Employment is expected to continue to decline due to consolidation and further automation of the steelmaking process. Employers staffing production and maintenance jobs increasingly prefer individuals with 2-year degrees in mechanical or electrical technology. Opportunities will be best for engineers, computer scientists, business majors, and skilled production and maintenance workers.
Establishments in this industry produce steel by melting iron ore, scrap metal, and other additives in furnaces. The molten metal output is then solidified into semifinished shapes before it is rolled, drawn, cast, and extruded to make sheet, rod, bar, tubing, beams, and wire. Other establishments in the industry make finished steel products directly from purchased steel.
The least costly method of making steel uses scrap metal as its base. Steel scrap from many sources—such as old bridges, refrigerators, and automobiles—and other additives are placed in an electric arc furnace, where the intense heat produced by carbon electrodes and chemical reactions melts the scrap, converting it into molten steel. Establishments that use this method of producing steel are called electric arc furnace (EAF) mills, or minimills. While EAFs are sometimes small, some are large enough to produce 400 tons of steel at a time. The growth of EAFs has been driven by the technology’s smaller initial capital investment and lower operating costs. Moreover, scrap metal is found in all parts of the country, so EAFs are not tied as closely to raw material deposits as are integrated mills and can be placed closer to consumers. EAFs now account for well over half of American steel production and their share is expected to continue to grow in coming years as they move to produce more higher end products by adding virgin iron ore to the mix of steel scrap and other additives.
The growth of EAFs comes partly at the expense of integrated mills. Integrated mills reduce iron ore to molten pig iron in blast furnaces. The iron is then sent to the oxygen furnace, where it is combined with scrap to make molten steel. The steel produced by integrated mills generally is considered to be of higher quality than steel from EAFs but, because the production process is more complicated and consumes more energy, it is more costly.
[ Excerpted from Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Career Guide to Industries, 2008-09 Edition - Steel Manufacturing ]