Innovation technology? Yes! Rust belt industry? No!
Years ago, after I returned to the region in the late 1980s, I’ll never forget an exchange I had with an operator. With the automated systems now in use, this would never happen today.
I asked for a telephone number at one of our steel plants. The operator responded, “Isn’t steel gone from there?” Say what?
We have been battling that canard for years. More recently, I heard a broadcast on National Public Radio that said nothing was going on in Gary. I literally shouted at my radio, “What about the thousands of people working at Gary Works?”
Like you, I have had a front row seat on the transformation taking place in our steel industry. Consolidation had a lot to do with it, but innovation is playing a role. Of course, this radical retooling has not been easy, and many challenges remain.
But this industry has embraced cutting edge technology and innovative ideas. One shining example involves ArcelorMittal, led by its Global Research & Development Center that represents the largest research facility for steel in the hemisphere.
Several weeks ago, I was part of an Ivy Tech Northwest team to mark a milestone at this facility based in East Chicago. We were there to bestow the Chanute Prize, a traveling trophy shared with the most innovative teams from The Society of Innovators co-sponsored by Krieg DeVault. Our host was Richard Sussman, general manager of the center.
The ArcelorMittal Global R&D Team helped pioneer a project called “S-in-motion.” Its role is part of a global effort led by the world’s largest steel company. The purpose is to keep steel strong in the cars of the future. I’m talking the world, not just North America!
Blake Zuidema, director of automotive product applications, describes it this way: “We brought automotive design technology into the steel business so we could get insights into how our material responds and contributes to the performance of individual steel components.”
This is a significant departure from the traditional approach. Typically, a supplier looks to their customer for insights into product needs and wants. He added, “We start product development in the auto design studio, not in the metallurgical laboratory.”
The result was developing far more efficient steel grades. Overall, this led to significant “light weighting” of parts for cars using advanced steels. Through a game-changing catalog of steel solutions from ArcelorMittal, auto manufacturers can meet new fuel regulations that require U.S. cars to achieve 54.5 mph by 2025.
Already, solutions using lighter and stronger steel have been embraced by major car manufacturers around the world, thanks to “S-in-motion.” The point: This is not just keeping steel in cars, this is keeping steel jobs in Northwest Indiana.