For many applications, the traditional method of selecting materials based on their main properties does not go far enough. This is because despite having similar properties, such as the same tensile strength, steel materials can differ considerably when it comes to the finer details – particularly with respect to processing characteristics. This is especially true for high-strength materials, where material grades of the same tensile strength can exhibit widely differing levels of weldability, bendability, or isotropy. The resulting potential can be fully harnessed through the application-oriented implementation of cutting-edge steel materials. This is made possible by involving Waelzholz as a material supplier in the product development process at an early stage. As a result, the materials developed in this manner exhibit properties specifically tailored to both the end application and the customer’s manufacturing processes.
Time and flexibility are key factors in product development today. “Short product life cycles increase the pressure on all stages of the value chain, from steel production to steel strip production to manufacturing the final product,” explains Dr. Michael Hellmann from Waelzholz’s Materials Technology department. In light of this fact, there is an increasing demand for materials that offer customized performance, both in terms of the final application and the manufacturing processes within the individual stages of the value chain. This requires close collaboration between the engineering team and the material supplier at a very early stage of product development.
More than just the typical material properties
When selecting materials, the focus is often on the typical properties like spring force, resistance to wear, corrosion resistance, magnetizability, or a favorable strength-to-weight ratio. Dr. Hellmann explains why this approach often falls short in many projects: “The conventional properties are really just the tip of the iceberg. These are the factors that are immediately considered relevant. These core features often mask other requirements, however, some of which directly become more important during the development stage, but sometimes also indirectly after the start of mass production.” In order to precisely identify the aforementioned factors and customize the material accordingly, Waelzholz has developed a three-step procedure:
- Development project
- Processing behavior
- Series testing
1. Development project: Early involvement for higher degrees of flexibility
A development project often begins with the conventional properties that are presumed to be necessary for an application. The fact that these only cover a fraction of the materials that may be suitable is illustrated by the chart in Figure 1 showing elongation as a function of tensile strength. According to Dr. Hellmann: “The chart shows our range of materials for the properties of yield strength and tensile strength in the range 150 – 1,700 MPa (22 – 247 ksi) at an elongation of 10 – 60%. This results in a total of 280 different material variations available from Waelzholz.” The overlaps in the material properties are of particular importance to us in this context, however. They show that several material variations fall into identical yield strength and tensile strength ranges. This means that we need to look at further properties to differentiate between them. “We have tremendous potential here to perfectly cover the entire range of requirements by taking other factors into account when selecting materials,” says Dr. Hellmann. The earlier the material supplier is involved in the development process, the more flexibility and freedom the manufacturer will gain through this holistic approach.