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Work on the continuous caster at Geneva Steel, the crowning touch in its effort to become a world-class, modern steel mill, is marching toward completion.

The mammoth project, which bears a price tag of $125 million, could come on line at the end of March. If progress remains steady, the continuous caster would be finished ahead of schedule and under budget, company leaders said."The caster does several things for us. Number one, there won't be another mill on the face of the Earth that has the capacity Geneva has," said Robert Grow, president.

Geneva Steel, using the 126-inch continuous caster combined with Geneva's 132-inch rolling mill, will be able to make the widest steel slabs in the world, creating a speciality niche for the Utah County mill, Grow said.

The wider the steel plate, the less welding required in finished products. Wide gauge steel plates are used to make barges, ships, bridges, tanks, large farm machinery and railroad cars.

The impact the caster could have on the mill is illustrated by what happened when Geneva installed its coil box last year: Large coil now accounts for 40 percent of the company's sales.

"A year ago, Geneva couldn't even make it," Grow said.

The continuous caster will produce steel slabs from liquid steel. The slabs will be fed directly into the rolling mill, eliminating the need to reheat the slabs and creating higher quality steel while reducing energy and labor costs. The caster will replace Geneva's ingot mold operation.

Continuous casters aren't new to the steel industry. In fact, Geneva is the last integrated mill in the United States to install a caster. Company officials say the lag in updating the plant has allowed them to implement the "latest and greatest technology."

Since Grow, Joe Cannon and a circle of other investors bought the mill in 1987, Geneva's "been playing catch-up on modernization," Grow said. "If we hadn't done the modernization, we wouldn't be here today because we were behind the curve."

Geneva expects its steel tonnage to increase because of the streamlined production the caster will make possible. The mill currently produces 1.6 million tons of steel annually, up from 1.3 million last year.

With the caster on line, Geneva will be able to make 1.9 million tons of finished steel products annually. That additional 300,000 tons will increase the mill's revenues approximately $90 million to $100 million, Grow said.

Company officials held a press tour Thursday to show off progress on the caster. Geneva first announced it planned to install a continuous caster in October 1990. Construction of the caster was delayed last year because of the steel market slump. Geneva lost $13.09 million during fiscal 1992.

In March, the company arranged financing for the project, paving the way for construction to proceed. Layton Construction is the general contractor on the continuous caster. About 225 people, including 60 Geneva employees, are working on the caster.