Heffernan, the mini mill pioneer

This article was originally written and submitted as part of a Canada 150 Project, the Innovation Storybook, to crowdsource stories of Canadian innovation with partners across Canada. The content has since been migrated to Ingenium’s Channel, a digital hub featuring curated content related to science, technology and innovation.

Portrait of Gerald Heffernan: Source: Whitby Library/Ireland Studio.

Daniel Prinn

Algonquin College Journalism Program

Even growing up, Gerald Heffernan had the mind of an entrepreneur. One of his early business ventures was selling apples to a jam factory. Later, his entrepreneurial spirit led him to introduce new technologies into the steel manufacturing industry – most notably pioneering self-contained steel production facilities known as “mini-mills.”

These efficient mills account for 200 million tons of the world’s overall 700 million ton steel output. Heffernan helped establish six steel mills which were based on advanced electric arc furnaces and casting technology. When his managers rejected his proposal for locating a plant in Edmonton, Heffernan used what he had learned from his own research to build a steel mill himself. In 1954, when he’d finished building the plant in Alberta, Heffernan started to investigate ways of making the steel-making process cheaper for all involved.

He combined a casting plant with enhanced electric arc furnaces and cheap scrap metal, which allowed them to price their steel well below that of the large mills. The process became known as mini-mill manufacturing. It allowed smaller mills to become cost effective in the industry. Heffernan also started Co-Steel, an industry-leading Canadian steel-making company which employs over three thousand people in three countries.

Heffernan was named an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1987. He was inducted into the Canadian Science and Engineering Hall of Fame in 1996.

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