NKK CORPORATION: Annual Report 2002
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Research and Development

he Research and Development Division functions as the R&D hub for the NKK Group and pursues new-product development that contributes to the long-term growth of the Group. The Division also tackles short-term projects in each field of corporate endeavor.
      In steelmaking, we have highlighted the development of new sheet-related products that make automobiles more lightweight as well as the development of materials that ameliorate environmental concerns. We are also directing efforts toward measures that sharpen our competitive edge. The current spotlight focuses on rationalization processes, higher productivity, enhanced quality and energy conservation. In addition, we are working to reinforce efficiency in R&D activities to maximize the merits of our alliance with Kawasaki Steel.
      In engineering, we are concentrating on R&D that will lead to better product performance, cost reduction, a broader business scope and systems and services that are clearly different from those of other companies.
      In other fields, we are engaged in activities that promote the three Rs—reduce, reuse and recycle—to underpin the creation of a resource-recycling society. We have also taken a lead role in a nationally approved project to synthesize DME, heralded as a promising alternative energy source for the 21st century.

R&D Expenditures in Fiscal 2002

Consolidated R&D expenditures in fiscal 2002 amounted to ¥18.0 billion, down 8.5% year-on-year. A breakdown by division shows R&D spending in the Steel Division fell 8.0%, to ¥8.1 billion; in the Engineering Division dropped 12.1%, to ¥4.4 billion; and in Other Fields decreased 6.3%, to ¥5.5 billion.

New Developments

HITEN for Automotive Applications
NANO HITEN hot-rolled steel sheets boast enhanced strength and formability, thanks to a process that disperses precipitates as fine as several nanometers within the steel’s crystal grains. NKK pioneered the process and has been working on complementary products to extend the new steel into a series.

      In fiscal 2002, we developed NANO HITEN steel sheets with tensile strength of 980 N/mm2. This development was a follow-up success to the fiscal 2001 debut of NANO HITEN steel sheets with tensile strength of 780 N/mm2. We also expanded the product size range of the original 780 N/mm2 class of steel sheets to a thickness and width previously unattainable.

      With these improvements, NANO HITEN gives automakers considerable production advantages. For example, it reduces vehicle weight yet ensures strength and improves the material yield by permitting components to be cut from steel sheets that have larger width.

Mass-Production Technology for Tailor-Welded Blank Steel Sheets

NKK successfully developed a mass-production technology for tailor-welded blank (TWB) steel sheets and marked a first in the Japanese steel industry by incorporating this technology into mass production. TWBs have garnered particular attention for their contribution to the development of more lightweight automobiles.

      To make this steel, several steel sheets of different thickness and grade are laser-welded before stamping. This creates the optimal arrangement of the material and bolsters the strength and rigidity of car bodies. The technique, which is now quite prevalent in Europe and North America, also enables automakers to manufacture vehicles more efficiently.

High-Temperature Gasifying and Direct Melting Furnace
Applying years of know-how in environmental engineering, we developed a next-generation high-temperature gasifying and direct melting furnace that satisfied three key criteria of waste processing better than existing facilities. The process is cleaner, further minimizes the final volume of waste output and promotes the application of slag as a reusable resource.

      In NKK’s high-temperature gasifying and direct melting furnace, waste is gasified at around 900°C and melted in one step in a shaft furnace. This allows the handling of a wide range of waste and prevents the formation of dioxins.

      Aggregate orders for these furnaces stood at five, as of March 31, 2002.

Highly Efficient, Environment-Oriented Arc Furnace
ECOARC is a revolutionary arc furnace that greatly curtails power consumption per ton of metal while reducing smoke, odor and dioxin emissions. Previous processes had emphasized lower power consumption over issues related to stable operations, maintenance friendliness and environmental concerns.

      ECOARC, the answer to these issues, is an innovative approach to arc furnaces, with its semiclosed structure that has a melting chamber directly connected to a preheating shaft.

      The first ECOARC started its operation in November 2001.
NKK, Kawasaki Steel and ThyssenKrupp Steel signed a comprehensive business agreement on automotive steel products and related R&D. This agreement will facilitate global distribution of innovative high-tensile strength steels and coated steels as well as TWBs and other products incorporating advanced steel application technology. Through technical license exchange, joint R&D and other cooperative efforts, the three companies will meet the needs of their respective clients.
Technical License Exchange
Mutual access to technologies for coated panels with excellent formability, and to the TWB technique of ThyssenKrupp Steel, will expand business opportunities with automakers that have worldwide production systems.
Joint R&D Themes
The three companies will cooperate on the development of innovative, high-tensile strength steels with excellent formability, coatability and good surface characteristics, as well as next-generation corrosion-resistant steels that make processing and coating operations at user plants more efficient.

Conceptual diagram of automotive body and door (Source: UltraLight Steel Auto Body)

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