Making important business decisions takes courage, and luckily courage was among Gedia’s many assets when the company’s management decided to switch to hot forming almost seven years ago. “ThyssenKrupp Steel Europe drew our attention to this new technology and encouraged us to give it a try,” recalls Dennis Heße, Team Leader of Raw Materials Purchasing at Gedia. Up until then, the car manufacturer had produced its vehicle chassis components using a cold forming process, but nobody regrets the decision made back then.
When Gedia decided to implement this new process, the company nearly doubled its orders from ThyssenKrupp Steel Europe and its steel service center group. “Hot forming is a crucial part of today’s automotive industry, and for a supplier of our size, it’s simply a necessity,” says Walter Braunschneider, member of the Gedia Management Board. Hot-formed steels are extremely strong and therefore require less material in the manufacturing process.
These steels are mainly used to produce components that are critical to ensuring the safety of the passengers inside the vehicle. But the process of implementing this new technology is no simple matter, even for an experienced steel processor like Gedia. “We had to learn that we are now able to influence the material itself. That means that we are responsible for its properties,” says Braunschneider. Using the new hot forming technique, the material develops its special properties through a heating and subsequent cooling process.
“There are a number of parameters that determine whether or not the material develops the desired properties – the material itself, the furnace temperature, the cooling speed – and these characteristics are all interdependent,” explains Dr. Julia Mura, Product Manager for hot forming at ThyssenKrupp Steel Europe.
ThyssenKrupp Steel Europe’s qualified experts help clients through the learning process by providing training, workshops, and test runs on the machines. Before deciding to implement the technology itself, Gedia representatives were invited to visit Application Technology in Dortmund. There they met with the then Product Coordinator Dr. Franz-Josef Lenze and watched the process in a laboratory setting where they could precisely observe the machines and obtain detailed explanations. A row of three furnaces, each with seven flat chambers, now make up the heart of Gedia’s system. Their resemblance to pizza ovens earned them their nickname with the employees. The system automatically transfers the steel sheets from the furnace to the transfer press where they are formed and subsequently cooled by water circulated through the die.
Heat imaging cameras monitor each step of the production process to ensure that the components display the correct temperature and hardness. Each component is labeled so that it can be tracked to determine if all necessary parameters were met during the production process. “We are endowing these components with entirely new properties, so we constantly have to inspect the materials we are producing,” explains Maik Winderlich, who is responsible for process technology in the hot forming system at Gedia.
Although the hot forming processes are firmly established at Gedia, the company still maintains close contact with ThyssenKrupp Steel Europe. “We are currently discussing the new TriBond® material and testing it for ourselves,” says Heße. A batch of test parts is currently being produced in the prototype system in Attendorn. “Cooperation like this is very important to us,” explains Mura. “We are responsible for developing new steels for different applications, and it is crucial for us to have solid partners who work directly with these applications and utilize our new materials in their components.”