Many changes in the tool steel industry have taken place during the past few years. Bankruptcies, acquisitions and mergers have dominated the news surrounding many of the top tool steel producers and distributors. Many questions remain regarding the future of the tool steel industry.
There is no doubt that powder metal (PM) tool and high-speed steels have become a prominent product for many of these mills, especially in the tooling market. In today’s economy, factors such as complex geometry, work material and production efficiency have led to an increase in the use of PM grades for production in these demanding applications. These factors will continue to drive the market into the future.
Let’s take a look at some of the major players in the tool steel industry, particularly in the PM tool steel and high-speed steel markets.
Crucible has emerged from their 2009 bankruptcy, when their assets were purchased by JP Industries, LLC. They continue to produce their CPM grades of tool and high-speed steel in Syracuse, NY. Since Latrobe Steel Distribution has announced that they have ended their agreement with Crucible, Crucible is currently searching for a new distribution network for their CPM tool and high-speed steel grades.
Carpenter Technology has made some acquisitions during the past couple of years. It appears that Carpenter is gearing up to produce aerospace and energy-related products. One of their most important acquisitions is the purchase of Latrobe Specialty Metals, which provides Carpenter with the premium melt capacity that is needed to compete in the aerospace and energy-related markets. Carpenter also produces its own PM tool and high-speed steels.
Latrobe Specialty Metals has recently been purchased by Carpenter Technology. Latrobe’s steel mill offers the premium melt capacity that Carpenter requires for production of aerospace and energy-related products. This acquisition poses a few questions, “What is the future of Latrobe Steel Distribution?”, and “Will Carpenter distribute their our brand of PM tool steels?"
Zapp is a Germany-based tool steel company that distributes tool and high-speed steels throughout Europe and Asia. Zapp recently entered the US market distributing their own brand of PM tool and high –speed steels. Zapp has opened two locations in the US and distributes through strategic marketing arrangements with key distributors. Zapp Tooling Alloys concentrates their energies into the distribution of PM tool and high speed steels in the US.
Erasteel is a European-based steel company with manufacturing facilities in both France and Sweden and distribution in Chicago. Erasteel has just expanded its mill in Sweden to a capacity of 14,000 tons per year. This expansion allows Erasteel to expand its product range through the development of new PM steel grades. They use third generation PM technology in the production of their ASP brand of tool and high-speed steels. Erasteel is the world leader in the production of PM high-speed steel and with this expansion they appear set to lead the market in the future.
Bohler-Uddeholm , based in Austria, is the world leader in the production of tool steel. In the United States, they are distributing Uddeholm’s Vanadis and Bohler’s Microclean PM grades. There is an unconfirmed rumor that they are also in the process of expanding their mill. They appear poised to continue as a leader in the future of tool steel.
In summary, the tool steel industry is determined to remain interesting, at the least. The leading indicators point to strong growth in the market. Capacities of the mills are on the rise and the number of grades to choose from has never been greater. The choice of grades has doubled in the past few years and with the number of mills entering the market, the range of grades will increase. Inventory levels should continue to grow during the upcoming years. Now is the time to investigate the options available to you. Check with you tool steel provider today.