Paul Harvey, Group Business Development Manager at Bohler–Uddedholm, talks to AZoM about the use of special steels as tooling materials and the changing uses and applications of these.
Could you please provide a brief introduction to the industry that Bohler-Uddeholm works within and outline the key drivers?
Our company specialises in “Special Steels” and Nickel base alloys, in a multitude of product forms from a 1mm diameter wire, right through to a 50 tonne forging. We tend to specialise in certain industry sectors , for example tool steels, where our products are used in hot work, cold work, plastic moulding and high speed applications for cutting and machining.
We also produce special stainless steel and nickel base alloys for use in aerospace and the oil and gas sector and hold stocks of seamless stainless steel tube and pipe in various grades.
Could you give a brief history of Bohler-Uddeholm and how the company has changed?
Bohler and Uddeholm have been around for a long time (both companies can be traced back over 300 years) and they came together in the 1990s and are now part of the Voest Alpine group.
The companies have changed with regards to steel making technology, but they have always been at the forefront of steel making and conversion equipment and the goal of producing a top quality product at a competitive price has been long standing for both companies.
What are some of the key tooling materials that Bohler-Uddeholm supplies?
We are leaders in bespoke branded metals that solve a problem. We like to specify the right grade for the application, and some of the grades can cover a multitude of applications. For example, both Bohler and Uddeholm are world leaders in the production of powder metallurgical steels and these steels often find a home in cutting tools, or cold work applications when the requirement for ultimate wear resistance and compressive strength is essential.
Could you explain your three main groups in a bit more detail: Hot work, Cold work and Plastic applications?
Hot work is the use of the tool steel to produce parts where the metal being formed is at a high temperature, such as forging or die casting of aluminium or brasses.
Cold work implies it’s at ambient temperature, generally, but the metals do get a little warm when they are formed. Usually cold working puts very high loading on the tools, so steel with high compressive strength is essential.
Plastic moulding, i.e thermo plastic forming, can involve materials which are corrosive when molten and give off chlorides (PVC for example), so stainless steels are used to solve this problem. However, the stainless steel grade used is hardenable to ensure good tool wear and accurate moulding of the component.
What are the key application areas of your products?
Just about everything you use in a modern life style has to be made using a tool of some sort.
For example, the bed you lie in, the springs for the mattress are formed in a tool, (cold work). The carpet in your home, the needles that wove the cloth and cut the yarn are made from tool steel.
The sink in the kitchen was cold formed from stainless steel sheet, and the washing up bowl is probably made of plastic, so thermo plastically moulded. The plastic milk carton you pour your milk from was blow moulded; again, special tooling is used for this.
With regards to hot work, the crank shaft in the car engine was probably hot forged in closed dies (hot work tools steel) and the threads that are cut in the end of the shaft to hold the fly wheel were probably made using a cutting tap made of high speed steel.
Could you briefly outline a recent success story that you were involved in that you are particularly proud of?
We have lots of success stories, and for us, the fact that the clients come back year on year is proof of our success. Some of my colleagues who are due to retire after forty years of service can still say they have many accounts which they started early in their careers. A specific highlight for me though, is the use of tools steel in the motor racing industry - Formula 1 has found a variety of uses for our special alloys.
How are the properties of High Performance Steel (HPS) different to conventional steel and how does this alter its application?
All our steels are high performance steels, as they are tailored to suit a specific application. In many applications the use of a conventional steel is acceptable , but if you are looking for tool life improvements , especially those that give you a competitive edge or reduce manufacturing costs, then high performance steels must be explored.
How are you able to assist people with regards to expertise about HPS-materials?
As a stock holder we pride ourselves on our technical prowess. We have skilled sales engineers and metallurgists on site who can evaluate your tooling and advise on best course of action to improve tool life or solve a specific problem. As new steels develop, we can share these and help the client stay at the forefront of his own industry; these partnerships we form are long standing, mutually benefiting both companies.
How do you see the use of steel changing over the next decade?
Personally, I see a lot more of it being used as it’s a fantastic material - it’s very strong, easily produced and still has a competitive edge when compared to other conventional materials. Due to high stiffness and strength it always needs tooling to be formed.
As Asian economies grow and more people aspire to a modern lifestyle and the products that go with it, then the demand for steel and the tooling to provide the end product will remain strong.
As new production techniques for tools steels become available, Bohler-Uddeholm will utilise them to improve their tools steels.
About Paul Harvey
Paul Harvey started his career as a lab technician in the forging industry in 1986. Since this time, he has worked in the aerospace, automotive, gas cylinder , tool steel and oil and gas sectors for the rest of his career, as a metallurgist and as a sales engineer.
His current role at Bohler –Uddedholm is group business development, looking after all the brands they sell, focusing on the technical aspect.
Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily represent the views of AZoM.com Limited (T/A) AZoNetwork, the owner and operator of this website. This disclaimer forms part of the Terms and Conditions of use of this website.