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March 25, 2015 | by Steve Lawrence

The Transformation of Steel

From supplier to supplier of solutions

You may think you know where the steel industry is headed over the next decade or two. But unless you have heard ArcelorMittal’s Dr. Gregory Ludkovsky, you absolutely do not. “If we do not shift from being a supplier to a supplier of solutions, we will not survive,” Dr. Ludkovsky, vice president of global research and development at ArcelorMittal, told conference attendees of the MSCI Carbon Conference in February.

His description of Arcelor’s ground-breaking program to create entirely new kinds of steel for heretofore “unimaginable” applications, was a window into the kind of innovation that will drive new industry growth and profitability.

“Ludkovsky described how light-weighting is already affecting end markets besides the auto industry, including innovations in beams and construction technologies that will put more and more steel into our tallest buildings.”

A widening array of new products for motor vehicles, including press hardenable steel, a light, strong, weldable competitor for aluminum, is making steel an innovative player in the auto-light-weighting sweepstakes. Volkswagen, Volvo and Acura, among others, are already using Arcelor’s proprietary Usibor®and Ductibor® steels in their vehicle frames. The company invented a new welding process for Usibor to create a door frame that Ludkovsky said makes the Acura MDX “the safest car on the road.”

Ludkovsky also described how light-weighting is already affecting end markets besides the auto industry, including innovations in beams and construction technologies that will put more and more steel into our tallest buildings.

He also, pointed to a new generation of metallic coatings that will eliminate the need for galvanizing. He described more efficient, “less ugly” photovoltaic roofing, and unique design solutions that will make wind power cheaper and more ubiquitous. The impact of this “new generation of steel,” will be “insanely phenomenal,” Ludkovsky said, expanding markets, introducing creative new applications, and offering tremendous opportunity for industry growth.

He called for a new level of creative thinking from the industry’s leadership. “Creativity is definitely a function of individual leadership,” he said. “It never starts from the bottom up; it is always from the top down, and we have to drive it from the top.”

He cautioned that the only things holding back executives and businesses in any part of the industry are rigidity and narrow-mindedness. “When a child is born, it has unlimited horizons,” Ludkovsky said. “But as it grows older, that horizon shrinks and shrinks to a single point, which the individual then proudly calls ‘my point of view’.” Broadening those horizons, technology and creativity can assure the future, he said, “It is entirely up to you.”

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