Finkl Steel
Finkl Steel Abb

North American Steel Giant Forges Stronger Future With Upgraded Arc Furnace Breaker

Oct. 11, 2023
With a nearly 35% reduction of the total cost of ownership, Finkl Steel has rounded the corner from heavy maintenance to maintenance-free operations with the installment of ABB's VD4-AF1 vacuum arc furnace circuit breaker.

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—which also has U.S. facilities in Chicago, Detroit, and Houston—Finkl Steel was eager to address disruptive quarterly maintenance cycles and annual reconditioning of its circuit breakers that slowed production and tied up resources.

When two of the four circuit breakers reached the end of their shelf life, it made financial sense to upgrade the 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 also significantly reduced its waste footprint as visualized in a short video below.

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 38 kV, leading to significant cost and space savings. It also brings 24/7 predictive health indication and accurate synchronization with network voltage, to control the 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 the 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 is looking to electrify all of its 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.