Everyone says it: “It’s hard to believe all that time has passed.” And we say it today with bravado. For 20 years, we have been experiencing this amazing collaborative environment: global sheet steel producers working together, side by side, to provide new solutions and insights for automotive applications using the newest and sleekest steels ever conceived.
Ours is a compelling story about how a group of diverse steel companies from around the world came together to achieve major technological breakthroughs in the application of Advanced High Strength Steels and lightweight automotive design. The technical achievements were of keen interest to global automakers. However, this is even more so a fascinating story about cultural differences, language issues, and regional commercial interests that had to be overcome and adapted in order to create something completely new—an unprecedented global consortium of competing companies and unique personalities.
Throughout history, there have been those moments in time when a pressing need became the catalyst for a person or a group of people, to create major innovation. In that flick of a second in history, the right person and the right need led to an invention that changed everything:
In 1907, James Murray Spangler, a janitor in a Canton, Ohio department store, deduced that the carpet sweeper he used was the source of his cough. He tinkered with an old fan motor and attached it to a soap box stapled to a broom handle. Using a pillowcase as a dust collector, Spangler invented a portable electric vacuum cleaner.
In the early 1970s, Art Fry was in search of a bookmark for his church hymnal that would neither fall out nor damage the hymnal. Fry noticed that a colleague at 3M, Dr. Spencer Silver, had developed an adhesive that was strong enough to stick to surfaces but left no residue after removal and could be repositioned. Fry took some of Dr. Silver’s adhesive and applied it along the edge of a piece of paper. Result—the Post-it® note.
And in the mid-1990s, in just such a moment in time, major world steel industry companies came together to collaborate on a series of projects that have impacted the design of automobiles ever since. The industry had been used to taking orders and being happy to stand politely on the sidelines while the automaker worked out solutions and passed occasional questions over his shoulder. But a series of events around the world—from a plastic intensive Pontiac Fiero rolling off an assembly line in Detroit to an eager steel association executive wanting to reach out and grasp an opportunity—sent the global steel industry more deeply into their customer’s realm to take charge of their future.
Previous international collaborative projects among steel companies centered on their own internal workings and knowledge. What made this new collaboration different was that this time, they were heading into their customer’s world—with globally respected automotive engineering support to design and build vehicle body structures that demonstrated how to effectively apply a new generation of Advanced High Strength Steels and leading-edge steel fabrication technologies to make lighter, safer, and environmentally efficient vehicles without increasing vehicle costs.
We plan to do some celebrating this month of this great achievement, showcasing the work that we’ve been doing over 20 years. We hope you’ll bring your virtual party hat and join us.
Portions of his article have been excerpted from the book, “UltraLight Steel: A Global Consortium Changes the Future of Automotive Steel”, 2013, by Ed Opbroek, former WorldAutoSteel Director (1995-2012) and now Advisor. “UltraLight Steel” book is available for purchase at Amazon.