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From Value One, Spring 2017 No. 56  

Wheels shaped by a wheel mill
 

Japan’s Only Train Wheel Manufacturer Has a Century-long History

The Sumitomo Zaibatsu built up a copper smelting business during the Edo Period (1603–1868). In 1901, the zaibatsu set up the Sumitomo Steel Works (now Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corporation’s Osaka Steel Works), diversifying into the manufacture of cast steel products, including parts for railways and ships.

The company began full-scale manufacturing of railway wheels in 1920, and since then has satisfied virtually all domestic demand for railway wheels and axles, including those for the Shinkansen, subways and streetcar lines. These products are acclaimed for being the world’s highest quality, and many are exported to foreign clients, including German high-speed railways. Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corporation (NSSMC) now holds around a ten percent share of the world market, including the contributions of American company Standard Steel, LLC, which NSSMC acquired.

Shinkansen trains run at over 300 kilometers per hour. Their wheels must be absolutely reliable to ensure the safety and comfort of passengers. NSSMC’s integrated steelmaking technology has made it possible to manufacture the world’s highest quality wheels, which are very low in impurities. This process starts with the blast furnace.

On the steelworks’ wheel rolling line, there are only three steps between the red-hot columnar billets—heated to well over 1,000ºC—and the final product. As the saying goes, we must strike while the iron is hot. First, a 9,000-tonne press turns the columnar billets into a cushion shape and instantaneously forges it into a wheel shape. The next step is rolling by a wheel mill, followed by a rotary forging machine (SIRD700)—which has no equal anywhere in the world—shaping them into high-precision wheels.

A government-run steel mill (today’s Yawata Steel Works) produced Japan’s first train rails, and still holds an overwhelming share in the Japanese market. The birth of NSSMC brought rails and wheels—the two indispensable items for train service—into the lines of business of the same manufacturer. “In the technical aspect as well, we can expect a significant synergetic effect,” says Nobutaka Kishine of the railway wheel and axle manufacturing plant.

NSSMC’s Osaka Steel Works and its predecessors have supplied railways in Japan and the rest of the world for around a century. In newly emerging economies such as India, high-speed railway projects are coming up one after another, keeping the worldwide demand for the world’s best rail wheels high. Our long tradition and unceasing technological innovation will continue to underlie the production of safe and reliable rail wheels.



A wheel and an axle are put together





The railway wheel and axle manufacturing plant during World War II




(Affiliations and other personal descriptions are as of February 2015)



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