iron from Redcar would have been poured into the BOS converter
    vessels

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    Approaching Vessel 'A' at the 30m level

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    The top of the vessels and what i think must be cooling pipework

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    The square section is a sort of flue taking away the waste gas

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    Going a little higher you can look down into one of the vessels that had its lid removed

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    And even higher still you can make out theres three vessels in a row. A, B and C

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    Pipeworks for the cooling water

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    Up to 60m now

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    Higher still you can see where the lance would have been fixed. This arrangement would have lowered the lance down into the vessel with oxygen flowing through the flexible pipework and down into the iron

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    Nearing the top of the building

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    One last shot inside

     

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  7. Speed

    Speed Got Epic?
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    Part 7 - Continuous Casting​
    Last part of the steel manufacturing process under SSI ownership was the continuous casting plant. It's located in the same building as BOS as the molten steel is transferred directly. Steel is poured from a ladle into large dishes known as a 'tundishes' that are carried on top of large rail cars. The tundish lets a small amount of steel run through into the top of the casting machines where it simultaneously solidifies and is rolled into large ingots ready to go off to the various rolling mills.

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    What a makers plate!

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    The main tundish floor

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    Schematic helpfully explaining how it all works

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    A tundish car itself

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    Control room

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    Various vessels dumped at the back of the plant

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    A maintenance bay

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    Tanks that appeared to contain some kind of acid?

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    Under a tundish car

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    View down the main casting floor

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    No. 10 Tundish

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    A workers break room

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    At the back of the casters where steel would be rolled and cooled

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    Rollers up close

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    The maze of conveyors and rollers at the back of the casters

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    Pretty much the end of the line


    Part 8 - The Miscellaneous
    Last thing to add is a section for some of the bits and bobs ive spotted around the sites in general. Im sure this part could be expanded in the future quite a lot. Ive covered most of the main industrial processes now but haven't got close to covering every last little building. Theres probably all sorts of ancillary and welfare buildings to discover, admin, workshops, you name it, it's there! It just needs some more time invested in seeing it all over the next few years.

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    Abandoned forklift in the stores department.

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    A note from the night shift

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    Old switchgear in the stores at Redcar. This building is a remnant of an older works at the site.

    All that really remains to be said is thanks to all the people ive been here and explored with and everyone else who's been and shared photos for just making the basic effot to get this vast site covered and covered well before it descends into the inevitable spiral of dereliction and demolition. I'm far from finished here so expect additions in the future but those of you who have not made the effot yet make sure you do. 'The north' may seem far away but this place is well up there with the likes of Burlington and Mail Rail and all those really exceptional explores that you WILL really regret not bothering to visit while theres a chance!
     

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  8. elhomer12

    elhomer12 Maglite size T-rex, It's time for urbex!
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    This is awesome, your reports never disappoint :thumb
     
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  9. raisinwing

    raisinwing 28DL Regular User
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    Wow. :Not Worthy

    Thanks for sharing, I really should make the effort to head northbound.
     
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  10. monk

    monk mature
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  11. drhowser

    drhowser Bespectacled & irrelevant
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    Hopefully there'll still be plenty of it left next time I'm back in the country!
     
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  12. Raz

    Raz 28DL Regular User
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    Talk about a comprehensive report!
     
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  13. MrDevla

    MrDevla 28DL Full Member
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    Awesome report, I'd take my hat off to you if I was wearing one! :thumb
     
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  14. WhoDaresWins

    WhoDaresWins Let's do this
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    Stunning reporting. Top notch in every way.
     
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  15. The Amateur Wanderer

    The Amateur Wanderer 28DL Regular User
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    Enjoyed these the first time around, makes an excellent set all in the same place!
     
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