On December 13, 1987, a huge ladle poured the initial heat of molten steel into the reservoir at the top of Dofasco's first ever slab caster.

And with it, the company was transformed.

It only took minutes for the caster to turn molten steel into slabs, replacing the traditional steps of producing ingots, reheating them in the soaking pits and then rolling them into coils.

The two-strand No. 1 Caster was the heart of an integrated system aimed to improve quality and produce more sophisticated grades of steel. At the time, the $750-million investment was the largest ever by Dofasco and also included the KOBM blowing process, Ladle Metallurgy, the Reheat Furnaces and a two-stand and re-coiler expansion of the Hot Mill.

At the press conference announcing the investment, then President and CEO Paul Phoenix said, “This capital programme… will enable Dofasco to continue with two of its major objectives – to be a leading supplier of flat rolled steel to the domestic market and to expand product capabilities to meet the more demanding end uses for steel in the future.”

The first slabs’ excellent internal and surface quality exceeded expectations. At the time, leaders attributed the smooth start-up to the hard work of hundreds of people testing, planning and training to prepare for the project during its three years of construction. This included plant-wide training programs, as well as specialized instruction for some employees on equipment at Dofasco and other plants around the world.

Bob Savage, now retired and former vice president of Manufacturing, was caster foreman at the time. He remembers the huge amount of coordination required between Engineering, Operations, Maintenance, Human Resources and Metallurgy, outside consultants, as well as the vast scope of the project, including training and learning new processes.

“Don McFarlane was the superintendent. Trevor Wright was the assistant superintendent. Doug Watson was general foreman No. 2 and Brian Mullen was general foreman No. 1,” said Bob. “Doug had the main operational responsibility and was really hands on and played a big role in design.”

Bob remembers that Don, Trevor and Doug advocated strongly for a vertical mould system.

“This was a big decision because it was a much bigger structure and more expensive and more complicated. We went for it for quality reasons. We were told it was the future for ultra low-carbon steels and automotive steels,” Bob said. “To cast ultra low-carbon steels without a vertical mould, you have to cast very slowly. Otherwise impurities get trapped and get caught up. So this allowed Dofasco to cast ultra low-carbon steel at high speeds. That put Dofasco at a huge advantage.”

When the overall project was announced in November 1984, it was heralded as a way to meet the demand for new and high quality steel products with a major emphasis on improving yield and productivity. All stages of the system, from steelmaking to hot rolling were integrated by a computer system to handle scheduling, process control and quality monitoring. Major pieces of production equipment communicated via computer to maximize quality and scheduling accuracy. For its part, the caster provided more uniform chemistry throughout the length of a slab, a significant reduction in non-metallic inclusion and its location provided for optimum energy savings and efficiency.

Pino Faiazza (Steelmaking) remembers being excited and curious about the announcement. He had started at Dofasco in 1983 in the No. 2 Melt Shop on a six-month casual contract right out of high school. He was hired full time in May 1984 in the Services department until he was offered the opportunity to work on the ingot floor, setup floor and pouring deck in 1985. He started at No. 1 Caster on December 17, 1987 – four days after its initial run.

“For me, it meant job security. And the Investment paid off for all of the stakeholders. The quality of the steel improved and it gave Dofasco the opportunity to explore new products like ultra low carbon, drawn and iron, dual phase and advanced high strength steel for the future.

“It has been a great journey, having the opportunity to work with great people,” said Pino, who is currently No. 1 Caster Operations Day Support.

Pino says that over the years, No. 1 Caster has improved on quality, scheduling to maximize throughput, heat sizes and product mix, as well as technology, including breakout detection and automation to improve safety and consistency.

“The values remain the same. The phrase, ‘Our product is steel. Our strength is people.’ is still valued.”