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Paris priorities set to steel the show!

Liberty House Group recently acquired the Speciality Steels business from Tata Steel. Liberty Speciality Steels’ commercial director, Ashley Wilkinson looks ahead to the company’s attendance at this year’s Paris Air Show.

My career in the steel industry has seen many changes – the most recent being the acquisition of the Speciality Steels business by Liberty Steel. We have been producing aerospace grade steels in the Sheffield area for over sixty years, and today around half of our business is export. We supply aerospace speciality steels across the globe which is why attending the Paris Air Show is so key. This year, I hope you will agree that we have come up with our most striking design ever.

Speciality Steels continues to see year on year growth, and this year we will be focusing on key priorities to sustain this performance. This includes the recent multimillion-pound investment in a vacuum induction melting (VIM) furnace and a state-of-the-art Advanced Machining Centre (AMC).

But it’s not just production technology that’s changing; it’s the whole supply chain. The entire aerospace sector is forecast to grow and we estimate the total market to grow to $14.1 billion in 2019. Boeing forecasts a need for a record 39,600 new aeroplanes over the next twenty years. The interesting point to note is that 38% of the new planes will be for the Asian market. Demand in Asia will be driven by the dominant, highly-populated economies of China and India – the supply chain is already following this demand and India and China are developing their own supply chains with components increasingly manufactured in these territories. Most of the component demand is ultimately driven by Boeing and Airbus, but will frequently be produced by their tier 1 suppliers or their subcontractors.

However, Boeing forecasts that 40% of these new planes will still be in the European and North American markets. Global coverage is key and Speciality Steels has service and distribution centres in Europe in the UK, a North American distribution centre and two service centres in China in Suzhou and Xi’an. The most recent addition has been the opening of the Indian service centre at Nagpur to serve the needs of the growing Indian aero hub in Bangalore. We are now seeing significant growth in both China and India as a combination of joint ventures and new domestic suppliers create growing hubs.

With the introduction of a VIM furnace at the Speciality Steels site near Sheffield we are now able to deliver the highest purity stainless steel and alloys. This includes many grades that are used in the aerospace industry with its highly-demanding specification and quality requirements.

A key change in approach to the supply chain was signalled by the investment in our AMC. This allows us to support our customers supply chains by producing sophisticated finished components for aerospace applications. This has over £2 million invested in advanced 5-axis machining for turning, milling and grinding finished aerospace components – enabling the machining of stainless steel, nickel alloys and titanium alloys. As you would expect with product development many projects are strictly confidential. However, a great example of AMC’s work would be the project we worked on with Advanced Innovative Engineering (AIE) in Lichfield to take a complete Wankel engine rotary assembly from CAD to finished components, including the cryogenic assembly of sub-components of different steel grades.

We aim for an approach that supports the supply chain to develop innovative components – so effectively we become an extension of their product development process. For example, our research into powder metallurgy, with the £18m government backed CASCADE project, will produce metallic powders to develop near-net shape additive manufacturing options for precision components – key supply chain partners are part of the project.

Hopefully, I will see you at The Paris Airshow in hall 1, stand G296 where you can find out more about our innovative plans.


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