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7. April 2016

The challenges of developing special steels: Three questions for… Guido Olschewski, Head of Management Systems and Product Development at the Steeltec Group

When it comes to manufacturing high-tech steel components, manufacturers in all industrial sectors are looking for special steel long products that enable lightweight construction while delivering enhanced performance. Steel producers are constantly developing their technology in order to position themselves as quality leaders in the marketplace and to provide customers with the means to fabricate highly competitive steel components. One such producer is the Steeltec Group, a member of the SCHMOLZ + BICKENBACH Group, where recent technological innovations have significantly improved the dynamic strength of the company’s bright steel products. We discussed current challenges in manufacturing customised special steels with Guido Olschewski, Head of Management Systems and Product Development at Steeltec.

Mr Olschewski, what are the greatest challenges faced by developers of special steel products and how are you addressing them?

Guido Olschewski: Currently, the dominant trend in high-tech markets is lightweight construction, with customers from all sectors demanding cost effectiveness, improved performance and resource efficiency. Optimising the size and maximising the performance of steel components, especially those subjected to dynamic loading, demands long products that offer both excellent strength and outstanding toughness – two properties that are generally thought of as running counter to each other. Providing customers with high-performance, tailored steel solutions requires a high degree of technical expertise and the use of modern steel production technologies. This is the path that steel companies have to take if they want to offer optimised steel products. ‘Optimised’ in this context means that the steel producer must offer short development times, efficient and cost-effective downstream customer processing, and long technology life cycles in the end application. We have combined these demands with the challenge posed by low-temperature applications and have developed a new and innovative bright steel production technology. As low temperatures reduce the toughness of standard materials, component failure has often been the result. The solution that we have come up with provides an effective way of countering this problem and actually improves the properties of the steel.

What are the characteristics of your new bright steel production technology and what makes it so innovative?

Guido Olschewski: Our new technology can be applied to all standard materials, including carbon steels, engineering steels, quenched and tempered steels and case-hardening steels. The core benefits are the precise manner in which we can control the ultrafine-grained homogenous microstructure with grain sizes of less than 5 µm. This allows us to increase the strength and the toughness of the material and boost its dynamic strength by ten percent. Another exciting feature is that these technologically optimised steels maintain their excellent mechanical properties and their ability to withstand dynamic loading even at temperatures as low as -60 °C. These beneficial properties are of particular relevance to highly stressed parts such as the bolts and screws used in construction machinery and snowcats, the shafts used in geared motors and direct-drive electric motors, or for railway signalling equipment. One highly innovative aspect of our new bright steel technology is the customisable design of our thermomechanical treatment process and the precise manner in which we apply energy and force. Because we know what effects the various process parameters have, we can offer our customers optimised steels for applications in which components will be subjected to high dynamic loads. As a result, we have strengthened our position as technology leader in the bright steel sector and we are now targeting new industrial markets, such as oil and gas extraction industry, refrigeration technology, and the aviation sector, in addition to our traditional customer base within the automotive, hydraulics and mechanical engineering sectors.

How can you guarantee to your customers that material development times are kept as short as possible?

Guido Olschewski: When we develop and optimise a steel product, we cooperate closely with the customer as this allows us to identify and effectively avoid potential problems in the process chain before the customer begins manufacturing the prototype component. We use knowledge databases containing all of the material engineering data acquired from experiments, trials and projects and we make use of computational modelling. We can therefore rapidly compare the requirements of a particular customer application with the specific properties of the various types of steel that we produce and this allows us to calculate the optimum technological parameters for our steel production process – without the need for a costly and time-consuming trial-and-error approach. When we develop and optimise bright steels we always have the entire value chain in our sights, from our own steel production process to downstream processing and component fabrication, to the actual application of the end product. Our customers benefit from knowing that Steeltec delivers the best possible steel solution for their application.

Mr Olschewski, thank you very much for your time.