The basis | Mobility requirements are increasing continuously
The challenge | Strong yet lightweight materials
The process | Developing technologies tailored to customers
The benefit | Complete package with know-how and assistance
The vision | Adapting processes for other business fields
Dr.-Ing. Holger Behrens, Vice President, Processing Lines and Furnace Technology
Mobility opens up possibilities – on all kinds of levels. Today, we are a society of globetrotters. By air, water, road, and rail, we travel to faraway countries on journeys of discovery. Tourism figures show that air travel is continually increasing, and freeways are packed with traffic. Materials and goods are transported across ever larger distances in ever shorter time periods. For example, over the oceans in containers.
Naturally, today’s mobility requirements also affect the steel industry: “The properties materials for mobility applications must meet are high strength, good formability, and good coating capability,” explains Dr.-Ing. Holger Behrens, Vice President, Processing Lines and Furnace Technology. To improve crash safety and passenger protection, the automotive industry demands modern materials such as high-strength steel and aluminum alloys. SMS group offers the right solutions.
“A sequence of several process technologies in a strip processing plant ensures surfaces with the required function and materials with the necessary strength.”
Another major driver of development is e-mobility. Currently, the production of electrical sheet for electric automobile motors is challenging the limits of process technology. Demand here is growing steadily. Furthermore, lightweight construction and efficiency are key aspects for e-mobility. “The electrical sheet used in motors must have the necessary magnetic properties to minimize energy losses and increase efficiency. At the same time, the chassis must be weight-optimized, high strength, and formable so that it can absorb energy in the event of an accident,” adds Behrens.
We are creating opportunities to expand into new business fields by adapting acid and alkali process stages in steel and aluminum treatment for use in new areas of the raw materials industry. Especially technologies for extracting lithium, vanadium, or cobalt as well as the production of high-purity aluminum oxide offer new opportunities.
There is a debate on the market about whether aluminum is the better choice for lightweight construction. Behrens explains that SMS group is also tackling the subject of lightweight construction in response to market pressure.
“In the automobile industry, vehicles come with ever more electrically powered features. As a result, batteries are getting heavier. So we need to save weight elsewhere – with even more sophisticated vehicle structures.”
When asked the “steel or aluminum” question, Behrens is diplomatic. A lot of aluminum is used in people transport and mobility because it’s about three times lighter than steel. Whether in planes, trains, or cable cars. Similar to steel, aluminum sheet undergoes treatment and surface processes that give it the desired properties. Yet steel also comes with benefits, namely high strength. For the same effect, aluminum components in cars need to be thicker. “Steel continues to be important because it can be produced in relatively thin sheet with very high strength.”
This is how Behrens explains what SMS group has to do to meet mobility requirements: “We need to develop and build new technology solutions that produce primary materials for ever stronger and lighter components, but also provide special material properties or surface functions. It’s about various materials such as steel, stainless steel, electrical sheet, and aluminum.”
“We are more than a supplier of technical equipment. SMS group is a technology supplier with high process expertise. This makes us the ideal partner to engineer and build plants as well as to plan upgrades for our customers.”
When a customer wants to manufacture a specific product such as automotive sheet or facade cladding, the question is: What properties must the product have? “First we need to understand what properties e.g. automotive manufacturers will expect in the future from sheet for chassis production, or what functional surfaces they want for components. Then we will know what process stages we have to develop or apply to give our customers the necessary capabilities to produce these products.” Behrens sees the key in a complete package consisting of technological expertise and the capability to develop new process stages to market maturity.
“We supply not only technological competence, but also the appropriate project management. Furthermore, we support our customers in planning and financing their project.”
“The worldwide transformation process in the automotive industry is an important driver of change.”
Stephan Krämer, Vice President, Flat Rolling Plants
The demands on flat-rolled steel and aluminum products are continually increasing. What drives this is the global transformation process taking place in the automotive industry as a key industry, but also other areas such as infrastructure, energy, transport, and safety.
Customers expect ever higher quality in terms of geometric tolerances, surfaces, and metallurgical properties. This promotes the development of new and better materials such as multi-phase steels with a very good combination of strength and ductility for safety-relevant components in vehicle construction. Our plant technology includes high-performance mechatronic systems with intelligent automation and process solutions. That means we deliver the production plants necessary to manufacture and further improve all common metal materials. We are continuously further developing our technologies to meet our customers’ requirements. For example, downstream heat treatment in our newly developed MFQ (MultiFlex-Quench®) system produces top-strength heavy plate.
We draw on more than 30 years of experience in mathematical and physical plant and process simulation to optimize plant layout and development. This is how, in close dialog with our customers, we tailor new construction or revamp projects to their specific requirements based on the production programs and output they want. Our plants come with a high degree of automation and, increasingly, digitalization. That ensures maximum plant availability and top product quality. It’s crucial here that we respond to global market trends such as the substitution of conventional combustion engines with greener solutions.
“When we identify an increased demand, we also work on completely new process.”
Dr.-Ing. Thomas Winterfeldt, Vice President, Forging Plants
Customer requirements are growing, essentially in three areas: productivity with simultaneous reduction in energy input, plus quality and process reliability. In response, we continuously optimize our plants and machinery to achieve these objectives.
Every year, we invest high sums in product development and technology, take part in public projects, and maintain close contacts with universities.
Through intensive global exchanges with our customers, participation in trade shows and conferences, as well as our branches worldwide, we have an excellent overview of market development.
When we identify an increased demand, such as currently in the use of high-strength aluminum, we optimize our technologies in this area and also work on completely new processes.