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Analysis

Harder Steel Leads to Improved Productivity

Wed, 10/21/2015 - 10:07

Thanks to the legendary exploits of the Vikings and to the Norse mythology surrounding Thor, the thunder god, the Nordic states have long been associated with immense strength. Hailing from a Nordic land, the Hardox brand represents more than just resistant steel: it is the hardest and strongest steel in the global mining market.

According to Kjell Backmann, Sales Director of Swedish steelmaker SSAB Americas, “Hardox is the most advanced wear-resistant steel in the world. It can be used for liner plates to provide much better wear resistance than softer steels. It can also be used in place of ceramics, which are commonly at risk of breakage.” SSAB’s line of steel plates provides an alternative to the replacement of cheaper, sintered plates during mining operations. Hardox is by far and away the bestseller of SSAB’s products currently sold in Mexico, with 80% of its sales going to mining. While Hardox stands out due to its hardness and toughness, SSAB explains that another product, the structural steel Weldox, provides excellent durability and can be used for frames that carry the Hardox-made liners. Other steel offerings within the SSAB portfolio include Domex, Docol, Prelaq, Armox, and Toolox, each with its own applications

SSAB uses standardized techniques for all of its steel products, allowing it to measure hardness, strength, flatness and even the shape line of its steels through the use of lasers. The company’s manufacturing bases are currently situated in a number of locations, including the Swedish municipalities of Oxelösund and Borlänge, as well as Mobile, Alabama, and Montpelier, Iowa in the US. The company possesses proprietary quenching technology developed by its own engineers and scientists, but in order to commercialize such innovations, the company has had to follow internationally recognized material standards such as the EN in Europe and ASTM in Americas. This gives clients the added benefit of knowing that SSAB products have been quality tested, removing the need to replace the steel as often as other conventional steels. “Our steel is up to four times stronger than usual commodity steel, which means that for certain applications, we only need to produce 25% of the comparative amount of conventional steel,” says Backmann. Additionally, SSAB’s steel is 100% recyclable and reduces the weight of equipment, allowing clients to increase payload or reduce operating costs while also decreasing the ecological footprint of its activities. “Almost all of the steel from our facilities in the U.S. is made from recycled steel scrap,” Backmann adds. This progressive mindset towards manufacturing steel is in line with SSAB’s vision of creating long-term relationships with clients to make their processes more efficient. It also leads SSAB to closely monitor its warehousing and logistics processes in order to ensure a rapid response time when supplying its niche steel products to the mining sector. For this purpose, SSAB maintains stock of its products in Mexico.

For the sale of full plates, SSAB utilizes its own sales presence in Mexico, selling directly to the mines and allowing companies to be in touch with SSAB’s local support structure. When mines require equipment components or maintenance services outside of SSAB’s purview, it directs them to its exclusive partners. Companies such as Aceros Fercom, Industrial Vimsa, Metalmex and HESA are a part of this partnership and are known as Hardox Wearpart members. To obtain this title, prospective companies need to go through a long process of certification. “We look at what capabilities the companies have with regard to equipment, their knowledge, how long they have been working with our products, and the amount of training they have received from our engineers,” Backmann shares. As a way to secure its market in Mexico, the company makes sure it stays on top of evolutions in customer needs in the Mexican mining industry. “We always ask our customers about their needs and their expectations for steel solutions in, for example, dumpers or crushers. Based on this input, we work with our mills to produce solutions that meet these needs and improve parameters such as flatness, weldability, machinability and formability, in addition to increasing basic properties like hardness and toughness,” explains Backmann. With its client support structure and advanced production capabilities, SSAB seeks to position itself as a flexible manufacturer that offers its clients tailormade plates of every size and thickness in all the major mining countries around the world. To facilitate this, the company has formed teams of engineers and experts to provide support through its Knowledge Service Centers where customers may bring up issues and questions and have them thoroughly analyzed. As efficiency and shorter downtimes move up the list of priorities for mining companies, SSAB’s research centers in Sweden and the US attempt to keep research and development at the forefront of the company’s direction in order to provide harder steel for the industry

In January 2014, SSAB announced its acquisition of Finnish rival Rautaruuki through a combination agreement. “With our combined volumes and resources, we believe we will be able to better support markets like Mexico,” Backmann clarifies. This acquisition is in line with SSAB’s plans to expand its market by adding niche steel solutions to its product portfolio, and could very well be another chapter of its own legend in the mining industry.