Commonwealth Steel Products Co. Ltd was a consortium promoted strongly by A. Goninan, who sought railway wheels, tyres and axles for the rail wagons which were still an important part of his products and had been unobtainable during the latter years of the war.
The Company was registered in 1918 and made its first heat on February 19 1919. Mr AM Henderson was brought in with overseas experience and he and Mr Lance Frankham were responsible for design and operation of the initial plant. The first tyre mill (built in Australia) was driven by a steam engine, which had operated as the winding engine at Brilliant Deep Gold Mine in Queensland. A six-ton electric arc furnace, a six-ton steam hammer, a 2,000-ton press and a steel foundry were the other major plant items. Mr WE Clegg was appointed Manager in 1921, and General Manager in 1922. Mr Clegg stimulated, guided and supervised a continually growing enterprise until his retirement in December 1951. He began engineering as a mature-age trainee at Goninans. He studied at Newcastle Technical College and rapidly rose to Works Manager at Goninans. The Trades building at Newcastle Technical College at Tighes Hill was named in his honour.
While attached to the Commonwealth Steel Co., Mr Clegg travelled overseas to investigate new processes and equipment. Production of forged steel grinding balls commenced in 1929. The most significant new development at the works was the commissioning in 1941 of a plant to produce and roll special steels (with active technical support from the BHP Co. Ltd an initial range of alloy steels was available by 1937) - in time to provide material for the production of weapons and aircraft parts which were needed for the war effort. After the war the engineering and technological staff at Commonwealth Steel implemented a continuous programme of upgrading equipment and installing more modern plant. Special attention was given to the production of the special steels that are required for motor vehicle engines and transmissions. Quality standards were maintained at the top of available world technology. Modifications made to some pieces of equipment by Commonwealth Steel engineers have been so successful that the rights were purchased by overseas manufacturers. A unique computer control of railway wheel machining was introduced in 1979.
The Austral Nail Co. established a Wiremill at Port Waratah in September 1919. Its design, project management and commissioning was very much the handiwork of Mr. James Kenneth MacDougall, a chartered Electrical Engineer, who had already established an enviable reputation for himself in consulting prior to the 1914-18 war. He served as a subaltern in the 3rd Pioneer Battalion, AIF, and was expressly recalled from France on the order of the Prime Minister, Mr. Hughes, to make arrangements for the Wiremill. The new plant drew a range of mild steel wires, some of which were galvanised or tinned, converted to nails and staples.
In 1922, a branch of Rylands Bros., the world-renowned Warrington (Lancs.) firm established wire netting factory adjacent to the wiremill to make a wide range of netting for rural markets. Soon afterwards, the Austral Nail Co. and Rylands Bros. amalgamated. In 1925, the Company, Rylands Bros. (Australia) Ltd., was absorbed into the BHP Group. Rylands' facilities expanded apace and the development of their "Electric Control Wapping Off (wiredrawing) Machine" enabled them to draw low carbon wire at four times the rate of best overseas practice (3,000 feet/minute) on continuous machines. The Design Staff also engineered a world "first" - a ram truck for carrying rod coils - from a Lister truck, and joined with metallurgical staff to design a combined wire heat treatment and galvanising plant to make wires, which hitherto could only be coated electrolytically.
By 1939, Mr. MacDougall claimed his wire- mill product range was "the most complex in the Southern Hemisphere."
During the Second World War, engineering development was restricted to munitions. Later, attention was given to the complete rehabilitation of the wiremill of Lysaght Bros., where spectacular increases in productivity were made using machines designed by Rylands. The lessons learned were applied to a new mill at Geelong. Engineering expertise was concentrated in the Fifties on facilities upgrading at Newcastle and wiredrawing machine design which outstripped, for a short period, that overseas. Later, expertise in galvanising line design led to the Australian Wire Industries, (as BHP's wire interests had now become) leading the world in this field. To this was grafted a revolutionary gas gravel wiping method whereby coating speeds of up to 10 times that of conventional processes were possible.
By the 1980s, after just 60 years, the range of products made and marketed by AWI covered those required by Australian mining, manufacturing, construction and rural industries (except those in stainless or special alloy grades) about 5,000 in all. Following closure of the steelworks, the operations became part of OneSteel.
Australian Wire Ropes With wire being produced at Rylands, BHP formed a consortium with the four leading wire-rope manufacturers in Great Britain in 1923. This enterprise, The Australian Wire Rope Works Pty. Ltd., was managed by Ernest King, an experienced rope-maker from Great Britain. Mr King acquired a reputation for integrity, fair-dealing and maintenance of high quality. Some of his improvements in production methods were adopted overseas. Machines and feed-wire were originally imported from Britain. Mine Managers in Australia were initially strongly prejudiced against locally produced ropes. Use of Australian feed-wire was introduced slowly over about 15 years extensive testing. Acceptance was consolidated by the establishment of an Australian Standard in 1955, largely through Mr Anderson's work since 1952 on the Mine Hoisting Panel of the Australia Standards Association.
The Australian Wire Rope Works was forced to install new equipment as production expanded. Until 1957 the new equipment was designed by Mr Anderson and built by Ernie Hewett at Hexham Engineering. A 30-ton Closing Machine for ropes up to four inches in diameter, built to help meet the demand in the Second World War, was still in production in 1982. At the other end of the scale, machines were designed by Anderson during the war to make field telephone cable and aircraft control cable. In 1953, with the formation of Australian Wire Industries, Bill Anderson moved up to become Technical Assistant to the General Manager. With the demand for ever-larger ropes since then the Company installed large, imported machines, and was still winning orders for large ropes, against heavy international competition, in 1982. The plant continues to operate as a part of OneSteel.
John Lysaght (Australia) Ltd.
Galvanised iron is a building material with almost universal application in Australia. By the time the BHP Co.'s Steel Works was approved, Australia was Lysaght's (England) largest customer for galvanised iron, with imports of 83,000 tons per annum. To commence production in Australia Lysaght's acquired a site alongside the Steel Works but advanced very cautiously, making sure it had tariff protection. There was a small plant (four mills) in operation by 1921 producing one-fifth of Australia's demand. In this era rolling sheet was a most arduous and highly skilled task. Red-hot sheet bar was lifted by two men with tongs and placed between flat rolls. The sheet was picked up on the other side and fed back over a higher roll. Then it was fed back again. The sheet was doubled as required and the process repeated until a pack was produced of sheets of the desired size and thickness. The original mill was designed and commissioned by Alfred Tysoe of Lysaght's Newport Works. The mill drive shaft incorporated an enormous flywheel to provide for extensions.
The works were extended to include 16 pack mills and by 1936 the handling of the sheets was mechanised. Many innovations were introduced and production reached 100,000 tons per annum.
In 1938 the bulk of production was moved to Port Kembla where modern continuous rolling plants were installed. This originally heavily protected industry was, in 1945, selling sheet in Australia at $100 per ton when the price of overseas sheet in New Zealand was $170 per ton!
During the Second World War, Lysaght's older milling equipment was used to roll bullet- proof plate for armoured vehicles. Anderson shelters were exported to Britain. The great contribution of engineering versatility was, however, the production of the Owen Gun. Manufacture was shared between Port Kembla and Newcastle.
The Research and Development Department remained at Newcastle and it was there, under the direction of Mr Don Cameron, Research Superintendent (1955-69) that great contributions to the industry were made. Mr Cameron, a Science graduate from Great Britain, became an outstanding Physical Chemist and leader of the research group. Basic research at these laboratories in the crystalline changes in steel and coating metals during processing led to substantial improvements in strength and durability and processing speed. A group of Control Engineers developed more sensitive control systems for the new continuous machines at Port Kembla. A Chemical Engineer, Les Gore starting from a postgraduate project at the University of Newcastle, developed a world-class computer model of a continuous mill. The model justified the use of a bar-coiling process, and thus millions of dollars in capital and energy costs could be saved when the new mill at Westernport was established.
Special engineering projects were the design and construction of efficient, easily erected pre- fabricated farm bins and silos and steel shapes for composite concrete floors for buildings.
Stewarts and Lloyds
The last of the major steel processors to establish in Newcastle was Stewarts and Lloyds. After many negotiations, a joint venture by the BHP Co. Ltd. and Stewarts and Lloyds (initially registered as Buttweld Pty Ltd.) established a plant adjacent to the steelworks in 1934 to produce autogenous welded pipe from 10-65mm diameter. The pipe welding and galvanising plant was in operation by 1935, and a seamless tube mill to produce heavy duty tube to 220mm by 1939. The skills and equipment were put to good use during the Second World War to produce heavy guns and shells. From 1957 onwards, production facilities for larger pipe and tube were developed in Port Kembla, because appropriate feed skelp was not available in Newcastle.
The Newcastle Plant was progressively modernised and specialised in the production of galvanised merchant pipe to 65 NB and ERW pipe to 168mm OD. In particular, the development of a high volume Automatic Tube Galvanising Plant, which sold in the United Kingdom and Japan, was a notable achievement.
A large development included the addition of a hot finished Stretch Reducing Mill.
An outstanding innovation, sharing first place in the State Pollution Control Commission 1982 Award, is a plant recovering all effluents from the galvanising process to produce pigments.
Newcastle Industrial Heritage Association