Insights from industry

The Future Of Steel In The Automotive Industry

AZoM talks to Cees ten Broek, Director of WorldAutoSteel, about the benefits of using steel in the automotive industry and what the future may hold for the metal.

Could you please give a brief introduction to WorldAutoSteel and its key drivers?

We are the automotive group of the World Steel Association and our program is comprised of 18 global automotive sheet steel producers from around the world.

The purpose of our organization is to pool resources to demonstrate the most advanced steels for the automotive industry. With our combined resources we’re able to show the best of what can be done with these steels to produce lighter and safer vehicles with lower emissions. That’s our main purpose for getting together.

Could you give a brief explanation how the steel is commonly utilized within the automotive industry currently?

Around 65% of every vehicle is made of steel, mostly in what is called the ‘body in white’, which is the skeletal structure of the automobile plus the closures. People differ on their definition of ‘body in white’, but that’s how we define it.

Manufacturers use steel because it is the strongest, most affordable material out there for the application and can be engineered in a lot of different ways to meet the needs of crash safety and the performance of the vehicle, such as how it handles.

There are a lot of opposing requirements for materials in the automotive industry. For instance, for front end crash requirements, the material has to be able to absorb crash energy so that it stalls that energy from getting into the passenger area and keeps you safer. However, if the vehicle is involved in a side collision, the material has to be strong enough to deflect energy as you don’t want it to crumple.

Steel has the kind of flexibility and qualities that mean it is able to meet these requirements, and able to meet them affordably. And now newer steels, such as Advanced High-Strength Steels, are doing this with less steel at a lighter weight.

FutureSteelVehicle Body Structure.

FutureSteelVehicle Body Structure. Image credit: WorldAutoSteel/Kate Hickey

How are steel manufacturers aiming to make steel in automotive applications more sustainable?

For decades now, the steel industry has been working hard on reducing emissions and trying to become more effective environmentally. The traditional images of ‘dirty’ steel factories are gone now due to manufacturers’ efforts to reduce environmental impacts.

Though steel is still an energy and carbon- intensive industry, they’re doing what they can as an industry to become more environmentally friendly.

I also want to mention that steel is the only material that only emits CO2. So, we have an easier job of managing our emissions than some of the other materials have.

In fact, worldsteel published a booklet In 2012 called “Sustainable Steel, At the core of a green economy.” – this can give even more of an insight into the steps being taken.

Could we also briefly talk about the recycling benefits of steel?

Yes, steel is infinitely recyclable and that’s of huge importance. Moreover, it is also recyclable back into the same product, in what is called a closed loop, because it does not degrade in quality as it is recycled. That cannot be done with any other material. For instance, you can take an aluminum vehicle and turn it into a pop can, but you can’t turn it back into an aluminum vehicle because it degrades in quality when it’s recycled. Secondary steel can be used to make all kinds of different products, including automobiles.

Further to this, steel is easy to recycle because it is magnetic, meaning you can easily draw out steel during the recycling process. Other materials are not magnetic, so it takes a lot more energy to process these materials.

Steel is the only metal recyclable in a ‘closed loop’.

Steel is the only metal recyclable in a ‘closed loop’. Image credit: WorldAutoSteel/Kate Hickey

How are high strength steels utilized in the mass production of vehicles and how does this compare to other metals, such as aluminum?

We’ve done a number of studies to compare ourselves with aluminum. First of all, Advanced High-Strength Steels can be manufactured at very thin gauges, but maintain the strength of a mild steel, which is different than the conventional steel that cars were primarily made of a couple of decades ago. This allows the automotive designers to replace conventional steels with AHSS in the same amount of packaging space.

With Advanced High-Strength Steels, you’re using less material and you’re saving a lot of mass. We’ve demonstrated that in a number of projects - our latest one, FutureSteelVehicle (FSV), is 97% high strength and Advanced High-Strength Steel and saved thirty-nine percent mass over the benchmark.

The FutureSteelVehicle (FSV).

The FutureSteelVehicle (FSV). Image credit: WorldAutoSteel/Kate Hickey.

Aluminum may have a lot of claims about saving fifty percent mass, but when we’ve done studies and when we looked at mass over the benchmark, aluminum only saves about eleven percent. And in some instances we’ve even seen that where aluminum is used in a particular component, the mass reduction doesn’t carry out into the whole system.

Compared to steel, aluminum is a less dense material, so it can save approximately eleven percent depending on what the vehicle is. When we created the FutureSteelVehicle (FSV), we also made aluminum components alongside for different systems, and in most cases we were able to either match or beat what aluminum was giving for that particular component.

That’s our job at WorldAutoSteel - to show auto makers how they can achieve those kinds of results with steel, because aluminum is sixty percent more costly than steel and if you start using it, or magnesium or plastics, you’re increasing the cost of the car. And who is ultimately going to pay that cost? It’s going to be the consumer. So we try and demonstrate the uses of these steels to make it easier for auto companies to then adapt these into their own platforms.



FSV's BEV color coded to the body structure materials and accompanying FSV BEV Steel Types Graph. Image credit: WorldAutoSteel/Kate Hickey.

Could we touch quickly on a project that WorldAutoSteel is working on at the moment, such as the application guidelines?

Well, it is one thing to produce these projects that show the automotive industry some of the unique applications that they can use advanced steel for, but it’s another for them to actually use those steels in their manufacturing environment. As these are stronger there can be certain issues, for example sometimes they might not form exactly the same as conventional steel does.

Our application guidelines gather the experience of car companies from around the world and document those experiences, which we then share freely with anybody who wants to download them from our website, so that others can learn from those experiences. We also will be conducting workshops and technical transfers to further assist automakers in addressing manufacturing issues satisfactorily.

Using these experiences, manufacturers can learn to adjust and deal with the higher strength steels and how they react in the forming guides. So we’re not only demonstrating how to use steel, we’re showing how to manufacture with it as well.

Lastly, what does the future hold for steel in the automotive industry and how you see this changing over the next decade or so?

It’s always a competitive market and we’re not just trying to maintain our market share, we’re trying to grow our market share. Currently, Advanced High-Strength Steels are the fastest growing materials used in automotive manufacturing.

We never rest on our laurels and that’s why our steel makers are constantly addressing the present challenges. One of the most important aspects of steel is that it can be engineered into a lot of different materials and can act in many different ways, so we’re constantly achieving higher strengths and more formable steels to meet the needs of our auto makers.

Consequently, WorldAutoSteel is constantly looking at ways to demonstrate those steels so that auto makers can learn from what we learned in those processes. We spend millions of dollars on those projects to show how to better use steel and we’re constantly trying to make a better steel to better meet the challenges that our customers are facing.

We’re very passionate about our product and about the capabilities of steel, so we’re going to keep working towards the future.

About Cees ten Broek

Cees ten Broek

Cees ten Broek was appointed Director WorldAutoSteel in January, 2011, after having held the position of Director Communications from January 2008 - December 2010.

WorldAutoSteel, the Automotive Group of The World Steel Association is comprised of eighteen major global steel producers from around the world.

Cees ten Broek graduated from the University of Amsterdam, Netherlands, in Economics and Business Administration. Further, he completed additional studies at the Oxford School of Economics, and IMD in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Before joining the Steel Industry in 1997, Cees ten Broek held senior management positions in the Telecommunications Industry with ITT/Alcatel in Belgium and New York, USA (1981 - 1988), and with Xerox Corporation in The Netherlands and Germany (1989 - 1997).

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily represent the views of 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.

G.P. Thomas

Written by

G.P. Thomas

Gary graduated from the University of Manchester with a first-class honours degree in Geochemistry and a Masters in Earth Sciences. After working in the Australian mining industry, Gary decided to hang up his geology boots and turn his hand to writing. When he isn't developing topical and informative content, Gary can usually be found playing his beloved guitar, or watching Aston Villa FC snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.


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