The 30-year R&D journey of leading alloy-coated steel company

July 17, 2023 | 19:04
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NS BlueScope Vietnam has spent 30 years asserting a presence in the market, with pioneering research and development (R&D) at the forefront of its success.

In Vietnam, many large enterprises welcome the wave of newly opening research centres, as they understand that R&D is a necessary aspect of business survival. One of the pioneers of the alloy-coated steel industry, NS BlueScope Vietnam, fully embraces this belief. The company's vice president, Dang Thanh Hung, spoke with VIR's Thanh Van about the Australia-based brand's journey as a leader in alloy-coated steel technology.

The 30-year R&D journey of leading alloy-coated steel company
Dang Thanh Hung, vice president of NS BlueScope Vietnam

When did BlueScope's begin to invest so heavily into R&D, and what motivated the company to focus on it at that time?

This is a very interesting question, bringing us back to the early days when BlueScope first set foot in Vietnam in 1993.

As you know, at that time, Vietnam was only just starting to open up with many industries still in the early stages of development and the alloy-coated steel industry was no different. Our market penetration enabled the industry to have access to the two-phase, aluminium and zinc-coated technology, which quickly became the new industry standard.

At that time, we seriously began to consider what direction we would take in such a young market.

Ultimately, though, we chose what we are best at – pioneering technological innovation in the alloy-coated steel industry.

We have the unique advantage of more than a century of experience in building and developing alloy-coated steel technology globally. This was of great value in what was a burgeoning domestic market at that time.

That's how we started in R&D, in the belief that it would not only help the company to make a breakthrough in the industry, but also strengthen our competitiveness and promote growth. We hope to join the group of leading cranes in developing construction technology, creating new industry standards as the whole country innovates.

What is your perspective on businesses reluctant to invest in R&D due to the expense?

As a business, we obviously need to weigh and measure opportunities, costs and profits. But with R&D, we need to weigh it in the long term. Customers have higher and higher expectations for the quality of products and services, and R&D is indispensable to improving quality and is key to increasing competitiveness. So, the story of R&D is not about cost any more, but about "to be or not to be."

30 years of steel “giant” pioneering in pre-painted steel R&D with a long-term vision
R&D has been the backbone of NS BlueScope Vietnam's activities since its early days.

People from Generation X, like me, have experienced this. We witnessed the rise and fall of many giant empires. We are the people who had childhoods under red-tiled roofs and large dormitories, and matured with high-rise buildings close together, covered with corrugated iron or other modern materials.

Therefore, in business and the construction industry in particular, firms are forced to keep pace with the times. If we move slowly, we will be left behind, and then fall into oblivion. R&D is a prerequisite for us to keep pace.

Developing a new technology certainly takes a lot of time and effort. Meanwhile, the business environment and customer needs are constantly changing. How has BlueScope consistently managed to be at the cutting edge of new technology and raise the industry standard over the past three decades?

When it comes to R&D, we talk about being at the forefront and innovation. Therefore, we must develop technology ahead of time and set new industry trends. That's how BlueScope uses R&D as a competitive edge.

When we first entered the market, Vietnam’s alloy-coated steel industry mainly used just zinc steel, which is susceptible to corrosion, rust, and has a short lifespan. BlueScope paved the way to lead the industry to the next level by introducing two-phase, aluminium and zinc-coated technology in 2005.

However, our goal is to provide buildings with the most durability against rust, especially in polluted and highly corrosive environments, by continuing to innovate. Therefore, in 2019, we once again introduced a breakthrough with our four-phase, alloy-coated technology, exclusive to BlueScope.

With the growing wave of industrial plants in Vietnam, we are delighted that investors are increasingly taking a long-term perspective on choosing sustainable materials. If you look across the three regions of the country, it is not difficult to name large projects using our four-phase alloy-coated steel, such as the Long Son oil refinery and the Goertek electronics factory in Bac Ninh.

30 years of steel “giant” pioneering in pre-painted steel R&D with a long-term vision
Long Son oil refinery (left) located close to the sea and Goertek electronics factory (right) both use BlueScope alloy-coated steel

We started conducting R&D into this technology more than 20 years ago, with a total investment of more than 100 million AUD (~$68 million). Tens of thousands of profile panels have undergone Q-Fog cyclic testing and salt spray testing in laboratories and outdoor tested in different exposure sites in Australia and around the world.

Additionally, test huts and building applications have been tested under real-world conditions and in severe marine environments to verify the technology's quality.

The four-phase alloy-coated technology was born in this context and overcame the disadvantages of two-phase coated technology. We apply four-phase technology to all alloy-coated steel product lines, including Inok technology for the residential segment and Activate technology for the industrial segment.

It is our long-term vision and determination to consistently innovate that remains unwavering against all market changes and is the key to helping us stay firm in our strategy.

Even with the current trend of green construction, we are at the forefront as well. We have launched technologies to support LEED certified investors. Our Thermatech technology helps to reduce the absorption of heat from the Sun, thereby reducing the surface temperature of alloy-coated steel.

Can you share a little about BlueScope's achievements and expectations for the future?

We are the first and only alloy-coated steel manufacturer in Vietnam to be granted a Green Label certificate by the Singapore Green Building Council for all product lines in the residential and project segments. We are looking forward to winning the global Responsible Steel certificate for a responsible and sustainable alloy-coated steel producer by the end of this year - on the occasion of our 30th anniversary in Vietnam.

The results we have seen in Vietnam could not have been achieved without R&D. Maintaining the fire that keeps our enthusiasm for R&D burn is our long-term vision, steadfast to all changes of times. We believe that this fire will help us maintain our position as a top R&D brand in Vietnam's alloy-coated steel industry.

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