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Steel Cement Slag Mill Project

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Story by John Harms (@ratherbeatlunch)

Over the past twelve months the Geotech Group (Geotech) and John Beever Australia have been responsible for a major project in the port precinct of Melbourne for an enterprise which shows that heavy industry certainly has a place in the life (and economy) of Victoria, and Australia.

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Since 1989 Steel Cement, part of Independent Cement and Lime, a company which is now jointly owned by Adelaide Brighton and the Barro Group, has operated a highly successful slag-cement plant at 32 South Wharf, and Lorimer Street, sites leased from the Melbourne Port Authority. It has become the major provider of cement in Victoria. Recently, however, Steel Cement faced a significant problem which threatened to have an impact on its future.

This slag-cement manufacturing operation began when Alan Dow and his colleagues at Independent Cement saw how a neat logistical circumstance could form the foundation of a very successful business. A local boy, Alan was a graduate of Swinburne University in mechanical engineering. After developing his career on projects in South Gippsland, where he played football for Wonthaggi, he returned to Melbourne where he could see an outstanding opportunity. There were obvious benefits – economic, environmental, engineering – in sourcing slag to be used in the manufacture of cement. Slag-cement is 25% more energy-efficient than Portland cement and provides a 50-year design-life, which is also considerably better performance. It has much going for it. And there were ready sources available, albeit from far away.

For many years, raw iron ore has been shipped from Port Hedland in Western Australia to Japan for smelting. It is reduced to iron and steel in blast furnaces. While in a molten state, all other matter is removed. That by-product, which includes various oxides, is called slag. For each tonne of iron produced, one third of a tonne of slag is removed.

Slag, however, is certainly not a waste product. It has a valuable use of its own. When further refined, in a comparatively straight-forward process pioneered in Germany in the nineteenth century, and developed to be efficiently productive now, that slag can be used to make high-grade concrete.

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Independent Cement realised the ships which carried such products as iron ore and timber for wood chips to Japan would normally return empty to Australia. They negotiated to buy slag from the steel manufacturers and have it transported back to Australia in those very ships. At a number of steel refining ports around Japan, they are unloaded and reloaded at the same berth.

The ships then deliver the slag to Steel Cement’s Port Melbourne processing plant, where it has been turned into the bulk cement used in major infrastructure projects – Bolte Bridge, Southbank, Hume Freeway, Docklands Stadium and many others – or packaged up for commercial sale to the building industry and wherever cement is used.

However, two years or so ago, when the 25 year lease was coming to the end of its term, the Melbourne Port Authority made it clear they intended using the Lorimer Street site for other purposes.

Independent Cement had no intention of closing down operations. The enterprise was profitable, it provided quality cementitious products for local use, and it was environmentally sound. The company needed to find a solution – and reasonably quickly.

They were able to secure land for purchase directly across the river Yarra at 295 Whitehall Street, Yarraville, near Wharf 5 and Wharf 6. However, this meant the entire plant had to either be moved, or a new plant designed and built. The company chose to re-design, upgrading equipment and systems which represented world’s best practice. The new site will produce 500,000 tonnes of cement per annum, up from 260,000 tonnes per annum at the original site.

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John Beever Australia was contracted to project manage the design and building of the $60 million plant. The job to establish this state-of-the-art site has involved expertise, materials and equipment from a number of countries: Japan, USA, Germany, China, New Zealand, Thailand and Australia. However, the majority of the installation was self-performed by John Beever Australia. Only a handful of specialist contractors such as plumbers, structural riggers and scaffolders were engaged at various times to assist.

With the site near completion, the major infrastructure is now in place. Operations will begin in mid-September. The imported Japanese slag will be unloaded at Wharf 5, and in the short-term trucked to the plant. (It will eventually be moved by a conveyor belt.)

It will be unloaded into an enormous shed, where there are three storage facilities, two 300 tonne slag silos, and one 100 tonne gypsum silo. A front-end loader will lift the materials onto a long, enclosed conveyor belt. The slag and gypsum will be carried to the processing tower for milling.

The 32 metre high milling tower was built using 300 tonnes of structural steel. The Mill was made in Japan, with local supplied structural steel, then assembled on the Yarraville site – like a giant Meccano set. The construction was advantaged by the use of Geotech’s 150 tonne crawler crane, which meant that the tower and the UBE Vertical Roller Mill (VRM) could be put together on the ground and lifted into place, bringing to an absolute minimum the amount of building completed at heights.

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The VRM, which will grind down the slag and crush it into powder, is designed and manufactured by UBE, a major Japanese industrial company. UBE and Steel Cement have a long standing relationship, which brought in the substantial technical expertise of the Japanese firm.

During the assembly of the VRM, Project Manager Grant Case and his team of engineers were advised by one of UBE’s leading supervisors. As Grant notes: “A major challenge was the communications barrier with Toshi Ueda, who had barely a word of English. Luckily the crew were equipped with iPads and English-Japanese translation apps. One of the funniest moments was listening to Bob Berouti translate to Toshi the site induction and evacuation procedure.”

Toshi really enjoyed his time here. He fell in love with the MCG and the strange games played there – cricket and footy – and the quality of the beer. Toshi was particularly intrigued by the Carlton and Richmond match at the start of the AFL season and no doubt took some stories back to Japan.

Another innovative aspect of the construction was the way the main 3,000 tonne silo came to life. It was assembled from the bottom, and then lifted layer-by-layer, using 5 tonne jacks. In total 30,000 bolts hold the panels together. This construction was supported by Russell Keays of Keays Engineering.

In the process of making the cement, the VRM crushes the slag and enormous hot air fans lift the fine particles, which then settle in the major silo. The material is then trucked away.

The process on the new site is highly efficient and, when up and running and in full swing, will continue to supply a large share of top-quality cement to satisfy Victoria’s ever-growing need for both new projects and the restoration of old.

Many other good things have come out of this large project. It has given Geotech and Grant Case an opportunity to reconnect after 12 years. Much has happened in the interim and Geotech was delighted to hear Grant’s enthusiasm for the Group. “The same company spirit and loyalty is still evident,” Grant said during the project, “with several former colleagues now showcasing their skills in senior roles within the organisation.”

These are big jobs where people are faced with enormous responsibility. There is always a deep sense of achievement once they are completed and meet our client’s highest expectations.

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