2007 was the year when Port Talbot’s hot strip mill set itself the task to produce 3.5 million tonnes of hot rolled coil in a calendar year. I have my own thoughts about chasing tonnage records, but that’s the subject of another blog. The main aim, as far as I understand it, was to prove that a business model of 5 million tonnes of finished steel was feasible when shared between Llanwern and Port Talbot.
Anyhow, things went well. I even produced a web pages showing how current production was keeping up with the planned tonnages (mind you, this was total, not prime, tonnage, but again, that’s for the other blog), and overall we were doing pretty well.
Then came the moment where we were going to invite the press on a Friday morning for them to witness the production of the 3.5 millionth tonnes. We were even slightly ahead of our target and would have reached our target on the Thursday afternoon – that was after all the arrangements were made for the press to be present the next morning.
So the sensible thing was to stop the mill for a while, and resume production when the time was ripe for the record tonnage milestone to be met the next day. And guess what ? That’s when Sod’s Law kicked in: there was a lengthy production delay on Thursday afternoon (can’t quite remember what the reason was, but in the scheme of things it hardly mattered), and all of a sudden we were way behind schedule. So much so that it was unlikely that the 3.5 million milestone would be reached the next day.
So what do you do when faced with a looming public relations disaster ? You frig the data. The hot mill system people were asked to increase the annual tonnage displayed in the hot strip mill pulpit so that the record milestone would be achieved that Friday morning.
The whole media circus went ahead as planned, cameras rolled, pictures were taken, interviews came on the local news, and all the time everyone on the inside knew it was fake. After the event, the tonnage was set back to the real value, and in the end we met the 3.5 million tonnes target over the weekend.
Makes you wonder how many other public events you see on the telly have been stage managed to satisfy the needs of the cameras and the viewing public.