Increasing attention to raw materials
The world around us is changing at an amazing rate. It’s not just about changing customer and end-user needs, but also about how these changes are forcing each industry to respond and what impact they have on even the basic materials used by those industries.
Béla Kondás, Head of Quality Management in Eastern Europe at thyssenkrupp Materials Services, helps to find out what the situation is in the basic materials market, what challenges basic material suppliers have to face and how we handle the changed situation.
With regard to raw materials, what are the customer needs and challenges that must be met?
Metalworking companies face stiff competition from their competitors. Minimizing losses is of paramount importance to them. These companies require component raw materials that can be processed with the least cycle time, the least tool wear, and the lowest possible scrap formation. An important expectation on their part is that component production can take place almost free of interruptions caused by the raw material, without frequent correction of the parameters of automatic machining machines. In order for this to happen, the ordering conditions for the raw materials must be adapted to the particular processing method. Of course, this is not an easy thing to do, as it requires knowing the characteristics of the raw materials, including the exact details of the standards that include their terms of delivery.
How have material regulations changed in recent years and decades?
On the one hand, with the development of technology, it becomes possible to produce materials of increasingly precise size and increasingly homogeneous structure. Accordingly, national and international standards prescribing the conditions of delivery of metallurgical products will also be tightened from time to time, the requirements contained therein will be expanded and the tolerance ranges will be reduced. On the other hand, the legislation governing marketing is also being tightened. It is enough to think only of the regulations on the content of hazardous substances (e.g. REACH or 3T&G) or to mention the obligation to CE mark construction materials.
Raw material suppliers are located at the very beginning of the supply chain. What impact do OEMs have on this industry?
In recent years, the automotive industry has dictated a dizzying pace in the field of technical developments, which of course has also affected the raw materials industry. For example, previously unused materials have become dominant in car construction. The prevalence of aluminum is known to everyone, but not everyone knows that about half of the automotive steel grades used today have appeared on the market in the last ten years.
Perhaps the most significant milestone in this area was the development of ultra-light high-strength steels. Only thyssenkrupp Steel Europe produces 2,000 alloys and 1,800 different steel grades, including brand new developments such as “selectrify®”. The rise of electromobility is having a significant impact on our industry. The structure of cars is changing, the location of certain parts becomes vacant, but at the same time, a new type of extra weight is emerging due to the increased battery size. As a result, the crash behavior of the car known today will change, so the materials of the energy absorption zone will also have to be rethought. In addition to body materials, the development of raw materials for other car parts is also proceeding at a rapid pace, as the various modules that can be installed in cars today perform extremely complex functions. Today, the raw materials for these parts also have to meet extremely complex requirements. It is becoming an increasingly demanding task for designers to select the most suitable raw material out of the thousands of standard types available to ensure the function of a given part and to achieve a certain service life.
Based on current market trends, what is the key benefit a raw material supplier can provide to industrial companies?
It seems trivial, but it is very important to be able to provide our customers with the raw material that best suits their particular use. Our staff, in cooperation with the factory specialists, will help to solve any problems related to the raw materials and their processing. We keep pace with the ever-changing market requirements: by simplifying and speeding up our processes with digitalization, and through regional level logistics developments we ensure that our partners always receive the desired products on time, in the right quality and in a specific processing form, thus saving time, energy and costs for them. Across the region, our main goal is to implement the “everything from a single source” principle, i.e. to think together with our partners, to offer solutions tailored to their own corporate processes in terms of raw material supply, related machining services, logistics and warehouse management.