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Tata Steel invests €2.3M in European research facility to develop ultra high strength automotive steels

9 February 2013

Tata Steel has started up an advanced facility to develop crash-resistant steels designed to make cars safer and more fuel-efficient. The €2.3-million (US$3.1-million) investment at the company’s IJmuiden site in the Netherlands will allow Tata Steel to develop next-generation steels which are lighter, stronger and better able to withstand crashes.

The R&D investment follows close collaboration between Tata Steel and three major European car manufacturers to understand their requirements for future car models. The facility will also enable Tata Steel to support its customers as they integrate the new ultra high strength steels into future vehicles.

The facility combines the characteristics of commercial industrial lines alongside special research features to control and measure atmosphere, temperature, speed, force, stress and friction. It was upgraded by the two leading equipment suppliers in the field, Schuler and Schwartz, and incorporates a hot press forming line that presses heated steel sheets into vehicle parts.

Hot press forming involves heating steel blanks to more than 900 °C in special temperature- and atmosphere-controlled ovens and then stamping them in water-cooled die-sets. Heating the blanks in this way makes them easier to form and subsequent rapid cooling makes them extremely strong, allowing lighter steels to be used.

This investment comes out of discussions we have been having with some of our automotive customers about their visions for the vehicles of the future. This upgraded facility will enable us to work more closely with them, not only to develop the new, advanced steels they increasingly require, but also to help them improve their performance when they process these steels using their own equipment.

—Henrik Adam, Chief Commercial Officer of Tata Steel in Europe

Hot press forming is increasingly being used by automotive manufacturers and their suppliers to manufacture complex body parts—such as A and B-pillars, sills, roof-bows and toe boards—capable of withstanding impacts. The steels used to make these parts need to be ultra high strength and as light as possible in order to achieve optimum safety and environmental performance.

Such is the growth in their use that hot formed parts make up more than 20%, by weight, of some recently launched car models. The use of steels whose strength has been enhanced through the inclusion of boron is growing particularly rapidly. Tata Steel is developing zinc-coated boron steels, which offer superior corrosion resistance compared to other boron steel grades. In June 2012 the company launched its first zinc-coated steel product under the trade name HQ1500ZnX.

The European operations of Tata Steel represent Europe’s second-largest steel producer. With the main steelmaking operations in the UK and Netherlands, they supply steel and related services to the construction, automotive, packaging, lifting & excavating, energy & power, aerospace and other demanding markets worldwide. The combined Tata Steel Group is one of the world’s largest steel producers, with an aggregate crude steel capacity of more than 28 million tonnes and approximately 81,000 employees across five continents.

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Comments

There is nothing very new here. Blacksmiths knew how to make steel stronger by cooling it in cold water centuries ago. Japanese sword makers were great masters in the middle Ages.

Another way to get much stronger lighter material for future vehicles will be with nanocellulose cristalline (NCC) re-en-forced plastics, fibers, yarns and composites.

NCC has about 8 times the steel tensile strength. It is a good electrical conductor and could eventually be used in electronics-electrical field. It is also transparent and could make excellent very strong window panes etc.

NNC can be extracted from wood pulp in very large quantities at a rather low cost (currently about $20/lb but the price is expected to drop rapidly as low as the price of steel soon). It is a natural sustainable-renewable stronger multi-use material, requiring less energy to produce.

The wood pulp residues could be used to produce essential bio-fuels, construction boards, paper etc.?

With the diminishing use of paper, NCC may be what will save the forest-wood industries.

HarveyD
I am not sure it is no new it sounds like flash bainite steel, flash heating followed by flash cooling to make bainite rich steel, and it was discovered very recently. The Japanese swords master had no way to control such a process. Once more you should be more careful with you assertions...

Tree...the method and name may differ but the results were very similar, a lighter much stronger steel. Car and steel industries did not bother to invest in the process because heavier cars were easier to sell and cheaper softer steels were easier to make and use.

We were convinced (and many still are) that the quality of a car should 'wrongly' be measured by its weight? Our acquired addiction to the largest and cheapest won?

During my last drip south of the border (all the way to Florida), I noticed that this addiction seems to apply to the local human body too? I had never seen that many (a good 60%) overweight-obese people before?

Junk food addiction may be a bigger potential problem than ICEVs?

Did you know that NCC is transparent, stronger than Kelvar and could eventually make excellent light weight bullet proof window panes etc?

The insulation properties are also much better than glass and could eventually be incorporated into windows and doors for LEED type buildings. This could become a way to reduce the energy required to heat/cool our homes, offices etc.

Wouldn't be surprised to see some mixture of NCC used in future batteries.

NCC being a renewable natural product (from wood), it could be mass produced in very large quantities almost indefinitely. The price would quickly fall from $20/lb to less than $1/lb.

"Tree...the method and name may differ but the results were very similar"

ABSOLUTELY NOT, flash bainite is something that have been discovered very very recently, it was not known before and unused under the conspiracy theory. Flash bainite is a revolutionary process that not only increase the strength but also the ability of the metal to be stamped and deformed, abilities that seemed incompatible so far. Heat treatment with fast cooling, as you refer to it, harden the metal but makes it impossible to stamp, so it was not applicable to car industry. You can't blame the car industry no to have used something that didn't exist.

Harvey

NCC is extremely energy intensive to make, 30MWH/Tonne also it sucks water like a sponge. So not sure if it is the ideal material for building.

Domtar, the current largest producer of NCC, claims that it is produced with less energy than aluminum and steel. With the proper mix, it can make yarns, plastics and composites much stronger and more resistant to water and wear. It could easily replace Kelvar, Steel, Polyester or Nylon in radial tires etc.

NCC potential future applications are almost limitless.

NCC potential supply is plentiful, very renewable and sustainable.

NCC price will drop fast as more plants come on line, about that same way as flat TVs price dropped.

Tree...agree with you that all metals (and many other materials - even glass & ceramics) become more malleable when heated enough.

Tree....SB Latex re-enforced with NCC becomes strongly water resistant, flexible and iridescent. Check Patent No. EP2424933 A1.

There are already a few dozens Patents covering the potential (protected) use of NCC.

Will the filling of all those early Patents block the widespread use of NCC for the next 15+ years or so. Could very well be so. Wouldn't be surprised to see the steel industry buy many of those NNC application patents to protect the sale of their own products.

That's the world we live in?

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