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Cleaning up stainless steel production

EU-funded research on stainless steel production has improved the reliability and quality of the product while becoming more environmentally friendly.
Cleaning up stainless steel production
Sheet metal forming is an important industrial process in Europe, involving some 500 small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and an estimated 65,000 employees. Low-labour–cost countries present a threat to this industry through loss of contracts as well as jobs and can only be countered on the basis of technological innovation.

The ' Clean and reliable forming of stainless steel' (Clarefoss) project aimed to make stainless steel sheet production more competitive by improving reliability and eco-friendliness in the production process. In particular, consortium members investigated the deep drawing process whereby sheet metal is drawn into a die using a radial punch and the depth exceeds the radius, hence the deep component.

Technical limitations tackled by Clarefoss included galling, where metal material can be transferred from one surface to the other during sheet metal forming creating an uneven surface. From an environmental point of view, many current lubricants are toxic due to chlorine and heavy metal content. Clarefoss scientists aimed to develop lubricants that are based on mineral oils and therefore are biodegradable and non-toxic.

Eco-friendly lubricants were successfully produced that are competitive with those in current use in terms of price and efficiency, as proved in tribological tests. Advantages are that disposal costs are much lower due to reduction in the need to detoxify the lubricant waste.

Also under the microscope, harder wearing coated tool materials were tested. Particularly promising is a nitride coating for deep drawing. Other companies in the consortium investigated hard metal inserts and the use of ferritic as opposed to austenitic materials (a non-magnetic allotrope of iron).

Clarefoss has developed processes for forming tools that will increase their working life a hundred fold. Increasing competitivity will improve safety for workers and increase employment within the European market with a decrease in harmful emissions to the environment.

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