21st November 2022

Demolition Experts Tell of Months of Work on Blast Furnace

Bringing down a hulking blast furnace doesn’t happen overnight. Here, Project Manager Mike Stoddart, from Thompsons of Prudhoe, explains what it has taken to demolish this historic Teesside site.  


Our skyline will change forever when the Redcar Blast Furnace comes down. 


Teams from Thompsons of Prudhoe have spent months working on the 365ft site – removing hazardous materials and preparing this complex iconic structure for demolition.  


Project Manager Mike Stoddart has overseen the efforts leading to Wednesday morning.  


The Blast Furnace has been exposed to the elements for years since the final shutdown – with roof panels no longer in place, and the structure battered by the weather. 


“It adds to the complexity,” he said.  


“If we were able to access and move freely over the structure, we wouldn’t need MEWPs (Mobile Elevated Work Platform) – the cast house floor isn’t designed for some of the heavy plant.” 


In an ideal world, the sheer scale of the heavy steel in the blast furnace would have seen heavy machinery drafted onto the cast house floor. But limits to the load and weights of equipment allowed have meant more manual work and smaller equipment to get through the thick steel.  


Mike added: “There aren’t many blast furnaces around – and I’m sure if there was another one around to demolish, that would be a slightly different process as well. The site environment changes no matter where you are.” 


Surveys, cleaning equipment and pipework, removing the remaining hazardous substances, and structural investigations have all been part of the efforts. Cleaning has also seen heavy fuel oil, Coke Oven gas residues and asbestos removed.  


It has involved stripping out ducting, pipework, vessels, and columns using heavy lifting cranes, rope pulling felling techniques and ultra-high reach machines. These have also been used to take down redundant walkways, loose sheeting and high-level pipework to make way for the explosive demolition. 


Mike has handled a number of specialist projects at Thompsons over the years. He said the complexity of the Redcar Blast Furnace site put it right up there in terms of the challenges the team have taken on.  


He explained how a complex prop design system was in place to aid the explosive demolition.  


“We work from the bottom up rather than top down using the explosives. It’s a very challenging project – it’s the sheer scale of it.  


“It’s heavy. We can use burning equipment, but two-and-a-half-inch steel and cast iron staves on the inside of the blast furnace don’t cut easily.” 


No fewer than 175kg of explosives will be used at 40 different locations for the demolition. 


Mike explained any idea of demolitions being blunt operations were wide of the mark.  

He said: “There’s a lot of engineering involved in demolition now – more than people may perceive.  


“They think it’s like Fred Dibnah and wrecking balls. That perception, in my eyes, has long gone – but I bet there are still a lot of people who think it’s that.” 


He explained the placement of the explosives is a very precise operation – and how testing had been done in the run up to the demolition.  


“We took a sample off-site – we’ve done tests on the steel and worked out the amount of explosive we need to cut the steelwork,” said Mike.  


It will all take between five and ten seconds for the Casting houses, the Dust Catcher, Charge Conveyors, and the Blast Furnace to come down. 


The RBF has marked the Redcar horizon for decades and it will be an emotional day when it comes down. There’ll be plenty of work for Thompsons – likely lasting months – to clear the Blast Furnace once it is down. 


Mike said it was a big accolade for the firm to take on a project of this size and importance.  

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