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News

High-strength steel a success factor for engineering

SSAB Tunnpl : 14 June, 2001  (New Product)
Engineering companies are becoming increasingly interested in steels in the highest strength categories. The trend is partly explained by companies' needs to strengthen their competitiveness. According to SSAB, the Swedish Steel Prize industry award has contributed to spreading knowledge of the opportunities which high-strength steel opens up. Companies can bring to fruition completely new design ideas which were previously not considered possible and which give products greater profitability and enhanced performance.
For several years, development of high-strength steel has been conducted by a few niche companies in the global steel industry. One of them is SSAB Tunnplåt, the company behind the world's strongest cold-reduced steel, ultra high-strength Docol 1400.

Engineering companies are becoming increasingly interested in steels in the highest strength categories. The trend is partly explained by companies' needs to strengthen their competitiveness. According to SSAB, the Swedish Steel Prize industry award has contributed to spreading knowledge of the opportunities which high-strength steel opens up. Companies can bring to fruition completely new design ideas which were previously not considered possible and which give products greater profitability and enhanced performance.

The Swedish Steel Prize accolade was instituted two years ago by SSAB Tunnplåt. It encourages engineering companies throughout the world to start thinking along new lines and to utilise opportunities connected to high strength steels. The jury can observe that the award has gained a firm foothold in the engineering industry and the steels' merits are now widely recognised. 'The insight that the new high-strength steels give competitive advantages has spread to many engineering firms,' says Jan Kuoppa, jury member and head of the Application Technology division at SSAB Tunnplåt, one of the company's skills centres for material and design technology. The quality of the entries is impressive and some of them are at the cutting edge technologically. A number of successful companies, along with up-and-coming firms, are behind the contributions.'

Steels not yet developed
Mr Kuoppa points out that engineering companies are now developing product ideas based on steels which are not yet on the market. This means that product development is starting to determine materials development, whereas previously the opposite was true.

'We really feel the fast pace of development when customers have completed design concepts based on steels which have not yet been launched,' comments Mr Kuoppa. 'This shows that the market has fully realised the connection between stronger steels and improved products, and that there are advantages to be gained by being the first to use the latest materials.'

New designs with new attributes
This development is determined by a market where engineering companies' customers demand new, improved products. And there are advantages in using high-strength steel. Increased profitability and improved environmental impact are some of the benefits of products made of stronger steel. 'These are factors which significantly enhance competitiveness, but what is even more important is that stronger steels can give products completely new attributes,' says Mr Kuoppa. 'An example of this is the small development company Ansa Protection, which succeeded in combining a burglar alarm with a normal Venetian blind. The concept behind the new theftproof blind was to manufacture the slats in high-strength steel. These are very difficult to cut or break.'

Another example of innovative thinking when it comes to products in high-strength steel is twelve huge parasols specially manufactured for the holy mosque in Medina, Saudi Arabia. Each parasol has a span of 24 metres and covers an area of around 400 square metres when open. This gives a combined shaded area of almost 5,000 square metres, providing pilgrims with protection against the burning sun in the mosque's inner court. Each parasol has 20 ribs. The designers decided to manufacture these in extra high-strength steel, the only material they were certain could withstand the high loads involved. The giant parasols have increased the mosque's capacity to receive visitors.

High-strength steel is therefore an element in the development of completely new products, new functions or combinations of functions.

'The theftproof Venetian blind and the giant parasol are examples of new designs which include the use of high-strength steel,' says Mr Kuoppa.

An alternative to other materials
High-strength steels have become a robust alternative to aluminium and other materials in designs where weight is a decisive factor. Using the new steels results in reduced dimensions and fewer parts, which means the weight of a steel design is comparable to that of an aluminium one.
'Often, the steel can even reduce the weight of the design, an advantage which many companies have not yet discovered', says Mr Kuoppa.

Collaboration on application-centred research and development
For many engineering companies, conducting application-centred research and development in collaboration with others is now essential to keep abreast of trends in technology. Subcontractors to the automotive industry in particular need to meet tough demands from end users in a highly competitive market. Factors such as reduced weight, higher strength, appropriate environmental impact and lower prices are to be considered, concurrent with a reduction in development periods. This demands bringing together input from a number of areas in development projects , each having considerable resources at their disposal.

'Large companies, too, need to collaborate with other enterprises; the winners are those who build strong networks of proficient partners,' asserts Jan Kuoppa. 'In the future, 'soft' human values and networks will be decisive elements for manufacturing companies in the engineering industry. If you quickly arrive at the right combination of knowledge and resources without having to provide everything yourself, there are more opportunities to come up with product solutions which are at the leading edge of applied technologies. Many of the Swedish Steel Prize entries, for example, have resulted from inter-company collaboration.'

An active proficiency partner
SSAB, in its role as a materials manufacturer, has played an active part in this development and often becomes involved early on in projects.

'The properties of a material are central to any product,' Mr Kuoppa explains. 'We are increasingly invited to take part in the development work from the start. Our expert knowledge of materials enables companies to avoid errors which can prove costly at a later stage, in addition to which we can contribute with new ideas which result in an improved end product.

Applications for this year's Swedish Steel Prize may be submitted up to 15 August. The competition is open to all companies, irrespective of their chosen steel suppliers. The criterion is either that high-strength steel is used in their designs or that a manufacturing method in production technology has been developed which facilitates or extends the use of high-strength steel.
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