With research and development expenditure amounting to EUR 131.8 million in the business year 2015/16, the voestalpine Group continues to be the most research-intensive Austrian company. The focus in the past business year was on the industries with the largest growth potential, namely mobility and energy, and on sustainability and environmental compatibility. This figure represents a rise in R&D expenditures of EUR 5.1 million, or 4.0%, in comparison to the previous business year (EUR 126.7 million); this new record figure once again underscores the significance of this sector for the future of the Group as a whole. In a year-over-year comparison, the research ratio (proportion of R&D expenditures in relation to revenue) rose from 1.1% to 1.2%; the R&D coefficient (funds measured in terms of value creation) went down from 2.8% to 2.7%.
Research expenditure for the voestalpine Group
In millions of euros
R&D gross expenditure (without R&D facility investments)
Modern high-tech steel products, such as those manufactured by the voestalpine Group, are based on intensive application-oriented research and the close connection and collaboration between science and business. Long-term R&D partnerships with both university and non-university research institutions are key for modern innovation and are therefore an essential component of the voestalpine business model. The voestalpine Group is cooperating on an ongoing basis with around 80 scientific partners worldwide. Of course a number of important partners are located in Austria, primarily the Johannes Kepler University in Linz, the University of Mining and Metallurgy in Leoben, and K1-MET GmbH, which is one of voestalpine’s more recent partners.
The main fields of research of the competence center K1-MET are new steel manufacturing technologies, optimization of existing product processes, raw materials efficiency in metallurgy, and the minimization of energy consumption and emissions. The fields of research, in which voestalpine is collaborating intensively and successfully with the Johannes Kepler University Linz comprise the broad area of mechatronics, various issues connected to process modeling, particularly in the areas of continuous casting and rolling, interface chemistry, and surface and interface analytics. The focus of the decades-long collaboration with the University of Mining and Metallurgy in Leoben is process development and application-oriented basic research. voestalpine is also supporting two relatively newly endowed professorships at the Technical University Graz, one on the subject of data science, which focuses on Big Data management and integration oriented toward smart production applications, while the other is on the subject of aerospace, with a focus on innovative materials and manufacturing technologies.
The voestalpine Steel Research Prize, which was endowed for the first time in 2015 in collaboration with the University of Mining and Metallurgy in Leoben and ASMET, was awarded to a voestalpine employee, Ronald Schnitzer, for his excellent dissertation. He also applied for the position of Chair for Steel Design endowed by voestalpine at the University of Mining and Metallurgy in Leoben and received the appointment. The voestalpine Steel Research Prize is awarded to young researchers from academia or business for outstanding research work relative to metallurgy, materials science, processing technology, and their application.
Mobility is not only a core growth field but also a central driver of innovation within the Group. Based on its combination of materials and processing expertise, the breadth of which is unique, the voestalpine Group, with its high-quality products, is seen as a premium partner by exacting customers in the mobility segment. In the railway infrastructure segment, it is the global market and technology leader in all high-tech applications. In order to not only maintain this position in the future but to expand it, innovation and the collaboration with external research partners is absolutely essential. An example is the European research initiative Shift2Rail, where cooperation is being stepped up. In preparation for this initiative, leading Austrian companies in the area of railway technology have come together and formed the Virtual Vehicle Austria Consortium+. In late 2015, the consortium was selected to participate in the research project Shift2Rail, the first and only European initiative for focused research and development of market-oriented railway solutions, with the objective of integrating new technologies into innovative products for rail transport more quickly than before.
The field of aerospace is another important and research-intensive market segment of the future for the voestalpine Group. Engine components, engine mounts, fuselage sections, and landing gear of aircraft have to withstand enormous stresses. Additionally, manufacturers seek to reduce the empty weight of the aircraft of each new airplane model for both ecological and economic reasons. Only selected materials can meet these requirements. Therefore, companies of the Special Steel Division are using increasingly sophisticated titanium alloys and new solutions for high-alloy steel and nickel-based alloys and are developing and optimizing the forging processes that are necessary to achieve this.
In the automotive sector, where requirements for lightweight construction are becoming more and more stringent, the future requires an optimum mix of various metallic materials. While aluminum has an advantage vis-à-vis steel purely on the basis of weight, decreased formability, higher cost, and higher energy consumption in primary production represent significant disadvantages. Therefore, the Metal Forming Division, which is focused on automotive components, is pursuing a differentiated approach: in the hang-on area of automotive production, i.e., where doors and hatches are attached, aluminum is increasingly used, especially by premium manufacturers, while in the structural area, steel clearly offers better prerequisites. Increasingly stronger AHSS-HD steel (advanced high strength steel with improved forming qualities) and phs-ultraform®, both developed by voestalpine, are being used here. Today, the Metal Forming Division has become a technological pioneer in the complex area of aluminum forming. At one of its German sites, the very sophisticated process of cold forming aluminum has become a standard technique.
Electrical steel strip with special coating that can be processed into electrical steel strip packages was developed in recent years in a joint Group project by the Steel and Metal Forming Divisions. The complex and technologically very sophisticated component for highly efficient electric motors has already been introduced on the market. This enables high performance density of motors and generators, exactly what will be required in the future for the comprehensive optimization in the field of energy efficiency.
Extracting oil and gas from great depths and aggressive environments requires high quality pipes. With this perspective in mind, the Metal Engineering Division is constantly working on new ultra-high-strength and sour gas-resistant steel for seamless tubes. Furthermore, threads with ever greater torque and improved density are being developed and increasingly also threads that do not need coatings that harm the environment.
Offshore operations of the oil and natural gas industries, such as platforms, jack-up rigs, and underwater pipeline systems are exposed to low temperatures, high pressure and a very corrosive environment. This is precisely where voestalpine high-strength heavy plate is used. In order to connect individual parts, special welding consumables are needed to enable connections that hold under the most extreme conditions. In a cross-divisional project involving the Steel and the Metal Engineering Divisions, knowledge and experience are shared with regard to materials development and processing in order to provide unique added value for customers—coordinated steel and welding expertise from a one-stop provider. With the assistance of voestalpine Grobblech GmbH, voestalpine Böhler Welding Group has been developing welding consumables that fully satisfy the constantly growing requirements with respect to higher strength and increasingly extreme temperature stress.
The important topic of further development of steel production processes toward even greater efficiency, flexibility, and cost optimization is increasingly represented by the concept of Industry 4.0. This means that seeing the production of steel and finished steel products to an ever greater extent as a complete, controlled process across the entire value chain, where the individual process steps are connected, combined, and coordinated with one another to the highest degree possible. Process simulations of metallurgical process engineering and forming technology as well as the development of model-based systems management have created the foundation for this. Building on that, the new Group-wide Industry 4.0 platform was defined during this year’s “Synergy Platform,” the Group-wide researcher conference, in Linz. Its objective is to make all of voestalpine’s activities on the topic of smart production evident for all potential users within the Group, to make connections, to identify synergies, to learn from one another, and ultimately to broadly implement these ideas in advance of the competition in accordance with our motto “one step ahead.”