HAMMOND | Purdue University Calumet academics will lead a national research consortium aimed at giving U.S. steelmakers a technological edge in an increasingly competitive global marketplace.
Purdue Cal's Center for Innovation through Visualization & Simulation, or CIVS, won a prestigious $480,000 grant from the National Institute of Standards and Technology.
That seed money will allow the university research lab, led by professor Chenn Zhou, to launch the industry-guided initiative to make American steelmaking more advanced and efficient. The lab uses virtual reality technology to simulate conditions that engineers cannot see firsthand, such as the inside of blast furnace.
"This will be great, and mean more opportunities for our students and faculty," she said. "It's a national center right here in Northwest Indiana that should have a big impact regionally."
Major steelmakers such as ArcelorMittal USA, U.S. Steel Corp., Nucor, Severstal and Steel Dynamics Inc. are backing the venture, which is dubbed the Advanced Simulation and Visualization for Steel Optimization Consortium. Backers also include the American Iron and Steel Institute, the Association for Iron and Steel Technology and industry suppliers such as NIPSCO, Praxair and Berry Metal.
In all, 14 companies and organizations are sponsoring the consortium, and will support it financially over the long term, Zhou said.
Purdue University Calumet received one of 19 technology planning grants totaling $9 million that the National Institute of Standards and Technology awarded to efforts to strengthen U.S. manufacturing through advanced technology. Other recipients include Northwestern University and Penn State University.
"The AMTech awards provide incentives for partnerships to tackle the important jobs of planning, setting strategic manufacturing technology goals and developing a shared vision of how to work collaboratively to get there," Director Patrick Gallagher said.
"These are essential first steps toward building the research infrastructure necessary to sustain a healthy, innovative advanced manufacturing sector – one that invents, demonstrates, prototypes and produces here, in the U.S."
The new steel consortium will work toward long-range industry-wide technical solutions that steelmakers and suppliers can use to increase efficiency, reduce production costs and improve quality, Zhou said.
Companies such as ArcelorMittal and U.S. Steel will sit down and identify research projects that would benefit everyone in the U.S. steel industry, which contributes $17.5 billion a year to the economy and is directly and indirectly responsible for 1 million jobs.
In the past, CIVS worked with steelmakers on individual short-term projects, such as how to increase energy efficiency in a particular blast furnace. But major steelmakers are interested in joining together to ensure the U.S. industry can be more globally competitive.
Imports have captured 25 percent of the market, and the domestic industry faces challenges that include aging machinery, a skills gap and a lack of engagement with new technologies.
"It's much better to work together than on individual needs," she said. "This is the future. It's a team that can tackle huge problems and benefit the industry, not just deal with one problem at a time."
Steelmakers will choose what specific subjects the consortium will research, but goals including increasing energy efficiency throughout the entire steel manufacturing supply chain, evaluating the cost-effectiveness of production processes and improving workforce training.
"The most safe way to get safety training is in a virtual environment," Zhou said. "That's my joke."
The research center also will distribute advanced technologies throughout the U.S. steel industry, including to small and medium-sized companies such as service centers. Companies of all sizes can participate in the consortium, which will have different membership levels and is actively looking for more long-term partners, she said.