IMS specializes in mill support services, material handling and metal reclamation for integrated steel mills and mini mills throughout North America. Barbara Kram explores the company’s niche.
Steel producers are facing greater demands on quality and production, along with environmental restrictions. That is why they look to IMS to outsource materials handling, including scrap removal and other support operations.
Actually it’s more like insourcing than outsourcing. IMS designs slag removal and metal recovery operations, then integrates these right into their customers’ mills utilizing specially designed equipment and highly trained personnel.
“The difference between us and an outside engineering firm is we design, engineer and build the systems and then operate the systems with a long term service arrangement,” says Bill Miller, vice president of marketing and technical services. “We become a department within our customer’s company.”
Established in 1936 with corporate headquarters in Horsham, Pa., IMS has operations at more than 60 steel companies in the United States and Canada, providing leading edge technologies and about 1,200 experienced personnel on-site for its customers.IMS carefully studies customers’ mill operations to create a comprehensive material-handling program. An important part of that program is to remove, transport, and process slag, a by-product of steel making. IMS slag services include removal from the melt shop, slag pot hauling, processing and metal reclamation and marketing of slag aggregate used in road construction and other applications. IMS processes more than 8 million tons of slag annually and reclaims over one million tons of valuable metallics yearly. Instead of purchasing outside scrap, IMS substitutes clean, high-quality reclaimed metal. It’s just one of the ways that IMS reduces raw materials costs. By re-using and marketing residual materials, IMS provides environmental and economic benefits while eliminating on-site slag storage.
“Everything is designed to be a closed-loop service from the time we pick up material from the customer’s melt shop and deliver it to our on-site processing facility,” Miller says. “All the material is either returned to the mill or sold to outside sources.” IMS also provides scrap management services including scrap inspection, receipt and handling, inventory management and scrap bucket loading and delivery. Magnetic separation and screening systems recover valuable, residual metallics and recycle clean scrap. IMS loads and blends metals cost-effectively according to the mill’s needs using computers on board the company’s cranes. Cranes also have mounted radiation detection systems to ensure scrap integrity. Loaded charge boxes are delivered to the melt shop on a sequential schedule just in time. In total, IMS receives and handles more than 4 million tons of scrap annually, economically providing the ingredients to run the mill.
“A furnace is dependent on adding the proper recipe of scrap materials in order to develop a quality product. To this end, IMS develops material handling and charge box systems that optimize the input of these scraps and alloys,” Miller says. “The level of sophistication is rising in the process of producing a quality steel product. IMS has expanded its level of sophistication in process controls, automated computer applications, and material handling equipment specifically designed to meet these changing needs. The general trend in the industry is to outsource any material handling applications and focus expertise on the steel-making process. The immediate benefit is reduced capital expenditure for material handling equipment, lower manpower requirements and the costs of associated wages and fringe benefits, and the expertise of a company focusing on its particular area of expertise. As with the rest of the world, no one can efficiently handle all aspects in today’s rapidly changing industry.”
IMS’ environmental compliance engineering alone is worth its weight in gold. “Because of the ever-changing statutory regulations with governmental agencies we employ a variety of different systems to keep our customers environmentally compliant,” Miller says. This effort has the potential to save customers millions of dollars. The scope of specialized services also includes refractory removal, required for furnace maintenance.
The more efficiently the process can be done, the shorter outage time and greater productivity for the steel mill. That’s where IMS shines because it maximizes efficiency to get back on line fast. The IMS tear-out system employs a platform with specialized, self-contained equipment near the furnace. The innovative tear-out machines can operate with shorter furnace cool-down time and remote, microprocessor control to make set up and operation quick, safe and easy. Furnace maintenance often takes less than half the traditional time required.
IMS also has applied its innovation to steel surface conditioning. Its robotic scarfing system flames away all surface defects from the face, sides, edges and corners of a steel slab. The patented torch-positioning technology combines the flexibility of the old manual scarfing process with the production efficiency of a semi-automatic machine. IMS can scarf any length, width, thickness, or deflection of slabs.
Yet another innovation is IMS’ new cutting technology using high-speed torches that can cut material while steel is online and red hot at 1,600 degrees F.“We have developed systems that allow us to cut slabs and billets in-line from the caster; this new system generates less yield loss and discontinues the need for kerf removal,” Miller says.
A Capital Idea
The bottom line is that IMS makes the capital investment in mill support technologies and personnel so the steel maker doesn’t have to incur those prohibitive outlays. IMS has spent up to $20-$30 million purchasing the equipment and managing a mill’s support operations.Materials handling alone may require railroad activities, shipping, barge and dock activities, melt shop, slag removal and charged box delivery, even transporting finished product. All this requires heavy construction equipment and maintenance costs.
“We’re unique because we make the capital investment in order to replace your investment in a fleet of mobile equipment,” Miller says. “IMS will purchase a specific unit that costs $500,000 and institute a service fee for providing that service over a certain period of time. Steel mills, in general, are more focused on the changing technologies in product development and should not have to devote resources to inventory control, equipment maintenance, and capital outlays for peripheral services. They want to spend their capital research dollars on making a consistent quality product.”
IMS also invests in the electronic infrastructure for the mill. For instance, computerized tracking systems and information technologies monitor and control materials handling.“Our systems are integrated and sophisticated enough that we can monitor scrap bucket loading in Alabama from our Philadelphia corporate office,” Miller says of the advantages of centralized information management systems.
“What we bring to the table is new technologies, specialized equipment, a strong and experienced management team, as well as a financially secure company,” Miller says. “The steel producers look to IMS for reliability on the material handling end so they can concentrate on their core business of making steel.”