Research and Development (R&D) are a key to voestalpine’s long-term corporate strategy. Research expenditures (basis of calculation: Frascati Manual) have climbed continually in recent years. Actual expenses in the business year 2017/18 were EUR 152.1 million. The increase in the budget for the business year 2018/19 by 13.4% to EUR 172.5 million reflects the great importance of R&D to the Group.
Research expenditure for the voestalpine Group
In millions of euros, R&D gross expenditure (without R&D facility investments)
The research activities are aimed at the expansion in the long term of the Group’s quality and technology leadership—especially in the defined growth industries, mobility and energy—as well as at the ongoing optimization of processes related to energy and raw materials efficiency and the continuous reduction of emissions.
Greatest weight in this connection is given to the holistic analysis of products and processes, i.e. the entire product life cycle, from raw materials to production all the way to recycling.
By developing new steel grades and continually improving existing ones, the voestalpine Group also aims to boost energy efficiency in sustainable ways and thus to reduce environmental pollution in connection with the end products. While this applies mainly to the automotive and aircraft construction sectors, where weight and hence CO2 emissions can be substantially reduced while continuing to enhance product quality, it also applies to new applications in the energy sector with respect to both conventional and renewable sources of energy.
The voestalpine Group has traditionally and consistently worked to refine processes in view of bringing about an incremental decarbonization of steel production. For now, this is being achieved through “bridging technologies” based particularly on natural gas—e.g. the new direct reduction plant in Texas, USA, where voestalpine is endeavoring to replace coal with alternative sources of energy in the production of steel. This also entails the long-term goal of refining the technology such that direct reduction can be based on hydrogen instead of natural gas. In this connection, currently a hydrogen electrolyzer pilot plant is being built at the Group’s steel facility in Linz, Austria, to research the technology and its potential for the production of steel on the basis of hydrogen.
Concurrently with the development of new production methods, existing processes are continually refined with respect to resource conservation and environmental compatibility. This includes projects aimed at reducing the use of primary materials, lowering the use of water, or recycling residues such as slag and dust in environmentally compatible ways.
Rapidly advancing digitalization contributes increasingly to the enhancement of process efficiency and quality. Research & development are a key component of digitalization—and vice versa. We are carrying out intensive research on issues such as model-based controls and adaptive systems, and are translating applications into practice on an ongoing basis. This refers, for example, to the world’s first fully digitalized wire rod mill at our steel facility in Leoben/Donawitz, Austria, which was commissioned in the previous year and is now operating successfully in normal mode. The voestalpine “Digitalization Day,” a two-day top-class symposium that features lectures by international experts, presented new information and expanded views of what is currently the number one topic in the industry. Workshops were organized to showcase numerous in-house projects, which brought home yet again how deeply digitalization has already taken root in the Group.
Mobility—voestalpine’s core segment—was the main topic at the “voestalpine Synergy Platform,” which took place for the 11th time this business year. External experts introduced aspects of future mobility and mobility concepts, while in-house experts used numerous examples to show the great extent to which mobility already is a driver of innovation in the voestalpine Group.
Lightweight construction and e-mobility are strategic growth areas in the automotive segment. The lightweight construction of automotive body parts requires the continuous development of ultra-high tensile steels with extraordinary malleability in cold forming processes, for one, and the different hot forming processes based on phs-technology, for another. In this connection, the multi-material competence of voestalpine contributes a great deal to an understanding, both comprehensive and forward looking, of the central concept of “lightweight construction.”
Metal-based additive manufacturing is another cutting-edge technology that is rapidly becoming ever more significant to the voestalpine Group. The high-tech steel powders required for it are developed by voestalpine BÖHLER Edelstahl GmbH & Co KG in Kapfenberg, Austria, and by Uddeholms AB in Hagfors, Sweden—specifically, for third-party applications as well as for the voestalpine Additive Manufacturing Centers in Düsseldorf (Germany), Singapore, and Toronto (Canada). Currently, the entire process chain—from production of the powder, to design, to post-product processing—is being analyzed in detail as part of a cross-divisional project. The results will provide the basis for focusing on the most promising applications.
“compacore®,” an absolute innovation, has been implemented in the rapidly growing electromobility sector. It connects the voestalpine Group’s cross-divisional competence with respect to materials and processing such that in a newly developed process next-level, state-of-the-art electrical steel strip (isovac®) manufactured by the Steel Division is turned into inline-bonded electrical strip steel packages at the Metal Forming Division’s facility in Nagold, Germany, which, in turn, makes it possible to build highly efficient and quiet electric motors. In March 2018, voestalpine won the Austrian Special State Prize VERENA that is awarded for cutting-edge innovations in the field of energy efficiency.
In the Metal Engineering Division, following the successful completion of the massive, digital “new wire mill” project, the focus in digital research has turned to optimizing the entire railway turnouts system. “i-switch,” an “intelligent” turnout, is currently being developed with the aim of reducing both failures and maintenance work based on a system that makes it possible to safely control the turnout remotely and perform forward-looking status diagnostics along with relevant maintenance planning.
In this business year, the “voestalpine Steel Research Prize” was awarded for the second time. The work of two voestalpine employees out of a total of 23 high-quality dissertations that had been submitted by international and national candidates won the day. Their papers on the “Malleability and Breakage of State-of-the-Art, High-Tensile Multiphase Steels” (by Marianne Kapp, voestalpine BÖHLER Edelstahl GmbH & Co KG ) and on the “Investigation of the Effects of a Turnout Zone on the Mechanical Properties of High-Strength Welds” (by Wilhelm Maurer, voestalpine Stahl GmbH) were deemed equally excellent.