Chinese employee operating a rolling mill in the factory hall
| Corporate & markets

New rolling mill brought into service at Taicang location in innovative remote process

Waelzholz is strengthening its market presence in Asia with an extensive investment in a new cold rolling line and further equipment at its Chinese site in Taicang. In addition to doubling production capacity, the new equipment increases flexibility at the site and makes it possible to carry out even more precise quality control during ongoing production. Due to the global coronavirus pandemic, bringing the newly acquired machinery into service was a particular challenge.

“We see excellent long-term growth potential for us in China and in the neighboring markets in our target sectors of automotive, energy, and industry,“ said Marc Wiese, Commercial General Manager of Waelzholz New Material, explaining the investment in the new equipment at the Taicang site. We previously reported on the planned expansion of the local facility in the Waelzholz Newsroom at the end of 2019. “With a new production hall and the duplication of our on-site equipment – an additional four-high reversing mill, eight annealing bases, a slitting line, and an oscillator – we have broadened our footprint and are able to benefit from encouraging growth from both our existing customers and new customers,” said Wiese. Construction activities in the Yangtze River Delta and bringing the machinery into operation in the era of the coronavirus posed significant challenges on the journey from the drawing board to the production lines now in operation.

6,500 piles for a stable foundation

Taicang is located directly on the Yangtze River, the third longest river in the world at 6,380 kilometers (3964 miles). This made construction quite a challenge, as the soil conditions on site have been shaped by alluvial deposits of sand and loess over the millennia. “The soil here in Taicang has an extremely low load-bearing capacity. That’s why the foundation of the new production hall is supported by a total of 6,500 piles driven into the ground. The 18-meter-long (709-inch-long) piles rest on stable bedrock to provide secure support for the building and equipment,” explained Dr. Yu Tao, Technical Director of the factory. The pile foundation was completed in just three months, making it possible to have the new hall ready for the installation of the new machinery in 2019 as planned.


Machinery brought into service in innovative remote process

Up until the installation of the new four-high reversing stand, everything went according to plan. But then the coronavirus pandemic disrupted the process of bringing the line into operation. “We would have liked to start bringing the machinery into service immediately at the beginning of 2020, but the specialists from the rolling mill supplier couldn’t stay in China due to the coronavirus pandemic. So we had to come up with an alternative,” said Dr. Tao. Bringing the line into operation remotely was the solution. And this was no easy feat, as Ingo Krysik, operations manager at Waelzholz New Material, explains: “Together with the supplier, we came up with an approach to bringing the mill into operation via remote maintenance. Due to the complexity of the rolling mill’s run-in phase, however, remote access to the software and the roll control system alone wasn’t enough. We had to find a way to synchronize the rolling and functional behavior in time with the supplier’s automation engineers.” To accomplish this, the team combined remote access with a live video stream from multiple cameras at the facility and a group meeting via voice chat. “Over the course of 2020, we then completed the rolling mill’s run-in phase despite the pandemic. This was truly a team effort across company boundaries and time zones. Everything went according to plan. It’s an amazing accomplishment,” said Krysik.

The rolling mill has now been fully operational since the spring of 2021, enabling the Chinese site to supply the local market with additional quantities of steel strip in the outstanding quality Waelzholz is known for. According to Dr. Tao, one aspect of the quality enhancement resulting from the investments at Waelzholz New Material of interest to customers is that “the new rolling mill automatically measures and adjusts the flatness of the strip during the rolling process. This is a major advantage because it allows us to offer our customers material with low residual stress.”

Investment strengthens market presence in Asia

By investing in the Taicang site, Waelzholz is focusing on the growth potential of the Asian market and strengthening its local market position. For Waelzholz, expanding the factory is also a further step in its systematic internationalization strategy, thus permanently strengthening the company as a whole. This company has doubled its production capacity here to further combine its extensive materials know-how and process expertise with the advantages of local-for-local sourcing. In this way, Waelzholz now offers its Chinese and Asian customers the high level of quality they are accustomed to, but with short local routes and the resulting supply reliability. 

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