To say that steel is important for the automotive industries because vehicles contain a large number of steel parts is a truism. Nevertheless it is worth asking why this is so. Because many parts in the bodywork have to be both light and tough at the same time. Steel makes the difference here – in case of crash that between life and death. What matters in the production of vehicles are solidity, strength, malleability and corrosion protection. At the same time, care producers have to reduce weight in order to keep fuel consumption to a minimum.
An example that illustrates how steel perfects the car is the new A8 model by Audi. It was presented to the world at the international automotive trade show IAA in September. The model excels because of its „intelligent composite construction“. „If you look at the combined factors of strength and weight, warm recast steel today beats aluminium,” Bernd Mlekusch, Head of Audi’s centre for lightweight construction explains. Galvanised steel is sustainable and at its low weight, steel nevertheless provides a high level of solidity – these are essential factors in automotive. VW, too, says about the high proportion of recycled steel used in the new Golf: “affordable and safe”. In it, steel makes up 80 per cent of the vehicle body.
German producers are pioneers in car technology and they sell their vehicles around the world. In 2016 it was 4.411.152 cars, because German cars enjoy a very good reputation. Nevertheless, “global competition is growing tougher”, as Matthias Wissmann of the German Association of the Automotive Industry (VDA) reports. There are developments that might limit international trade, for instance the realignment of US trade policy, Brexit and its consequences or political conflict such as the one in Brazil. These might have detrimental effects on the employment situation in Germany. Open markets and transparent international trading conditions are therefore more important than ever. They are the only means by which jobs can be secured and opportunities for future wealth made use of. Every year, the automotive industries prove to be the most research-focused sector. This means that the quality and process efficiency of German cars continually increases, which in turn means that less damage is caused to the environment and lower costs accrued by consumers. The German automotive industries employed 808.489 people in 2016, and that figure has been steadily increasing since 2010.
But cars are not the only German steel products that are highly sought after internationally.
Knife manufacturers sharpen the profile of their region
About 50km south of Essen you can find the German capital of cutlery: Solingen. It also goes by the name of “city of blades”. Here, the production of knives and blades of the highest quality and export around the world has a centuries-long tradition. 90 per cent of all German cutlery producers are today based in Solingen. The first craftsmen producing blades arrived in the Wupper valley in the thirteenth century.
For more than 280 years, Zwilling has been one of the most sought after company here. It produces cookware, cutlery and even beauty implements. There are Zwilling branches everywhere in the world – in Sao Paulo, New York and in Hangzhou in China. The company sells 80 per cent of its goods outside of Germany. Many of them are also produced abroad. But its knives are still produced in Solingen – just like 280 years ago.
„Our most important markets next to Europe are the US, Canada, Japan and China. Altogether we have presences in over one hundred countries“, Sebastian Hahn, Head of Marketing at Zwilling, explains. „International markets and free trade are necessary to our survival. That obviously applies to our sales, but it also applies to our production, logistics, research and development.“ 3800 jobs in the company depend on successful trade.
Jens-Heinrich Beckmann, Managing director of the Industry Association for Cutlery and Household Goods (IVSH), is convinced that without the opportunities of international trade Solingen would be a very different place: „Our livelihoods depend on trade. Our diversity across the world, be it differences in the production processes or the goods we offer, enrich us as an industry.“
International success is also what another Solingen-based company is after: the startup Germancut. The brains behind it are Alexander Tonn und Sebastian Wussler, who have developed a blade made of multi- layered Damascus steel. The toughness of the blade means that their knives stay sharp for a long time. The fact that the blade is also really thin allows easy handling in the kitchen. These properties, the two founders think, will convince chefs in the most advanced kitchens around the world. Their prototype was already well- received by a number of celebrity chefs: Philip Tessier in the US, Miles Watson in Berlin, Atsushi Tanaka in Japan...
Berlin bicycle start-up starts rolling
Aluminium is the trend. Especially where bicycles are concerned. Many models are made of the lightweight material today. Four friends from Berlin are, however, turning their backs on this development: the founders of the small company „Rakete Fahrräder Berlin“ (literal translation: Berlin rocket bicycles) produce bicycles containing a large proportion of steel. They are convinced: bicycles should last a lifetime and brave even the hardest rain, the deepest pothole, and the heaviest strain. Their models are unbreakable and shockproof.
Today, the start-up focuses on customising bicycles to customers taste, daily use and needs. Handmade, each „Raketerad“ is one of a kind. From the first interview to the maiden voyage, it takes about eight weeks. In a few years time, the Berlin company could achieve a similar success as its Spanish counterpart Orbea, whose bicycles have made it from the Basque Country all the way into shops in Chile and Mexico.
It is also important for the four founders, Daniel, Tom, Benjamin and David that the bicycles are produced in an environmentally friendly way. „Taking the lifespan of the material into consideration, steel is actually the most sustainable resource to use: its production uses less energy and leaves fewer environmentally harmful waste products than carbon or aluminium“, Daniel explains. Furthermore, steel can be recycled at a rate of one hundred per cent. That fits an environmentally friendly technology such as the bicycle.