The R&D departments of all divisions continue to advance the development of steel, design new materials such as hybrids, and create components that guarantee durability, lightweight structure, minimal use of materials, and increased safety. Lightweight construction, safety, and comfort play a major role for the user of the end product.
One focus of voestalpine’s company strategy is the development of innovative products for automotive engineering. The trend here is toward lightweight construction, in order to reduce vehicle fuel consumption and CO2 emissions. At the same time, improved safety is absolutely required. More complex components necessitate new materials and processing methods. In response to these requirements, voestalpine is engineering ultra-high tensile steels and safety-related components, such as seamless tubes for seat belt tighteners, rotationally-formed containers for airbags, and powerful guardrail systems, which keep trucks from falling off bridges in case of accidents.
Future Steel Vehicle project
Since its inception, voestalpine has devoted itself to the “Future Steel Vehicle” project, initiated in 2008 as part of WorldAutoSteel. Working in collaboration, 17 steel producers aim to demonstrate the potential for lightweight construction inherent in contemporary steel materials. The group is also addressing the effect of new drive concepts on structural design options. In this project, they have already been able to prove that, through the optimal use of modern steel grades and processing technologies, automotive designers can lower the weight of an auto body by 35%–which leads to substantial CO2 savings.
AHSS HD steel (Advanced High Strength Steels / High Ductility)
The recently developed multiphase steels for the next generation of auto bodies (AHSS/HD steel) enable automotive engineers to achieve up to 60% better forming properties. This results in a considerable leap in stability in cold forming processes and ultimately, a higher level of safety. The higher strength AHSS HD steels, as well as phs-ultraform (see below), are intended for use in the strength-related zones of doors and hatches as well as the visible exterior skin components (e.g., side walls).
phs-ultraform (press hardening steel)
phs-ultraform is a hot-dip galvanized auto body steel developed by voestalpine. On top of the lightweight design, phs-ultraform components feature an array of advantages, such as the highest tensile strength (up to 1,800 megapascals), cathode corrosion protection, and the ability to manufacture “tailored property parts”–blanks with the widest range of combinations in tensile strength and thickness. phs-ultraform contributes significantly to lightweight construction, and it also has great relevance to applications in electromobility.
The first series of tests took place as early as 2003; by 2008, the voestalpine development team had achieved the breakthrough, and the first orders from the automotive industry started to arrive. There are 21 patent families to safeguard voestalpine’s unique expertise in the manufacture of this innovative material. phs-ultraform made its debut in front of a wider public audience at the 2012 Geneva Motor Show.
Steel-aluminum hybrid blanks
Lightweight construction is accomplished by composite (hybrid) construction methods, among others. voestalpine succeeded in developing a steel-aluminum compound, as well as corrosion protection adapted to these various materials. This achievement now enables voestalpine to produce steel-aluminum hybrid blanks.
Electrical steel strip
Electrical steel strip is a functional material that is used for constructing magnet cores in electric motors, among other uses. Essential product features include the best possible electromagnetic properties and superior punchability. By continually enhancing steel quality, voestalpine aims to increase the efficiency of the motor by further reducing magnetization losses–which manifest in the undesirable form of heat within the magnet core. The insulating varnishes used in the production of electric steel strip packages are completely free of toxic ingredients and comply with all relevant environmental guidelines–thanks to steady development efforts in collaboration with the paint producers.
Zinc-magnesium coating of steel strip and sections
The corrosion resistance of zinc surfaces markedly improves by the addition of magnesium by alloying. This also makes it possible to reduce the thickness of the coating, without compromising its protective effect: in other words, the use of materials is reduced. voestalpine is working on a further enhancement to this coating–which is already commonplace in the construction industry–so that it can be used in automobiles.
Rails and turnouts applications
voestalpine’s development efforts in the rails and turnouts sectors aim at achieving top passenger comfort with the highest degree of railway safety. It starts with developing rail materials that elevate wear resistance and fracture resistance. So in addition to head-hardened high-speed rails, voestalpine also developed the DOBAIN high-speed rail, which is manufactured from special heat-treated, high-performance steel that features a unique microscopic structure (“bainitic framework”). These efforts will ultimately result in a longer lifespan for the rails–as well as lower maintenance costs–and thereby improve track safety on the whole.
Several of voestalpine’s developments ensure shorter maintenance times, fewer malfunction-related shutdowns, and as a result, greater availability and safety in rail transport: thanks to its design, the low-maintenance Spherolock turnout locking device works quite reliably, requires minimal inspection, and can be installed swiftly and easily. Ready-to-install turnouts are used both in railway and tram/light rail construction, and the improved measurement and inspection equipment in the turnouts and on the rails are equally reliable, even at the highest speeds.
Lightweight construction in rail transport
In the summer of 2011, voestalpine started “Innovative Market Entry into the Freight Car Market,” a project that involves a collaboration of the Steel Division, the Metal Engineering Division, and the Metal Forming Division. The objective was to build and test the prototype of a scrap container rail car, made of high tensile-strength steel, that could achieve a higher load capacity due to the weight reduction, and thereby lower costs and CO2 emissions.
Upon building a prototype of the “lightweight scrap container rail car,” the team had succeeded in lowering the weight of the rail car by 3,000 kilograms. The load capacity of the rail car can be raised by precisely this amount, thus making transporation of goods significantly more efficient. From the pre-materials to the welding seams, all of the prototype’s materials and components come from the voestalpine Group.
Energy production applications
Steel is playing an integral role in the implementation of the energy transition from fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy. The use of steel is just as integral to the towers of wind turbine systems as it is to the supporting elements for photovoltaic systems or solar power plants. In geothermal power plants and conventional hydroelectric systems, steel is also indispensable. Furthermore, by continuing its materials development, voestalpine is making a contribution to the energy transition, as it increases the degree of efficiency of conventional power plants, such as steam power plants.
A series of new developments for wind power is being advanced in “voestalpine Future Markets,” the cross-divisional project for identifying and employing innovative technologies along the Group’s entire value creation chain. In cooperation with renowned external partners and research institutions, voestalpine engineered the prototype of a low-maintenance lattice tower for wind power plants.
The use of new types of joining methods and the application of innovative special sections should reduce the high volume of maintenance requirements that previously put lattice towers at a disadvantage when compared to other building methods. The new construction kit concept is providing remarkable benefits in transportation and logistics, as well as considerable reductions in materials, extreme lightness, improved stability, and an altogether significant increase in the degree of efficiency.
Following intensive development efforts and the successful completion of the test phase, voestalpine Polynorm launched the iFIX photovoltaic system for flat roofs in the solar market in 2012. The system stands out for its innovative construction–and for having the lowest installation cost on the construction site.
50plus power plant
The efficiency of steam power plants can be greatly increased by raising the operating temperature and the pressure: a rise of 10%–for example, from 42% to 52%–for a 750 MW power plant leads to a reduction of its CO2 emissions by 700,000 tons/year; this corresponds to the output from 350,000 diesel-powered, mid-sized cars driving 15,000 km/year.
New, improved materials and components that can tolerate the higher loads are essential to raising the plants’ degree of efficiency. As part of the Group project “Power Plant 50plus,” voestalpine has been working with the Graz University of Technology on related developments since the fall of 2010. For example, hot-dip galvanized high-tensile steels as well as nickel-based alloys were developed for use at temperatures above 700°C. (By comparison: today, the most modern systems operate at around 600°C).
Eight companies from three divisions are working on optimizing turbine housing, generator shafts, pipe conduits, and turbine shafts. voestalpine is already capable of manufacturing this high-temperature steel with assured process reliability. The material has already passed the welding process test. 600 MW generator and low-pressure shafts are currently in production.