Articles in Category: Product Developments

There’s nothing at MetalMiner we like more than to bring you news of new developments, products or innovations particularly if they further the use of metals. So it was a pleasure to catch up with an old friend of mine Igor Malyshev this week.

Russia has come a long way from the first days I did business there in the early 90’s when the answer to a slow paying customer in the depths of one Siberian winter was we lock him in Gregors garage, in the morning he pays cash! gulp. Well as you can imagine, I always paid my bills on time. Igor fortunately never had to lock me in his garage or anyone else’s for that matter and for a number of years we very successfully cooperated in the sale of Rusal’s semi finished products in Asia. Since then, Igor has moved on to another Russian mill Kamensk Uralsky Metallurgical Works (Kumz) and is again doing wonders developing their sales. But here his challenge was greater. Read more

If you caught the first part of our series on green innovations in the metals industry, you’ll know that the MetalMiner staff is excited about following the growth and development of green metals. We love hearing about eco-friendly improvements and new practices in the metals industry. The men and women behind GreenAlloys share this excitement for going green, and they decided to take a step to make metals recycling and low-lead products more prominent in our society. Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to talk to Al Barbour, president and CEO of Concast Metals Products Co., the company responsible for GreenAlloys. If you want to be a progressive company or manufacturer today, you need to look at what the end customer wants, he says of his eco-friendly metals company, touted as the next generation of environmentally-friendly alloys and materials. The view of society is moving in this direction, this green direction. This is a trend that will remain long-term. Read more

While many of you were undoubtedly enjoying your weekend — those of us in Chicago were trying to stay warm in 5 degree weather — I stumbled across an interesting article from the New York Times on how overseas investors are scooping up US companies often at fire sale prices. This should not come as a shock to anyone. All one needs to do is head to a mall and listen to all of the foreign accents. The Brits think there is a two for one sale here on everything and many Europeans are flying to NYC for a weekend getaway and some bargain shopping.

So what does a weekend getaway in NYC have to do with metals? Well, according to the Times article, ThyssenKrupp Stainless just spent $3.7B to build a stainless facility in Calvert Alabama because “of the low cost production of the United States. But that news has been previously reported. What is interesting is the why and the when. Since imports are now so expensive, ThyssenKrupp did what any investor might do and establish a local presence. ThyssenKrupp will now be able to take advantage of NAFTA and position themselves for a larger chunk of the North American stainless market. The goal is a 5% US market share and up to 1M tons of flat rolled product according to the company’s press release on the same subject. According to an article by Recycling Today, “There are 15 prominent manufacturers of stainless steel flat products, three of which (ThyssenKrupp Stainless, the Acerinox Group and Posco) manufacture around 1.8 million metric tons.” This new investment is quite significant.

Perhaps ironically, ThyssenKrupp is pursuing this strategy in the face of sagging profits and sagging demand for stainless, according to this recent Forbes article. But no matter. It’s still a great buyer’s market and there are plenty of foreign firms sniffing around at both American acquisitions as well as greenfield opportunities.

Though some view foreign buying of US companies as a threat, we think it will be a boon to US buyers. From the buyers point of view, competition among suppliers is nearly always a good thing. This new plant will be state of the art if it is to compete in the decades ahead and not only will it increase supply, helping to keep down prices but it will also raise the quality expectations in the wider market place forcing incumbent suppliers to improve quality too.

How can buyers prepare for when ThyssenKrupp comes on stream in 2010? Well, given our 2008 stainless steel price predictions, consider locking in some longer term contracts as prices drop. And maybe, just maybe, buyers will see some better pricing for the longer term.

— Lisa Reisman

Home of such influential rockers as the White Stripes, Electric Six, the Detroit Cobras, and the Raconteurs, Detroit was also rocking and rolling with the North American International Auto Show last week. The show will remain open to the public until January 27. Not the biggest, maybe not even the most-loved auto show around, the Detroit show is still well-known as the first international auto show to begin each year. The season begins when Detroit says ready, set, and GO.

There were more than a few highlights from this year’s show, ranging from the Corvette ZR1’s debut  into high society (the only place a car like that can travel, with its $100,000 price tag!) to a country-western star unveiling the Ford F-150 and a cattle drive complete with 120 longhorns  accompanying a Dodge Ram  near Detroit’s Cobo Center. Here’s the new song for cowboys: Save a horse; ride a pickup. The green theme of the Detroit show was also pleasing to the crowd ” as were several new cars from Asian manufacturers.

Why is the Corvette ZR1 of any interest to metals fanatics? Because of the wide array of metals which are used to make this high-performance sports car so incredibly lightweight. Light weight is necessary when you intend for your car to hit more than 200 mph. First the basics: Based on the original ZR-1 (note the hyphen, which is now missing), the car is very simple in appearance ” but the car is clearly built to fit its $100,000 asking price. The supercharged V-8 engine is capable of 620 horsepower, and will make its mark as the most powerful Chevrolet in existence. According to the New York Times, the front fenders, front splitter, lower rocker moldings, roof panel, roof bow, and the hood were constructed with carbon fiber, while the chassis’ frame rails are hydroformed aluminum.  Magnesium is used to make the fixed-roof frame and steering column bracket. The Times also notes that the monstrous brakes are created with carbon-ceramic rotors, which saves 11 pounds per corner over iron rotors.

Although the environmentalists couldn’t be too fond of the cattle drive Chrysler let loose on Detroit ” after all, cows supposedly emit more air polluting gases than even cars  ” the green theme of the show inspired those looking out for nature, and shamed some of the more ecologically reckless. While muscle cars and big trucks aren’t disappearing anytime soon (and I’ll admit that I’m an avid environmentalist who secretly adores old muscle cars), the future looks green for many consumers. Although the Corvette ZR1 boasts a powerful V-8 engine, it has  been reported that interest in the V-8 engine is sputtering.  Instead, it seems that smaller engines and alternative-fuel vehicles have been promoted at the show. Hybrid cars have been growing in popularity for quite a while. But despite the interest, writer Jerry Garret asks, Where is that next generation of vehicles capable of meeting those federal mandates, lowering greenhouse gas emissions and pioneering uses of alternative forms of propulsion? They seem to exist, for the most part, still somewhere over the rainbow and in television commercials. The green-themed Detroit auto show, however, is a clear move to help people who ”  to quote Garrison Keeler  ” hate something, change something, and make it better.  Metals can play a clear role in this search for the perfect environmentally-friendly vehicle, as this blog explains. Lighter metals lead to lighter cars, which can lead to less fuel consumption. Various cars may have the limelight this month at the show, and the cattle may keep downtown Detroit busy, but lightweight metals are playing their own starring role at the North American International Auto Show.

— Amy Edwards

I’m not going to get into too many political discussions on this blog. I’ll leave that to my husband Jason Busch with his blog. But on a recent trip to NASA with our four-year-old, I couldn’t help but smile when our tour bus driver began discussing his pet subject, commercializing NASA innovations. Needless to say, my ears immediately perked up.

No matter your politics or views on where/how US tax dollars are spent, if you haven’t been to the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral Florida, I’d highly recommend a visit. Whether listening to the Astronaut Encounter (in our case we heard 5 time shuttle astronaut John Blaha) or the tour bus driver there is something inspirational for everyone.

When our bus driver mentioned a piece of legislation enacted in the early 60’s requiring NASA to work with the private sector to commercialize discoveries from the space program, I couldn’t wait to log-on to see what metals related innovations were discovered 50 miles above the earth. I didn’t have to look hard to find the following:

  1. Conductive fibers to replace metal wiring. These fibers are used in thermal blankets, aerospace wiring, electromagnetic interference shielding, and medical patient apparel. They are much lighter and less messy than copper.
  2. Failure analysis on military helicopter metal parts. Through a partnership with NASA and the Marshall Space Flight Center, failed helicopter parts such as rotors, engine parts, fasteners etc are analyzed through a high power microscope and facility to identify the root cause of failure. These failures can then be traced to various processes such as heat treatment, machining, formed, and fitted etc.
  3. Stronger than titanium with cooling properties similar to plastic, Liquidmetal used for flash drive casings as well as a new breed of baseball bat.
  4. And my personal favorite, Zipnut elminates the need to thread a nut onto a bolt

Innovation is certainly alive and well. We’ll continue to write about metals related inventions. If you have a new metal-related product offering, drop us a line, we’d love to hear about it! lreisman@aptiumglobal.com

–Lisa Reisman

A recent tongue-in-cheek article on Spend Matters about the U.S. becoming the low-cost country source for Europe due to a falling dollar looks like it may have substance as well as humor on its side. Rolls Royce has announced that they are establishing a manufacturing and assembly facility in Virginia to service the growing corporate jet engine market and the sophisticated manufacture of Blisk components for the U.S. Joint Strike Fighter F136 engine. These components are bladed discs machined from large solid titanium forgings, and Rolls Royce gained acceptance for their use on the F136 project two years ago in collaboration with DutchAero. Could the strength of the Euro against the dollar be the prime motivation behind this move to Virginia? Rolls Royce certainly states the exchange rate as one of three principal reasons for the move.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg has reported that U.S. exports are surging on the back of the weak dollar and cited aero engines as a specific example. With the credit crunch, volatile equities, and a slumping housing market, it would appear technology exports are the one bright spot on the horizon for the U.S. economy.

–Stuart Burns

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.

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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 U.S. will likely lead that effort. We’ll be sure to highlight some of the metals related innovations.

–Lisa Reisman

The Dubai Air Show ended recently, and already the papers are announcing the massive sales secured by Airbus and Boeing — not just for their new offerings, the A380 and 787 Dreamliner, but for the stable stock in trade of A320’s and 777’s. Both makers have bulging order books with more than 1000 aircraft each on order. In addition, producers of smaller commuter aircraft like Embraer and Bombardier are also booming.

We see so many opportunities for the aircraft industry, but how does this affect the supply market feeding these production lines? After several years of sustained growth both in the West and Asia, the metals markets are already tight, particularly for the supply of semi-finished metals like plate, larger diameter bars, and the famous fasteners that have so delayed the Dreamliner. Read more

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