Inland Steel Co. dedicated the "world's most advanced" blast furnace at its Lake Michigan plant yesterday, a 322-foot-tall, computer-controlled giant that brings American steel technology even with that in Japan and Europe, company officials said.
The completion of the blast furnace, which has a capacity of producing 7,000 tons of molten iron a day, concludes at $1 billion, 6-year expansion and modernizations program -- by far the most ambitious of any U.S. steel company. The new furnace will increase Inland's annual raw steel production capability by 13 percent over the capacity in 1974.
To Commerce Secretary Philip M. Klutznick, who heads a government, labor ad industry committee studying the steel industry's troubles, Inland's expansion program is a welcome ray of hope.
"The steel industry -- as with some other major American industries -- has been compelled to face revolutionary changes and adjust to a new era," Klutznick said at the dedication. Inland, the seventh-ranked U.S. steelmaker "has not only matched international steel adversaries in modernizing, but in some respects it has surpassed them."
Although Klutznick did not mention it, Inland's program was undertaken without the array of economic incentives and environmental regulatory concession proposed by the tripartite steel committee which Klutznick heads. Their report is due to go to President Carter soon.
It was a day for Inland to toot its own horn. Chairman Frederick G. Jaicks noted the company's willingness to invest heavily in basic steelmaking in the late 1970s, when some U.S. competitors were going outside the steel business or moving much more slowly to modernize steel plants.
"We chose to recognize the opportunity rather than the peril," Jaicks said. "A larger share of a market with continuing growth prospects clearly is within our grasp during the years ahead even while some of our competitors are reducing their steelmaking capabilities," he said.
Although steel employment nationwide decline from 531,000 to 406,000 during the 1970s, Inland added 2,600 jobs during the decade at its Indiana Harbor plant, the largest in the United States. Strategically located in the heart of the automotive manufacturing industry, the plant's lakeside location, permitting efficient delivery of ore and other raw materials by ship, has been a key to its prosperity.
The blast furnace includes the most modern steelmaking technology in the United States and borrows extensively from European and Japanese technological advances. Its closest competitors are U.S. Steel Corp.'s No. 13 furnace in Gary, Ind., and Bethleham Steel Corp.'s L Furnace at Sparrows Point, Md.
The furnace was dedicated by Madeline Block Willner, 78-year-old daughter of Philip D. Block, one of Inland's founders and its president from 1919 to 1941.
As a five-year-old girl, she dedicated Inland's first blast furnace (called Madeline No. 1), which is still in use. The new furnace, Madeline No. 7, will be able to produce in an hour or less more molten iron than the first furnace could make in a day.