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Hyundai Steel: Where Your Car Comes From

What do you do if you’re a very big Asian car manufacturer and you want to make sure that the steel that goes into your vehicles is top quality. If you’re Hyundai, you buy and/or create your own steel mill. If you drive a Hyundai or are thinking of buying one, you probably don’t really stop to think about where the steel came from before it became a car, but it’s quite fascinating. According to one particular advertisement, Hyundai get very picky indeed about the steel that goes into their cars and have designed the factory in question to make sure that what you get going into the car in question is steel and nothing but steel.

 
The process starts off with iron ore and coking coal. Ever wondered where the ore from Australia’s mines ends up? Although a good chunk stays in the country and gets used here, the majority of what comes out of our mines ends up in Asia for manufacturing. Some of the iron ends up at the big Hyundai steel plant in South Korea. The coking coal comes from a range of places, with Australia and New Zealand both doing their bit to keep the supply up. The iron ore goes into a blast furnace and is heated to become liquid metal. During this process, from the moment it leaves the boat, the metal stays in a sealed factory section to make sure that absolutely nothing gets into the molten metal – dust and other bits don’t mix with iron very well and can compromise the integrity of the iron/steel and make it weaker than it would be otherwise. Not that people have only just discovered that metal doesn’t mix with mud – this principle is used as a symbol in the Bible (Daniel 2: 41–43). Hyundai is very proud of its closed loop system where even the raw materials are kept in hermetically sealed chambers to keep out contaminants. The tight sealing has another advantage: contaminants can’t get out of, say, the coking furnace. After it comes out from storage, the iron ore goes through the process of sintering or grinding before it goes into the furnace. At the same time, the coal is coked and transported to the blast furnace. The coke is used to heat the blast furnace, and the iron is melted so the pure iron can be purified and the slag extracted. Now the iron is ready to become steel.

 

Steel, as you see it in your car, is an alloy of iron. During the steel making process, the unwanted elements that make the metal weaker are whipped out and the elements they do want to make it stronger are added in. At the Hyundai factory, the aim is to make a low-carbon steel (carbon is the principal element that combines with iron to make the alloy known as steel). The steel making process takes about five steps before it is carted off to become sheet metal and, ultimately, Hyundai cars. Of course, there are several more steps between the furnace and the factory floor. Cars aren’t the only thing that Hyundai produces steel for – the sheet metal also gets turned into whitegoods such as fridges and freezers, and ships. It’s kind of ironic (interesting word) that some of that metal that left Australia in the form of iron ore from the mines ultimately comes back in the form of a finished vehicle that will whizz around the streets of Sydney.

 

Hyundai don’t just work with raw iron ore and coking coal. They also form part of the recycling chain and take steel scrap (e.g. bits of crushed cars, etc.) and turn that into products. But they don’t use recycled steel in the cars, as the quality of the iron/steel may have been compromised. Instead, the recycled steel goes for buildings, bridges, power pylons and the like.

 

It’s a moot point whether Hyundai should be using more recycled steel in its vehicles. On the one hand, it’s good to know that the company wants to make sure that it only uses the best materials in what it makes so safety isn’t compromised. On the other hand, we all know that iron is a non-renewable resource. Six of one and half a dozen of the other, really. Maybe Hyundai will one day find a way of making sure that its recycled steel is just as good as the virgin steel – I certainly won’t be surprised if they do.

 

Find out more about the Hyundai steel factory and the process of iron ore becoming cars at the Hyundai steel website: http://www.hyundai-steel.com/ (and select English for the language).

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One comment

  1. brando says:

    BlueScope makes some of the best sheet steel in the world and I have seen recycled steel going into the furnaces. If Bluescope could do it efficiently I bet Hyundai use recycled steel also. Steel is 100% recyclable.
    I have used recycled Chinese steel and find its consistency poor. when you work it, well it welds poorly, drills sometimes easily then 20mm away it will be like trying to drill through wear plate or a dozer blade. If the recycling metallurgy is done correctly it should be 100% consistent.

    June 26th, 2012 at 10:19 pm