What was once a green field is now a brown plot. On a tour of the site, Guido Spenrath points out exactly where the main production area of the steel service centre is being built. Apart from initial preparations, there is pretty much nothing to see. However, the Managing Director of Stahlo Stahlservice GmbH & Co. KG has it all mapped out in his head – the rail link that will bring in the coils, the largely automated system of cranes that will forward them on and the location of the slitting lines. The whole intralogistics system.
Stahlo, a subsidiary of the Friedhelm Loh Group and one of the most advanced and largest manufacturer-independent steel service centres in Germany, is currently gearing up to build an entirely new factory at its Gera site – right next door to its current premises. Production operations at the new site are slated to start in early 2019. “After careful analysis, it turned out that Gera is the ideal location, close to the important markets. One key factor in the decision was also the workforce at the site, which we were keen to hold on to,” explains Spenrath.
The investment fits in with the new strategic alignment of the steel service centre. “Stahlo has grown a great deal over recent years,” points out Spenrath. The new works are set to be a growth site that will see Stahlo not only double the size of the machine park, but also increase annual production capacities to approximately 400,000 metric tons. The construction of the new site comes at a time when industrial production is undergoing far-reaching changes – particularly in the automobile industry. By building the new steel service centre, Stahlo is offering solutions for the emerging challenges. Four examples:
High and ultra-high strength steels are on trend
The automobile industry is relying on lightweight construction to help it meet emissions requirements, and high and ultra-high strength steels are ideal materials. According to a recent white paper from Eurometal, the European association for steel distribution, the proportion of these steels being used in automobile manufacturing is set to more than double by 2030. What’s more, the components made from these steels are getting thinner and narrower. Stahlo is already set up to meet this trend and has been processing ultra-high strength steels up to 1,400 MPa in Gera since 2004. By way of comparison, standard steels exhibit a strength of up to around 500 MPa. A second splitting line is to be set up at the new site that will be able to process steels up to 1,900 MPa. “That is unique in the whole of Europe,” says Spenrath. “The new plant will also enable us to feed in wider material and produce narrower,” continues the Managing Director.
Electric vehicle manufacturing also uses these lightweight materials. According to Eurometal, steel service centres should adapt their strategies to these changes and consider investing specifically in processes designed to meet this demand. Stahlo, incidentally, has already taken its first steps towards electromobility – and is leading the way as a supplier for a new electric delivery vehicle.
Alternative materials on the up
Besides lightweight steel construction, manufacturers are increasingly also looking at alternative materials. Aluminium is particularly important for automobile production – and is a growing trend. Consultants at McKinsey estimate that, by 2025, European vehicle manufacturers will be using around 770,000 metric tons of sheet aluminium products. That would be about double the volume being used today. Eurometal therefore recommends that European steel service centres consider, among other things, processing sheet aluminium products.