2021 Society of Innovators Inductee Profile: ArcelorMittal Global Research and Development

December 22, 2021

ArcelorMittal is the world’s leading steel and mining company, with a presence in more than 60 countries and an industrial footprint in 18 countries. ArcelorMittal North America operates its research & development (R&D) center in East Chicago, Indiana where scientists and engineers are devoted to research on flat products, primarily automotive work. The North America lab plays a major role in the development and promotion of third generation advanced high strength steels, now a worldwide focus for light-weighting and safety enhancement in the auto industry.

Innovation: Fortiform® 980 steel

The patented Fortiform® 980 GI is a new grade of coated advanced high strength steel developed in response to the ever-changing requirements of the automotive industry that is both stronger and lighter than what it is replacing. The Ford Motor Company’s 2021 Bronco is the first automobile in the world to use the new grade of steel.

How was Fortiform® 980 developed?

Dr. Sriram Sadagopan: We are under constant pressure from the car companies to put the lowest amount of weight in a vehicle while still maintaining the highest safety standards. The challenge is to make a product that will be easy to work with and at the same time be satisfactory in terms of crash performance.

David PriceWe were successful in inventing a new steel that has high strength, but also high formability. The second challenge we had was a thing called liquid metal embrittlement (LME). What that means is that when you take two pieces of steel and you weld them together, that area ends up with cracking. When that happens it reduces the integrity of the weld and you can’t use it on a car.

The most inventive thing that we did was to overcome the LME by carefully engineering the amount of alloy or other metals that we put in there to get a certain strength. We also came up with a specific recipe for heating the steel, cooling it, reheating it, holding the temperature, and then coating the material.

Dr. Pallava Kaushik: Collaboration is very much embedded into the global R&D for ArcelorMittal. We cannot successfully develop or commercialize or qualify a product until we strongly collaborate with our product research teams. Here, we are the first in the chain. We have to melt the steel and produce it in what is called slab form. Each slab is a block that can be, for example, twenty feet long, five feet wide and about nine to ten inches thick.

In this process, we melt and cast the slabs in Mexico, and then they have to be processed in our Alabama plant. The challenge we had is that the slabs were cracking in the process of transportation to Alabama. We had to set up the cooling practices and cooling recipes that would not only prevent formation of cracks while the slabs are cooling, but also during transport and eventually in processing. This particular product was very innovative from the chemistry aspects.

Dr. Bernard Chukwulebe: Every product we make here is complex to manufacture. It has to be manufacturable in the facilities that we currently have, and the equipment that we currently have. And in order to be able to do that, we have to run a lot of simulations. The Fortiform® product was especially challenging. It took a lot of simulation in the lab to develop optimum procedures to mitigate the issues that we faced with this product.

What does it mean to you to have your team at ArcelorMittal receive this recognition?

Dr. Henry Hahn: It’s very much an honor to be inducted into the Society. I think it opens up people to all the new things that are happening within Northwest Indiana.

Bernard: It’s a big honor. The team here is excellent in what they do and highly professional. I really am happy to be part of the team. And it’s very important that this Northwest Indiana area we live and work in recognizes the importance of innovation and is encouraging it. This is providing the means and ways to motivate people to innovate more.

Sriram: It is awesome because we did this and received product approval at Ford and other companies. We did this during a time when we had a pandemic going on. We had to overcome all these barriers and make sure that our product is approved and to be honored for that, to be acknowledged that yes, you played a part in that and you are actually responsible for this innovation. It feels awesome. And it’s a very, very proud moment for me personally.

Pallava: First of all, kudos to all the team members who worked very hard day and night towards a common objective and common goal. That is most important for us, but it does actually fill my heart with joy to see this recognition coming from a local community where we have this research and development located in. I’m really, really proud about it.

What is something you wish more people knew about Northwest Indiana?

David: This region has a perception that it’s just an old steel town and there is nothing new going on, nothing innovative. One thing that I’d like people to know is that there actually is a lot of innovation that goes on, just in steel alone, and in all the people that support the steel industry. There’s a lot of innovation that takes place.

Sriram: One thing that strikes me is the amount of diversity we have in Northwest Indiana and even in this lab. And I don’t think people recognize that. I can name 10-15 countries that people are from here. Northwest Indiana itself is a huge diversity of people, nationalities, and religions. I think it’s a something to be very grateful and proud of.

Bernard: More people should know that in Northwest Indiana we are making over 20 million tons of steel every year. This is much bigger than any other region in the United States. Our area continues to play a large role in steel production.

Henry: I come from a small town in New York where post high school education is not that readily available. Here you have all these universities and educational opportunities that are not that far away and you’re also close to Chicago. So it’s a great opportunity to be in this area.

What would you tell our younger generation about the opportunities in the steel industry?

David: From the perspective of research, there are a number of opportunities. And a lot of it has to do with the changing legislative environment. First, we have standards driving us to find new steels that are stronger and stronger and even more for formable. Second, there are a lot of challenges and interesting work that has to go on for CO2 reduction. And finally, I would tell students that this area is one of the few places that you get to come up with an idea in the laboratory, and see it all the way through where it goes onto a vehicle.

Bernard: Digitalization is taking center stage for innovation and collaboration with universities in the area is very important. We learn a lot from the outside organizations that we work with. We are developing new digital tools to support our operations; covering all areas from sales, marketing, and production. How we do our day to day work is being digitalized so achieving industry 4.0 digitalization is key for us.

How might the future of autonomous vehicles change the work you’re doing here?

Sriram: When we have cars that drive themselves, there can always be something that will go wrong. There has to be some backup that will protect you. It is crucial for cars to still maintain this combination of high strength and high ductility so that you can make the parts easily, but at the same time ensure that if you have some kind of a crash event, you’ll be safe.

What does innovation mean to you?

Bernard: Innovation to me is a mindset. It is the quest to continuously find new ways and new solutions to problems and doing that with the limited resources you have to create value. In some cases it may be disruptive of the process, or it may be complimentary to the process. Either way you are creating something new that is more innovative and beneficial.

Sriram: For me, innovation is thinking outside the box. If somebody is doing things a certain way, innovation means saying, “Okay, wait, why is it being done this way? How would we do it differently?” And at the same time, we have to make sure that whatever we’re doing, whatever we are innovating has an end solution in mind. It is important to have the innovation be applied in the real world.

HenryInnovation is taking our knowledge and using that knowledge to make things better for the world. It is taking a problem, a challenge, working together, drawing resources from maybe the team itself or going outside the team and coming up with a solution that contributes to the business success. 

David: I remember when John F. Kennedy said that we were going to send a man to the moon and bring him home safely by the end of the decade. Innovation to me is meeting that kind of challenge and doing it well.

Pallava: Innovation means collaboration, recognition and building new relationships. We can talk about new products or a lot of other things bringing value to the organization. But process and technical innovation is only part of it. There is much more that is part of the human collaboration that we should not forget. At the end of the day, it’s mostly about the people working collaboratively to find new ideas and trying to work objectively to reach a common goal.

ArcelorMittal Global Research & Development was a 2021 team inductee into the Society of Innovators at Purdue Northwest. Team members include David Price, Group Manager, Automotive Product Research; Dr. Pallava Kaushik, Group Manager, Steelmaking and Casting; Dr. Bernard Chukwulebe, Group Manager, Processing and Controls; Dr. Henry Hahn, Group Manager, Coatings and Surface Technology; Dr. Sriram Sadagopan, Group Manager, Applications Technology. A full list of 2021 inductees can be found here.