When clean is what you need, stainless steel outshines most
other metals, with its hygienic characteristics making it an
ideal choice for extensive use in commercial food manufacturing
plants. But a closer look shows competition could be emerging
"Whether it's soft drinks or soy products or corn
products-anywhere you need hygiene-stainless is used because
stainless cleans so well," Dan Greenfield, director of investor
relations and corporate communications at Allegheny Technology
Inc. (ATI), Pittsburgh, said.
Traditionally, stainless types 304 and 316 go into the
cooking vats, mixers and ovens in plants across North America
that process food. Producers haven't heard of other materials
taking market share from stainless, but the customary types are
being challenged by a newer, but still stainless, material lean
duplex grade 2101 produced by Outokumpu Stainless Inc.,
"We have seen some usage changeover and we've seen a lot of
interest, and we're encouraged that we'll see pretty fair
growth in the use of lean duplex in the future," said Chuck
Turack, Outokumpu Stainless' vice president and general manager
of group sales and marketing for North America. "But as in any
new alloy in an application, acceptance is a slow process."
The 2101 product isn't necessarily less expensive than 304,
but it is competitively priced, Turack said. "The significant
opportunity for 2101 is its properties of high strength and
corrosion resistance. You can use a thinner material and have
weight savings in the equipment but with the same strength.
That's where the cost savings comes in."
Paul Sedivy, marketing director of high-purity tubing at
RathGibson Inc., Lincolnshire, Ill., which makes stainless
tubulars, said there are a couple of newer alloys that food
processing machinery design companies are starting to take a
look at, including ATI's AL-6XN.
"As we continue to try to push the marketplace to think
about alternative alloys, people are resistant to change," he
said. "They all love the idea that there's a better alloy and
that you don't need to replace the line every six to 12
However, alloys other than Type 304 can be far more
expensive, which makes companies hesitate on substitution,
Sedivy said. "They have to look for the tradeoff and do a
cost-benefit analysis before they're willing to make the
Universal Stainless & Alloy Products Inc., Bridgeville,
Pa., makes tool steel plate products that also are used in
Christopher M. Zimmer, Universal's vice president of sales
and marketing, said the company offers more than a dozen grades
of tool steels, the use of which varies depending on the
application. "It goes into cutting equipment, pulverizing
equipment, all different forms of processing," he said. "The
nature of the product is (that) it is very hard and suits
cutting device applications requiring high strength."
Assessing the stainless and specialty steel requirements of
companies making food-processing machinery is a tough call
Food processing is a big part of the business for stainless
steel materials, Turack said, adding that he believes this will
continue to be the case. "We rely heavily on that segment as a
driver in the consumption of stainless steel," he said. "But
where it's going right now is anyone's guess. We have
unprecedented things happening."
To help plan, producers keep in touch with service centers
and machinery manufacturers as well as keeping an eye on the
food manufacturing companies themselves.
Zimmer said there could be near-term slowdowns in capital
investment at food-processing companies. "If there's a piece of
equipment scheduled to be replaced at a three-year life period,
maybe they get three and a half years out of it instead," he
said. "There will be a bit of a pause."
Turack is expecting long-term growth in the market. "Because
of the growing worldwide population, there will be an expansion
in the need for food-processing equipment," he said. "With the
high quality of North American food-processing equipment, those
companies should see export opportunities."
Food equipment generally is a steady business, Greenfield
said. "It hits bumps when something new comes along-a new type
of product or process-but it's one business that seems to just
continue to go on. People need food."
Another factor keeping the food-processing equipment market
healthy is the finite lifespan of food processing machinery and
cutting tools, Zimmer said. "Operators need to regularly
replace a lot of this equipment and tooling, so manufacturers
have a bit of protection in that respect." MARIA