An operator handling the cutting torches on a multistrand continuous caster producing steel billets is a busy person. If he is responsible for making the cuts on five moving strands of steel, for example, he doesn't have time to figure out how to adjust the cut locations to minimize losses associated with quality problems. However, a cut-optimization system developed by MSA Process Automation Solutions & Services Inc. (MSA PASS) enables steel producers to automatically adjust the location of planned cuts as defects are detected by quality-tracking systems. (The tracking systems monitor as many as 40 process variables, including casting speed through the mold, to determine where the defects are likely to appear.) The result: less scrap and higher yields of prime salable product. In typical casting operations, where billets are cut to a fixed length, the location of defects might dictate scrapping an entire 39-ft billet. With the software-based MSA PASS system, cut lengths are dynamically adjusted -- within a range of acceptable lengths -- to isolate the defects at the ends of the billets or blooms where they later can be cut off. "We're trying to enable steel mills to scrap just eight feet, for example, rather than the full 39 feet," explains Roy Matway, director of process engineering at MSA PASS. The software, which runs on a PC linked to the programmable controller that guides the cutting torches, includes a cost function that relates billet length to profitability. The system now is undergoing beta testing at a Republic Technologies International LLC mill in Johnstown, Pa. John Teresko, John Sheridan, Tim Stevens, Doug Bartholomew, Patricia Panchak, Tonya Vinas, Samuel Greengard, Kristin Ohlson, and Barbara Schmitz contributed to this article.