Crucible steel has been making specialty steel in Syracuse continuously since 1876. Founded on a tradition of metallurgical expertise and technological innovation, Crucible has been granted more than 1,000 patents throughout its history. With a reputation for the highest-quality products, Crucible has maintained its position as a market leader, even in today’s competitive business climate.
Crucible’s roots can be traced to 1776, when Naylor and Sanderson Steel Mill was established in Sheffield, England, to produce fine-quality tool steel using the crucible method. During the 1800s, the company, then known as Sanderson Brothers, exported increasing quantities of tool steel to America and decided to establish a steelmaking plant in Syracuse because of the city’s proximity to major U.S, transportation lines, including the Erie Canal and the New York Central Railroad. In 1876, Sanderson purchased Sweet Iron Works and established Sanderson Brothers Steel Company.
The Crucible Method of Steelmaking
In 1883, Sanderson Brothers Steel Company built a new gas-fired crucible melting furnace. This high-temperature furnace held up to 30 graphite pots, called crucibles, each charged with 60 to 100 pounds of iron plus selected alloy additions. Once the metal charge became molten at 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit, each crucible was then lifted from the furnace with long-handled tongs, and the liquid steel was poured, or “teemed” into individual ingot molds. The crucible method, though labor intensive, produced the highest-quality tool steels available at the time.
Working in the melt shop was tough, hot work. The pourer, or “teemer” often wrapped his legs in wool and burlap and thoroughly soaked them with cold water as protection from the intense heat.
Merging Into the 20th Century
As the United States entered the 20th century, the demand for special-purpose tool steels increased rapidly. Although the crucible process ensured high quality, its output was relatively low compared to other steelmaking methods of the day. To meet increased demand, 13 steelmaking firms using the crucible method-including Sanderson Brothers-merged in 1900 to form the Crucible Steel Company of America. By joining forces, these companies could more efficiently use their skilled craftsmen and specialized facilities to produce a wider range of high-quality products.
C.H. Halcomb Jr. became the first president and general manager of the new corporation, but he resigned two years later and established his own Halcomb Steel mill in Geddes. In 1911, Crucible acquired Halcomb Steel and combined it with a new Sanderson plant, which was erected adjacent to the Halcomb plant. The Sanderson-Halcomb Works became today’s Crucible Industries, the entrance of which still bears the inscription Halcomb Steel Company in stone.
Pioneering Research and Technology
To improve efficiency in production, Crucible’s Syracuse plants were consolidated in 1947 to form the Sanderson-Halcomb Works, which was renamed Syracuse Works of Crucible Steel in 1966. Colt Industries bought Crucible Steel Corporation of America in 1968, and the Syracuse Works became Colt’s Crucible Specialty Metals Division. In 1983, Colt Industries consolidated its basic materials group as Crucible Materials Corporation, headquartered in New York City. In 1985, Crucible’s salaried employees purchased all of the corporation’s stock through a leveraged buyout and relocated Crucible Materials Corporation’s headquarters to Syracuse.
At the technological forefront throughout its history, Crucible can lay claim to many metallurgical firsts. In 1906, the first electric-arc melting furnace in the United States was installed at the Halcomb plant. This “Old No. 1” Heroult electric-arc furnace now stands as a designated ASM (American Society for Materials) historical monument at Station Square in Pittsburgh.
Rex AA steel, patented in 1907, was the first tool steel to include vanadium. Crucible owns more than 70 percent of all patents issued in the entire history of tool steel production, in addition to numerous patents for stainless steels, automotive valve steels, titanium alloys, super alloys, and even rare-earth magnetic materials. Crucible was the first company to commercially produce vacuum-arc remelted steels; the first to develop P/M (powder metallurgy) tool steels, produced by the patented CPM (Crucible Particle Metallurgy) process; and the first to develop and patent a titanium gas atomizer.
With a focus on metals technology and customer service, Crucible Industries plans to continue the tradition of developing new materials.
On October 23, 2009 JP Industries LLC, a private equity group, purchased the operating assets of the Crucible Specialty Metals Division and formed Crucible Industries LLC.
Since reopening in November 2009, Crucible Industries is continuing the one hundred and thirty-three year tradition of high product quality, relentless customer service, and technical knowhow that the specialty metals industry has come to expect from Crucible.
The mill covers more than 65 acres of property. Modern melting facilities include a unique induction-melt gas atomizer with a HIP (hot isostatic pressing) vessel for the production of the patented, high performance CPM steels, as well as a 40-ton, electric-arc furnace with an AOD (argon oxygen decarburization) refining vessel. Hot finishing mills include a 2,000 ton forge press, a 26 inch cogging mill, an automated rod-and-bar mill, and special-purpose hand-rolling mills. Heat-treating and annealing facilities, as well as a comprehensive bar-finishing department, enable shipment of a wide variety of products.
The premier products of Crucible Industries are high-performance CPM steels. The CPM process involves gas atomization of prealloyed molten steel to form powder. The powder is consolidated through the HIP process into 100 percent dense compacts, which are processed through the mill along-side conventional ingot product. The resultant properties of the CPM bars are far superior to conventionally melted steels. In most applications, CPM tool steels offer improved wear resistance, toughness, & grindability, and superior corrosion resistance in a special offering of CPM steels. Moreover, the CPM process enables the production of alloys with unique or enhanced properties that cannot be made by conventional steelmaking methods.
As a long-standing corporate citizen, Crucible strives to improve air and water quality for its Syracuse neighbors. Significant investment and dedicated personnel are used to control air and water pollution. Each day, Crucible’s own wastewater treatment plant purifies million of gallons of processed cooling water recycled from the various rolling mills and furnaces. The melting facilities and grinding facilities are equipped with air pollution control systems. In keeping with today’s environmental emphasis on conversion and recycling, as opposed to disposal, many of the mill’s solid metal wastes and collected grinding dusts are kept carefully segregated and are remelted in subsequent heats of steel. Other particulate wastes are commercially recycled to retrieve alloy, which is then reused. Even the slag is recycled to recover the metal content, and the remaining product is crushed and used as a substrate for road beds and parking lots.