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China makes light work of it

The Chinese car manufacturer FAW Car is using the light-weight material MBW® 1900 from thyssenkrupp to manufacture its bumpers

It is hard to say whether around 60 years ago anyone could have guessed that Changchun would one day become the center of the Chinese automotive industry. It all began in 1953 with the opening of First Automotive Works (FAW), the first automobile factory in the People’s Republic. It only manufactured a single model: a medium-sized truck. But demand rose quickly, and production expanded to include city and tour buses.

Today, FAW also manufactures light trucks and heavy-duty trucks, cars in all vehicle classes, and tailor-made chassis for busses. What started in Changchun gradually expanded over time, and now there are 18 additional plants across China. The production numbers increased as the product portfolio grew more diverse. In 2015, FAW delivered 2.55 million vehicles. First Automotive Works became First Automotive Group Corporation. The acronym FAW remained, with the word ‘Car’ added at the end.

Licences expand the market

In an effort to adapt to changing market conditions and to meet buyers’ expectations, the Chinese automotive pioneer began cooperating with a number of different international manufacturers. Whereas in the beginning FAW Car only manufactured its own models and only did so for local customers, the company went on to establish a worldwide presence. Since the year 2000, it has concluded licence agreements with Toyota, Mazda, and GM.

But it all started back in 1991 with German carmaker Volkswagen. That cooperation also marked the beginning of a business relationship with an important material supplier from Germany: thyssenkrupp. “We’re celebrating our 20th anniversary this year,” says Dr. Yan Wang, Chief Engineer of Punching Technology at FAW Car. “When we produced the Audi 100 in 1997, we used steel from Duisburg for the first time.”

The right material at the right time

Much has happened since then. The worldwide automotive market has changed, as have the demands placed on the automobile in general. The material requirements have increased with regard to composition, processing options, applications, weight, and more.

When FAW initiated a project for a new vehicle model a few years ago, the company went looking for a suitable material for the bumpers. Dr. Wang and his colleagues decided to go with MBW® 1900 from thyssenkrupp Steel. “This manganese-boron steel combines a number of characteristics that are important for the component,” says Dr. Wang. “The material reacts exceptionally well to hot forming. It is extremely rigid and offers very high resistance to deformation.” Yong Xu, an employee from Dr. Wang’s team, adds: “And thanks to its lightweight construction properties, it decreases the weight of the bumper.”

Intensive consultation on site is a given for us.

Sadet Kökcü, Senior Manager Technical Sales, Business Unit Automotive
Off-the-shelf material is not suitable for producing these bumpers.
Off-the-shelf material is not suitable for producing these bumpers.

The timing was perfect on both sides. “Production readiness of MBW®1900 coincided more or less with the new project from FAW Car,” says Sadet Kökcü, who heads the local technical customer service department and represents the Duisburg steel group locally in China. However, it took some time before the MBW®1900 first appeared on the Asian market. “The processing parameters had to be adapted to the material,” says Kökcü, “Which means that test stampings and modifications had to be made before volume production could begin. To ensure that the hot forming worked properly, experts from Germany provided the colleagues here in China with extensive consultation.”

Delivery in series

Once someone in China decides to do something, it gets done in the shortest possible time. “The decision-making paths are much more dynamic than in Europe.” MBW®1900 is a special grade of the highest strength and this gives Steel a competitive advantage. But cars are not built from materials alone. “The fact that thyssenkrupp provided not only the material, but also intensive engineering support was a very important factor in FAW Car’s choice of supplier,” says Shunbing Yu, a customer service representative in the Steel division and a colleague of Sadet Kökcü. “We are proud that we were able to supply MBW® 1900 for production use on the Chinese market as the first steel manufacturer, and that we accomplished this in cooperation with FAW.”

For Dr. Wang, however, there was yet another very different factor that played a crucial role in FAW Car’s decision to go with the product from Duisburg. “It is the long relationship of trust that we have. The perfect combination of outstanding expertise and a reliable partnership.” And that is why he is convinced that we will celebrate many more anniversaries together.

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