Arc furnace breaker upgrade forging stronger production future for North American steel giant

Finkl Steel® has resolved long-standing production and maintenance issues at its Canadian facility in Sorel, Quebec, since switching up to ABB’s VD4-AF1 vacuum arc furnace circuit breaker.

As the world’s leading supplier of forging die, plastic mold and die casting tool steels, processing over 200,000 tons of steel each year – they also have facilities in Chicago, Detroit and Houston – Finkl Steel® was keen to address disruptive quarterly maintenance cycles and annual reconditioning of their circuit breakers that slowed production and tied up resource.

When two of their four circuit breakers reached the end of their shelf life, it made financial sense to upgrade their electrical cabinet with just one specialized VD4-AF1 arc furnace breaker, which has much greater longevity and endurance, slashes maintenance costs and brings added technological benefits. By halving the number of circuit breakers required, the facility is also significantly reducing its waste footprint.

Phillipe Tremblay, Project Engineer at Finkl Steel®, said: “It’s been a very sound investment, as a year in no one has touched it. The ABB VD4-AF1 is capable of 150,000 operations and as we’ll probably have it for at least 10 years, that equates to a decade of no maintenance. Before that it was continuous inspections, repairs, rebuilds and all the associated breakages, part costs and hours of downtime.

“This new breaker also brings smart technological advancements, as by synchronizing the opening of the poles it ensures that overvoltage is eliminated when it closes. This is also mission critical for us, as overvoltage can damage transformers and other important electrical equipment on the line.”

The VD4-AF1 is the first medium-voltage (MV) circuit breaker with servomotors, which enables precise drive control and eliminates the need for inrush limiting reactors and resistances for applications up to 38kV, leading to significant cost and space savings. It also brings 24/7 predictive health indication and accurate synchronization with network voltage, to control accuracy and precision of the electrical current passing through the furnace, while reducing the risk of component failure and enhancing safety.

Keven Ouellet, ABB Electrification Service Canada Field Service Engineer, added: “The VD4-AF1 proved to be a timely and targeted solution to Finkl’s particular problems and certainly succeeded in making all-important maintenance time and costs negligible. With the breakers being such a vital part of their production process, they also needed something ultra reliable and consistent, because they previously required a minimum of two spare breakers on hand all the time, just to ensure constant operation of the factory.

“VD4-AF1 is an all-in-one component too, meaning equipment previously required to resolve the challenges of the severe steelmaking environment is no longer needed, leading to significant expenditure savings in plants that usually suffer from heavy equipment costs. Additionally, the transient recovery voltage (TRV) is greatly reduced via the TRV measurement element present in the installation. It’s so gratifying to work with a device where you have a real technical advantage over the competition.”

With the objective of achieving zero greenhouse gas emissions, Finkl Steel® are looking to electrify all of their operations – the Sorel plant has been identified as the first facility of the Swiss steel group capable of electrifying all of its operations thanks to its strategic position and the availability of 100% renewable electricity produced in Quebec.