YOUNGSTOWN - The president and chief operating officer at V&M Star appeared visibly moved as he watched a video presentation filmed earlier this summer of the the new mill successfully completing its first billet piercing.
The video, filmed June 29 inside the Youngstown mill, ended with rousing applause from workers and onlookers.
''Every time I hear that applause I still get chills,'' said Joel Mastervich. ''We will be very, very successful. You can feel it. You can feel it in that video.''
Mastervich showed the short video presentation when he spoke publicly in recent weeks at the Youngstown Ohio Utica & Natural Gas Expo in Youngstown.
The pipe mill, under construction since the summer of 2010, is expected to be at full capacity by the end of next year, Mastervich said.
That is when the mill will be churning out pipes that will be used to reach natural gas pockets in the Marcellus and Utica shales. The premium pipe connections are made to prevent high-pressure gas leaks through the long string of casing as drillers punch holes a mile or more into the earth's surface to tap gas and oil-bearing shale rock deposits.
Those connections must be flexible, yet secure enough to withstand pressure as the drilling bends horizontally in different directions, a critical part of the process to extract as much gas and oil as possible from one drill site.
V&M had announced in February 2010 that it would construct its new mill next to its existing plant in the former Brier Hill Works of Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. The completed structure will be 1 million square feet, or almost 23 acres, under one roof.
The new plant will be capable of producing up to 500,000 metric tons of seamless pipe in small dimensions.
The smaller diameter pipe is needed in the drilling industry that is focused largely in eastern Ohio and Western Pennsylvania, helping the manufacturer to keep a corner on the market without high transportation costs.
Next in preparation for full operation will be a test of the rolling mill. The billet will be run through the rolling mill, known as the "fine quality mill'' or FQM. That is expected to happen some time this month, Mastervich said.
The company already has hired about 90 percent of its workforce needed to staff the new $650 million facility, creating a payroll of more than $46 million. That's up about 42 percent from a year ago,with more than 80 percent of the workers coming from the tri-county area, he said.
Still on the table is a new melt shop, where workers would melt scrap steel to make pipe. Mastervich previously has said only that the shop remains in the company's strategic plan.