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Development of voestalpine AG into a global technology group in times of economic challenges

hydrogen pilot facility H2FUTURE, Linz

In the fall of 2008, the economic slump resulting from the worldwide banking and financial crisis also affects voestalpine. To respond to the deteriorating situation, the Group’s crisis management, which is implemented rapidly and across the board, focuses on Group-wide cost optimization and efficiency improvement programs. The 2009/10 business year, which is buffeted by the major economic crisis, is the hardest and most difficult since the onset of the Group’s privatization in 1995. In the first nine months of the business year 2010/11, however, voestalpine manages yet again to generate significant increases in both revenue and earnings.

Orders for turnouts for high-speed railway lines in both Europe and Asia enable the voestalpine Group in 2008 to continue expanding its leading position in the fast-growing rail market and to become the number one in Asia for high-speed turnouts.   2009 sees the launch of a turnout production facility in France. Thanks to a joint venture with a Chinese company, the Chinese railways agency awards  a project involving the delivery of high-speed turnouts for the most significant railway project in China thus far—the Beijing to Shanghai line—to voestalpine. The same year, the Group also continues to broaden its presence in the United States.

In 2009, voestalpine supports the bid of the city of Linz (the capital of Upper Austria) to be named Europe’s “Capital of Culture” (the “Linz 09” project). voestalpine Stahlwelt is officially inaugurated in the fall of the same year.

Even though the worldwide economic and financial crisis continues unabated in the business year 2009/10, in 2010 voestalpine Stahl GmbH continues to implement its EUR 700 million investment program named “L6”; “L” signifies the Linz site and “6” the increase in the crude steel capacity from about 5.4 million tons per year to 6 million tons per year. As part of this project, 2011 and subsequent years see the start-up of the wide strip mill, which has undergone both a completely modernization and a capacity expansion; the construction of a melting pot gas holder; and the installation of a new DeNOx system for the denitrification of sintering exhaust, making it the most environmentally friendly plant in Europe. The Böhler Welding Group opens an expanded facility for welding consumables in Indonesia.

A new Group structure is adopted in 2010 for the purpose of boosting efficiency yet further: the Automotive and Profilform divisions are combined in the new Metal Forming Division.   The division name changes and the decision to use only English names for the divisions going forward turns the existing five divisions into four: the Steel Division (its name was merely switched from German to English); the Special Steel Division (previously the German equivalent of Special Steel Division followed by High Performance Metals Division); the Metal Engineering Division (previously the German equivalent of Railway Systems Division); and the Metal Forming Division (see above).

A consolidation phase during the crisis is followed by the substantial expansion of investment activity in the business year 2012/13. The Group launches the construction of a direct reduction plant in Texas, its largest ever foreign investment. The groundbreaking ceremony takes place in April 2014.

2012 also sees the dramatic expansion of the Group’s global automotive presence thanks to numerous new plants in China, the US, South Africa, Romania, and Germany as part of the Metal Forming Division’s comprehensive globalization strategy.   

The same year, the Group presents a revolutionary enhancement of its patented phs-ultraform® technology, a hot-dip galvanized, ultra high-strength steel for auto body parts that can be shaped into its final form in a single process step. The start-up in 2016 of the world’s first phs-directform facility in the town of Schwäbisch Gmünd, Germany, constitutes a technology leap in lightweight automotive construction. Thanks to the requisite investments, the same year the Linz-based Metal Forming Division becomes the world’s largest site for the production of automotive blanks.

On September 14, 2016, voestalpine inaugurates a new research & development center for 3D printing of metal parts at its Düsseldorf, Germany, site. This “voestalpine Additive Manufacturing Center” is designed to develop the process for manufacturing particularly complex and light metal components. In the future, two High Performance Metals Division companies—Böhler Edelstahl GmbH & Co KG, Austria, and Uddeholms AB, Sweden—will be tasked with delivering the metal powder that is specially manufactured for this process.

The direct reduction plant in Corpus Christi, Texas, USA, is inaugurated on October 26, 2016. It is the world’s largest and most modern plant of its kind, as well as the largest investment to date by an Austrian company in the United States. Henceforth, it will produce two million tons annually of high-quality hot briquetted iron (HBI) as a sophisticated pre-material for the production of steel. The facility is considered an environmental benchmark and thus is an important step for voestalpine in its quest to lower the amount of CO2 in connection with steel manufacturing.

In July 2017, voestalpine AG is given a new corporate design that is intended to reflect the company’s orientation toward the future and its fundamental change from a steelmaking group to a technology group. 

Its employees hold about 14.5 percent of the shares of voestalpine AG in 2017. The voestalpine Mitarbeiterbeteiligung (employee foundation for the Group's employee participation plan) is a unique construct the world over that combines the voting rights of some 24,000 employees in 84 voestalpine Group companies (status as of 2017).

voestalpine underscores its commitment to the future of its key production facilities in Austria. Among other things, this entails the start-up in September 2017 of the world’s most modern, fully digitalized wire rod mill at the Metal Engineering Division’s headquarters in Donawitz. The company announces just a few weeks later that the Kapfenberg special steel plant, partly more than 100 years old,  will be replaced by a new one—the first steel production plant to be built in Europe in more than 40 years. At up to EUR 300 million, this is the High Performance Metals Division’s largest single investment to date.

Upon receiving confirmation from the state government of Upper Austria that its environmental compatibility review resulted in a positive finding, in 2018 voestalpine (as part of a consortium) launches the construction of a pilot facility at its Linz site for the production of hydrogen. This facility is slated to be the world’s largest of its kind and in the future will provide insights into the possibilities of using hydrogen in the individual stages of the steelmaking process.

In the business year 2017/18, voestalpine posts both its highest revenue and its highest earnings since being privatized in 1995.