The importance of NZ Steel to Franklin

In September, NZ Steel applied to renew its resource consent to continue discharges from the Glenbrook Steel Mill for a period of 35 years. While Auckland Council has recommended it be approved, a small group of residents made submissions for the consent renewal to be declined or time-restricted. Resource consent hearings were heard by independent commissioners in Waiuku in October. I wrote to the West Franklin Breeze, a local newspaper, in support of NZ Steel. This is my article that was published in the November 2022 edition

I recently took National’s Leader Christopher Luxon to visit New Zealand Steel at Glenbrook. I wanted him to meet the leadership team and to see at first-hand the innovation the company employs to make their outstanding products.

(L-R) New Zealand Steel CEO Robin Davies, MP for Port Waikato Andrew Bayly, National Leader Christopher Luxon, and Rob Bebelman, New Zealand Steel GM Mills & Coating

New Zealand Steel has been producing steel on a commercial basis from the mill at Glenbrook since 1968, making use of the local raw materials – the black ironsand of the west coast. In this regard it is unique in the world.

It is not a large organisation by international standards, but New Zealand Steel is incredibly important to the Franklin region and the NZ economy as a whole.

It supplies the building and construction sector, supports our local manufacturing, and helps build our infrastructure. Its branded products, including COLORSTEEL®, AXXIS® Steel for Framing, ZINCALUME® and GALVSTEEL®, are renowned in New Zealand for their quality and importantly being NZ made.

Steel is a terrific building product and is used in more than half of New Zealand’s building projects. It is incredibly strong and versatile. It can be formed into different shapes and long spans, giving architects more options for designing workspaces.

It performs well under seismic conditions. Following the Christchurch earthquakes, modern multi-level steel-framed buildings were able to be passed as safe and fit for re-occupation with no structural repairs necessary.

Steel costs around the same as concrete and less than timber when used in construction, and because it is manufactured offsite, a building made from steel components is more quickly erected than one built from other products.

It is also sustainable: steel is one of the world’s most recycled materials. Components can be dismantled and reused or altered without compromising on quality.

And this essential product is made right here in Franklin. New Zealand Steel is the largest single manufacturing site in the district, employing over 1300 people, most of whom live in Franklin.

Its employees don’t just work in steel manufacturing. The company has an important sales and marketing division, plus laboratories, quality assurance, health and safety, environmental protection, and a research and development capability that supports programmes in New Zealand’s universities.

Having a domestic supply of this vital product means New Zealand is not dependent on imported product. We have supplies when they are needed, and we have a steel certification scheme that means product quality is assured to meet NZ and Australian standards.

For example, in 1998 during Auckland’s water supply crisis, it was a New Zealand Steel pipe that carried water from the Waikato River to the Hunua water treatment facility. Steel plate was instrumental in restoring Wellington’s port after damage sustained in the 2016 Kaikoura earthquakes. And in 2020, when the Auckland Harbour Bridge was damaged, the replacement girder was manufactured right here.

Without this local source, our vital infrastructure would take much longer to build and be more costly to complete.

Steel billets rolling over the production line at New Zealand Steel

New Zealand Steel is committed to meeting its environmental responsibilities and has implemented a formal environmental management system which aims to avoid or minimise the environmental effect of its operations. The system is continually reviewed, and this focus has led to many improvements and reduction in costs. The programme includes an environmental committee which comprises representatives from local grower organisations, territorial authorities, and senior company managers.

The company, and the steel industry within New Zealand, continues to innovate and develop new technologies to improve processes and systems. In August I visited HERA, the Heavy Engineering Research Association, which is based in Manukau, and spoke to Dr Michail Karpenko, who heads up HERA’s Welding Centre. He explained that they are currently researching the use of robots to undertake standard welding operations.

While robotic welding is commonplace in light manufacturing, such as car bodies, in heavy fabrication it is not so straightforward. The welds are typically very large and it takes time and skill to program a robot to the accuracy required to achieve a good-quality weld.

However, recent developments in robot technology have simplified the process. Robots equipped with sensors can more easily adjust when parts are out of position and when weld seams move during welding. Using robots to do standard welding frees up our skilled welders to do more complex and difficult work.

It is essential that we support New Zealand Steel in its operations here in Franklin. It is a vital part of our economy.