Monday, February 26, 2007

Steeling Home

The fiery brimstone scene in the photo looks like something out of my Calvinistic Sunday School class, and it really is an awesome sight--but much much more benign.

It’s one of the world’s largest steel plants, and it is just down the highway from me, a black windowless hulk right out of Charles Dickens. But inside is a different story!

The way I see it now, a steel plant is the birthing room for our civilization, spewing out daily that which makes life as we know it possible.

For someone whose nose was always in book, the opportunity for a private tour of a huge steel plant was irresistible. I love seeing how “real” things are made! The ostensible purpose was to give me some visuals to help me translate everything from lessons on deoxidation steel to conference papers about blast furnace burn-throughs. But I had a hidden motive—I was dying to peek inside the potentially most dangerous and off-limits place for miles. . . oops, kilometers.

Of course the safety regulations meant I was first outfitted in a hard hat, safety goggles, and steel metatarsal boots before passing though a PC-filled control room with large glass windows. Then it was through the magic door and into the world of secondary steelmaking.

What could seem further from the psyche than buckets of glowing red molten iron and aluminum surrounded by piles of hardened gray slag inside a cavernous dimly lit warehouse? Given the smell of hot metal occasional sprays of molten sparks, I alternated between stopping to gasp in awe and running for cover from man-made flowing steel lava deftly being managed by knots of workers. Each was dressed in a hood with mask and a white ankle-length flame-resistant robe, a jolting juxtaposition of the image of medieval monk and space alien.

In route, it dawned on me that I had depended on steel all my life and had not the faintest idea of the drama involved in fabricating it.

Of course my guide was leading me safely through a maze of ladle furnaces, transfer cars, and the other behemoths that make possible the end result—slabs of cold steel that are later processed into the sheets and trusses and wires that become cars and shopping malls and even the cutlery in our kitchen drawers.

Without these plants, without steel, I could never have immigrated here. I got here on wings of steel and go about on wheels of steel. At home we cook, serve, and eat using steel. Even things that might not have any steel content, such as my food and clothes, need steel buildings, vehicles, and machinery for production, transportation, and marketing.

Look around you right now and count how many things in your environment contain steel or clearly required steel “input” somewhere between imagination and reality.

As a coach, I often think about how folks transform ideas into something concrete by creating a plan of action and executing it. In a steel plant, all this is writ in capital letters! You can’t think small and be in steel! I offer my admiration and appreciation to all those who work in steel.

Oh, and I also offer a challenge: May those who are getting wealthy emulate Andrew Carnegie by becoming important philanthropists. We need more libraries here!

Since my tour, I’ve really gotten into flow translating those concrete steps in secondary steelmaking from Spanish into English for the North American subsidiaries. You know, in some ways, turning out steel seems to me to be the magnified version of making really good brownies. . . first melt some high-quality ingredients, add some other solids, heat and form the mass into bars, and enjoy!

Hey, any one for a slice of fresh homemade steel??

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