British Steel has announced the single largest investment for more than 30 years at its Skinningrove site.

The £26 million project will see new processing facilities constructed at the Special Profiles site - which employs 327 staff - and forms part of a £100million investment this year by its owner Jingye Group.

The new Skinningrove facility will replace the services currently offered at the company’s site in Darlington, which stores and cuts profiles to customer requirements. It will close in 2023, but all 25 workers there will be given jobs with the company.

David Hogg, Special Profiles Plant Manager, said: “The service centre will sit right in the centre of our site, enabling us to achieve full integration with our upstream and downstream processes.

“Moving our operations from Darlington to Skinningrove and expanding our processing capabilities brings logistical, cost and environmental benefits as we’ll no longer be transporting material between these two locations.

“We already supply customers on a just-in-time basis, but this new facility will help streamline our operations and further improve efficiencies. Along with moving our operations, our intention is to offer all employees currently based at Darlington new roles so we can retain and support our skilled workforce.

“The task ahead of us is as complex as it is exciting.”

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The new service centre, which will include cut-to-length lines, product milling, machining and warehousing operations, will enable the company to make and process an extended range of value-added profiles for the forklift industry. The advanced milling and machining capability will also mean the company can offer profiles with world-leading tolerances of just 0.1mm.

British Steel’s Commercial Director for Special Profiles David Waine said: “This is an exciting project that will establish us as a leading manufacturer on the world stage. Our high-quality profiles are supplied globally to make components for a wide range of market sectors, such as the forklift and earthmoving industries, and many of these applications are extremely demanding.

“Our investment means we’ll have world-class products manufactured to the tightest of tolerances. It will enable us to explore new growth opportunities for our forklift mast products in Europe, North and South America, India and Asia. And although our primary product offering will be for forklift mast production, we expect to be able to expand this to include other product applications too.”

The company is experiencing strong growth for its products, particularly those used in the mining and construction sectors as well as the especially demanding application of high-reach trucks. These vehicles are typically used to move loads in warehouses and because they operate at heights – or lengths – in the order of 8 metres, exceptionally high tolerances are needed for the mast section, the moving part that enables the truck’s forks to reach, collect and move items.

David Waine said: “With the market growth and demands we’re anticipating, our investment is coming at just the right time. It will deliver new key capabilities that use technology nearly two decades more advanced than anything available anywhere in the world. To take on processing skills in a way that no-one else is doing is a hugely exhilarating challenge.”

Work on the new facilities is planned to begin towards the end of the year with commissioning expected to start in August 2023. The large scale of the scheme will involve a wide range of contractors covering a vast array of skills, from construction to turning and milling expertise to automated warehousing companies.

The latest scheme builds on previous investments, including the installation of a £2million world-leading surface descaling system, a high-tech product processing centre and a unique robotic identification tracking control for each profile manufactured at the Skinningrove mill.

David Waine added: “These projects are taking our profile offering from strength to strength. But it’s not just our series of investments that’s making the difference, the innovation and skill of our teams to think differently, identify new opportunities and implement them effectively is really transforming the products and services we’re able to offer. In the last two years alone, we’ve achieved an impressive nine product patents and it’s this continued entrepreneurship that is driving our business forward.

“The market is becoming increasingly competitive. But by continually innovating and developing our processing capabilities in line with customer requirements, the outlook is bright.”

The Special Profiles business already manufactures around 250,000 tonnes of steel products each year, including crane rail used in port infrastructure, profiles for earthmovers, forklifts, and in the mining industry.

They are manufactured to meet customer specification requirements and rolled to the precise shape needed for the end applications. Products are supplied internationally to customers including brands like JCB, Caterpillar and Toyota, and have been used in notable projects such as the retractable roof system used at Wimbledon.