NZ smelter to help out after disaster

By Anne Gibson

Executives at giant Japanese manufacturer Kobe Steel have asked the Bluff aluminum smelter to increase supply after the earthquake and tsunami.

Ryan Cavanagh, general manager of New Zealand Aluminium Smelters at Tiwai Pt, said the Southland plant had capacity to meet demand.

"We have been informed that the casting furnace Kobe uses to manufacture rolling block was affected by the earthquake. They have requested that NZAS supply additional block if available. We are working through this at present," he said.

Asked about how other clients, plants and contacts in Japan had fared, Cavanagh said it was too early to say.

"The majority of NZAS customers are located in the south of Japan. The only customer we have heard from to date is Kobe Steel."

Executives at the Bluff smelter are yet to calculate the net effect on production but Cavanagh said Japan accounted for 62 per cent of production exports.

"We will not be expanding the NZAS operation. We are working with Rio Tinto Japan, who are in contact with our customers to determine requirements as to whether or not they will require any additional stock or changes to product orders following the earthquake and tsunami. We are also working with Sumitomo Chemical Company."

The plant's biggest customers are Sumitomo, controlling 20.6 per cent of the smelter, and Kobe Steel.

The aluminium produced at Bluff is used in motor vehicles, New Zealand's single largest import category from Japan.

Cavanagh said memory disks, stock for air condition units, machinery and vehicle parts were other end uses of the $1 billion export.

Kobe Steel issued a statement after the disaster saying none of its employees suffered injuries or casualties but the business had two plants in the Kanto region which were affected. Its Moka Plant makes aluminum flat products and Fujisawa Industrial Operations manufactures welding consumables and other products in Kanagawa Prefecture.

The Moka Plant suspended production and equipment was being inspected, Kobe said. The effect on production is undetermined and depends on the power supply situation to the area. Fujisawa Industrial Operations suspended production but after no problems were identified, production was restarted.

The Kobe Steel Group operates in the materials sector where it has interests in iron, steel, welding, aluminum and copper and in the machinery sector with industrial machinery, construction machinery and engineering.

- NZ Herald

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