Colorado School of Mines Boosts LIFT with New Ways to Process SteelJuly 6, 2016
In 2003, a steel industry veteran and university professor named John Speer began working with his students to develop a novel process called “quenching and partitioning,” or Q&P, to produce steel that is both stronger and more formable than its conventional counterparts. Today that process is revolutionizing the way high-strength steel is produced, with products already on the market in China and with U.S. companies modifying production lines to employ Q&P. This industry-altering process was invented at a small university that has made a large impression in the areas of materials, energy, the environment and earth sciences: the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, Colorado.
“Mines” was founded in 1874, two years before Colorado became a state. A public university dedicated to engineering and applied sciences, the school’s admission standards are among the highest of any U.S. public university. And while most universities receive about 5 percent of their total research funding from industry, the figure for Mines has been 35 to 50 percent over the past 20 years, reflecting its strong university-industry partnerships.
One of its most important efforts has been the Advanced Steel Processing and Products Research Center (ASPPRC), founded in 1984 by now university emeritus professors George Krauss and David Matlock. Matlock, the LIFT pillar leader for thermomechanical processing, was director of the ASPPRC for 20 years, a position that today is held by Speer.
The center, in the Department of Metallurgical and Materials Engineering, is recognized as one of the most successful institutes of its type in the world, with sponsorships from automotive companies, heavy-equipment manufacturers, steel companies and their suppliers. “It’s truly a global program mirroring the globalization of the steel industry,” Matlock says.
The Colorado School of Mines and its ASPPRC play a crucial role in LIFT’s program. Whereas LIFT was conceived as an initiative focusing on the
processing of nontraditional metals—primarily aluminum, magnesium and titanium—the organization quickly realized that advanced high-strength
steel should be incorporated as a critical aspect of LIFT’s focus. LIFT leadership subsequently contacted Matlock at Mines to participate in the technical management team.
“We need to have these different materials focused within LIFT,” Matlock notes, “because at end of day the right material to use is the right material for the application that people can afford, and steel offers many affordable opportunities.”
Matlock observes that Mines plays an important part in developing talent within the metallurgical field. “The main product of Mines is people,” he says, “We have produced a lot of engineers who now hold positions in steel producing and have shown them that ferrous metallurgy is really a great career path.”
In this and other arenas, Mines offers the advantages of a world-class research institution with a size that allows for personal attention and extensive student involvement in creating tomorrow’s materials and processes.