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MCN Profile: Steel Warehouse

Teaming with TATA

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MCN Editor Dan Markham Steel Warehouse takes idea for abrasion-resistant strip steel to Tata Steel and its 81-inch-wide mill in The Netherlands.

Europe’s Tata Steel and South Bend, Ind.-based Steel Warehouse have unveiled a new abrasion-resistant steel product to the North and South American markets. The material will be produced by Tata Steel IJmuiden B.V., a facility based in The Netherlands.

The new product, Valast 450, is a strip steel product designed for use in the mining, agriculture, construction, refuse and recycling industries. The product, which will be distributed exclusively by Steel Warehouse in the Americas, offers a variety of advantages compared with traditional abrasion-resistant, discrete plate products, the companies claim.

“Abrasion-resistant steels are subject to some of the toughest working environments imaginable,” says Gordon AuBuchon, Steel Warehouse’s executive vice president for product development. “Valast 450 provides our customers with the strength and durability of an abrasion-resistant steel, while at the same time providing them with the quality, inventory management and high level of technical support they’ve come to expect from Steel Warehouse and our partners at Tata Steel.”

Steel Warehouse executives saw the need for a wide strip product to counteract some of the issues customers had with traditional quench and tempered discrete plate. “The advantages of a strip mill product are it’s a better surface and has better gauge control. It’s more consistent in terms of its overall properties. And you can produce more tons per hour,” said AuBuchon.

“Valast provides our customers with an opportunity to reduce waste and improve efficiency,” says Glyn Martin, a technical support engineer at Tata Steel. “Because it’s a strip-steel product, Valast can be cut to any length needed with the added benefit of having the greatest width available in the industry.”

Steel Warehouse took the idea to Tata in part because the company operates an 81-inch-wide mill in The Netherlands, which would allow the company to produce wider material than some of their European competitors who have begun offering abrasion-resistant products. The two companies have had a long relationship, with Tata products representing the vast majority of Steel Warehouse’s imported metal, which accounts for about 20 percent of its overall inventory.

For Steel Warehouse, the prospect of working with the production community to develop application-focused metals is nothing new, AuBuchon says. “It’s kind of a signature of ours. We respond to what the customers are looking for and lean on the known producers who might have the capabilities to develop such a product.”

Likewise, while Tata Steel has the capacity to produce the material, it requires partners such as Steel Warehouse to process the material. “It takes specialty equipment to get it out of coil and level these things. This particular product has a 200,000-yield point. Temper pass leveling is one of our signature processes,” AuBuchon says.

Steel Warehouse isn’t worried about finding markets for the material. This isn’t a case of “build it and they will come,” he says. The product was developed in response to customer complaints about the limitations of the existing material, whether that was for surface issues or on flatness.

In conjunction with the product’s launch, Steel Warehouse will begin offering autogenous laser welding, to allow customers widths up to 120 inches and beyond. The company has begun developing partnerships with its fabricating customers to expand into autogenous laser welding, which has an advantage over hybrid laser welding in that it produces no bead or unequal properties at the weld zone, AuBuchon said.

Further equipment changes may be necessary, as the company begins to fully support the product. “Every time we take on a new product like this, we learn what our deficiencies are,” AuBuchon says. “While we’ve been bringing it in for some time in these start-up phases, for about the last year and a half, we’re seeing where the upgrades need to be.”

One challenge the material presents is just how hard it is, even in smaller gauges. Steel Warehouse has to cryogenically treat the leveling rolls, as in some cases the material is harder than the rolls. Additional shape correction may be required following the material’s run through the temper-pass process.
In addition to the greater widths, the product is available in smaller gauges, offering the opportunity for lightweighting that many customers seek. The company offers the product in ranges from two millimeters up to 12, though it will focus on the 2- to 10-millimeter range.

AuBuchon anticipates the product will make incremental gains into lower gauge ranges. Existing discrete plate is limited to 3/16-inch thickness, he says, and design engineers are likely to move slowly downward to the low end of two millimeters.

“Sometimes they don’t take that kind of leap. They’ll go to four millimeters, and if they like that they’ll go to three, and if they love it then they’ll go to two,” he says.

“Our ability to process it is what sets us apart and is what convinced Tata to make the investments,” AuBuchon said.

Of course, in the current steel environment, it’s impossible to talk about an imported product without considering the tariff threat, but AuBuchon does not believe it will be an issue. Since the product is not produced by any of the domestic mills, “we don’t get resistance from any of our good, loyal domestic suppliers,” he says.  

Steel Warehouse will be the exclusive supplier in North and Central America through its operations in the United States and Mexico, likely for the duration of the product’s life. Additionally, its Brazilian facility will distribute the product there.

Overseas, Tata Steel is finding other partners to handle distribution in Europe and beyond.

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