Bala Krishnan and his team were designing “apps” long before you even had a smartphone. As director of automotive product applications in ArcelorMittal’s Global R&D group, Krishnan leads the effort to design new, innovative “apps,” or applications, for steel in the cars and trucks of the future.
“We work in two parallel paths. We help customers find new automotive applications using the innovative, next-generation steel products we’ve developed to be better than ever. And simultaneously, we help customers solve new challenges they face, developing new products that will meet their needs for future applications,” Krishnan explains.
“Our mission is to look into the future, 10 years or more, and fit the right applications for steel that our auto customers will need. It’s because we know our customers so well and have such extraordinary technical expertise that we can successfully project into the future.”
Much like how the smartphones fundamentally changed how we communicate and access information, Krishnan believes the mobility sector is on the brink of a similar transformation. As the CEO of General Motors Mary Barra notably predicted, the automotive industry is likely to change more in the next five to 10 years than it did in the last 50 years.
“There is a massive shift coming. We will see self-driving, or autonomous, vehicles; electric cars; connected vehicles; ride sharing. We will also see new companies entering the market and competing with the traditional automakers, startups and entrepreneurs with new and different business models,” Krishnan says.
“Steel has an important role to play, but we must be able to move as fast as the changes are happening.”
Krishnan believes ArcelorMittal is ready. It’s no surprise, he says, that if an automaker has a unique problem, ArcelorMittal is the supplier they turn to.
“It would be easy to credit our technical innovations, which are remarkable and industry-leading. But the innovation that really matters is related to people and relationships.”
You can see this in the concept of co-engineering solutions, where ArcelorMittal doesn’t simply sell a product to the customer.
“We actually work together with the customer, each bringing our unique strengths, to develop and help design exactly to their requirements with steel,” Krishnan said. “Our approach is innovative because it requires incredible creativity, adaptability, communication and time management. For us to be successful, our customers must feel comfortable sharing their futures with us. Ours is a model based on people, trust and collaboration. And because it is organically grown out of our value system, it is extremely hard to replicate by others.”
Ever focused on the future, Krishnan is energized. “I think back to when I started in the steel industry almost 32 years ago, and people asked me why I would join a ‘sunset’ industry. But they were wrong.
We have been innovating all along, and ArcelorMittal’s automotive product application team is helping to ensure we will always be a ‘sunrise’ company, always going in the right direction at a fast pace.”