For a technology group, survival depends on constant innovation. voestalpine must permanently invest in research & development in order to remain one step ahead, continuing to win customers with innovative product solutions and processes.
Open ears, a good eye, and bright minds are all essential to successful research. Research is an unlimited field, with ideas emanating from all directions, including customers, employees, competitors, and derived from current trends. Research should affect everyone. Although research is targeted, solutions are often found by accident. Technological leadership can only be achieved when based on ambitious research; no research means no progress.
"The key to voestalpine’s global success is innovation. The Group consistently invests in this key area because it is clear to everyone that securing our future as an international player in the most demanding product segments can only be achieved through specialization, paired with technological and quality leadership. Together with our employees, we will continue to innovate, because we not only want to convince our customers of the quality of our products, but also to surprise them."
Any enterprise, such as voestalpine, wishing to continuously develop its value chain, must permanently innovate. This applies to processes and processing technologies, as well as the materials expertise on which they are based. Ideas are first tested. Where shown to be promising, the next stage is development, involving more resources and more funding. The closer the idea comes to being a marketable project, the stricter the implementation process, because the concomitant activities become more expensive and complex.
Focus of research at voestalpine
The voestalpine Group is currently researching into four key areas. 1: Additive manufacturing—3D printing in metal—is a complex project involving many new approaches, and with the aim of completely controlling the necessary value chain through to the final product. From today’s standpoint, additive manufacturing makes possible product structures of hitherto uncontrollable complexity. 2: Lightweight construction across the entire mobility sector. The pressure to use energy as efficiently as possible in order to reduce the impact on the environment is forcing the adoption of ever lighter components across a huge range of applications—but with no loss of strength. This opens up excellent opportunities for steel compared to other materials. 3: The main aim on the process side is CO2 reduction. This involves many small steps as well as the major innovation for the distant future, namely using hydrogen in place of fossil fuels. 4: Digitalization and the application of artificial intelligence with the aim of permanently increasing the efficiency of all processes, from the raw material to the final product. There are many ways of achieving this and much more, such as combining our own products with artificial intelligence. One example is the fully automated track system being developed by voestalpine. Sensors embedded in the rails and turnouts throughout the rail network report on any (safety) problems, as well as notifying of any necessary maintenance, with the entire system monitored from a central control room.
Apart from these four focal areas, many other projects are also underway, for example, investigating how various materials can be combined in a meaningful and cost-efficient manner. Here it is important to understand the relationships between materials and processing methods, right through to the final product—a key requirement for true innovation.
The positive culture of failure
Research involves risk. It’s all about things that have never been done. And research is short-lived: what is vital to a customer in today’s market may be of secondary importance tomorrow. That makes efficiency and flexibility essential. And more importantly, research relies on a culture of positive failure. Failure must be permitted. Never failing means taking too few risks, and thus reducing the opportunities for success.
Around 100 projects are being undertaken in cooperation with universities and research institutions around the world, permanently expanding our horizons and optimizing efficiency. A team spirit and the division of labor are the key to success. voestalpine currently has around 3,000 active patents, and many more will follow.
The claim to technological leadership forbids the Group from resting on its laurels. This leadership depends on constant curiosity, commitment, dynamism, and a hunger for success. Implementing this broad innovative mindset within an organization is an enormous management challenge, which is why it needs to be directed from the top. Sitting back and reveling in past successes must never be permitted.