ArcelorMittal: Steel Giants Retool Alabama Mill to Compete with Auto Aluminum

ArcelorMittal and its partner Nippon Steel and Sumitomo Metal Co. are investing $46.7 million in their massive steel mill in Calvert to achieve 5.3 million metric ton capacity and deliver new press-hardenable steels for use in lighter, more fuel-efficient cars and trucks.

ArcelorMittal and NSSMC — the world’s largest and second largest steel companies, respectively — entered a 50/50 joint venture to buy the mill from ThyssenKrupp AG for $1.55 billion in November 2013. The partners call their Alabama plant AM/NS Calvert.

According to plans announced from ArcelorMittal’s Chicago office in September, the company will spend $6.7 million of the total Alabama investment on the facility’s existing number four continuous coating line, which will significantly increase ArcelorMittal’s North American capacity to produce steels used in automotive applications, including Usibor, a type one aluminum-silicon coated (Al Si) high strength steel.

The investment also will make AM/NS Calvert capable of producing Ductibor, an energy-absorbing high strength steel grade designed specifically to complement Usibor and offer ductility benefits to customers. Currently, ArcelorMittal Indiana Harbor is the only company facility in the western hemisphere producing Usibor and Ductibor.

The aluminum-silicon coated steels provide high-temperature corrosion resistance ideally suited for heat exchangers, hot stamping and exhaust parts for the automotive, HVAC and aftermarket exhaust and tubing markets.

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New EPA regulations are causing all automakers to consider ways to curb weight, save fuel and reduce emissions. Ford Motor Co. made headlines last summer by announcing it would build all the body panels on its popular F-150 trucks from aluminum rather than steel for 2015. The move will make the new F-150 more than 700 pounds lighter than the outgoing 2014 model.

ArcelorMittal already had a recipe for cutting weight from standard, C-segment cars with its S-Motion catalogue, but now offers more strategies to light truck manufacturers, according to Blake Zuidema, director of the company’s Automotive Product Applications Division. Using Usibor and Ductibor, ArcelorMittal can cut 384 pounds, or 23 percent, from the combined weight of a truck’s cab, box, frame and closures, compared with a 2014 baseline vehicle.

A 384-pound reduction saves more than 14 grams of CO2-equivalent emissions per kilometer, ensuring light trucks meet regulatory standards in the U.S. and abroad.

“Trucks and cars have very different architecture. A pickup has a separate frame that carries loads differently than the unibody of a car, so we had to develop different solutions for these full-framed vehicles, ” Zuidema says.

“Trucks also see much rougher duties over their lifetimes, so all the engineering components are much tougher.”

Calvert’s number four continuous coating line currently operates two coating pots — one to produce galvanized steel, or zinc-coated steel that helps resist corrosion, and the second to produce galvalume steel, steel coated with both aluminum and zinc to improve weather resistance.

ArcelorMittal and NSSMC will spend another $40 million in Calvert on a slab yard expansion project to increase Calvert’s slab staging capacity and efficiency. The hot strip mill currently consists of three bays with the capacity to stage around 335, 000 metric tons of incoming slabs, significantly less than the staging capacity required to achieve the 5.3 million metric ton target.

The modifications are expected to be complete by the end of the year, and the first coil is targeted for production in January 2015. Apart from the additional capital investment using locally sourced contractors, the enhancements will create around 16 new crane operator positions, officials said.

“AM/NS Calvert is recognized as the most technologically advanced steel processing facility in the world, ” says Chris Richards, president of AM/NS Calvert. “We are going to play a major role in the steel industry’s response to competing materials and reignite awareness of steel’s unique ability to balance the affordability, fuel efficiency and sustainability of future vehicles without compromising passenger safety.”

ArcelorMittal and NSSMC closed the $1.55 billion acquisition of the Calvert facility on February 26. Currently, the hot mill is operating at around 75 to 80 percent of design capacity. In June, the facility achieved its highest production month to date, at 83 percent of capacity.

Text by Dave Helms

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