VAMA’s Jochen Grünewald and Jurgen Cobbaut discuss the steel technologies that are helping China’s car makers meet stringent new regulations and prepare for the EV generation
The global automotive manufacturing industry operates within a busy regulatory environment. This is certainly the case here in China. Things are moving very quickly, with a regulation framework that is becoming more stringent and demanding. So the challenge for suppliers is not only to match the regulation but to do so within the very short timescales set by the authorities.
There are two main aspects. One is to drastically improve fuel efficiency in China’s car fleet, with the target to reach an average consumption of no more than 5 litres per 100 kilometres by 2020. A further target of a maximum of 4.5 litre per 100 kilometre is anticipated for the period after. On emission standards, China wants to achieve a Euro 6 equivalent by 2020.
Then comes safety regulations. It is very likely that new crash management standards will be in place in China by next year, raising the requirements here to match those of the US.
A further issue to consider is supply chain reform. The government wants to see China’s industry move from pure manufacturing base to one with more high technology content, and that there be greater domestic ownership of the key developments that are driving the industry.
The latter particularly resonates with China’s domestic car makers who are receiving a strong push and pull from the government to upgrade technology content in the products they are developing and selling domestically.
There is also an enormous impact on the supply side. China’s government wants to make sure that solutions and products are available locally to support its initiative. In other words, they want the automotive industry to strive for self-sufficiency in innovation and supply components rather than rely on the need to import.
In all of these aspects around innovation, advancement and supply, VAMA is ready to play a key role.As a joint venture between ArcelorMittal and Valin Group, VAMA covers a full range of steels commonly used in car design. The ArcelorMittal-owned and patented family of steels start from mild steel grades and extends to steels that have very high strength limits, e.g. Dual Phase products DP980 and DP1180HY.In addition, new product launches for the Chinese market will include the hot stamping steel grades, Usibor 1500 and Ductibor 500. It is steel technology that has been used in the past by international car makers and VAMA’s aim is to ensure that these solutions are now available locally in China.
Hot stampingOver a relatively short period of time, hot stamping technology has forged a path with impressive speed into the Chinese market. It was first introduced by the international OEMs and has quickly been adopted by the domestic car makers over the past three or four years. The situation now is that the number of hot stamping lines in China is equivalent to that of the rest of the world combined.
VAMA has been developing new steel grades in this hot stamping family. The Usibor 2000 steel grade is a new and even stronger steel, due to come to market next year. It will assist OEMs reduce the weight of cars even further. From a car that is, say, 300kg, Usibor 2000 can win back around 20-30kg, helping to meet environmental regulations but, as the grade is stronger, without jeopardising safety.
Looking at other grades, Ductibor 1000 is being developed to combine high strength with high ductility helping OEMs produce parts with a complex shape. They can still use hot stamping technology and retain the high crash resistance and energy absorption qualities.
As one example, VAMA is working with OEMs on a door ring, a body side reinforcement made from hot stamped steel grades. VAMA is able to supply blanks, pre-welded, that the OEM’s press shop can stamp — in a single operation — to create the part.
In addition, VAMA and ArcelorMittal have been working on steel technologies for parts such as visible panels (boots, roofs, doors) where car makers require higher quality surface standards.
EV car production
The role of AHSS in EV production is becoming more and more important and these cars are a high priority in China. In 2020, China’s target is to produce two million electric cars; and to double that by 2025. Weight savings in this type of vehicle are crucial as the battery itself accounts for much of car’s overall weight.
Looking specifically at the requirements for electric vehicles, the battery and the battery cover also come with significant safety and crash protection considerations. There will be strong push to get AHSS into this type of car.
Meeting demand in China
As a major VAMA shareholder, ArcelorMittal offers great support on a technology level and VAMA will be licensed to manufacture the latest grades, Usibor 2000 and Ductibor 1000, for the Chinese market. ArcelorMittal also brings competence in co-engineering. As regulation becomes more stringent, OEM design centres in China are working quickly to make the next generation of cars safer and lighter. ArcelorMittal works with these design centres, bringing its expertise to the efforts on weight reduction, crash protection and the other aspects where steel technologies assist.
VAMA’s other major shareholder is Hunan-based supplier Valin Group, which provides the primary material. Upgrades and technology transfer at the production facility means that VAMA can be sure that the base material it receives from Valin successfully matches the requirements and standards expected within the automotive industry.
Across the automotive manufacturing industry, cost control and a streamlined supply chain are crucial aspects. In recent years, Gonvarri has successfully developed these competences to build an expansive network of distribution centres in Europe and other regions of the world, including China. VAMA and Gonvarri have formed a new company – GONVVAMA – run as a joint venture in China. Its first service centre, based close to the VAMA headquarters in Loudi, Hunan Province, began operations last year. Two more centres opened in March 2017, in Shenyang and Changshu. Later this year a Chongqing service centre will be added to the portfolio.
The network means that VAMA is bringing supply and service closer to its customers in many of China’s main automotive clusters. The scope of GONVVAMA is to manage the supply chain. Then, in addition to this, the service centres are adding value by shaping the steel and providing welding operations that combine sheets of differing thickness and grade. The mix of hot stamping and laser welding is again delivering weight reduction so that the car makers can tailor the steel grade and thickness of a component to their own specification.