150. Press hardening plant delivered

Mats Lindman, ein Vertriebsleiter von AP&T, hat den größten Teil der erfolgreichen Entwicklung des Unternehmens im Bereich des Presshärtens miterlebt. © AP&T

AP&T has reached a new milestone. In October 2022, the Swedes were awarded the contract for the 150. press hardening line, thus consolidating its position as the world’s leading supplier of press hardening lines for the automotive industry. The customer is Liuzhou Saike, a subsidiary of SAIC Motor, one of China’s largest automobile manufacturers.

When AP&T decided to invest in press hardening twenty years ago, there was no telling how far it would go. Today, the company is one of the most important suppliers of production equipment for the manufacture of press-hardened components and counts manufacturers and suppliers of the automotive industry from all over the world among its customers. How did it come about?

Plant for the Ford Mustang gave the impetus

“In 2002, we were approached to supply a press and some linear robots for a line to be used in the USA for press hardening fender parts for the Ford Mustang. The collaboration was successful and led to the decision to expand our process expertise. We realized that the area had great potential,” says Mats Lindman, a sales manager at AP&T who has seen most of the company’s successful development in press hardening.

In 2004, the company completed its first major press hardening deal under the AP&T name, which involved supplying Benteler Automotive in the USA with three production lines. The following year, Benteler ordered another production line, this time for its plant in Changchun, China.

First plant in China

“It was our first delivery of a press hardening line to China, which would become our largest single market for this type of equipment after only a few years. That was 18 years ago, but the plant installed in 2005 is still in full operation!”
The foundation for the company’s continued success in China was laid when Bao Steel, the world’s third largest sheet metal manufacturer, contacted AP&T in 2006. Mats Lindman also played an important role in this customer relationship.

“The company wanted to explore the possibilities of press hardening in more detail. For demonstration purposes and to test various components for Bao Steel, we set up a complete production line in our plant. This eventually led to several orders for equipment in China,” he says.

The breakthrough – five plants for Fiat

At this time, demand for AP&T’s press hardening solutions was also increasing in Europe and the USA. The big breakthrough came when Fiat ordered five complete production lines for its plant in Cassino, Italy, in 2008.
This kicked off global business with original equipment manufacturers and suppliers of automotive parts and components, making the automotive industry one of AP&T’s largest customer categories.

“Components manufactured with press hardening equipment from AP&T are currently installed by most major automotive manufacturers. In addition to the original equipment manufacturers already mentioned, the list includes Volkswagen, Volvo and Great Wall Motors, with whom we either have direct relationships or have had relationships over the years. Many initial deals led to others,” says Lindman.

150 production lines ordered

The 100. Press hardening system from AP&T was installed in spring 2018 at MA Polska’s plant in Tychy in southern Poland. And in the summer, the Liuzhou Saike plant in Liuzhou, China, will celebrate the 150th anniversary of its founding. Plant put into operation. The components manufactured here are installed in SMGW’s car models, including the best-selling electric vehicle in China, the Hongguang MINI EV.

In the 20 years since AP&T’s first steps toward press hardening, the technology has continued to evolve and refine.

Technical development that pushes the boundaries

“With systems for advanced process control, innovations such as the TemperBox, the Multi Layer Furnace and our servo-hydraulic press, we have pushed the boundaries of what is possible. The technology has opened up entirely new possibilities for the automotive industry to effectively design and manufacture components with the desired properties at a higher and more consistent level of quality. This, in turn, has led to cars that are safer, lighter, and have less climate and environmental impact.”

Other success factors for AP&T, according to Mats Lindman, are the perception of the offering, customer relationships and the way the company does business. This approach falls under the One Responsible Partner label.

A holistic solution that works end-to-end

“As an experienced competence partner, we not only supply high-quality machines, but also take responsibility for a turnkey, needs-based total solution with a long service life.”

As technology has continuously evolved over the years, so has AP&T’s service offering. In addition to the current range of service, maintenance, repairs, spare parts and training, the company also offers optimization and upgrading of existing machines, which is often a very profitable measure for customers. AP&T also offers various forms of availability agreements tailored to each customer.
“I believe that in the future, significantly more customers will opt for contract-based solutions, which means that we will take on a broader, longer-term responsibility. For example, we already have a performance-based agreement where the customer pays a certain amount per press cycle instead of buying the equipment in the traditional way. Every new deal is the start of a journey, and our goal is to make that journey as easy, profitable, safe and hassle-free as possible for every customer.”

So what does the future of press hardening look like?

“During the pandemic, demand flattened out for a while, but now the arrows are pointing up again, not only for upgrades of existing machines, but also for new sales. So yes, press hardening definitely has a future,” says Lindman.