Kobe Steel has begun producing steel made through a process called hot-stamping to contain a sudden surge in demand from automakers for lighter and stronger components.
The Japanese steelmaker hopes that the steel will offer carmakers an alternative to high-tensile steel, aluminum and carbon fiber when they seek to save weight in their vehicles.
The hot-stamping steel is being produced at Kobe Steel’s plant in Kakogawa, Hyogo Prefecture. Kobe plans to pitch the material, which sports tensile strength of roughly 1,470 megapascals, to various automakers for use in chassis parts. Such parts are already used in Toyota Motor’s highly popular Prius hybrid.
In an effort to swiftly meet increasingly challenging fuel efficiency standards around the globe, Japanese automakers have increased the use of high-tensile steel. However, the strength of this type of steel currently comes to about 1,180 megapascals at best. Kobe Steel believes that hot-stamped steel parts can provide similar levels of strength at roughly 10% less weight.
Hot-stamped steel components are not as widely used as their high-tensile steel counterparts because a heating furnace is needed for hot stamping. Furthermore, fewer hot-stamped steel parts can be produced in a given time than high-tensile steel components.
Kobe Steel has decided to offer hot-stamping steel because its product makes it possible for parts makers to quadruple output, thanks to its unique composition. Even then, high-tensile steel offers higher productivity, but the company believes that the gap in production costs is now narrow enough to make hot stamping an attractive option.
Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal was practically the only Japanese company to offer hot-stamping steel until Kobe Steel’s market entry. The trailblazer is looking to lift its annual hot-stamping steel production capacity at its Yawata plant in Kitakyushu by roughly 20% to around 300,000 tons by the end of the year.
The company’s aluminum-plated hot-stamping steel has been used by European automakers at their Chinese production bases. It expects Japanese carmakers to also start using the material. Nippon Steel will continue to focus on high-tensile products when it comes to developing lighter steel, but it has decided to boost its hot-stamping steel output capacity to meet demand from customers.
Image credits and excerpts: The Fabricator/Nikkei Asian Review