voestalpine’s strategy of pushing Research and Development (R&D) at all times is key to its corporate strategy. It is indispensable for a technology-driven company to engage continuously in the development of new products and production processes in order to distinguish itself from the competition and prevail in an increasingly competitive market.
The Group’s research expenditures have climbed continually in recent years against this backdrop. Expenses for R&D in the business year 2018/19 were EUR 170.5 million, and the budget of EUR 174.6 million for the business year 2019/20 shows that the long-term upward trend is continuing.
voestalpine’s research activities serve to develop complete innovative solutions for its customers, with a focus on combining expertise in both materials and processing based on metallic materials. Yet the development of products and processes in the voestalpine Group also focuses on industries with the most sophisticated technological requirements—particularly mobility and energy.
Cutting-edge materials also were the main topic at the annual “voestalpine Synergy Platform,” which took place in Vienna, Austria, this past business year. Presentations by internal and external experts offered an exciting overview of the current state of the art in materials development and of potentially new, cutting-edge materials and development methods.
Lightweight construction is the core challenge facing both the automotive and the aerospace industry. It saves fuel and lowers emissions. In electromobility, these two factors largely define vehicles’ reach. The Group steps up to these challenges by developing ultra-high tensile steels and high-quality forged components made of special metal alloys. But such high and ultra-high tensile steels with a strength of up to 2,000 megapascal (MPa) also promote passenger safety by ensuring that the vehicle’s safety components possess high crash resistance. This also entails the ongoing development of the required hot forming processes of the “phs” technology family, which was developed by voestalpine and is used to manufacture autobody parts relevant to crashes.
The company supplies so-called HD grades, i.e. ultra-high tensile steels with high ductility (HD), to all renowned European automotive manufacturers or is in the process of licensing them. voestalpine is the very first non-Japanese partner ever to have been granted a license to offer 1180 HD steel to the European plants of Japanese automotive manufacturers.
Alongside the development of state-of-the-art, high-tech steel particularly for the automotive industry, the company is also continuously refining the sophisticated tool steels and tool coatings required for processing such steel grades so that the Group on the whole can ensure that these new materials are optimally worked and processed.
As far as railway systems are concerned, both passenger safety and high track availability are a priority. To this end, new track materials that considerably expand the useful life of tracks are being developed and intelligent turnout systems put in place; the latter’s support and diagnostic systems enable mobile management and control as well as, additionally, prospective self-diagnostics. In the future, this will substantially reduce roadway disruptions, in turn significantly boosting both availability and safety.
In the field of energy, currently the next generation of support structures for photovoltaic (PV) modules is being developed for land-based installations and for those that float on bodies of water.
Additional centers of excellence were established in Asia and Canada to expand the Group’s technology leadership in metal additive manufacturing. voestalpine became a member of Singapore’s Advanced Remanufacturing and Technology Centre (ARTC) in connection with this project. Thanks to its expertise which, by now, has been coordinated worldwide and thus pooled, voestalpine is able to continuously expand its know-how and thus the possibilities of this new technology in order to offer its customers the best possible solutions—from sophisticated metal powder as the base material all the way to complete product design and thus finished products.
The Metallurgy Center research facility of the Metal Engineering Division was brought online recently in Donawitz, Austria. In the future, it will be used to produce experimental materials and small series as the basis for future large-scale manufacturing. All of this will help to achieve greater efficiency in the development of materials and accelerate the time-to-market process in product development.
Increasingly, new products are evolving from holistic, ecological analyses of the product life cycle, including in spheres of life that are unusual for a technology company—e.g. the leova® vineyard post made of steel that is just starting to become accepted in sustainable viniculture.
Research expenditure for the voestalpine Group
In millions of euros, R&D gross expenditure (without R&D facility investments)