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Under new management

In a new function: André Matusczyk (l.) as CEO/CTO thyssenkrupp Hohenlimburg and Simon Stephan as Senior Vice President Sales Automotive at thyssenkrupp Steel.

In this interview, André Matusczyk, CEO/CTO of thyssenkrupp Hohenlimburg and Simon Stephan, Head of Sales Automotive thyssenkrupp Steel, talk about the challenges facing steel as a material in times of climate change and fragile supply chains.

Mr. Matusczyk, you headed flat steel sales for the automotive industry for many years. Now you are Managing Director of thyssenkrupp Hohenlimburg. Is the change also a farewell to the automotive world?

MATUSCZYK: In my new role, I am now responsible not only for sales but also for technology, production planning and quality assurance for our precision steel strip production. The more direct influence on the product makes my new task challenging but also extremely appealing. At the same time, my market access is broadening and with it my perspective on steel. New to me, for example, is the business with cold-rolling and fineblanking companies, as well as certain applications in the agricultural machinery sector. But the automotive industry also remains an important part of my work. The specialty product precidur® precision strip is in demand above all from auto manufacturers and the cold-rolling companies that supply them.

Mr. Stephan, the journey from China to the Ruhr was much longer for you …

STEPHAN: Yes, but only geographically. The product landscape of premium steels for the automotive industry was already my bread and butter in China. There, I was most recently Managing Director of Tagal in Dalian, a joint venture between thyssenkrupp Steel and Ansteel. Tagal operates four modern hot-dip galvanizing lines for high-quality automotive sheet steel in China with various partners. Before that, I gained experience as Managing Director at an international automotive supplier, among other things. I am therefore also not unfamiliar with the demand side. At Sales Automotive in Duisburg, the marketing of powercore® electrical steel is new to me, a very special challenge in view of the upcoming mobility and energy turnaround.

The interview was carried out at the headquarters of thyssenkrupp Hohenlimburg in Hagen.
The interview was carried out at the headquarters of thyssenkrupp Hohenlimburg in Hagen.

It's obvious that you both have a passion for steel. What exactly is this fascination?

STEPHAN: Steel is the most successful lightweight material in automotive construction. And the success story is continuing. Because lightweight steel construction naturally continues to be an important topic for electric vehicles. The main reason for the continued high use of steel is the cost-effectiveness of the material – important for making individual mobility affordable for everyone in the future. However, steel is also indispensable in the generation of renewable energy from wind and water power. Without our material, there will be no energy revolution and no mobility revolution.

MATUSCZYK: Steel has been processed in our region for more than 400 years, precision strip in Hohenlimburg for 150 years now. Today, Hagen and the Sauerland region are an important center for the cold-rolling industry in Germany. And we supply high-quality precidur® precision strip starting material with the tightest tolerances for our customers, half of whom produce within a radius of only 60 km from our plant. For me, however, the fascination of steel also lies in its universal use and continuous further development to its current level of performance. It is not for nothing that we refer to hot-rolled precision strip from Hohenlimburg as Precision Steel.

What exactly characterizes the steel of tomorrow?

STEPHAN: Especially for body and strength-driven structural elements of electric vehicles, the requirements are increasing. The best example: the battery housing, which must protect the sensitive voltage source of the electric vehicle in the event of a crash. In addition, demanding applications with complex requirements for formability at the same time as a high final strength call for optimized materials. Here, we are in the starting blocks with the third generation of AHSS steels, modern ultra-high strength jetQ® multiphase steels. At the same time, we are continuing to optimize steel technologies which have been established for decades, such as hot forming. Compared with current market solutions, our new AS Pro surface coating, for example, significantly reduces process-related hydrogen absorption and thus the risk of hydrogen-induced cracking in components made from ultra high-strength MBW® manganese-boron steels.

MATUSCZYK: New highly ductile, microalloyed precidur® HSM HD steels offer the best prerequisites, for example, for lightweight, crash-resistant and economical vehicle seats without compromising comfort. In agriculture, there are also applications where steel materials are in great demand: the cutter bar, for example – a heavily loaded component with a high degree of complexity. Tight tolerances, high resilience and good processing properties are therefore generally characteristic of our development activities. However, the dominant issue for all of us in the coming decades is most certainly the decarbonization of the steel industry.

André Matusczyk (l.) and Simon Stephan together get an overview of the opportunities for steel in times of climate change and fragile supply chains.
André Matusczyk (l.) and Simon Stephan together get an overview of the opportunities for steel in times of climate change and fragile supply chains.

Good keyword: climate change, crises and disrupted supply chains – will the steel industry's business models also have to change?

STEPHAN: Not only that, if we want clean mobility, steel must also be produced without CO2. All other industries have also registered their needs for CO2-optimized products. We have developed our own technology for the transformation of steel production and set ourselves very ambitious targets. By 2030, we aim to supply a large volume of reduced-CO2 bluemint® Steel products and achieve total CO2 savings of more than 30 percent. We intend to be completely CO2-free by 2045 at the latest. But that's not something that can be done lightly – the technology is extremely expensive. We can only survive in international competition if the same rules apply to all steel suppliers. Here, in China, India and everywhere else in the world. Only governments can regulate that. At the same time, it must be clear to everyone that environmental protection and zero emissions do not come for free.

MATUSCZYK: Absolutely right. Climate protection also includes the sustainable design of all processing stages at specific sites. The use of renewable energies and green hydrogen is a key lever in a development that will accompany us for decades. Global supply chains represent a current challenge. That they are highly fragile structures is something we have known for some time, not just since the COVID pandemic and Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Long-term supply relationships, strategic partnerships and regional, robust supply chains are the basis for a high level of supply security and will once again determine customer relationships in the steel industry to a greater extent in the future. As a firm partner of the regionally concentrated cold rolling industry, Precision Steel is in a particularly good starting position here. A substantial part of the precision steel strip for the region is produced in Hohenlimburg.

What would you like to achieve in the next six months?

MATUSCZYK: I want to secure thyssenkrupp Hohenlimburg's excellent position as a specialist in precision steel strip with optimized tolerances and further expand it through systematic digitization, among other things – in the automotive industry and for our customers in other business areas. Through targeted diversification, we manage industry-specific risks and sustainably safeguard our broad product and application know-how.

STEPHAN: I am particularly happy to continue driving forward the development of our strong thyssenkrupp Steel brand. For me, this means working every day as part of a team to improve our position as a competent and reliable partner for our customers. In addition, my aim is to successfully support the strategic portfolio shift with a focus on ultra high-strength grades for the automotive industry and the rapid electrification in vehicle construction with a corresponding range of premium electrical steel grades.

Thank you very much and good luck to you both.

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