MRO Magazine

Cover Story: Focus on Harsh Environments – Training Aids Maintenance Challenge at Hamilton Steel Mill

Maintenance and operations work meets its highest challenge in harsh industrial environments. Facilities that typically require equipment geared for severe-service operation include gold mines, paper ...

September 1, 2002 | By MRO Magazine

Maintenance and operations work meets its highest challenge in harsh industrial environments. Facilities that typically require equipment geared for severe-service operation include gold mines, paper mills, chemical plants and oil rigs (the weather alone on an oil rig can make operating and maintaining equipment very challenging). And there are steel mills.

Steelmaking produces harsh elements almost every step of the way, including abrasive raw materials, harsh environmental conditions, dust, water, high pressures, complex hydraulic and pneumatic systems, steam, very high operating temperatures, loud noises, heavy and bulky materials, and just about anything else you can think of.

Being prepared is the key to success when working in a harsh environment such as this — and the key to being prepared is training.

One steelmaker that places a very strong emphasis on training is Dofasco Ltd. Situated on 720 acres on Lake Ontario in Hamilton, Ont., its Hamilton operation accounts for most of the four million plus tons of steel that Dofasco shipped in 2000. The company also has a 22-acre storage facility in nearby Stoney Creek and a 1-1/2-acre trades training facility in Burlington, Ont. There also is a 100-acre employee recreation and training facility in Stoney Creek. Dofasco also has operations in the United States.


It is one of Canada’s largest steel producers, employing 7,500 non-unionized people at its QS9000-registered Hamilton operation. It serves customers throughout North America with flat rolled and tubular steels and laser-welded blanks. Its products are sold to customers in the automotive, construction, energy, manufacturing, pipe and tube, appliance, packaging and steel distribution industries. Dofasco uses both oxygen steelmaking and scrap-based electric arc furnace technology. It has more than 3,000 suppliers.

The sheer magnitude of the steelmaking process is amazing. Abrasive raw materials arrive in the form of iron ore and coal, as well as recycled steel. Coke ovens convert coal into coke, which is used in the blast furnace to produce molten iron from the iron ore. The molten iron is then moved into the steelmaking facilities where it is mixed with recycled steel and other alloys in a 300-ton oxygen steelmaking furnace.

The next step is casting. Dofasco’s No. 1 two-strand, continuous slab caster produces up to 2.65 million tons of solid steel slab annually.

It sounds simple until one considers the enormity of the product that is being produced. Each slab is up to 30 ft long and weighs an average of 20 tons. This is not something you move around with a wrecking bar. To look upon a 300-ton steelmaking furnace for the first time must be like being on a Star Wars set when George Lucas is filming an extravaganza.

Dofasco is able to manage these operations successfully because the element that it has in abundance is the human element. It has a well-trained and motivated workforce. That, without doubt, is its strength, which is as true as the fact that its product is steel — as the company’s well-known slogan states.

Training support

The company is one of a group of 10 that provides financial support for Ontario’s Centre for Integrated Manufacturing & Applied Research at Niagara College in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont. It has a long-term involvement with the Canadian Steel Trade & Employment Congress and its skills training program, a proponent of the Steel Industry Training Program. It also supports programs at Mohawk College in Hamilton related to steel construction.

An example of Dofasco’s commitment to training was experienced recently by John Lambert of Benchmark Maintenance Services Inc. of Pickering, Ont. His company sells, supports and offers training for laser alignment, vibration monitoring and ultrasonic systems. Based on his experience working with maintenance groups in hundreds of companies as a millwright, foreman, consultant, training instructor, supervisor and service provider, Lambert says Dofasco “truly does have a world-class maintenance organization.”

“The work that I was doing at Dofasco was for their training group at their Burlington training site. When Dofasco says in their advertisements that their product is steel and their strength is people, I believe it, because I have seen it. They invest in their strength — their people — through training.”

Dofasco approaches training a little differently than most other companies, Lambert found. “For instance, we offer a one-day training program in ultrasonics. We have had customers ask us if we can do it in a half-day because they don’t want to tie up their people all day. The Dofasco approach was to ask if I had allotted enough time for the program

“They said they do not want to just ram information at people and overload them. They want it to be a learning experience. They understand that if you try to push too much at people, they will just switch off.

“When they asked me if I had allotted enough time for my training program, it threw me a little bit, it made me think, and that’s when I started to learn from Dofasco.”

To plan his training program for the company, Lambert worked with Barry Brown, who heads up a group that does the major installations of equipment at Dofasco. Brown supports the Dofasco Training Group when he can by providing one of his alignment experts to assist in the training it offers, but this isn’t always possible, so training consultants such as Lambert are brought in from time to time.

Mike Dickson handles the training group at the company’s Burlington training centre. “He has a natural exuberance for training,” says Lambert. “I sensed he would like nothing more than to be leading the hands-on training himself. However, as he says, you can’t do it all.”

One of Dickson’s tasks is to coordinate the training of 70 apprentices. The training centre includes a large workshop that has machines set up in a real-world situation. It includes motors, compressors, pumps and a machine set for practice.

Noel Ennis, who works with Brown and is considered the guru of machinery installation at Dofasco, also became involved in setting up the training program with Lambert.

The company has about 15 laser alignment machines in its mills and it wanted its people to understand the complete alignment procedure. The resulting program — expanded to three days — included soft foot measurement, twisted bases measurement, pipe strain, dial alignment, alignment formulas, graph work and laser training. Ennis equated it to “making sure that the trainees have the math before we give them the calculator.”

The company’s attitude to training is comprehensive, because the staff understands the challenge of operating equipment in Dofasco’s extreme environments. “What we are trying to do is create a stress free environment for our equipment to run in,” concludes Dickson.

John Lambert is president of Benchmark Maintenance Services; he can be reached at For information on laser alignment and other training services, circle the number below on a reply card in this issue.


Stories continue below

Print this page