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AK Steel blast furnace shut down again

AK Steel’s blast furnace in Ashland, Ky., which already unexpectedly shut down once this year due to some kind of malfunction in February, has shut down again.

“AK Steel recently experienced an unplanned stoppage at its Ashland Works (KY) blast furnace,” said spokesman Mike Wallner in an email. “The company is working to remedy the situation and minimize any potential impact on its customers.”

The blast furnace is the part of the mill where fuel, iron ore and limestone are heated and reduced to make hot metal. AK Steel has two blast furnaces — the one at Ashland, and one at Middletown Works here in Butler County.

Other steel plants operated by AK Steel use electric arc furnaces, which consume scrap steel and heats it with an electrical charge to mold metal.

This means production has been halted a third time since June 2013 because of problems at the Ashland and Middletown blast furnaces.

On Feb. 22 this year, West Chester Twp.-based AK Steel Holding Corp. said it experienced an incident at the Ashland blast furnace. As a result, the furnace was temporarily shut down. Since then, the Ashland furnace was restarted in March, the company said at the time.

Last year, Middletown Works’ blast furnace was taken offline after experiencing a mechanical failure on June 22, 2013. It was restarted within three weeks, but ongoing problems meant AK Steel’s largest steel plant in Middletown did not return to full production until October last year. The total uninsured loss from the Middletown Works accident was expected to be $20 million to $23 million.

The Butler County steelmaker released earnings for the April to June 2014 quarter on Tuesday, showing a trimmed $17.1 million net loss. During remarks to investor analysts discussing results, AK Steel Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer James Wainscott said the company’s blast furnaces ran much better in the second quarter than the first part of the year.

“That said, we continued to experience operational issues at our Ashland blast furnace, which are continuing, and we are assessing the possible need and timing for a larger maintenance job at that furnace,” Wainscott said.

Before that on July 21, AK Steel announced plans to buy a new steel plant in Dearborn, Michigan, which also produces carbon flat-rolled steel products using a blast furnace. The $700 million deal is expected to close by the end of the year. In light of repairs needed at the Ashland and Middletown blast furnaces, Wainscott says the benefits of acquiring the Michigan steel plant include increased productivity and operational flexibility.

Last year’s unplanned Middletown outage led to a delay of shipments to some customers.

Shares of AK Steel stock soared to a more than two-year high Tuesday of $9.45 per share after the company reported an operating profit.

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