Tata Steel feels that self-reliance in technology is a pre-requisite for growth, especially in the context of globalisation and expanding operations. The Group's advanced Research and Development centres are competent enough to meet emerging challenges and ensure that the Company always stays ahead of all competition.
Over the years, Tata Steel has placed a continuous emphasis on improving processes, with a view to consistently enhancing efficiencies, improving quality and thereby achieving better performance benchmarks in all areas of operations. The Research Department established by Tata Steel way back in 1935, was the first of its kind in India, and stands as a testimony to the foresight of the early pioneers and the vision of the founder of the Company.
The Group’s research programme is split between programmes funded by the separate business units (which make up the major part of the work done in the European research centres) and work on a number of identified thrust areas that receive corporate funding. The thrust areas also incorporate the projects that were previously a part of the strategic programme of Tata Steel in Europe. Currently, the Tata Steel Group has five research centres with over 1000 people involving themselves in R&D activities.
The Company’s Technology Roadmap identifies projects aimed at increasing the yield of high quality raw materials while effecting reductions in energy use and emissions. Coal leaching technology has been demonstrated successfully at pilot scale for producing 8% ash clean coal from washery tailings. Regeneration of the chemicals and reduction of energy cost are the remaining challenges for commercial exploitation of the technology.
Tata Steel Europe is also working with other steelmakers in Europe on major research and development project, ULCOS (ultra low CO2 steelmaking), which aims to develop breakthrough technologies which can reduce CO2 emissions per tonne of steel produced by at least 50%. In this regard, HIsarna TM, a smelting reduction technology which offers the potential to eliminate the sinter, pellet and coke production steps from the primary iron making process and which in principle offers a 20% energy (and CO2) reduction opportunity without carbon capture and storage, has been piloted in IJmuiden, the Netherlands, jointly with other partners.
Anticipating the need to become self-reliant in technology, Tata Steel has taken several steps that would help consolidate its position as a leader in chosen technologies. Some recent highlights are :
- Fourteen new products were launched in the financial year 2012 – 2013, with the majority being in automotive segment.
- Jointly funded with the Royal Academy of Engineering a new chair for research into low carbon materials technology at the University of Warwick.
- Implementation of a Project and Portfolio Management Tool known as ‘Trakker’ for managing Tata Steel’s new product development stage gate process and putting in place regular monthly reviews. In January 2013, Tata Steel Europe won the Innovation Award from CA Technologies for the use and further development of the ‘Trakker’ Portfolio.
- The Bearings Division of Tata Steel also inaugurated a state of art ‘testing and validation centre’ based on latest technology to meet the increasing expectations of the automotive customers.
- Tata Steel R&D together with CSIR-NML took up the challenge to develop a low cost, online and fast method for online sensing of alumina in iron ores. This initiative resulted in an innovation that enables the blast furnace operation to decide on effective blend planning and impurity reduction. The innovation has been protected by two patents.
- Nest-In is a mass housing solution developed jointly by Tata Steel Global R&D and Marketing and Sales; and is a product that is expected to revolutionise the rural and semi-urban markets for individuals and for communities.
- To integrate new steels into the production processes seamlessly, Tata Steel has held Value Analysis Value Engineering (VAVE) workshops on 5 different auto models in 2012-13 in India. The weight saving across models has been 15-20 kgs per vehicle by the use of forming simulations and use of high strength steels.
- Tata Steel in India has embarked on “Project Innovent” in Financial Year 2013-14 - a vehicle for consumer-in Innovation, aimed at creating new services and solutions businesses that can lead to higher margins and increased differentiation.