Superior steel grades
What is product quality?
High product quality is one of the assets that allow us to distinguish ourselves from our competitors. Whether we are talking about the roof of a car, the housing of a computer or the walls of a refrigerator, the quality of the steel we supply must always meet customer requirements.
High product quality starts with suitable advice when the customer places his order. This requires the continuous control of all processes that contribute to the steel production, and ends only with aftercare at the customer’s. This is why product quality is a constant concern for everyone at ArcelorMittal Gent.
Product quality involves all aspects required for the customer being able to process the steel successfully. The first things the customer sees on delivery are the packaging and the documents supplied (label, quality certificate). Good packaging protects the steel sufficiently against corrosion and transport damage. The customer also obviously expects the supplied material to have the right dimensions and the correct weight. A suitable quantity of oil on the steel surface offers extra protection against rust and can serve as a lubricant during deforming.
Whether the customer can successfully use the supplied material depends to an important extent on the quality of the product itself. The versatility of steel is a consequence of its unique material characteristics:
the mechanical properties determine the strength and deformability of the steel.
the surface quality determines the appearance.
the strip roughness determines the gloss, and together with the oil also influences the lubrication.
flatness has an effect on the processability and the appearance.
internal purity (= oxides and sulphides in the steel) influences the sensitivity to crack formation during deforming.
the chemical composition can be important for further processing such as welding, enamelling, galvanising, etc.
the coating protects the steel against rust (zinc coating), and can also have an aesthetic function (pre-coated steel).
Shaped part with grid
The importance of these properties while processing differs from application to application. Accordingly, our customers expect a much better surface quality for a car roof than for a non-exposed body part. With heavily distorted objects such as bathtubs, the mechanical properties and the strip roughness are important factors, for example. For wheels, yet other properties are of importance such as breaking resistance with protracted and repeated use (so-called fatigue resistance). Weldability is important for the production of vessels and radiators.
For each application our quality staff finds the suitable product that unites the required material properties.
ArcelorMittal Gent produces each steel grade according to a specific formula. You can compare it with the preparation of a meal, where the cook adds the right ingredients at the right temperature at the right time.
Like in a large kitchen, ArcelorMittal Gent can also only supply good product quality by cooperating and communicating properly. Quality experts establish the recipe for steel preparation in rules. The IT staff sends these rules to the different production departments, with machine instructions to be effected under the watchful eye of the operators. Finally, the semi-finished and finished products are subjected to many inspections to guarantee that customer expectations are met.
Automatic test bench
Obviously, the machines must always operate in optimal conditions. This is where the maintenance personnel come in. Product quality clearly is everybody’s responsibility.
Achieving good product quality at an acceptable cost price is a challenge. An important cost price factor in steel preparation is the number of steel compositions (analyses). The transition between two different analyses is always associated with material loss. This is why we want to limit the number of analyses at the steel shop. By being creative with production parameters in different departments, we are still able to offer a wide product range at an acceptable cost price.
Since 2006 ArcelorMittal Gent has formed part of the ArcelorMittal group, with production departments spread across the world. Our customers are also assuming an increasingly international character. Various mergers have taken place in the automotive in the past decade. As a result, only a dozen large groups are left. ArcelorMittal sites in different countries supply these automotive plants.
To offer customers a uniform product and a uniform service, the ArcelorMittal group regularly organises consultation between quality experts of the production departments and representatives of the commercial organisation. In this way, the ArcelorMittal sites obtain important, first-hand customer information, while keeping track of the customers' current quality issues. With these international contacts, our customers and foreign colleagues perceive our good language knowledge as an enormous advantage.
Every day we receive requests from customers for the delivery of steel for new applications. It is important here to fully understand what the customer exactly expects of the steel. How strong must it be? To what extent must it be deformable? What protection against rust is required? How must the steel be packed and transported?
Contact with customers takes place directly or via a representative of the commercial organisation.
Should the customer have problems when further processing ArcelorMittal Gent steel, he will want a fitting solution and a new delivery of suitable material as soon as possible. We consider each complaint as a demand for quality improvement that must lead to a permanent solution. To achieve this we have set up a strict organisation with one contact for each customer. That person closely involves the department causing the complaint in looking for a solution, closely follows up the handling of the complaint, and keeps the customer informed.
Steel must offer competition to other materials for various applications. Known examples are the bodywork of cars for which aluminium and synthetics are now already being used, or baths that are already made on a large scale out of plastic. With regard to product development and innovation, ArcelorMittal Gent and ArcelorMittal have made tremendous progress in recent years. These developments involve both new steel grades with greater strength and/or deformability, and better and environmentally-friendly protection against corrosion. Significant motivation comes from car manufacturers who want to reduce the weight of their vehicles by using thinner, but stronger steel ensuring good deformability. They then have maximum freedom in designing strong and elegant bodywork.
After a new type of steel has been developed in a laboratory, the first industrial tests are carried out. This entails at least 300 tonnes of the new steel composition being cast. During these industrial tests, the full product quality is examined for the first time. It is not sufficient for just the proper mechanical properties to be obtained. The steel must also have the required surface quality, and be suitable for the application of a nicely adhering, impeccable coating.
The quality delivered by ArcelorMittal Gent has been outstanding for years. In 2005, 94.1% of the total shipment volume was “first choice material”, i.e. material that fully meets customer demands. In 2006, that figure event went up to 95.9%, to 96.6% in 2007 and even to 97.4% in 2008. ArcelorMittal Gent’s excellent quality performances are the result of high-tech automation and excellent process control.