Galfan Technology: Extracting Additional Value from your Galvanizing Line
Innovation and new product development are core fundamentals of any successful business. An embedded New Product Development process will ensure that a business has a pipeline of relevant new products coming to market. In the current tough economic times, driven by global over supply and falling prices, many continuous galvanizers are reflecting on their future survival strategy and wondering how best to remain competitive and differentiated from low cost imports. Under these conditions, it may seem attractive to cut manufacturing costs and capital expenditure, but it is only innovation which can provide a sustainable long-term solution for success and the opportunity to extract a premium from what is essentially a commodity market.
In response to these market conditions, the steel manufacturer must consider the following focusing questions: How do we differentiate our products from low cost imports? How do we best invest in new product development when capital is to tight? And importantly, how do we address these issues quickly – whilst we still can? One option that satisfactorily addresses all three of these questions is Galfan; and the reasons why it can do so are given below.
It is well recognized that product development is a necessary part of any manufacturing business’s long term survival. Companies with a continuous product development pipeline have been shown to deliver sustained profitability and growth. A popular proverb summarizes it well, “Innovate or Perish”. If you are making a commodity product, have a higher cost base than your opposition and are not seeking to innovate, then you are on a downward path to extinction.
The New Product Development (NPD) process is often referred to as The Stage-Gate Innovation Process, developed by Dr Robert Cooper and consisting of a sequential series of steps which can be used to take an idea and turn it into a commercialized product. Part of this process is ensuring that the product performance attributes meet the customer requirements, so for a new metallic coating, there can be a long lead time between idea conception and taking the new product to market, especially if atmospheric corrosion resistance is a key product attribute. In this case, potential end-users may require the results of long-term atmospheric corrosion exposure testing before being satisfied that the new coating will met the performance claims of the manufacturer.
In addition to proving the product attributes, process developments and capital upgrades to plant and equipment may be required in order to produce the new product. This can be a long and expensive process, both in terms of capital investment and on the short-term impact on production capacity as the manufacturer modifies his existing process.
The inherently slow process of validating the performance attributes of a new metallic coating poses a challenging problem for those manufactures without an existing New Product Development process – fortunately however, Galfan offers an eloquent solution.
Galfan is a not a new product, having first been developed in the early 1980’s as an improvement over conventional galvanized coatings. At that time, Galfan was the subject of an intensive collaborative research effort, overseen by the International Lead Zinc Research Organization which showed Galfan to have 2-3 times the corrosion resistance of zinc and improved performance around formability and paint adhesion.
It is worthwhile to take a step back and reflect on the current market trends for coated coil. The market for painted galvanized coil is growing, while the coating weights for galvanized coil have fallen to record lows. Many manufacturers are investing in new technologies to reduce zinc coatings weights and over coating – which helps to lower their conversion cost and increase their profitability, but doesn’t help to differentiate their product in the market.
It is at this stage that the benefits of Galfan become readily apparent. A coating which can be produced with lower coating weights than regular galvanizing, yet still deliver improved corrosion resistance, formability and paintability. When Galfan was first released on the market back in the early 1980’s, the market benchmark for coating weights was much higher than today and the market for pre-painted coil was in its infancy – ‘low coating weight Galfan’ for pre-painted coil is a new product from its original conception and one that aligns well with the current market expectation.
Opportunities for the Astute Manufacturer
This situation presents an attractive opportunity to the astute manufacturer wishing to shorten the lead time on the product development process. The product attributes of Galfan are already well established and Galfan is embedded in coated steel standards world wide – the long and expensive process of proving a new product fit-for-purpose is already done.
In fact this strategy has recently been adopted by The Techs in the USA who are now manufacturing Galfan for construction applications in the US, where it is competing against galvanized coatings with twice the coating weight.
Justification for Galfan’s superior performance over regular galvanized coatings was given to ASTM Subcommittee A05.11 (and other ASTM subcommittees) based on comparative outdoor corrosion exposure testing and accelerated laboratory tests. Outdoor exposure test results were obtained by Nisshin Steel of Japan over a period of seven years, and extrapolated to 15 years, which demonstrated a ratio of greater corrosion for a Zn-5Al-MM Galfan coating of 2.4 to 2.7 times depending on the exposure environment. Parallel results have been obtained by Centre Research de Metallurgique (CRM) in Belgium on behalf of the Benelux steel companies, New Zealand Steel, Weirton Steel in the US and others. Accelerated salt spray and other laboratory tests also document a two to three times better corrosion performance for Galfan compared to galvanized. Underwriters Laboratories (UL) likewise established Galfan as equivalent in performance to a galvanized coating twice as thick. It was also noted that the basic ASTM standard for Galfan steel sheet, A875/A875M, states that it is an established fact that the atmospheric corrosion resistance of Zn-5Al-MM is non-linear as the corrosion rate decreases with time. Other ASTM standards, such as F1043 for Fence Framework, specify a Galfan coating half as thick as a galvanized coating.
Continuous Galvanizing Line Specifications
Galfan is a great coating, but what is involved in its manufacture? How easily can a line be converted to produce Galfan? Continuous galvanizing lines (CGL) are usually designed around a specific product specification and plant capacity. The product specification includes the coating type, which impacts the design of the Non-oxidizing furnace (if a NOF line), galvanizing pot and cooling sections. Many of these factors relate to the melting point of the galvanizing alloy being used. Once constructed, a Continuous Galvanizing Line can be very expensive, both in terms of capital cost and lost production time, to reconfigure to enable the production of a new coating type and this is certainly the case for high melting point alloys such as Aluzinc. However, due to its low melting point, Galfan easily addresses the process conversion issue, and can be produced on a line designed for regular galvanizing with no major changes required, except pot chemistry. In fact, as Galfan bath chemistry is less aggressive to 316L stainless steel than a regular GI bath, pot hardware life is extended and a gas fired 316L pot can be used if desired.
But what if a manufacturer wants dual coating capability? Won’t they have to install a dual ceramic pot? The answer is no; while Galfan can certainly be produced on a dual pot line there are other, more cost effective, options available to manufacturers wanting to expand the capability of their lines at minimum capital cost and minimum disruption to their process.
For a customer wanting to do a Galfan trial, with little capital outlay, the pot can simply be pumped into ingots and the bath filled with Galfan ingots, which are subsequently melted in the pot. This method was previously used by the Techs at their 500,000 tpa GalvTech plant, which produces both Galvanized and Galfan coatings in gauges .010” to .055”and widths 24” to 61” at speeds of 500 fpm. However, following their market success with Galfan, The Techs have upgraded their plant to include an electrically resistance heated standby pot which pre-melts the Galfan (or zinc) prior to it being pumped to the pot – after the zinc (or Galfan) is first pumped out into ingots. This allows changeover time, including pot gear removal and re-installation, and strip threading, to be reduced to 4 hours. Unlike a conventional dual pot set-up the stand-by pot sits above ground level and is easily retrofitted to a line without having to shut-down the galvanizing process. A variation on this option is to have 2 holding pots and one operating pot, which negates the need for pumping to ingots.
Steel manufacturers are under considerable cost pressures due to global over supply. Stable Chinese steel production in the face of decreasing domestic consumption has seen steel markets world-wide flooded with low-cost imports. Falling prices and compressed margins have made the business case for new capital investments difficult to justify and have forced many steel manufacturers to cut back on research and development activities.
However, steelmakers must seek solutions which can be implemented quickly, at low cost, and which offer genuine advantages to their customers over imported products.
Galfan is a zinc aluminium coating which out performs regular galvanizing in terms of corrosion resistance, formability and paintability – it thus offers the ideal combination of product properties for painted sheet, much of which is roll formed or pressed into final shape. And unique among other metallic coatings, Galfan can be manufactured on an existing NOF Galvanizing line with minimum capital investment or downtime.
‘Low coating weight Galfan’ is a new product concept which offers significant benefits to both the end user and manufacturer alike – an importantly, it is a product which may offer a solution in some markets to the problem of low-cost imported Chinese products.
Bronx has recently partnered with the Galfan Technology Centre to become the exclusive agent for Galfan in sheet and coil applications. Contact Bronx to find out more about Galfan and Galfan licences for new and existing lines.
Download this paper: Galfan Technology