Positive Outlook

By Mike D'Alexander

April 2017 - U.S. companies added more new positions to their payrolls in February than they had in nearly three years, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported. IHS Markit Chief Economist Nariman Behravesh says the jobs gains were broad-based, with the strongest increases in construction and manufacturing (that gain of 28,000 workers marked a three-year high). 

So, U.S. manufacturing would seem to be making a comeback. The sense of optimism shared by exhibitors at Fabtech in November was something that I hadn’t seen in years. At the Metals Service Center Institute’s Carbon Products Division conference in February, I heard similar attitudes expressed by many CEOs.

Recent data seem to support the positive outlook. U.S.  mills shipped  9.6 percent more steel in January than a year earlier, AISI reports.  Steel and aluminum shipments by service centers through February rose 3.8 percent, according to MSCI.

The National Association of Manufacturers credits the manufacturing jobs spike to the new administration’s efforts to accelerate job growth. Others respectfully point to cyclical factors and consumer confidence. Either way, the administration’s position on American steel, trade law enforcement, a rollback on regulations and a proposed $1 trillion infrastructure package, could go a long way toward boosting business for the metals supply chain and supports OEM innovation. 

Carmakers are aggressively pursuing ways to reduce weight while improving a vehicle’s crashworthiness. Advanced high-strength steel grades have become the standard go-to lightweight material. At the Canadian International Auto Show in February, the Chevrolet Traverse boasted all-steel construction, including high-strength grades applied in just the right places to optimize door weights with steel reinforcements while using lighter steels for skins and cosmetic areas.

The Volkswagen Golf, sporting a stamped steel body and chassis, carries a large percentage of high-strength, hot-formed steel. It was named Canadian Car of the Year by the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada. Two other steel-intensive vehicles are the Subaru Forester and Ford Mustang.

Ultra high-strength steels with an MPa tensile strength of 1400 are being developed. To manipulate and form these tough materials, manufacturing processes and equipment have had to evolve. Our cover story, about a team of engineers at Ohio State University who invented a way to weld unweldable materials, begins on page 20. For assembly operations that must work on a new generation of multi-material models, the process solves a big problem.

Another sector that’s responding to high-strength lightweighting requirements is stamping. Coe Press Equipment’s SpaceMaster Series 4 compact coil line has been engineered to handle AHSS grades with ease. Additive manufacturing continually evolves in its ability to help companies think about building things in a whole new way

And that’s really what it’s all about, isn’t it? Seeing things differently, whether you are a manufacturer, an equipment supplier or an OEM. Choosing to color outside the lines, turn right when others turn left, recognize opportunity and act upon it. It’s the stuff of imagination and curiosity that sparks invention and spurs individuals to keep turning ideas into useful products. FFJ

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