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Tuesday, Dec 21, 2004

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`Steel industry should develop new materials'

By Our Special Correspondent

CHENNAI, DEC. 20. The Indian steel industry has to evince interest in the development and application of new materials for its survival in the emerging era of "de-integration'' of the industry and increasing customer-orientation, according to B. Muthuraman, Managing Director of Tata Steel.

The industry, which had been absorbing complex technologies in respect of furnaces, smelting and continuous casting all along, had neglected the fact that its product, namely, steel, still landed as a commodity in the market.

It has to wake up to the need for customisation of steel grades and qualities, for which development of new materials like alloys is necessary, Mr. Muthuraman said.

Inaugurating a three-day international symposium of research students on materials science and engineering (ISRS 2004), organised by the Department of Metallurgical and Materials Engineering of the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras, Mr. Muthuraman said the imperative of combating the trend towards substitution of steel with high-strength but low weight materials like aluminium and fibre glass in automobile, construction and other sectors, reducing energy consumption and complying with global environmental standards warranted the adoption of new technologies in steel-making, processing and rolling, steel product mix and iron ore and coal mining.

It was from this point of view that the industry, in cooperation with the Indian Institute of Metals, was sponsoring a two-year course in iron and steel engineering at the IIT, Kharagpur, from next year, for fresh graduate engineering recruits in the industry.

The Tata Steel MD said the steel industry would have to embrace the "de-integration" model, which had first been adopted by the automobile industry.

This meant that different processes in the value chain of steel might not necessarily be concentrated in one location as of now but would be spread over several locations and countries depending upon access to and competitiveness of inputs, skills and markets.

M. S. Ananth, Director of IIT Madras, said the metallurgical industry was undergoing a transformation whereby producers were not constrained by the specific qualities of the metal and sought to impart to metals the attributes required by the user though molecular manipulation.

Baldev Raj, Director of the IGCAR (Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research), said improvement of materials (like steel) which had been in existing for a long time was a greater challenge than development of new materials like titanium or structural ceramics.

Later, delivering a lecture on "Corporate Conscience and Wealth Generation" under he auspices of Anna University and Industrial Economist, Mr Muthuraman said that just as the culture of "chasing marks" did not produce students who were truly knowledgeable or innovative, chasing short-term profits, often encouraged by current trends in media and the world of analysts, would not produce companies that were capable of producing sustainable profitability over the long term.

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