It may have been 1967, but the one-word of career advice that Benjamin Braddock received from a family friend — “plastics” — remains iconoclast. But heck, we don’t write about plastics; we write about metals — so it came as a pleasant surprise to read this article in ASM International about a new alloy called Crutonite, developed by Eaton and Crucible Materials Corp for Caterpillar’s C15 heavy-duty on-highway diesel engine.
The alloy contains a lot less nickel than similar alloys used for these types of applications. We have heard in the past year of a number of material substitutions for various stainless grades. What we find interesting about this application is that the Crutonite appears to withstand a very rugged industrial products application, namely to perform “flawlessly on an engine for more than one million miles.” The fact remains that innovation is not limited to plastics or high tech; it is indeed very alive and well in the metals industry.
Looking at innovation more broadly, what I also find interesting is the factors that drive innovation in the U.S. Product differentiation and the need for suppliers to move up the value stream are certainly large motivating factors, but what I most appreciate is the sourcing angle, or the need to drive down costs. For anyone who has been tracking nickel for the past two years, product substitution has likely become a primary cost reduction strategy. What will be most interesting to watch is how companies deploy their green strategies within the metals industry to design and create new products and materials not for some social do-gooding — which we don’t have a problem with — but rather for cost reduction. I suspect when it makes pure financial sense, we’ll see a lot more metals innovation, and the