Corus continually develops new and more advanced steels to fulfil ever-more challenging automotive applications. Its new fully-automated warehouse – a key part of the metal producer’s £14M investment in its wire rod business based in Scunthorpe – will ensure that it can despatch these highly sensitive steels to customers in the condition required for their rigorous manufacturing processes. Wire rod is used for automotive components such as tyre reinforcement cord, valve springs, piston rods, headrest supports and air bag wire to car keys, seatbelt wires and windscreen wiper components, as well as all the rivets, nuts, bolts and screws that hold everything together. Many automotive applications require high strength steels which are more susceptible to surface damage.
Recognising the growth in demand for premium-quality wire rod from the automotive industry, particularly in emerging markets such as China and Eastern Europe, Corus invested in the new warehouse to ensure the exceptional quality steel made at its rod mill is despatched in prime condition to customers worldwide.
The company also wanted the latest benchmark technology to improve its warehousing and despatch operations – central issues concerning storing and handling premium-quality steels had to be addressed including:
- The material is sensitive and damage critical.
- The fast stock turnaround needed to be improved.
- The efficiency and speed of order management had to be improved.
- Improved process capability was required through better scheduling and flow.
Corus also looked at best practice in other industry sectors to find the right solution, and chose a traditional high-bay storage facility, using technology employed widely in the retail sector. However, this technology had to be adapted significantly to cope with the demands of a heavy manufacturing environment. It had to handle a non-standard size and shape of product; a product that is not palletised and posed stability issues; a hot product up to 500°C; and an unpackaged / unprotected product.
The solution was to develop an inter-connected network of distribution activities in the warehouse which are managed as an integrated system, coordinating the internal movements of the rod coils, their storage, packaging, loading and despatch. Stored in individual compartments, the coils are protected from damage caused by surface-to-surface contact. Fully automated machinery is used to transport the coils to their storage compartments, retrieve them, and carry them to the loading area – reducing the potential for handling damage.
A new, technically advanced protective wrapping machine – designed specifically for this facility – wraps coils in polyweave or stretch film, either radially or through the core, according to the transport method to be used. All of this ensures the material arrives with manufacturers in the condition required to produce high-quality components.
Much of this demand for premium quality steels in the automotive sector is coming from the Far East and Central and Eastern Europe, where tyre production is increasing at a rapid pace. In China alone, consumption of steel tyre cord has increased by 30% a year since 2001 and the market is expected to grow to more than 300,000 tonnes this year.
For Corus this demand and its shift to overseas markets has required the radical reorganisation of its business. The Corus Wire Rod Business at Scunthorpe is now producing greater volumes of premium-grade wire rod for automotive applications such as tyre cord, which require careful attention to detail during rolling, and sensitive handling during storage, despatch and transportation. It is sending more steel overseas than ever before – exports accounted for a record 65% of all rod despatched from Corus in the first quarter of 2005.
Andrew Speck, Rods International sales manager, says: “Our aim is to work as a global partner with our international customers, not just a UK shipper. We pay great attention to getting our deliveries to customers on time and in excellent condition, and provide full back-up support through our regional offices all over the world.”
John Morrisroe, Corus sales manager, adds: “Automotive spring steel will benefit from our state-of-the-art automated warehouse. We want car manufacturers to know that we are working with their supply chains to develop quality spring steels. As awareness of Corus spring steel grows, we hope our presence in the market will provide greater security of supply and a wider supplier base for spring manufacturers around the world.”