voestalpine–the next step ahead
The innovation guidelines support the vision of being „the next step ahead“, and are anchored in the CR strategy:
We are continually researching innovative products and processes, and developing novel technologies, in order to remain the benchmark for resource efficiency and environmental standards.
We pursue active know-how management both internally and externally, and regard this as the key to success. We take on the responsibility of training and continuing to educate our researchers in-house, sharing our knowledge within the Group, and using the synergies which arise from pooling our expertise.
In the field of research we place great value in long-term, trusted relationships with our customers and suppliers, and work closely together with universities and scientific institutions.
Innovative products and processes
Steel makes an indispensable contribution to a sustainable future. The use of steel in lightweight automotive construction or in the energy sector, for example, can bring significant energy savings and help reduce CO2. Without steel there would be no wind turbines, no hydropower plants, no electric motors and consequently no electric vehicles, no electricity pylons, no environmentally-friendly railways, metro systems or tramways, etc.
Even in the future, steel production will remain an energy intensive process. However, the voestalpine Group is consistently working towards the gradual decarbonization of steel production. voestalpine is applying bridging technologies which are primarily based on natural gas, as in the new direct reduction plant in Texas, in an effort to replace coal with alternative energy sources in steel production. The next step is to develop the direct reduction process using hydrogen in place of natural gas. A hydrogen electrolyzer plant is currently being built at the site in Linz in order to research the technology and its potential use in steel production.
Both new and existing processes are being continually developed in order to conserve resources and improve environmental sustainability. The projects are aimed at reducing the quantities of primary materials used, lowering water consumption, and reusing residual materials such as slag and dust in an environmentally sustainable manner. Rapid advances in digitalization also contribute to raising process efficiency and quality further.
Product development is focused on industries with the most sophisticated technological requirements such as mobility and energy. In the automotive and aerospace industries the focus lies on lightweight construction as a means of saving fuel and reducing emissions. voestalpine works to achieve this goal by developing ultra-high-strength steels and high-quality forged components from light alloys.
The high-strength and ultra-high-strength steels of up to 2,000 MPa also contribute to passenger safety, by ensuring a high level of crash performance for safety-relevant automotive components.
In the railway infrastructure sector, the highest priority is given to passenger safety and high track system availability. For that reason voestalpine develops rail materials which double rail service life, together with intelligent turnout systems whose assistance and diagnostics systems not only enable remote control and monitoring, but also intelligent, proactive self-diagnosis. This will allow turnout failures to be reduced by up to 50% in future, significantly raising availability and safety.
For the energy industry materials are developed which can withstand extreme conditions such as particularly tough or sour-gas-resistant tubes, and materials for use at high temperatures which in turn raises the output efficiency of turbines.
The development of high efficiency electrical steel and compacore® inline-bonded lamination stacks significantly increases electric motor efficiency, which in turn substantially reduces energy consumption. For this development voestalpine, together with its cooperation partner the Johannes Kepler University Linz, was awarded the 2018 special state prize VERENA.
Knowledge transfer within the Group
Research and development at voestalpine is decentralized, located close to the production facilities and the market. This global network of over 70 sites is controlled by the Research Board and Research Coordination. A variety of formats are used for the purposes of knowledge transfer: information is shared between R&D managers within the Research Committee, corporate projects link existing knowledge available across divisional boundaries, R&D expert clusters offer platforms for researchers to discuss particular topics, and the synergy platform–the Group’s own annual internal conference–offers the opportunity to share knowledge whilst meeting in person and networking.
Continuing professional development for researchers
On average around 120 Master’s theses and 90 dissertations are being written about current voestalpine research topics. Consequently, there is a constant pool of young researchers who become very familiar with the Group and its areas of activity whilst still studying.
Nearly a third of these academic works already examine issues related to digitalization.
Long-term and trusted relationships
Collaboration is becoming increasingly important, also in the field of research. “Partnership” is not only a sustainable development goal, it is also anchored in voestalpine’s strategic R&D guidelines. Global networking, and cooperation with external partners including customers, suppliers and scientific institutions, is undoubtedly a key to successful R&D.
voestalpine aspires to create strategic, long-term partnerships based on trust and technological equality which create value for both partners.
With their application-oriented fundamental research, scientific partners, whether national or international, such as university institutes, universities of applied science, research institutes, competence centers, and Christian Doppler Laboratories, all make an important contribution to academic research. Cooperative partnerships benefit from geographical and cultural proximity, and for that reason local scientific expertise is used.
R&D cooperation with customers is equally important, allowing their particular needs to be directly met. Here, too, long-term development partnerships are encouraged, with R&D employees–“Resident Engineers”–in permanent contact with selected customers.