Steelmakers step up services

Cost modeling, tear-downs, technical data, and computerized programs aid the OEM in materials selection.

  • At InlandSteel , Chicago, a computerized “metals vs. alternative” materials program simulates the total cost of a design.
  • At U.S. Steel, a division of USX Corp., Pittsburgh, customer technical service people participate in the tearing down ofappliances to determine how materials utilization can be improved.
  • At LTV Steel Co., Cleveland, engineers in the customer technical service center work “elbow to elbow” with appliance customers to measure properties such as formability and paint adhesion.
  • At Bethlehem Steel Corp., Bethlehem, Pa., a computerized program makes it possible to provide wider, heavier coils that require less set-up time.

These are some of the ways steel companies are strengthening their role in the appliance industry.

Understanding trade-offs

“It’s important for us to help our customers understand which material is most cost-effective,” says Tim Treacy, account manager, appliance materials division, Inland Steel Co.

“We are not going to mislead our customers and point them to steel if their performance criteria say otherwise.”

Inland’s newly introduced computer cost-modeling service aids Treacy and Bob Hudson, also an appliance materials account manager, in providing customers with the information necessary for making sound materials-selection decisions.

“Variables such as tooling, capital investment and depreciation are all taken into account,” says Hudson.

The cost-modeling tool is just one aspect of Inland’s commitment to the appliance industry, says Treacy.

“There are companies out there that truly don’t understand the depth of our capabilities,” he says.

Inland, therefore, is striving to initiate a continuous dialogue with its appliance customers. This effort is being facilitated through a recent reorganization.

“We have research staff, manufacturing engineers, technical service people and quality control staff assigned solely to the appliance market,” says Treacy.

The reorganization, he says, has resulted in helping customers achieve overall improved quality, product and cost performance.

Answering needs

LTV encourages appliance customers to take advantage of its newly opened customer technical service center.

“We have a customer technical staff dedicated to responding to appliance customer needs and problems, and to developing products that will answer their needs,” says James Sprong, director, market development division.

Sometimes it’s a matter of working together on testing methods.

“Some of our customers will send manufacturing engineers in here to work `elbow-to-elbow’ with our engineers and technicians on testing specific properties,”

These capabilities have spurred interest in prepainted steel among OEMs in the home-laundry segment, says Sprong.

“Until a couple of months ago the attitude of the OEMs was `When you drive by, toot and say hello, but don’t bother us with your prepaint program.

“Now the OEMs are very interested in prepaint. We’re taking them through a lot of testing to prove that the product is acceptable in terms of standing up to bleaches and detergents.” Sprong says LTV also offers customers seminars in specific problem areas.

“One of our customers expressed concern about its welding operation. It didn’t realize we had such a large staff of welding engineers.”

Sprong says if a customer has the need, LTV will conduct an in-plant seminar on a topic such as welding.

“We’re able to go into the customer’s plant and discuss the vagaries of steel and why their welding sometimes doesn’t come out the way they would like.”

Upside of teardowns

“We’re working closer with appliance customers at a grass-roots level to reduce cost of manufacturing,” says Kevin McCarthy, industry manager, appliances, U.S. Steel.

One method for accomplishing cost reductions is to participate in the teardown of an appliance, he says.

“We will watch a customer take apart a range, for example. The customer defines for us the function of each piece and its specs.

“This practice allows us to recommend areas in which we can reduce the gauge, eliminate parts or go to a lighter coating weight.”

Win-win coils

Bethlehem Steel has introduced a computer program designed to “produce the heaviest and widest coil possible, depending on the customer’s slitting requirements,” says Otto Ehrsam, market development engineer -industry marketing.

“This is a win-win situation. It provides the customer with master coils that require less set-up time. And because we’re able to produce wider, heavier coils, our efficiency is increased.”

Ehrsam says the program takes into account the customer’s slit widths for any given thickness and grade.

“The data are put through the program. Based on the maximum weight the customer can handle and how much edge trim is needed, the size of the coil is determined.”

Ehrsam says the program is a good planning tool for purchasing.

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