Already under the cosh of currency losses, British Steel faces new challenges at home next year when France’s Usinor opens its first custom-built steel processing centre for British car makers.
The investment, still to be officially announced, is a joint venture between Sollac, the French steel group’s flat-products arm, and West Bromwich steel processor Steel & Alloy.
The new facility is close to British’s Steel’s £13.5m purpose-built automotive centre opened last March at Wednesfield. The venture will employ the latest laser welding technology, already used by Sollac on the Continent to supply vehicle makers with a new generation of thinner, high-strength steels.
Cost and weight of laser welded steel components are reduced because varying thicknesses of steels can be welded together and press-formed with a single die. No British car plant has yet installed this technology, although British Steel is talking to car manufacturers about supplying lighter, high-strength components from Wednesfield, where laser welding equipment was recently installed.
Steel & Alloy has been serving UK car producers for 30 years, with 95% of its £50m annual sales going to automotive. It supplies body panels for the MGF sports car and is a supplier of bodies-in-white, suspension and transmission parts to Jaguar, Rolls-Royce and Rover.
David Ashwell, managing director of Steel & Alloy, will become managing director of the joint venture.