The question becomes, will end use customers accept the new materials? Will they form similarly enough that they can be used with existing tooling? Or will jobs need to be retooled?

Our experience with one these grades (409) was that it was less “stainless”, and that it required different tool steels to cut and form.

The significant investment in new equipment by steel mills implies they believe the run-up in nickel prices is not going to be short-lived. They presumably know – they’re in the business. But re-tooling decisions (if needed) of stamping jobs would be made with people with less experience forecasting the future. So it isn’t clear if customers will be able to switch all that quickly.

The global stainless steel scene is changing rapidly. Customer backlash against the rising cost of nickel has been taken on board by the producers. Mills are now taking seriously market demand for low or non nickel grades.

Posco has launched a nickel free stainless steel into its portfolio. This follows similar actions earlier by Japanese producers. Outokumpu, which has traditionally been mainly a supplier of austenitic grades, is to increase its production of ferritic types. This has involved a significant investment in new equipment. Output of ferritic grades is also to be expanded from the new melting shop at Lianzhong, in China.

Global supplies of 300 series material have in the past formed 75 percent of total stainless deliveries. It is interesting to note that Thyssen Krupp recently announced that it may lift output of nickel free steel from the existing figure of 30 percent up to 35 percent. We have reports that an Arcelor Mittal senior executive sees the potential to push up production of non nickel grades to 70 percent in the long term.

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