Blowing hot air

Choosing where to start describing a continuous process is always a bit of a challenge. It doesn’t quite make sense yet because you haven’t worked out what all the other moving parts are that feed into it. I was faced with this confusion when I started my visit to the Iron Works in Volklingen.

The first building you enter is the Blower Hall. It is a gigantic building which houses the blowers. What purpose they served only became clear later, and fortunately the self-guided tour ends in the same place, by which time the giant fly-wheels and pipes across the top make a bit more sense.

The hall is so large that a fair proportion of it is currently home to an exhibit on influential music videos. Each is played on its own giant screen with information on why it is considered influential by the curators. Whether because of this exhibit, or to save power, the hall is only dimly lit. I took the picture from above using the night setting on my camera while it was resting on a bannister.

The hall was built in 1900 and with each enlargement of the iron works, and the need for further blowers, it was extended until it reached its final size in 1938, housing 10 blowers. Each one worked continuously 24 hours a day and was maintained by a team of technicians.

At their disposal for maintenance was this tool to check lubrication components and levels, a gadget which appears to have been produced precisely for these blowers. The thermometer indicates that the air being blown could reach quite some temperatures.

The general complexity of the interacting parts of the ironworks is implied by the wall of switch boxes at the far end of the blower hall.

The purpose of all the hot air does become clear during the remainder of the visit. The blowers essentially compress air so that it can be fed into the blast furnaces to maintain their high smelting temperatures. They were powered by the ‘waste’ gas that is produced in the smelting process.


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