Leadership in innovation, technology, and quality are core elements of any sustainable corporate strategy. This explains the importance given to research and development (R&D) as an integral part of voestalpine Group’s business model. The ongoing development of new products and production processes is vital for a technology-driven company such as voestalpine so that it can differentiate itself from the competition and continue to succeed in the market. Innovations thus are the key to the company’s viability in the future.
The voestalpine Group’s research expenditures have climbed continually in recent years. Both the actual expenses of EUR 174.4 million in the business year 2019/20 as well as the budget of EUR 186.9 million for the business year 2020/21 reflect the importance of R&D within the Group.
Research expenditure for the voestalpine Group
In millions of euros, R&D gross expenditure (without R&D facility investments)
Organizational structure – research and development
Organization and focus
Research and development in the voestalpine Group are decentralized. This facilitates proximity to the respective production facilities and experts as well as to the respective customers and markets. Centralized management, in turn, serves to ensure the efficiency of this global network of more than 70 research and development sites. A variety of formats are used to exchange knowledge and exploit synergistic potential. The Research Committee is responsible for comparative work and for facilitating exchanges of information among R&D managers. Group projects link existing expertise across all divisions. R&D expert clusters offer platforms for researchers to discuss particular topics. The “Synergy Platform” in its capacity as an intra-Group annual conference has proved its utility in this respect. It is attended by renowned international experts and offers opportunities for meeting in person and networking above and beyond the sharing of know-how.
The company’s R&D activities focus on mobility and energy—two technology-intensive sectors. These are not only voestalpine’s biggest earners, they also are the two areas most affected by the Group’s evolution toward resource-efficient, sustainable approaches.
It is precisely this change that was at the heart of this year’s voestalpine Synergy Platform. Presentations by experts on climate change, sustainability, the transformation of the energy system, and electric mobility offered divergent ideas, food for thought, and room for debate. The multi-faceted field of mobility, in particular—which ranges from automotive technology, to railways, all the way to aerospace—is shaping up to be a driver of innovation for the Group on the whole.
High and highest tensile steels, press-hardened steel as well as ultra-high strength high-ductility steel: Developments such as these open up new dimensions for lightweight construction in both the automotive and the commercial vehicle industry. Perspectives and objectives alike are wide in scope: lower fuel consumption and thus a reduction in the emissions of vehicles powered by combustion engines, fewer trips by commercial vehicles thanks to potentially greater loads as well as the greater reach of vehicles powered by batteries. The development and market launch of innovative products has already made considerable progress in this direction. For example, this includes the special CP1400HD steel for cold forming in automotive engineering that requires ultra-high strengths as well as alform1300x-treme® for the most demanding requirements in the construction of mobile cranes.
In the Railway Systems segment, R&D focuses on the optimal availability of the track route, on increasing security yet further, and on simultaneous reductions in the resources and energy used. A core objective in this regard involves the ongoing development of materials used for tracks into steel grades resistant to wear and tear. The 340 Dobain® HSH® track reduces deformation resulting from surface wear and tear to a minimum. This track grade is already being used to great success in the Eurotunnel.
Besides developing track grades, voestalpine’s work in railway technology also focuses on continually refining turnout systems, specifically, systems capable of monitoring and diagnosing rolling stock, fixed infrastructure assets, and environmental conditions. They make it possible to identify changed statuses early on and to boost both security and availability in rail transportation by means of prospective maintenance. The increased use of digitalization is of great importance to the ongoing development of these systems. voestalpine’s participation in the “Virtual Vehicle” Competence Center is part and parcel of these approaches. Here, state-of-the-art modeling and simulation methods are used to accelerate the time required for developing vehicles and to make the work even more economical. The aim is to technologically translate research findings into marketable products rapidly and efficiently.
The Industrial Systems business segment also boasts successful new product launches, among them VAtitan-TC®, a threaded pipe connection for extremely high torque capabilities that is used in deflected shale gas drilling. A newly developed, cored wire electrode guarantees non-porous position weldability of nickel plate for use in liquid gas applications. Using the new research infrastructure at the Group’s Donawitz facility in Austria made it possible to bring a new wire alloy for set nail applications to market very efficiently and in a way directly tailored to customer needs.
Special materials and toolmaking
The special materials segment succeeded in developing a new steel alloy for the production of premium watches that are particularly skin friendly and wear resistant.
The still young field of metal additive manufacturing enables the production of tools that are sustainable in several respects. The construction process, which is optimally adapted to the respective application, substantially increases the tools’ useful life and decreases the reject rate. voestalpine develops and carries out all process steps—from the production of the metal powder, to design and construction, all the way to actual additive manufacturing and finishing.
E-mobility and decarbonization
As regards parts for electric vehicles (EVs), using a battery case cover the company succeeded in bringing a complex component to mass production. This was preceded by a years-long development alliance with the customer and the voestalpine Group’s ability to link existing materials and processing competence.
voestalpine offers a solution for the so-called “second life” of vehicle accumulators, i.e., follow-on uses in energy storage farms, that takes the form of high-quality warehouse structures. They comprehensively fulfil stringent requirements as to connectivity, stable ambient temperature, and fire protection.
voestalpine leads the way in the incremental decarbonization of steel production. In the long term, hydrogen is to be used as a reducing agent using the direct reduction bridge technology based on natural gas. The hydrogen must be sustainably generated, i.e., using water and renewable energies. A hydrogen electrolyzer facility was built and successfully started up at the Group’s Linz facility in Austria in order to conduct research on this technological potential in the steel industry. The groundbreaking, so-called “SuSteel” project in Donawitz serves to conduct research on alternative, direct steelmaking technology based on hydrogen plasma.