Programme nominated for the Innovation of the Year Steelie Award 2023

For the first time, tailormade functional steel (tfs) technology offers the possibility of ‘digitising’ steel as a material and thus the possibility of recording data directly on the steel surface and forwarding it in real-time. Thus, steel becomes a ‘smart product’, completely opening up new application opportunities and market fields. Steel, the material, becomes part of the Internet of Things.

The tfs product is a hot-dip galvanised, organic-coated steel with conductor tracks embedded in the coating layer. These printed conductive structures on steel surfaces were not state-of-the-art before this initiative. This made it possible for voestalpine to apply for several patents in this field. Printed conductive structures existed at that time in the field of plastic films or wood, but not on steel surfaces. Screen printing technology was used to print designs, i.e. different colours, but no functional layers of silver.

This enabled voestalpine to move from purely optical effects to active functional layers. Conductive structures are printed on the hot-dip galvanised steel strip surface, insulation layers and a top coating complete the layer structure. In combination with a power source and appropriate contacting, tfs can take on a variety of functions.

One possible functionality of the integrated conductive tracks is resistance heating, both in the low-voltage range and with 230 V.

Due to surface temperatures of up to 100°C, tfs also reaches the infrared range, i.e. a pleasant radiant heat. In addition, there is a wide range of possible applications in preventing condensation and ice formation at ambient temperatures down to -40°C (in refrigerators).

Warming shelves for food are already successfully in use. Detection of the load status of shelves or lockers. This can be used, for example, to avoid a loss of turnover due to “out-of-stock” situations in retail or to increase the ‘rotation’ of parcel and locker systems. The integrated sensor technology turns a surface of any size into a control element. The capacitive sensors react to every touch and control, for example, the lighting or open doors. Another tfs functionality is ‘Structural Health/Condition Monitoring’. This means the detection of changes or damage to structures, e.g., burglary detection and the detection of vandalism by triggering an alarm.

tfs is not a ready-made product, but a technology that can be optimally applied to different areas of application. The conductor paths are designed individually for the customer and adapted to the functional requirements.