Originally part of the Purdue University Calumet campus in Hammond, Inland Steel moved its research and development facility to Cline Avenue and Columbus Drive in East Chicago, a few miles south of its steel mill in Indiana Harbor, 50 years ago. At the time, the steel company’s researchers didn’t have computers or even calculators. They did all the math by hand. Today about 200 scientists and researchers work on state-of-the-art technologies in 25 different laboratories in Skidmore, Owings & Merrill-designed buildings on a 49-acre dune- and swale-lined campus. It’s a key research facility that develops new grades of steel and ways to improve steelmaking processes for ArcelorMittal, the world’s largest steelmaker with a vast global presence. ArcelorMittal Global R&D at 3001 E. Columbus Drive in East Chicago is celebrating its 50th anniversary as a hub of innovation in the steel industry. A host of dignitaries, including ArcelorMittal USA CEO John Brett and elected officials, recognized the research and development center’s half century with the unveiling of a new South Shore Line poster. The painting by artist Mitch Markovitz depicts the main R&D building that was designed by the same architectural firm that did the Sears Tower and the John Hancock Center amid pristine duneland as a plane flies overhead.
“I knew what it would be after listening to everybody speak at the first meeting,” Markovitz said.
“People always ask me if the client decides what I’m going to paint, or if I decide. It’s always the client,” he joked. “They tell me what to paint and I explain to them why that’s not going to work and then do what I’m going to do.”
Now immortalized as part of the popular South Shore Line poster series, ArcelorMittal R&D has helped secure 658 U.S. patents, including for the means of producing continuously annealed martensitic sheet steel in 1968. It introduced dual-phase and martensitic steels into the marketplace in 1983, as well as Bake Hard products for exposed automotive panels in 1991.
Researchers there have developed multiple advanced high-strength steels to lightweight cars and applications, including for the Usibor door ring in the 2014 Acura MDX. Such developments have helped keep ArcelorMittal with automakers, who are some of its biggest customers but who have been flirting with alternative metals to reduce tailpipe emissions.
“At ArcelorMittal, we rely on innovation to propel us forward and to be the go-to steel provider. That’s what we’re here for,” Brett said. “I see innovations every day. It starts right here. They’re developing the innovations that keep us in business. Innovations are key to so much of what we do in the automotive sector.”
This year, ArcelorMittal has launched six new automotive steel grades and has more under development to help automakers meet fuel-efficiency standards.
An oversupply of steel by China has made research all the more vital in contemporary steelmaking, ArcelorMittal Executive President and Head of Strategy Brian Aranha said.
“With the oversupply flowing out of China, it’s commoditizing steel products,” he said. “We can compete on two dimensions: cost of production and how we innovate, how we differentiate ourselves.”
Researchers also have changed the way the steelmaker makes plate for oil tank cars and bridges. Just this year, it helped develop AccTech, an entirely new plate cooling system that’s being implemented at Port of Indiana-Burns Harbor.
“The innovation that takes place within the walls of the building affects how we work with our customers and is what sets us apart from our competition,” Brett said. “We looking forward to another 50 years of developing products that the world depends upon, as we transform ourselves and our business.