SSAB's Docol team transformed one of the most complex product development projects into one of the smoothest and even completed ahead of time. How was this possible?
Let's first take a look at the product itself. Docol® 1500M-EG is a cold-rolled, electrogalvanized ultra-high-strength steel (UHSS) developed for applications in cars with stringent requirements for low weight and high energy absorption, and where corrosion protection is needed.
This new product was launched last year and it has proved to be a success. It took a lot of people to make it all happen and required excellent planning, collaboration and communication in the global project team. This team had been specifically formed for the purpose.
Docol 1500M-EG was developed with one big, global OEM (original equipment manufacturer) in mind, but to be used in several different car models in China, Korea, Europe and North America.
"What was especially demanding with Docol 1500M-EG is the nature of the development process," explained Jacky Li, Regional Sales Manager, Automotive China, SSAB Europe, who was in a key role when creating a clear picture of the project timeline and building trust with the customer. "The product requirements themselves were complex and schedules tight. Besides that, both the pre-series and the serial production of the cars were scheduled to start in China before the other geographical areas, while the OEM's headquarters, conducting the approval process, were in the US. On top of this, production of our steel took place in Borlänge, Sweden."
This is a not a unique case when developing products for the automotive industry. When SSAB sets out to develop a new grade of Docol Ultra High Strength Steel, the process is more complex than you might imagine. It involves many people, often on different sides of the world, working together against the clock. Research and development in SSAB is seamless work between technical personnel and other functions. It involves representatives from different functions such as market development, sales, logistics and production.
"Since Docol 1500M-EG is a strategically important product in enabling us to achieve our growth strategy, the launch was critical. A dedicated global project team was formed to assist in the formal commercialization. Our internal SSAB team had members from China, South Korea, the US and Europe. And it was of key importance that we all had a very clear common picture of the targets, roles, timing and how dependent everyone was on each other," explains José Puente Cabrero, Product Manager Cold Rolled Products, SSAB Europe, who was also the project leader and coordinator.
"All downstream functions from transit, toll coating and slitting for final delivery sizes must all have processes and procedures in place to assure high quality and thus a high rate of success in the market. The technical support people in the US had to keep the timeline of China in mind when conducting the approval process, otherwise it would be too late," says Bruce Wilkinson Area Technical Manager SSAB Automotive, who was responsible for managing global approval of the materials in time.
Product approved ahead of time
In the automotive industry, it is common that before the actual production of the cars, there is a period of around 6-12 months often called pre-series production. It was essential that the product was approved by the OEM before the production of prototypes and the pre-series started.
As things turned out, Docol 1500M-EG was finished and ready for the approval process in time, early in fact - with everything ready a few months before the deadline. This was mainly due to very clear communication and a streamlined way of working within the organization.
"It is SSAB One, our management philosophy based on the LEAN-thinking, that guaranteed we were effective in our development work and commercializing the product, despite the fact that both our team and the customer were spread all over the world. The other important factor was the enthusiasm and dedication of our team members," explains José Puente Cabrero.
The use of martensitic grade with strength level above 1500MPa in combination with corrosion protection (electrogalvanization) was a challenge both from technological point of view and also from the point of view of convincing the customer.
"We need to remember that this project was run in parallel with a large number of other projects. In order to ensure that all the projects ran smoothly to plan, we used a Stage-Gate cross-functional process similar to that our customers use," continues José Puente Cabrero.
A typical example of applications for Docol 1500M-EG is sill reinforcement. This one was made by roll forming and, despite its low weight, is designed to resist high forces in side and front crashes.
Good possibilities for growth
"Throughout the project, we developed entirely new methodologies and tools needed to be able to evaluate the product. These now stand as a template for future product development projects and the technical issues that might arise," says Marcus Folmerz, Product Development Specialist, who was technical leader in the project.
"Docol 1500M-EG is clear evidence that electrogalvanized ultra-high-strength steel products can be used in safety applications such as rocker panels. The success of the launch shows that we are able to serve big OEMs and supply complex solutions globally to tight timelines - and without compromising our high quality," explains José Puente Cabrero, "And this also opens up new business opportunities, since we are now conducting material approval with other global OEMs also," he continues.
Early involvement is a key to success
Involving the customer in the project at an early stage was an important factor for the success of the project - and it inspired trust. After seeing the way we worked and being open and sharing all of our information, the customer was able to trust us - and we gained credibility," explains Jacky Li.
Docol 1500M-EG is currently approved and in use, with interest growing in the automotive industry. Its development journey is a perfect example of the value that the Docol brand can deliver to OEMs and customers alike. This project set many precedents for future launches of SSAB products by establishing standards internally and externally, and by identifying global partners in the toll processing that meet the high standards SSAB has set," adds Bruce Wilkinson.
Docol automotive steel
As pioneers in advanced high-strength steel (AHSS), SSAB is a trusted partner to the automotive industry, delivering Docol branded products and services that make cars safer and more eco-friendly. SSAB supplies many Docol steel grades according to VDA and OEM standards.
Read also: Research and development work to support the strategy
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