U.S. producers of cold-rolled motor
lamination (CRML) sheet continue to drive for greater market
share, but the market itself is shrinking due largely to the
migration of stamping companies out of the country and the
overall weakness of the U.S. housing market.
Estimates on the size of the market vary
widely. ArcelorMittal USA Inc., Chicago, pegs the U.S. market
at about 1 million tons a year, while U.S. Steel Corp. puts it
at 1 million to 1.5 million tons. These estimates include both
semi-processed and fully processed material, the market's two
general segments. However, others say the market is much
smaller these days, depleted by the number of stampers who have
moved operations out of the United States to the likes of
Mexico and China. They put the market for semi-processed
CRML-used in multiple motor applications by a variety of
industries and end-users-at closer to 600,000 tons a year.
Most major steelmakers in the United States
are capable of producing CRML, although some choose not to do
so when market conditions are poor.
AK Steel Corp., West Chester, Ohio, the only
U.S. manufacturer of fully processed CRML, said the current
market is mixed, with some strength on the industrial side
while demand for semi-processed product is weaker. The
semi-processed weakness is due to the product's fortunes being
closely tied to those of the U.S. housing market.
Demand for electrical devices is affected by
the general level of economic activity, particularly the
strength-or weakness-in housing and commercial construction.
Extreme weather-hurricanes, excessively hot summers and ice
storms-also play a role. The wild card for the market is energy
efficiency, both in the form of consumer demand and in
potential future legislation that mandates improved performance
by any number of electrical devices.
Electrical steels represent one of AK Steel's
more solid product lines, James L. Wainscott, chairman,
president and chief executive officer of AK Steel, said
recently, noting that markets for industrial applications using
higher-end electrical steels are strong in the United States
and abroad. "But there is some softness at the lower end of the
market. There is softness in the (U.S.) housing market and in
the area of distribution transformers. There are some
challenges to that market from imports as well. But our
overseas shipments of electrical steels will grow by 40
percent. We continue to grow that business."
ArcelorMittal calls CRML the material of
choice for most electrical device applications because it
provides the best combination
of magnetic performance for energy efficiency and best overall
CRML steel is produced in a fashion similar
to the processing operations associated with making cold-rolled
sheet, U.S. Steel said. "Chemistry additions, processing
variables and testing data are adjusted to provide a
semi-processed material that our customers can further process
to obtain a steel that will meet their required electromagnetic
properties," the Pittsburgh-based steelmaker added.
The processing of the material is steelmaking
to hot rolling to picking to cold reduction to annealing to
temper rolling. "CRML carbon levels should be low to ultra-low
for faster customer annealing," Kurt Poss, account manager of
sales and marketing at ArcelorMittal, said. Alloying with
elements like silicon and manganese is done for better magnetic
performance, and high temper mill elongations are employed for
better response in customer annealing.
"CRML is also different from plain (cold
rolled) in that it is sold in a semi-processed condition,
meaning that customers must provide a final anneal of the
stamped laminations to fully develop the magnetic properties,"
Poss said. "Customers must match the magnetic performance of
the steel with the specific energy efficiency requirements for
the particular device. For this reason, technical support from
the producer is a key component in the marketing of CRML
The material is usually manufactured in the
form of cold-rolled strip less than 1-millimeter thick. The
strip, called laminations when stacked together, forms the core
of transformers or the stator and rotor parts of electric
motors. Laminations might be cut to their finished shape by a
punch and die, or in smaller quantities might by cut by a
CRML is used in all types of electrical
devices, including sub-fractional, fractional, hermetic and
integral horsepower motors as well generators, ballasts and
transformers. The devices are used in numerous applications in
residential, commercial and industrial settings ballasts in
roadway and stadium lighting; motors for dishwashers, washers
and dryers, garbage disposals and range hoods; compressors and
fan motors in residential and commercial heating, ventilation
and air-conditioning (HVAC) applications; portable generators
for emergency power; and small motors in power tools.
Purchasers of the product are primarily large
producers of electrical devices, including A.O. Smith Corp.,
Milwaukee; Baldor Electric Co., Fort Smith, Ark; Emerson
Electric Co., St. Louis; and Regal Beloit Corp., Beloit, Wis.
Some companies also specialize in providing finished
laminations for original equipment manufacturers, the largest
of which is Tempel Steel Co., Chicago.
But the product is primarily sold to
manufacturers and independent stampers, U.S. Steel said. "Very
little is sold through service centers. A lot of the motors
produced from CRML go into HVAC and appliance applications.
Motors are feeling the drag of the current residential housing
downturn," the company said.