“There are 40 copper wirerod plants using the Contirod® technology”
CEO of NICICO’s Refinery and Foundry:

“There are 40 copper wirerod plants using the Contirod® technology”

“There are three technologies for copper wirerod production, each with their unique features: Contirod®, Properzi®, and Upcast®. Furnace and casting machinery in Contirod® is made in the US. There are 40 copper wirerod plants using the Contirod® technology, 14 of which are located in China. NICICO also uses Contirod® to produce copper wirerod. About 60% of the global production of 8mm wirerod is produced with the Contirod® technology. Both quality and production rate of Contirod® are greater than the other two technologies,” said Amin Esmaeil Zadeh, CEO of NICICO’s refinery and foundry.

In an interview with FelezatOnline, Amin Esmail Zadeh said: “the Properzi® technology is of Italian origin. It consists of a casting line and a rolling line; copper wirerod with cross section of 8mm can also be produced from scrap using this technology. Iranian companies such as Kashan Copper, Ofoghe Alborz, and GilRod Shomal use the Properzi® technology. The level of technology is lower than Contirod®, but the products are of sufficient quality. The Upcast® technology has a low output rate; maximum production capacity is 5,000 tonnes per year. The 8mm copper wirerod from this technology is not of good enough quality for the production of winding wire, but it is adequate for other copper wires. The advantage of Upcast® over the other two technologies is that any size of wirerod can be produced. There were many facilities using this process, but most of them have been shut down. Production costs are as low as the production rate.”

He added: “8mm copper wirerod is used to produce wires and cables, but 12mm and 20mm wirerod is used to produce busbars, which are used as conductors in HV applications.”

Technology is a major factor in product quality.

“The real competition in terms of quality is between Contrid® and Properzi®, but raw materials define the quality of wirerod. With the same raw material, the Contriod® technology is superior in terms of both quality and quantity.”

Regarding the differences between copper wirerod production technologies, the CEO explained: “Scrap cannot be used in Upcast®, while new scrap from the production line can be used in Contirod®, but not old external scrap. To use scrap for wirerod production, the Properzi® technology should be implemented. The purest grade of copper (99.995%) is needed for wirerod production. To produce high-quality wirerod from scrap in Properzi®, the scrap has to be that pure.”

He also added: “In addition to raw material, other factors in the quality of wirerod include production technology, casting machinery, and type of rolling. Rate and type of solidification is crucial in the casting phase, while the structure of copper is important in the rolling phase. Another important factor is the oxygen content of wirerod; this determines many of the properties of the wirerod.”

Emphasizing the importance of casting, Esmail Zadel said: “The metallurgical structure of copper is determined in the casting phase; in other words, 60% of wirerod quality is made up in casting.

“There are several tests to determine the quality of wirerod; elongation is one such test: the wirerod is exposed to tensile force to measure its tensile strength. Another test is the twisting test: wirerod is twisted around an axis to see when it breaks. In another test, the wirerod is twisted 25 rounds to the left and 25 rounds to the right; there should be no wrinkles or lines on the rod after the test. There is also the electric conductivity test as well as other tests to evaluate the quality of wirerod.”

The country’s wirerod capacity far exceeds its production.

The production capacity of 8mm rod is far greater than its consumption. Domestic capacity is 440 thousand tonnes, most of which is not utilized. This can be used as opportunity to boost exports. Iranian wirerod is of great quality and can easily compete with similar foreign products. But the regional market is controlled by our rivals; Turkey, for instance, is a major producer of copper wirerord. In addition to Upcast® and Properzi®, Turkey has two factories with the Contirod® technology. Qatar, Dubai, Saudi Arabia, Russia, and China are controlling the regional market with their Contirod® wirerod, but we can still export.

“NICICO has a production capacity of 114 thousand tonnes in two work shifts. With three work shifts, we can go beyond 140 thousand tonnes per year. Even at full capacity, we will rank 30th among the 40 companies that have implemented the Contirod® technology; yet in terms of production capacity, Iran is standing nicely in the region.

“NICNICO is among the first companies to implement the Contirod® technology and our machinery is older than other countries, who have upgraded their Contirod® lines.”

Mentioning a biannual seminar called the Contirod® seminar for countries that use the technology, he added: “In this seminar, companies that use the technology are invited by those who have upgraded their tech; they share their experiences and present their achievements.

“This year, the seminar is held by Conticon in Mexico and all influential companies in the development of wirerod production will present their products at the seminar. Manufacturers of furnaces, casting machinery, rolling machinery, and generally all manufacturers of the Contirod® technology will participate to showcase their products. A datasheet of experiences and new machinery and equipment to improve the quality and quantity of wirerod production is given to the 40 companies.

We have successfully implemented the technology in Iran.

“One of our greatest achievements in NICICO is that we have kept the wirerod production line running in times of severe sanctions. We had to make some changes. The American company that manufactures our casting machinery has sanctioned us for years and does not sell us parts and components. Moreover, European countries are not cooperating, so we had to produce some parts domestically. Proudly, most parts for the casting section are produced in Iran. All consumable chemicals are also produced domestically. Iranian manufacturers have also produced parts for the rolling line; we hope to continue minimizing foreign dependence.

“Three major consumables in the casting line are produced domestically: coating oil for the casting machine strip, rolling oil, and wax solution (to prevent oxidization of the wirerod). Wirerod production requires 15 stages of rolling; all rollers are produced domestically. Furnace torches are also produced in Iran. We have also installed analyzers to continuously check furnace atmosphere so that a homogenized molten is yielded. Better put, we are turning challenges into opportunities. We used to measure wirerod thickness manually or in the lab, because real-time monitoring technology could not be imported due to sanctions. Fortunately, our R&D engineers have used AI and imaging technology to make real-time monitoring possible.”

Commenting on wirerod production standards, the CEO said: “The quality of NICICO’s wirerod corresponds with the AFCMB49 global standard. We don’t have products outside this standard.”

Staff training is a top priority.

CEO of NICICO’s refinery and foundry pointed out that Sarchesmeh’s continuous casting employs high-end technology: “Using PLC, control technology, and casting technology requires specific knowledge; thus, the knowledge of our staff and engineers is of utmost importance. Electricians, mechanical engineers, and metallurgy graduates are our best options for work in the casting line. During the course of each year, we have training courses for our staff, tutored by university professors, research staff, and retired staff.”

Putting special emphasis on human resources as the pillar of production, he said: “If wirerod quality is improved, utilization will also get a boost. We can definitely cut production costs if we economize parts consumption. It will greatly push progress and development if staff can come up with new solutions and have the necessary knowledge for reform. In other words, costs of knowledge and training are a kind of investment.”

Safety is crucial in wirerod production.

Highlighting the importance of HSE in the industry, Esmail Zadeh continued: “Working with molten copper requires special caution and safety. Our staff participate in special and general safety courses to get sufficient training on safety. Safety is first in every section or process.”

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