“The upgrade will enable us to boost the capacity of the No9 continuous casting line by 1 million tonnes from 800,000 tonnes, and to launch the production of ‘heavy’ slabs up to 400mm thick and up to 2,800 mm wide,” the company said.

Heavy gauge slab is rolled into plate used in the production of large-diameter (LD) pipes, wind turbines, sea vessels and offshore drilling rigs.

SMS Group (Germany) was selected is supplying the engineering and main process equipment for the project.

Construction and assembly works are scheduled to begin in the fourth quarter of 2018 and, in the second quarter of 2019, the line will then be idled for the reconstruction work. The process is expected to be completed in December 2019.

Currently, NLMK is able to produce around 13 million tonnes of slab at the Lipetsk site, in sizes ranging from 220x950mm to 355x2,200mm, used for making hot-rolled coil, plate and other value-added products at NLMK facilities and also for sale to external customers.

The company sold 1.82 million tonnes of slab in January-March 2018, up by 10% year on year from 1.65 million tonnes in the same quarter in 2017.

About 1.25 million tonnes went to the company’s foreign subsidiaries and affiliates, a 6% year-on-year increase from 2017's 1.18 million tonnes. The remaining volumes were traded on the spot market.

The company runs flat steel re-rolling facilities in Denmark and the United States and operates a number of plate mills in Europe under the joint venture NLMK Belgium Holdings (NBH).

CIS slab shipments to the US are now subject to a  25% tariff following the Trump administration's Section 232 investigation.

NLMK USA imports more than 2 million tons of slab per year, mainly from Lipetsk. Its plant in Farrell, Pennsylvania, does not have a meltshop and relies entirely on imported slab, while its facility in Portage, Indiana, has an electric-arc furnace that melts scrap and imported slab.

Because of its reliance on slab imports, NLMK USA requested an exemption from the 232 tariffs for Russian slab  and a decision is expected some time in June.

Nevertheless, the company continues to supply semi-finished steel products to its subsidiaries - mainly due to the favorable pricing conditions in the finished steel market of the US.

The other key export markets for NLMK slabs are Mexico, Europe and Turkey.

Metal Bulletin’s weekly price assessment for CIS export slab price was $530-535 per tonne fob Black Sea on May 21.