The Tata Steel plant in Port Talbot, South Wales

'Life-saving' steel developed by Tata

A super-strength steel that could help to defend British soldiers against the Taliban was the star attraction at a royal tour.

The Prince of Wales was introduced to Super Bainite, a new super-strength steel which could become a life-saver. The product has been developed by Tata Steel and the Ministry of Defence at its Port Talbot site in South Wales.

Prince Charles was shown a video about the lightweight super-strength steel which could transform safety for British soldiers.

"It will give our troops a level of protection they have not had before and which nobody in the world offers. It is unique to the UK," a Tata spokesman said.

He said the anti-ballistic steel, which has a lattice form, could be used to armour-plate troop carriers and tanks. "We thought that it would interest the Prince of Wales because, of course, he has two sons in the military, one a soldier."

The good cheer generated by the royal visit came despite Tata Steel's recent announcement of hundreds of job losses. The Port Talbot plant will be hardest hit despite ongoing investment totalling £300m. Resignation over the need to shed jobs was more in evidence than anger, coupled with acknowledgement that Tata is investing for the future.

The main reason for the royal visit was to commemorate the rebuilding of blast furnace number four – a major £185m project itself. A tragic explosion in which three steelmen lost their lives destroyed the previous furnace. Rebuilding it in the teeth of a deep recession is seen by workers as a vital investment in the future.

David Pugh, an agency welder working at the site, said he appreciated the efforts the company was making through investment. "Everyone is very excited by the visit. The company has made a big effort to welcome him. We want to show the interest we have for our future. The company has had to make some hard decisions but it is investing a lot."

Jean Scalt, who works in the company's human resources department, agreed. "We are hoping that it is safe here for the future, not just for us but for the next generation. I've worked in the manufacturing industry all my life and have been made redundant twice, working in the car industry and for Dunlop.

"We have all seen the way manufacturing has gone so, when you have a company like this one investing, it is good news, even with the job losses."

Tata Steel's ongoing commitment to the Port Talbot site is reflected in the scale of the furnace rebuilding project. It is currently the largest industrial engineering project in the UK which has seen 77 separate partner companies, collectively employing 1,000 people, work on it.

The company still employs more than 7,000 on sites across Wales, a figure which rises to 20,000 when its network of suppliers and contractors are counted.

Steel-making at the site in its modern form dates back to 1952 and in its heyday in 1976 the Port Talbot works employed 17,000. Despite the massive decline in employee numbers the site produces more steel today than it has ever done.

The new furnace, which is scheduled to come into operation during the first quarter of 2013, ensures steel-making for the next generation.

Prince Charles referred to his previous tours of the site in past years as he unveiled a plaque marking his visit. "It is always an enormous pleasure for me to come back here and visit this incredible place," he told a group of senior Tata Steel workers.

"I know just what an extraordinary effort was required to put this project together. Having heard a little about it, I understand that it will become one of the most sophisticated blast furnaces in Europe."

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