Annual Report>2005>Special Feature 2

Research & Development -- the Wellspring of Competitiveness

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photo The JFE Group's philosophy is summed up in our mission statement: "Contributing to society with the world's most innovative technology." Technologies that contribute to society must not only be excellent, but must also suit the needs of the community. The continuous development of technologies that can be used by large numbers of people is regarded as the wellspring of the group's competitiveness. For that purpose, we conduct research and development on a continuous basis to meet the demands of society in many ways, for example by lowering the environmental load of our operations and ensuring safety in all business fields. We also meet the needs of industry through the development of new products and by enhancing cost-performance.

In this section, we give an overview of the research and development activities in our steel and engineering businesses. The R&D in these two fields is conducted by three research laboratories: JFE Steel's Steel Research Laboratory, JFE Engineering's Engineering Research Center, and JFE R&D Corporation. We have assigned a total of some 500 research staff to these institutions, in order to devote maximum strength to the creation of products that rank among the world's best.

JFE Group's R&D System
JFE Group's R&D System

Steel Research Laboratory

The Steel Research Laboratory is one of the largest research institutions in the world in the field of steel. Its principal focuses are innovation in technologies that enhance productivity, and the development of Only One and Number One products by forging stronger links with customers. In addition, technologies and knowhow gained from the practice of steelmaking are put to good use in chemical and other fields related to steel, and in environmental R&D. Through collaboration between in-house marketing and manufacturing divisions and group companies, identifying customer needs and the effects on productivity and cost reduction, this research has a major impact on improving sales volumes and prices, and in enhancing cost competitiveness.

Below, we give some concrete examples of this: research efforts in the automotive field, and two examples of products unique to the JFE Group, namely NANO HITEN and BHT steel sheet.

In recent years, the functions required of motor vehicles have become increasingly diverse. It has become essential not only to assure drivability and comfort, but also to ensure the protection of the environment -- for example, through improved fuel consumption and conformity with regulations requiring reductions of exhaust emissions -- and to make cars in a people-friendly way.

The principal issues to address to satisfy these requirements are the reduction of car body weight, improved crashworthiness, and longer product life. Another major issue is that of reducing costs by shortening the development cycle. To address these issues, JFE Steel is not only developing a wide range of steel products, but also strengthening its development structure for application and processing technologies, and implementing EVI (early vendor involvement) activities, in which it proactively makes proposals both for the steel materials suitable for every vehicle part, and the appropriate processing methods.

·NANO HITEN (High tensile strength steel sheet)

Example of application of NANO
HITEN (car suspension arm)
Example of application of NANO HITEN (car suspension arm)
An electron micrograph view of the structure of high-strength steel sheet for use in automobiles
An electron micrograph view of the structure of high-strength steel sheet for use in automobiles. Micrometer-sized crystals grains (left). View of ultrafine precipitates of around 3 nanometers arrayed in rows (right) 1 micrometer = 1/1000 millimeter, 1 nanometer = 1/1 million millimeter

NANO HITEN (where "NANO" stands for "New Application of Nano Obstacles for dislocation movement") is a type of hot-rolled steel sheet that successfully combines the contradictory properties of high strength (780 MPa class) and excellent formability. Generally, the harder the steel sheet, the more difficult it is to process, but JFE is the first company in the world to have refined precipitates to several nanometers in size (nanosizes are billionths), and to have successfully produced steel sheet with both high strength and high formability.

NANO HITEN achieves the favorable balance between ductility and stretch-flangeability that is required during press forming, and products made from it have a superior capability for the absorption of impact energy. In consequence, automakers are using it for vehicle suspension arms and other suspension parts, and for vehicle body parts.

·BHT steel sheet (Bake Hardenable steel with Tensile strength increase)

Example of application of BHT steel sheet
Enhancement of Impact Resistance and Reduction of Sheet Thickness Through Application of BHT Steel Sheet
Enhancement of Impact Resistance and Reduction of Sheet Thickness Through Application of BHT Steel Sheet

BHT steel sheet is a form of high-strength hot-rolled steel sheet used in the building of car bodies. It gives lower strength and high formability during forming, followed by a major increase in tensile strength as a result of paint baking, resulting in higher crashworthiness and fatigue limit after completion of automobile fabrication.

By adopting the unconventional approach of adding nitrogen in the steelmaking process and using the strain-aging hardening phenomenon, JFE has succeeded in developing hot-rolled steel sheet with a tensile strength increase which has not been achieved with conventional BH steel sheet.

The development of BHT steel sheet has made it possible to enhance impact resistance without increasing the weight of car bodies, or to maintain existing impact resistance while reducing body weight. It is being used increasingly for car body parts such as side sills and center pillars, and for suspension parts.

Engineering Research Center

The Engineering Research Center conducts R&D to update principal businesses in the field of engineering, and to develop new businesses. In the fields of energy (principally natural gas), the environment (principally waste disposal), drinking water purification and waste water treatment, and steel structures (mainly large-scale), the Center enhances JFE's unrivaled proprietary technologies and engages in trials and experimentation aimed at developing new business activities, for example with respect to carbon nanotubes and hydrate slurry. It also directly supports business operations, including using simulation technology to conduct product performance evaluations and analyses.

The Center will continue in the future to enhance and expedite its R&D activities. In these, the pivotal role will be taken by our Only One and Number One technologies targeted at meeting society's new needs as they arise as a result of innovation.

Below, we describe two of the numerous Only One and Number One technologies: high-purity carbon nanotube (CNT) tape synthesis technology, and an energy-saving air-conditioning system employing hydrate slurry.

·High-purity CNT tape synthesis technology

Ultrahigh-purity tape-like CNTs
Ultrahigh-purity tape-like CNTs

JFE Engineering has developed the world's first ultrahigh-purity tape-like carbon nanotubes (CNTs). Using commercially available graphite or carbon electrodes, these CNTs are produced under normal atmospheric conditions through the arc discharge method, employing JFE's proprietary welding technology. In this way, it is relatively simple to produce large volumes of thin tape-shaped CNTs of 2-5mm in width and of any length on a continuous basis. As a result of their shape and high purity, these CNTs are promising components for use as electron discharge sources in flat-panel displays (FPDs), currently a focus of attention for use in next-generation televisions.

·Energy-saving air-conditioning system using hydrate slurry

Hydrate slurry equipment
Hydrate slurry equipment
Hydrate slurry equipment

JFE Engineering was the first in the world to develop hydrate slurry as a new cooling medium to replace chilled water. In the cooling and heating field, used as a heat-conservation and pumpable medium, hydrate slurry has two to four times the thermal density of water, as well as superior transfer flow, substantially reducing the power required for pumping. Exploiting these advantages, we have developed an air conditioning system that halves the power consumption of the transfer pumps. We have already installed the system in an office building in Tokyo, as well as in our own building in Yokohama. The system was also chosen for a facility in Southeast Asia.

JFE R&D Corporation

Toyofumi Kitada
Toyofumi Kitada

JFE R&D, with its approximately 80 research and development staff, acts as an R&D base for the development of core technologies common to both the steel and engineering businesses, and as a development station for new growing fields. It contributes to the entire JFE Group through the further development of its core technologies and the creation, proposal and application of new concepts in line with the group's management and technical strategies, thereby realizing economic value.

JFE R&D has a dual mission. The first is the obvious one of supporting the management of the group's operating companies with the fruits of R&D based on core technologies common to both the steel business and the engineering business. The second is to cultivate budding new growing fields that are thought to have the potential to develop into core businesses for the JFE Group of the future.

To fulfill these two missions, JFE R&D conducts two types of R&D: research commissioned by JFE Steel, JFE Engineering and other group companies; and common basic research, in which JFE R&D takes the initiative in the development of basic technologies common to the all or most companies in the JFE Group. Through these two configurations, JFE R&D engages in efficient R&D through technology interaction, in which steel and engineering technologies are subjected to mutual development, and also through technology integration, in which it creates breakthrough concepts through the close combination of different technologies. It also undertakes development projects where priority is given to the seeds of technologies by exploring and developing elemental technologies that will be needed in the future. In carrying out its role within the JFE Group in this way, JFE R&D enhances its contribution to the group's technology strategies by maintaining close control of the balance between these two research configurations.

Organization and elemental technologies
Organization and elemental technologies

Examples of Successful Projects to Date

Steel   Engineering
  • Improvement of high-speed casting process by molten steel flow simulation
  • Methods of ensuring stable high-speed processing in hot-rolling mills
  • Measurement technology for quality levels of steel plate and sheet
  • Optimization of logistical planning by means of simulations and mathematical methods
  • Control technologies to stabilize the temperature of the continuous slag outflow from
  • gasifying and direct melting furnaces for waste incineration
  • The JFE Boiler Clean DX, a robot for automatically cleaning boiler water pipes