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Wire Journal News

September 2023

The below piece ran in the Asia Focus section of WJI's October issue

The search for a room-temperature superconductive material has long been pursued, but so far it has remained a scientific theory. There is widespread interest in recent claims from South Korean researchers who believe that LK-99 could be for real. While further assessment of K-99 may well show that it is not “for real,” that possibility is hard to ignore.

Word that a new superconductor—LK-99—can work at room temperatures or higher, and at ambient pressure, recently fueled an online frenzy that led to much discussion as to whether it could for real. By press time, the story that broke in July and was abuzz in early August may not just be yesterday’s news, but yesterday’s news refuted, as there are many questions about the concept from Sukbae Lee and Ji-Hoon Kim, and colleagues, of South Korea’s Quantum Energy Research Centre.

Per Wikipedia, LK-99 is a potential room-temperature superconductor with a gray-black appearance that is said to have a hexagonal structure that is slightly modified from lead‒apatite by adding small amounts of copper. In 1999, a Korea University team led by Lee and Kim claimed that the material acts as a superconductor at temperatures below 400 K (127°C/260°F) and at ambient pressure. Not much happened until recently, when a July 22 technical paper by Lee and Kim (their names led to the LK-99 tag) jolted the technical field as they implied that room-temperature capability may be possible.

On Aug. 4, 2023, a report sent to SBS News said that high-quality LK-99 samples may exhibit diamagnetism 5,450 times greater than graphite, while low-quality samples may demonstrate an effect up to 23 times stronger. The only way that could be, the report said, is if the substance is a superconductor.

A recent story in BusinessKorea said that the Korean Superconductivity Society recently established a committee of experts to verify LK-99, a room-temperature superconductor developed by Korean researchers affiliated with the Quantum Energy Research Center (QERC) among others. The society said it plans to provide samples produced by the QERC for testing.

While LK-99 would be a stunning advance if it was found to be scientifically verified, several wire and cable manufacturers have been working on them, albeit with technology that does not work at room temperatures.

In 2021, South Korea’s LS Cable & System developed a next-generation 23 kV triaxial superconducting cable and obtained an IEC on the product. Currently, only three companies in the world can make superconducting cables, and LS Cable & System notes that it is the only one that established an international standard for a triaxial superconducting cable.
WJI asked LS Cable & System whether it was involved in any way with the research into LK-99, and got the following reply. “The superconducting cable commercialized by LS Cable & System is a product with a different technology from LK-99, which has recently become an issue.”

That response did not state that South Korea’s LS Cable & System was not interested in the potential of LK-99, only that at this point it is not part of the current activity.

LK-99 technology is worth pursuing as multiple reports note that its hoped-for potential would be an amazing advance. It has been likened to the search for the Holy Grail, yet it also evokes decades-old memories of claims of “cold fusion” for nuclear energy that never materialized. And yes, there are skeptics for LK-99.

To date, there has been no scientific validation of LK-99, although there was one report of observed superconductivity at 110 K by a team from Southeast University, China. However, the absence of the Meissner effect (a defining characteristic of superconductors) was questioned as well as the testing method.

There has been considerable response, most doubting the accuracy of the claims. An article published by Time said that on July 31, researchers from the National Physical Laboratory of India uploaded a paper that found that LK-99 is not superconductive. Veerpal Singh Awana, chief scientist at the National Physical Laboratory, posted details online outlining his group’s unsuccessful efforts to replicate the findings. Also, researchers from Beihang University in Beijing uploaded a paper on July 31 that found that LK-99 is not superconductive.
Other warning flags were that there was no heat anomaly test and no definition of “zero resistance.”

An editorial in The Hindu was blunt. “For another claim this year, of a material that reportedly superconducts near room temperature and under much less pressure than others of its kind, its originators shared instructions to synthesize it but refused to share samples, claiming they constituted intellectual property. While this may be, their refusal vitiated the proper process of science in the face of such an extraordinary claim.”

Another on-line article, in the Korean Joongang Daily, said that a researcher from the Korea Institute of Energy Technology (Kentech) “confirmed that the crystal structure of LK-99 is in line with what has been suggested in manuscripts put forward by the Korean scientists, according to local media reports.” At the same time, it noted that The Korean Society of Superconductivity and Cryogenics looking into the claims believes that “based on the studies and footage, the material appearing in the research and the footage cannot be considered as a room-temperature, ambient-pressure superconductor.”

But for now, LK-99 is front and center, and multiple Korean researchers are assessing the technology. If it is deemed feasible, more than one wire and cable manufacturer would be very, very interested.

Published in Industry News

Taihan Cable & Solution has received an approval from KEM, a Dutch testing center, for its 525-kV high-voltage direct current (HVDC) transmission cable that it said represents the first such one to be certified for a South Korean company.

In a press release, Taihan CEO Song Jong-min announced that the company’s 525kV VSC (Voltage Source Converter) HVDC land cable system was granted certification from KEM. This took place about eight months after the company’s successful development of the first 500kV LCC (Line Commutated Converter) system.

The company said that by increasing the cross-sectional area of the 3,000 sq mm conductor, it was able to raise the allowable conductor temperature to over 90° (194° F). That enables the cable to carry a greater amount of current, a big plus for large-scale power transmission.

The release said that the 525-kV cable is currently the highest voltage among commercialized cables, and that only a few companies in the world have achieved this level of technology. “We have secured unrivaled technological competitiveness in 525kV VSC HVDC cables,” an official from Taihan said. “As investment in power infrastructure expands worldwide, especially in developed markets such as the United States and Europe, we will be able to secure business opportunities in various HVDC projects.”

Once the company completes its submarine cable plant now under construction in Dangjin, Chungcheongnam-do, it will accelerate the development and certification of submarine HVDC cable systems. “As the HVDC market continues to expand in the medium to long term, we are committed to ensuring our technological and business competitiveness.”

Published in Press Releases

Mexico’s Grupo Simec, which acquired Republic Steel in 2005, announced that it plans to indefinitely idle its operations in Canton, Ohio, and Lackawanna, New York, and move that production to a newer plant in Mexico.

Per multiple reports, Grupo Simec said that it plans to idle steelmaking operations at the two mills. Production will shift to the company’s modern plant in Tlaxcala, Mexico. The changes will result in some 500 employees being “furloughed indefinitely.” That includes 322 positions in Canton and 178 in Lackawanna.

In a statement, James Vigil, a Republic Steel board member and executive advisor, said that Grupo Simec had considered all potential options before making its ultimate decision. “We’re facing an extremely challenging SBQ (special bar quality steel) market in the U.S., with competitive market pricing and decreased demand. At the same time, we’ve had to deal with increasing input costs on all raw materials, consumables, and labor, all as a result of the inflationary environment in the U.S. over the past year.”

A key problem was complying with environmental requirements, Vigil explained. The company took many steps over the past several years to remain compliant with all environmental regulations, particularly the National Ambient Air Quality Standard for leaded steel production. Republic Steel spent some $10 million in the Canton plant—which is 125 years old— but it was unlikely that either of the plants would meet future, tougher requirements. Consolidating production to Grupo Simec’s modern plant in Tlaxcala enables more competitive pricing, increased environmental responsibility, and enhanced product quality.

“As the only producers of leaded steel in North America, we also owe it to our customers, and their customers, to be a reliable supplier of such products,” said Vigil. “Ultimately, we’re responsible to our shareholders and our customers. We’re simply doing what needs to be done to meet our responsibilities.”

Vigil said there had been hopes that inflationary pressures would ease, and that Republic Steel would see a bump in business following the passages of the Infrastructure Bill in 2021 and increased demand from the Inflation Reduction Act in 2022. Neither came through.

Republic Steel was acquired in 2005 by Industrias CH, S.A de C.V. (ICH), a steel producer and processor based in Mexico City. Republic Steel is a subsidiary of Grupo Simec, Guadalajara, Mexico, of which ICH is the majority owner. Simec is one of the largest producers

Published in Industry News

TenneT, the largest electric grid operator in the Netherlands and Germany, announced that it has awarded contracts approximately €1.5 billion to multiple companies building high-tension wires.

A press release said that TenneT has signed a multi-year contract (Corporate Framework Agreement) with the following eight contract partners following a tendering procedure: Brugg Kabel of Switzerland, LS Cable & System and Taihan of South Korea, NKT GmbH & Co KG and Suedkabel GmbH of Germany, Prysmian and TKF of the Netherlands, and TBEA Shandong Luneng Taishan Cable Co., Ltd. of China.

These partners will supply and install the cables for the 110, 150, 220 and 380 kV onshore high-voltage AC connections in Germany and the Netherlands on behalf of TenneT. “In the coming years, we will construct some 900 km of high-voltage in Germany and TenneT will realize some 4,000 km of high-voltage in the Netherlands.”

TenneT intends to spend as much as 100 billion euros in the coming decade to build out electric grids onshore and offshore as electricity from renewable sources increasingly replaces fossil fuels. It also explained how the company is evolving. “TenneT realises that expanding the electricity grid involves a lot of work. That is one of the reasons for working intensively with these specialised companies. By focusing on long-term partnerships that create a stable collaboration, parties can focus more on innovation and adjust the production process and machinery. Specifically, we will see this reflected in improved materials and design optimisation in the coming years. And, more importantly, we see more opportunities to develop longer cables in one piece (depending on voltage level) up to 5,000 meters.

“Where we currently still work with cables of around 1,500 metres, within two years we will already be laying cables with a length of 3 to 3.5 kilometres. Lengths that can soon also be realised with drilling. And that really is a step forward in terms of burdening the environment during construction, but also in terms of failures, speed and so on.”

Published in Industry News

The last acquisition by Prysmian, the world’s largest cable manufacturer, was its largest ever: a $3 billion deal for U.S.-based General Cable that was completed in 2018. Per a report in Reuters, the company may make another deal in the year or two.

The Reuters story said that during an analyst call, Chief Executive Valerio Battista said that “until recently M&A ‘was a suicide’ due to sky-high valuations.” That situation is changing, and Prysmian has a healthy balance sheet that allows it to pursue opportunities. “Frankly speaking, I believe that in the next 12-24 months ... some of our competitors may come to the door,” he said.

No potential acquisitions were cited in the article, which noted that Prysmian expects a cash flow of between €550-650 million this year, topping prior guidance.

Published in Industry News

 CommScope® reports that it plans to invest $60.3 million over the next four years to expand its manufacturing facilities based in North Carolina to bolster its ability to meet U.S. supply demands driven by federal initiatives.

 A press release said that CommScope currently has the capacity to manufacture drop cable at a rate of approximately two billion feet per year at its U.S. facilities, a level of production that will allow states and their partners to connect every underserved American as a part of the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program. The expansion in Catawba County is expected to create at least 250 new jobs.

The expansion will further allow CommScope to manufacture the necessary cable for service providers to deploy broadband across the U.S. Capacity increase will align around loose tube production and additional fiber cable counts and styles needed for rural deployment, including CommScope’s HeliARC fiber optic cable that is specifically designed for rural fiber network architecture.

“Broadband for everyone is no longer a luxury, but rather a critical necessity to participate in today’s society and economic market,” said CommScope President and CEO Chuck Treadway. “We have long been committed to supplying our partners with the solutions necessary to bring broadband to everyone. Furthering our long-standing relationship with the State of North Carolina is a great next step to bring ‘Internet For All’, and we are thrilled to work with the State on this endeavor.

Published in Industry News

Prime Materials Recovery, Inc. (PMR), announced that it is buying an SCR copper rod system from Southwire for installation at its subsidiary, IMC - Metals America, LLC (IMC), in Shelby, North Carolina.

A press release said that the new line—the SCR 4500— will be installed in a purpose-built plant at the existing site, and mark the business’s entry into the ETP copper rod market. Sitework is expected to begin in the third quarter of 2023 and bring 75-80 new jobs to Cleveland County, North Carolina.

PMR noted that in a separate initiative, IMC, one of North America’s largest producers of oxygen-free (OF) copper, will be increasing its copper rod production capacity with the purchase and installation of a new line from Upcast OY based in Pori, Finland.

“We are extremely pleased to be partnering with industry leaders like Southwire and Upcast OY with these initiatives,” said PMR CEO Bernie Schilberg. “We look forward to these successful projects and years of effectively serving our customers and these markets.”

Per PMR, each month it processes and brokers in excess of 35 million pounds of nonferrous metals at its facilities. It also actively participates in the global metal market via its import and export capabilities. PMR and its holding company represent one of the largest nonferrous and polymer merchants, processors, and fabricators in the United States. Based in East Hartford, Connecticut, the business includes facilities in Canastota, New York; South Windsor and Willimantic, Connecticut; Jersey City, New Jersey; Hickory and Shelby, North Caroline; Orangeburg, South Carolina; Miami, Florida; and Wilmington, Delaware.

The SCR-4500 system is designed for a production rate of 35 metric tons per hour of eight mm rod. The project includes the design of all operating equipment from a skip cart furnace loader to a finished rod handling system. The system will include an 11 stand Morgan “No Twist®” rolling mill, furnished by Primetals Technologies.

“We would like to welcome IMC into the SCR family and look forward to many years of successful collaboration,” said Mark Roden, Southwire’s vice president of SCR Technologies. “It is through our continued support and the SCR Technology Pool that this relationship will continue to grow for many years to come.”

Published in Industry News

NKT reports that it has signed a long-term contract with major European copper producer KGHM S.A. to ensure that it will get the copper rod it needs for 2023-2027.

 A press release said that the expansion of renewable energy sources has led to considerable increased demand for copper. To secure that essential supply NKT signed a long-term agreement with Polish copper supplier KGHM S.A. for an annual minimum of 52,500 metric tons of copper wire rod for 2023-2027, with an option to expand quantities and extend the contractual period.

“We are pleased to strengthen our long-term collaboration with KGHM by entering into this frame agreement for the supply of copper rod for the coming years,” said NKT President & CEO Claes Westerlind. “And even more so, that we are able to source copper close to where it is needed, which supports our efforts to reduce the environmental impact of our operations.”

KGHM is an integrated copper producer with its own mineral resources, mines, smelters and copper rod production facilities in Europe. KGHM’s Głogów and Legnica copper smelters/refineries and Cedynia wire rod plant are Copper Mark certified. In line with its commitment to connect a greener world, NKT has also joined the Copper Mark to promote responsible copper mining and production.

Published in Industry News

Germany’s August Strecker GmbH & Co. KG (Strecker) this year celebrates its 90th anniversary, with the family-run company continuing its legacy of outstanding quality and innovative welding technology.

Per the company, the commitment to innovation stems back to 1933 when Strecker filed its first patent, laying the foundation for future success. In the following years, the production program was constantly expanded, and sales markets enlarged. Today, Stecker’s product range is the most diverse for welding applications in the wire and cable industry, including models for diameters as small as 0.04 mm for the electronics industry to solid wires up to 60 mm in diameter. Basically, the company can weld any metal which is considered to be weldable.

In this its anniversary year 2023, Strecker is again presenting new products: the soldering gun type LP10 addresses manufacturers of high-voltage transformers while producers of submarine cables can now connect conductor cables up to a cross-section of 3500 mm², i.e., 67 mm diameter, with type MK1200-FPC.

The company’s circle of customers includes well-known international groups such as tire manufacturer Michelin, cable producers such as Nexans and Prysmian, and car manufacturers such as BMW and Volkswagen.

Strecker exports to more than 110 countries, with all five continents equally represented, with around 60% of production remaining in Europe. The company takes part in national and international trade fairs, making the “Strecker” brand increasingly well known worldwide, bolstered by a network of more than 40 foreign representatives who support sales and ensure close customer contact.

Beyond welders, Strecker supplies technical consultancy prior and after purchase, commissioning and personnel training at worldwide locations, as well as support in solving complex tasks related to welding and process optimization. Many issues can be resolved via remote maintenance, and service packages are offered for customers with time-critical production to ensure fast and reliable support every day of the week.

Strecker produces in a climate-neutral and sustainable manner. The company vehicle fleet is gradually being converted to e-mobility and employees are being motivated and encouraged to make the switch.

For almost 60 years, Managing Director Rainer Stock shaped the development and growth of the company. Following his death in 2022, his son, Michael Stock, has managed the family business, supported by key staffers Sigrun Möbus, Uwe Hastrich and Kim Schmitt.

Stock praised the contribution of employees. “Together we can be proud of what we have achieved. We draw motivation from this for continuous progress in the future. Strecker connects!”

Published in Press Releases

Madsen Steel Wire Products has acquired a 100,000-sq-ft facility in Bronson, Michigan, that will house a powder coating line that will apply coating to a wide variety of wire products produced at Madsen Steel Wire’s headquarters in Orland, Indiana, and be able to coat any wire or sheet metal product customers need.

A press release said that the best-in-class powder coating line will enable the company to be a one-stop shop for multiple industries. The expansion was fully backed by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) and the Michigan Business Development Program (MBDP) is providing instrumental support with a performance-based grant amounting to $552,000.

“Michigan has been an outstanding partner in growing USA manufacturing by reinvesting in the local community,” said Drew Greenblatt, president and owner of Madsen Steel Wire Products and Marlin Steel Wire Products. He noted that purchases last year included two best-in-class machines: a Trumpf TruBend 3000 press brake and a Schlatter MG950 wire welder to produce wire products quicker and more efficiently while boosting product quality. “With the addition of our new powder coating line, we have further cut down the time spent in the manufacturing process. True to our promise, we continue to deliver on “highest quality, fastest delivery.”

Published in Industry News
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