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Making more of steel

Kenno Tech believes that the rumours of the death of heavy manufacturing in Europe are exaggerated – and is confident that material-efficient products like its laser-welded steel sandwich structures have a role to play in a new wave of European manufacturing.

Following a temporary dip caused by the recession, steel usage is expected to reach a record 1,340 million t/a in 2011. Although the recession accelerated the transfer of significant steel product manufacturing capacity from Europe to Asia, this is unlikely to be rolled back to the same extent.

Instead, the future of European manufacturing is likely to be based on a mix of high value-added products and output destined for markets closer to home.

One of the products with a lot of potential here are laser-welded sandwich elements produced by fast, automated laser workstations – thanks to their light weight, good material efficiency, high dimensional accuracy, and excellent finish quality.

A new breed of steel structure

The laser-welded sandwich elements designed and manufactured by Kenno Tech offer light weight, durability, and bending strength equivalent to that of much heavier conventional structures.

Based around face plates and longitudinal core profiles, they resemble a steel version of corrugated board.

Elements can be optimised for a wide range of applications by varying the thickness of the cover plates and the design of the core, and can yield steel and weight savings of between 30% and 50% compared to traditional structures.

Plates can also be connected by welding in an internal series of flow channels and then inflating the structure hydraulically. This approach is well-suited for the cost-effective manufacture of heat exchanger plates, for example, even in relatively small batches.

Very stiff structures with low structural height can be achieved and can be designed to be either self-supporting or with much lighter frames or support structures than are usually needed, and incorporate insulation, electrics, and plumbing where appropriate.

A sandwich structure means that these concrete moulds are light and easy to handle, and dimensionally accurate.

Steel plates as thin as 0.3 mm can be used and distortion is minimal, which results in high dimensional accuracy. Welding seams are thin and very uniform along their length, giving high finish quality. Recycling is easy as well.

With all these benefits, it is not surprising that Kenno Tech’s customers have used its sandwich panels in numerous applications, from concrete moulds and information kiosks to heat exchangers, process industry equipment, and floor panels.

And the potential is much larger. So the question is: are light-weight, material-efficient, high-tolerance panels something that could increase the competitiveness of your business?

> Jouko Vallikari
(Published in HighTech Finland 2011)