Tour of Portage business offers peek in world of steel production
By Karen Caffarini Post-Tribune correspondent October 5, 2012 5:14PM
John Hirt, vice president and general manager, (center) talks with visitors and employees during a tour at Feralloy Corporation in Portage, Ind. Friday October 5, 2012. The sheet steel processing company held an open house in recognition of Manufacturing Day. | Stephanie Dowell~Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 7, 2012 6:08AM
PORTAGE — Harold Shaw worked in slitting at U.S. Steel in the 1960s and wanted to see what new technology is used in that operation today.
“Basically, I’m nosy,” the retired steelworker and Hobart resident said Friday as he joined about a dozen other curious individuals during an open house and tour of one of U.S. Steel’s customers, Feralloy Steel Service Center in Portage.
Feralloy provided three tours Friday as part of Manufacturing Day, which was organized by several trade groups to promote manufacturing as a viable career, said John Hirt, vice president and general manager of Feralloy’s Midwest region.
The first tour of the day drew a variety of people ranging from former steelworkers to a Realtor.
Vicki Turek, of Valparaiso, came along with a friend and saw first-hand for the first time what her husband, who is part-owner of T&M Equipment Co. in Merrillville, does for a living.
“I’ve been married for 40 years and my husband has sold overhead cranes for 40 years,” said Turek as she watched an overhead crane move large coils of steel inside the plant. “Now I know what he does.”
Hirt said the 57-year-old company has a dozen locations in North America, all of which are involved in metals distribution. Feralloy provides slit steel coils and sheet and precision blanks to steel consumers. Its steel is used primarily for automotive, energy, agricultural and building use.
The Portage facility opened in 1998 and currently has 80 employees working over two shifts.
All those on the manufacturing side are members of International Longshoremen ILA union.
Hirt said Feralloy buys its steel from various domestic mills, including the region’s largest steelmakers, U.S. Steel, ArcelorMittal and Beta Steel, and processes it according to the needs of the end users.
During the tours, Hirt and a few other plant managers took visitors through the various processes the steel goes through before it’s ready to be shipped to different customers, with the exception of the slitter. Unfortunately for Shaw, that machine was shut down last month for a complete rebuilding.
Plant manager Jim Drewno said the coils coming in could be 60 to 72 inches wide.
“Feralloy can turn that into 30, 2-inch coils or two, 30-inch coils and anywhere in between,” Drewno said. He said the steel can be sheared to the length the customer wants.
Inspections are made throughout the process to make sure the steel is flat and without any defects, Drewno said.
The overhead cranes move the steel coils around automatically.
“We’re processing coils up to 90,000 pounds. They can’t be moved manually,” Drewno said.
The company ships 50 to 80 truckloads, or 700 to 1,000 pounds, of steel a day.