End-to-end provider Sales Industry is an ideal material partner for flat steel. No matter how diverse, customer requirements are rapidly implemented down to a T. Jörg Paffrath explains why this is possible and what is being done to keep it that way.
Mr. Paffrath, what is the Sales Industry business area doing to make steel products sustainable?
Jörg Paffrath: We develop and produce high-quality, tailor-made products on an ongoing basis. Our varied customer base provides us with plenty of suggestions and requests, always providing us with challenging ideas and impetus for innovation.
This sounds easy, but how does it work specifically?
Our teams – Sales and Technical Customer Consulting – cater to specific industries. This allows us to bundle and focus our skills and specialist know-how. Intensive collaboration is a key requirement to identify customer needs in due time and to optimize processes. In addition, we offer innovation technology workshops.
What happens at these workshops?
We present new products, work out specific optimizations if requested by the customer, and discuss possible additions to the product portfolio. What makes this special is that we involve the customer and various internal departments from the very start: Technical Customer Consulting with Sales and Technology & Innovation with Application Technology.
Can you provide an example?
For a household appliance producer, we recently held a workshop that focused on the topic of developing a new kitchen cooker. We discussed every single steel component in terms of its function and production process, attempting to answer the following questions: Can we reduce thickness? What are the possible downsides related to stability and assembly? And there were many more questions on the table. At the end, we had come up with a long list of tasks that are now being worked through. At present, our Application Technology team is running simulations, performing tests, and delivering initial samples – until we have achieved the goal of developing a better and more cost-effective cooker.
What kind of order volume does it take for you to initiate such an involved process?
There is no clear-cut rule. We have a global and varied customer base. Customers who produce pipes for gas and oil pipelines place orders in the range of 100,000 metric tons or more. When we’re talking about paint-coated and film-coated surfaces, it can be as little as five metric tons. This is also the approximate volume we supply to the customer for whom we developed a customized version of non-oriented electrical steel. It was used in building Bochum University’s solar-powered car PowerCore SunCruiser.
What are currently the key aspects when developing new products?
Less weight and more power. Lightweight design is of major importance to the automotive industry. Products must be energy efficient, which is best achieved through a lightweight design. On the other hand, customers who manufacture large pipes want a higher pipeline and feedthrough capacity. In order to be able to transport higher volumes on the same time scale, pipes must withstand higher pressures. This calls for increased wall thickness and improved toughness.
That is quite a range of products.
It sure is. Some products focus on functionality and meeting standards – for instance in lightweight construction. In other areas, we cater to design trends of end customers, such as decorative surfaces for bathtubs or garage doors.
How long does it take for an idea to evolve into a finished product?
From scratch, new developments can take several years. If the task is merely to alter a few parameters of an existing product, this job can sometimes be done in a few weeks. We have taken measures to reduce our time-to-market by prioritizing operational testing and performing processing tests in parallel in the final stage of material testing. This allows our customers to establish unique selling points in a short time.
Sounds like a win-win situation.
Indeed, because it also enables us to remain competitive in the market. Our goal is to become even faster and better. Quality is not just about the material, it is about the customer coming back for more.