London’s Science Museum was filled to capacity this week for UK Steel’s Innovation Day Event. With headline sponsorship from Macquarie Bank Limited, and associate sponsors British Steel, Liberty Steel, Material Processing Institute and Tata Steel, delegates enjoyed a strong line up of speakers from the sector and academia and the supply chain.
Keynote speaker Robert Stacey, Commercial Director for the Heathrow Expansion Programme, told a packed house that the programme would provide 180,0000 jobs. Robert reported that Phase 1 of the process, Heathrow received 160 different Expressions of Interest in becoming an Innovation Partner of the Expansion Programme from a very diverse range of organisations, 61% of whom have never worked at Heathrow, adding that he hoped that even more businesses would join the project on their journey.
Steve Pallant of Primetals Technologies challenged the audience, suggesting that additive manufacturing could result in using less metal in products, but with a higher value.
Cambridge Professor, Julian Allwood seemed to agree saying that we could live well using half as much steel for twice as long. Julian proposed that globally, we do not need any new blast furnaces, to meet the ever growing demand for virgin steel. That as much as CCS is needed in industries such as steel, it will not develop fast enough to significantly tackle the problem of sector emissions. We need to avoid making scrap in our own processes and the construction sector should develop further adapting buildings, rather than demolish and rebuild.
Siemens demonstrated that supply chain collaboration is key to the success of ‘industry 4.0’ as well as fully understanding and embracing digitalisation to significantly boost productivity. Libby Peake from Green Alliance, the environmental Think Tank, called for government policies to support the increased uptake and use of scrap steel. After discussing some of the historic and ongoing issues faced by the steel industry, Libby said that more is needed from the Government in terms of “pull” measures to increase uptake of secondary steel, including green public procurement, standards for recycled content and requirements for reuse. Libby suggested the Government was currently too reliant on recycling targets which essentially dealt with collections at end-of-life and that a phase-in of the “pull” measures suggested could be far more effective in driving a circular economy.
David Egner of British Steel reminded us that steel as a material sits at the very heart of society and technology. During his ‘Building Stronger Futures’ presentation he said that product innovation can only succeed if it adds product and customer value. The conference saw that the latest rail material from British Steel last three times as long. Then with a special coating this can extend the life by 30 times and delivered in 216m lengths.
Business Minister for Steel, Richard Harrington MP took part in the programme to outline the Government’s view of the sector. He stated that continued global overcapacity in the steel sector indicates the need for innovation in the UK. The minister highlighted the ground breaking work that Liberty is doing on metal powder and the challenge is to deliver innovation to its customers. Mr Harrington set out the Government commitment to public procurement and how the sector can certainly benefit from that. The R&D Challenge Fund, needs to be merit based, not politically based. The minister also congratulated the sector on our collaborative work with universities.
UK Steel Chairman and Liberty Steel CEO, Jon Bolton gave the closing address. He thanked everyone involved for making the event such a successful day. In particular our Chairman for the day, Chris McDonald of the Materials Processing Institute who oversaw a fascinating day for the sector. Jon concluded by saying that the level of innovation and talent within the sector means that “an exciting future awaits the steel industry, providing we have the recognition and support that we and the communities we support require.”