Geneva Steel will begin construction of a continuous casting facility that will increase production capacity by 500,000 tons per year, company officials announced Monday.

The new facility and related improvements will also reduce energy and labor costs and improve the metallurgical and surface quality of its products, according to Robert J. Grow, Geneva's chief operating officer.The higher-quality products that will be produced at the facility will command higher prices than many of Geneva's existing products. Higher-quality products will give Geneva access to certain markets in which it is currently unable to compete.

The continuous casting facility and related improvements will cost $95 million, according to a prospectus filed on behalf of the company's latest stock offering. Construction of the facility will take two years. A construction start date has not been set.

The continuous casting facility is designed to produce both 2-inch "thin" slabs and 6-inch thick slabs of steel. It will be connected to Geneva's existing rolling mill operation to allow direct rolling of cast slabs without having to reheat them. The continuous casting facility will replace substantially all of Geneva's ingot mold operations.

"Geneva is the first U.S. producer to announce installation of thin-slab casting at an integrated steel plant," said Joseph A. Cannon, chief executive officer of Geneva Steel. "This newest phase of our modernization program demonstrates Geneva's intention to incorporate technological advancements into our steelmaking operations."

Originally, Geneva looked at installing a continuous caster that would produce traditional, thick steel slabs.

"After months of extensive research, and in consultation with leading caster designers, we have concluded that the technology of thin slab casting and direct rolling will provide operating cost benefits compared to traditional thick slab casting, reheating and rolling technologies," Grow said.

Other plant production improvements planned include installation of a furnace for in-line heating of continuous cast slabs and of a ladle metallurgy furnace.

SMS Concast, a member of the SMS Group, will design the caster facility.

"The SMS Group has designed the widest caster currently operating in the world and has also designed the first commercially operating thin slab caster," said Herb Fastert, president of SMS Concast.

Lockwood Green will do the construction engineering for the facility and Layton Construction will build it.