Insight into the World Cultural Heritage Site Völklingen Ironworks

By State Chancellery Saarland

The first steelworks was set up in Völklingen in 1873. The Röchling family bought it in 1881 and founded the Völklingen Ironworks. By 1903, pig iron was being smelted in six blast furnaces and processed to steel. The mid 1960s saw over 17,000 people working at the ironworks. The steel crisis of the 1970s, however, led to the closure of the blast furnace works. In 1994, UNESCO declared the disused ironworks a World Cultural Heritage Site. It is the only so well-preserved ironworks in this size.

In the blower hall machines produced the wind for the six blast furnaces, the so-called blast furnace wind. The first section of the blower shed was built in 1900. In it, there was room for three blowers. Whenever new machines were added, the blower shed was extended. In 1938, it reached its current proportions: ten blowers produced the blast for the six furnaces.

In 1878, the German engineers Otto and Langen built the first gas engine that produced power. In 1901, the first gas blower went into operation in the newly built blower shed. Thus they were more powerful and could generate significantly more electricity.

One shift in the blower shed consisted of 12 workers headed by a foreman. One engine operator was responsible for each blower. Uninterruptedly, the flywheels sprayed a fine mist of oil into the shed. There were no fixed break times. As a rule, the food the men had brought with them was consumed at some time in the middle of the shift. Next to each blower there was a simple table and chair.

The blast cylinder is at the rear of the blower. Like an oversized air pump, it generated the blast for the furnaces. The blast was collected in enormous containers and then despatched to the blast heaters through steel pipes. The blowers developed between 2000 and 3600 horsepower.

The Blower Hall, Völklinger Hütte (1986) (1986)State Chancellery Saarland

The engine worked much like a car engine, except for the fact that it was driven by gas instead of petrol. When it was starting, the gas engine had a pretty big job to do, for it had to set the enormous flywheel in motion.

Since the flywheel had a diameter of almost eight metres and weighed 45 tonnes, the engine needed all the strength it could muster. But once the flywheel had reached its working speed of some 75 rpm, it certainly took some stopping. It thus made sure that the engine ran evenly.

The sintering plant was an important place in the Völklinger Hütte. Here, fine-grained residues such as ore dust were baked under high temperatures to cake-like sinter. This filled the blast furnace. The iron ore and coal tracks are running in front of the plant. The raw materials for iron production, the iron ore and the coal were transported via these rails.

In 1928, one of Europe's largest sintering plants came into being in Völklingen. It was by sintering that fine ores and dust from the blast furnace gas, in other words ferruginous materials which were too close-grained for the blast furnace, could be baked together again into a 'cake'.

In 1860, a train ran for the first time along the Saar between Saarbrücken and Trier. This was an important factor in the foundation of the Völklingen Ironworks. The works' own locomotives brought the heavy wagons from the station, to the raw material bunkers or the coal silos of the coking-plant.

The process was carried out on a belt which ran through the shed. The temperature required was reached by mixing fine coke or anthracite with the ore mixture. After that, air was drawn down through the mixture and the body of the ore was fired right through.

Gas and blast pipes are the 'lifelines' of a blast furnace works. A large-bore gas pipe carried the scrubbed blast furnace gas to the blowers producing blast for the furnaces.The blast was blown through pipes to the heating apparatus, it was heated up and forced into the furnace.

The first steelworks was set up in Völklingen in 1873. The Röchling family bought it in 1881 and founded the Völklingen Ironworks. By 1903, pig iron was being smelted in six blast furnaces and processed to steel. The mid 1960s saw over 17,000 people working at the ironworks. The steel crisis of the 1970s, however, led to the closure of the blast furnace works. In 1994, UNESCO declared the disused ironworks a World Cultural Heritage Site. It is the only so well-preserved ironworks in this size.

The six blast furnaces are hidden behind brackets, pipework, the blast heating apparatus and flues.
Every 2.5 - 3 hours an average of 130 tonnes of pig iron was tapped. The blast heating apparatus heated the blast from the blowers up to 1200°C. The pipes discharged gas from the six blast furnaces.

Panoramic view of Völklinger Hütte Panorama (1986) (1986)State Chancellery Saarland

Built in 1918, this building was one of the first of a new industrial architectural form: clear, geometrically arranged lines, concrete and brick. The reservoir, 20 metres up, could hold 3000 cubic metres of water. It was a reserve, for example, for when pumps failed or pipes were damaged.

Bricklayers, fitters, carpenters and other craftsmen had their workshops at the Craftmen’s Lane. The gangs needed to be available to carry out repairs, new building work or alterations at all times. Since 1989 students and professors of Saarland's College of Fine Arts are using the studio spaces.

The burden shed (German: Möllerhalle), built in 1913, was a draughty and extremely dusty workplace, filled with the noise of the monorail cars. 'Möllern' was the term used by the blast furnace men for the composing of the raw material mix for the furnaces.

Tucked away below the mighty inclined ore lift, the blast furnace office was built in 1914. It contained the offices of the blast furnace manager, the works manager and their assistants, and those of the commercial employees involved with the operation of the blast furnaces. The building also housed the offices, day rooms and washrooms for the ore processing supervisor and the shift foreman. On the lower level was a canteen where workers could get beverages free of charge.

The small blast furnace office was built in 1914. The building contained the offices for the blast furnace chef and the employees of the blast furnace enterprise, as well as lounges and laundries for the superiors and shift masters of ore preparation.

Here you can see the two Saarstahl gas holders 70-metre tall in which the gas from the blast furnaces used to be held in interim storage. Next to it is the telescopic gas holder, which was able to adapt its size to the amount of gas being held. Here, the gas from the coking-plant was stored.

The water used to cool the blast furnaces and machinery was cooled down in cooling towers and fed back into the water circuit of the hut. The cooling tower on the coal siding is the last completely preserved cooling tower on the hut site.

The blast heating apparatus provided the hot wind for the blast furnace process. They heated the air blown from below into the blast furnaces up to 1200 ° C. They are up to 40 meters high, have a steel coat outside and on the inside are bricked with stones that were heated with gas.

Many people are reminded of the engine room of an alpine cable car when they enter the small room at an airy height under the gout platform. The function of the machines were similar. Like a cable car they were driving a system that was used to transport wagons - only that these wagons didn’t transport people but enormous quantities of raw materials: the feed for the blast furnaces of the Völklingen hut.

Large electric motors were used to drive the sheaves, which moved the 380 m long ropes on average. The sheaves were lined with leather to prevent the rope from slipping under the high load. In 1985, approximately 240 loaded monorail cars were pulled out of the burden shed onto the gout every hour.

Disruptions could stop the whole work at the hut. Often heavy machine parts had to be replaced or repaired. The trolley, a mobile crane on the ceiling of the hall, was an indispensable aid and was fully in use during repair and maintenance work.

The workshop corner of the machine shop still looks as if the machinists had just left their workplace. A whole range of tools - hammers, wrenches, chisels - testify to the everyday work of the people in the machine hall.

All six blast furnaces were supplied with raw materials via a 6 kilometer long track system. An average of 265 monorail cars were traveling on it , their squeal was heard day and night. Without a break, the cars travelled full to the blast furnaces or back down again empty to the burden shed or the coking plant. Intermediate lifts helped to bridge the differences in height between the blast furnaces.

Because the inclined ore lift was designed to cater for a height of exactly 27 metres it was impossible to expand the blast furnace system to keep up with developments in the iron and steel producing industry. As a result the Völklinger Hütte was no longer profitable and was closed in 1986.

In ironworks, each blast furnace usually has its own elevator. In Völklingen, another route has been taken and a unique system has been created here: a central plant is responsible for feeding all six blast furnaces.

The blast furnaces were filled in layers. A layer of ore, sinter or additives always alternated with a layer of coke. One charge, for example, a layer of ore or sinter and a layer of coke; consisted of 15 to 17 monorail cars filled to the brim.

The goat stage stretches for more than 200 meters along the hopper of the six blast furnaces of the Völklinger Hütte. Today, visitors can stroll along the tracks and enjoy the view of the industrial landscape of the middle Saar Valley. In the past there was a lot of traffic: the heavy monorail cars rattled and squeaked along the rails to the blast furnaces. Caution was advised: Anyone who was caught between the cars was in risk of death.

The blast furnace men called, the filling of the blast furnaces with raw materials for iron production, ‘Charging’.
Iron ore, sinter, additives, coke, and ferruginous residues from industry or scrap from refuse incineration were poured into the ‘furnace throat’; the blast furnace charging hopper.

Two "fillers" per blast furnace monitored the filling of the blast furnaces at every weather. They emptied the monorail cars into the gout bowl, sometimes even by hand. Because of the life-threatening gas that could escape from the bell, the "fillers" had to wear respiratory protection.

Gas produced in the blast furnaces was an important energy source for the ironworks. It drove the gas engines and was used to generate heat in the coking-plant; blast heating apparatus; sintering-plant and rolling-mill furnaces. The dry gas cleaning process filtered dust making the gas reusable.

Every two to two and a half hours, the blast furnace was tapped. 130 tonnes of molten pig iron flowed via the tapping launder into the torpedo car, which in turn carried the iron to the steelworks. The pig iron emerged from the tapping-hole at a temperature of more than 1400°C. The tapping is one of the most dangerous works at the hut. On July 4th 1986, no. 6 blast furnace was tapped for the last time.

The large hot blast bustle pipe which ran round the blast furnace ensured that the blast was distributed evenly. From it, 16 blast connections led to the tuyères through which 60,000 to 70,000 cubic metres of blast were blown into the furnace every hour.

Every two to two and a half hours a hole was punched in the blast furnace. The tap holes for pig iron and slag are embraced by the steel coat and filled with clay slate so that they can be closed easily again.

The powerful drilling machine made a lot of noise when the stove was tapped. Immediately, liquid iron particles leaked from the tapping hole. The workers had to pay attention to dangerous projectiles. The so-called "hare fleas" ate through their shirt and skin.

Credits: Story

Staatskanzlei des Saarlandes in Kooperation mit Weltkulturerbe Völklinger Hütte

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