November 2017

Smart Steel

ArcelorMittal Global R&D Celebrates 50 Years of Industry Innovation

By Jonathan Samples, Associate Editor

With more and more steel flowing into the global market, it’s increasingly important for steel producers to find new ways to differentiate themselves from their competitors. From advanced high-strength steels to groundbreaking processes and applications, ArcelorMittal’s research and development teams are working to make sure one of the world’s leading steelmaker stays at the forefront of steel innovation.

“Living in a world where many of our products are commoditized and oversupplied, we have to compete on basically two dimensions: one is the cost of production and the other is how we innovate,” says Brian Aranha, executive vice president of strategy, technology, R&D, marketing and global automotive at ArcelorMittal. “Our R&D efforts are focused on all of those things.”

In 2016, the company spent $239 million on research and development activities at 12 laboratories around the globe. One of those labs is the Global Research and Development Center in East Chicago, Ind. The facility recently celebrated its 50th anniversary, inviting media and members of the community inside its labs to get a first-hand look at how ArcelorMittal is working to keep steel a viable and dynamic material for the future.

“I’m always amazed when I get the opportunity to come here and see what these folks are up to as far as developing new steels and new applications,” says John Brett, president and CEO of ArcelorMittal USA. “We rely on innovation to propel us forward, to maintain our competitive advantage and to secure our future.”
In all, more than 1,400 global R&D employees assist ArcelorMittal in that venture by focusing on three primary areas of research: products, processes and solutions.

The East Chicago Center alone lays claim to 658 U.S. patents, and scientists and engineers at the facility have assisted in ArcelorMittal’s efforts to develop a new generation of advanced, high-strength steels. According to Brett, that work has led to the introduction of six new automotive steels in the last year, with more to come.

Pinakin Chaubal, who leads ArcelorMittal’s global R&D activities in the U.S. and Canada, says teams in Europe and North America worked to develop and produce grades of steel designed to help automakers meet new fuel-efficiency targets, while also maintaining safety standards. “All these new automotive grades are key for lightweighting and ensuring that steel remains the most optimum solution for lightweighting,” he says.

The steelmaking process is another area where ArcelorMittal’s scientists are focusing their energies. One recent example of this process innovation is AccTech, or accelerated cooling technology. The plate cooling system allows for the accelerated cooling of plate products, thus maintaining flatness and reducing the need for leveling. “Levelers, obviously, require energy and can also affect some properties of the metal,” Chaubal explains. “The more flat you can be coming out of the accelerated cooling unit, the better it is for properties and for the eventual end use of this product for the customer.”

So far, AccTech is only active at ArcelorMittal’s Burns Harbor, Ind., facility, but various parts of the new technology are being implemented at sites throughout Europe. Researchers are also looking at ways to bring advanced cooling to coil products.
While products and processes get much of the attention, ArcelorMittal scientists also spend a lot of time imagining new and innovative ways to use these concepts. “How do you take the grades of steel that we are making and come up with a more efficient solution for where it’s going to be used; this is what I mean by solutions,” says Chaubal.

Looking again at the automotive industry, ArcelorMittal developed a set of steel solutions, called S-in motion, for carmakers looking to create vehicles that are both lighter and safer. Sriram Sadagopan, who does automotive products research at ArcelorMittal Global R&D, says every solution requires a lot of supporting analysis. That’s where Sadagopan and his colleagues come in, performing everything from accelerated corrosion tests to experiments designed to evaluate dent resistance on door panels.

“When we propose a solution, such as higher strength steel with lower thickness, the first question carmakers are going to ask, is how does it compare to what I’m currently using,” he explains.

One possible solution for thinner, high-strength steels in automotive applications is the addition of a carbon fiber coating. “What we found is that if you want to go really light in thickness, you have to reinforce it somehow,” Sadagopan says. “So, we’re looking at a new epoxy-based carbon fiber reinforcement and how it affects dent resistance.”

ArcelorMittal is looking at solutions in industries such as heavy goods and construction, as well. Steligence is a new initiative to show how steel-intensive construction can be done using some of the company’s new grades of steel.

And R&D efforts don’t end once a product is shipped. According to Chaubal, researchers and scientists also look at ways to assist steel processors and improve the supply chain. “We do a lot of work with our processors to ensure that they’re able to supply our products in the right format,” he says. “And, we’ll work to ensure that we can optimize the logistics, because we want to be just in time in supplying and they want to be just in time in receiving.”

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