What a difference a year makes. Closing out our 2022 chapter brings with it a look back at what can only be considered a very interesting year to say the least. At this time last year, the Manufacturing sector was navigating through continued Supply Chain headwinds with respect to material availability and costs, labor availability, and significant challenges in the logistics aspect of the overall manufacturing process. These factors were global in nature and most certainly had a major effect on most domestic manufacturers in some manner.
By 4Q 2021, published Steel indices saw unprecedented increases of triple digits, relative to what had previously been considered relatively stable levels. The benchmark Indices in late 2021 had reached levels more than 2X higher than the same period 2020 and 3x higher than the same period in the “distant past” of 2019. Allocation had become the priority in 4Q 2021, with manufacturers focused on aligning consistent and reliable supply channels, even despite the severe inflationary costs that were in place.
As to global uncertainty, the war in Ukraine was still just on the horizon. Safe to say that no one could have predicted the ultimate path, longevity, and effect that this conflict would have on the overall global Manufacturing economy. And let us not discount the lingering Covid effects that would have a lasting influence on both a domestic and a global scale. All of these factors most certainly drove modified approaches to how the manufacturing world would forge their paths in 2022.
From a labor availability perspective, little improvement was seen throughout most of 2022, with effective staffing likely at the forefront of most strategic and tactical planning. This reality drove significant advances in the pursuit and implementation of automation and robotics across the specter of Manufacturing. At Sko-Die, automation has always been a facet of our continuous improvement strategy. But the circumstances in 2022 certainly accelerated our implementation of these opportunities for improvement. Innovation is often spawned by challenges; so, advances in automation have been a critical tool that most manufacturers have embraced and pursued considering the evolving staffing landscape. These advances almost always arrive with some immediate term challenges and implementation hurdles; however, they are typically offset by the ultimate longer-term benefit gains in efficiency and reliability that are achieved through automation.
The steel supply landscape continues to evolve as well. Standard steel products have come well off their 2022 highs but remain elevated relative to historic levels seen in 2019 and prior. In the specialty alloy space, the demands continue to evolve and consume the attention of the producing mills. The general landscape of Electrical Steels has been traditionally split into two general categories; Grain Oriented and Non-Oriented. These traditional classifications have been joined by a new class of “EV Steel.”
There in an ongoing evolution of an entirely new class of Electrical Steel driven primarily by the performance requirements of the by the Electric Vehicle (EV) market. The EV market and related infrastructure support drives a shift in production capacity by the Electrical Steel mills. The demands of these high efficiency motors and devices being developed and produced for the EV market drives the need for thinner electrical steels that deliver increased efficiency and performance. The EV Steels continue to evolve and represent a larger portion of the developmental and production attention of the producing mills, both domestically and globally. As an example, Cleveland Cliffs has recently announced the release of their “Motor-Max” class of Electrical Steel, developed specifically for high frequency Motors and Generators.
Whether we are taking about Hybrid Electric or full Electric Vehicle technology, efficiency and performance are the driving forces behind the demands of the EV market. The increased performance demands not only affect the design of the motors that power these vehicle classes but also is critical to the power generation and distribution infrastructure supporting the expanding universe of electrified vehicles. No matter what the saturation trajectory becomes for the EV market, the Power Grid is currently incapable of supporting the increased electric power demands that this market drives. So beyond addressing our aging grid, we must also significantly expand the total universe of available electric power. Higher efficiency Grain Oriented, Non-Oriented and EV steels are at the core of that strategy and a critical factor woven into to the overall EV market strategy. This is creating an exciting “new old technology” that we are proud to be a part of supporting.
As we move forward into our 76th year in business, our strategy remains focused on our continued investments required to meet the challenges of a new day. We are proud of the investments made in our people, in our facility, in our supply relationships and the commitment to our mission that our Sko-Die ownership and team has made. We wish everyone a very Safe, Healthy and Happy Holiday Season. We are eager to forge ahead with you in 2023 and look forward to successes that we can achieve together.
At Sko-Die we remain…