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Steel industry

Dongkuk Steel wows industry with color steel plates, earnings surprise

Jan 13, 2021 (Gmt+09:00)

Dongkuk Steel employees inspect color steel plates at the Busan plant.

GAMMANDONG, BUSAN -- The global steel industry underwent an unprecedented slump in 2020, with demand from the shipbuilding and automobile industries plummeting, alongside surging iron ore prices. Even the world's leading steelmakers, including ArcelorMittal, Nippon Steel and South Korean giant POSCO, couldn't escape from posting losses.

But Dongkuk Steel Mill Co. has dazzled the market with a positive earnings surprise. The company reported an annual operating profit of 302.9 billion won ($276.3 million) for 2020, likely an 84% increase from the previous year.

The Korean steelmaker's remarkable performance is credited to its blooming color steel plate business, products of which have higher margins than general steel products.

The COVID-19 outbreak ushered in the notion of homeconomy, in which increased time spent at home has prompted consumers to invest more in home appliances, such as TVs, refrigerators and washing machines, driving up color steel plate prices.

COLOR STEEL PLATES: CREAM OF CROP

Enormous rollers were in full operation printing out flower-patterned steel plates at the Dongkuk Steel plant in Gammandong, Busan on Jan. 13. The factory resembled one large printer as thick steel plates injected into the roller produced colorful sheets with patterns and prints etched on them.

Meanwhile, the dock next to the plant buzzed with activity as workers loaded and unloaded coil steels. It was just another typical, busy day at the Gammandong plant.

“We are almost two weeks behind in orders, despite our entire production line being in full operation," said Jang Nae-yong, the head of appsteel production at Dongkuk Steel.

Dongkuk Steel Busan plant manager Joo Yong-joon shows steel plate etched with Van Gogh's The Starry Night.


Color steel plates are made using special paint. They offer a wide spectrum of patterns and textures, such as marble and wood finishes, making them a popular choice for interior and exterior materials in construction and premium home appliances.

The Busan factory houses a color steel plate showroom displaying dozens of products that are hard to identify as steel based on appearance alone. The finish successfully recreates the texture of wood grain, the smoothness of marble and the roughness of granite.

Samples of Dongkuk Steel's color plates


Dongkuk Steel is at the forefront of the color steel plate industry, and it plans to hold on to its leading position. During a shareholders' meeting in March last year, Chang Sae-wook, the vice chairman of Dongkuk Steel, said the company would boost its profitability by widening the gap with other players in the color steel plate industry, exhibiting full confidence in its ability to compete with high quality.

Chang’s confidence is supported by the company’s impressive client list, which includes Samsung Electronics, LG Electronics, Mitsubishi, Whirlpool and Bosch.

The company's color steel plates have been used for IKEA’s symbolic yellow and blue exterior materials and Starbucks’ widely recognized green signboard. Also included in the company's client portfolio are Seoul Gocheok Sky Dome, Seoul N Tower, Gwanghwamun D Tower and KTX Gwangmyeong Station.

Ganghwamun D Tower used Dongkuk Steel's color steel plates for its exterior.


GLOBAL COLOR STEEL PLATE MARKET TO REACH $30 BILLION IN 2024

According to market research firm Global Info Research, the global color steel plate market is expected to climb from 24 trillion won in 2019 to 33 trillion won ($30.1 billion) in 2024.

The growing market has fueled competition among domestic market players. Currently, Dongkuk Steel is in the lead with a 30% market share, followed by KG Dongbu Steel (22%), POSCO Coated & Color Steel (20%), SeAH Coated Metal (10%) and Hyundai Steel (8%).

“Chinese steel companies and industry latecomers are challenging us by making low-priced color steel products, but there is still a sizable gap in terms of portfolio diversity and quality,” said Joo Yong-joon, the plant manager of Dongkuk Steel's Busan plant.

The plant runs a dustproof system in production lines that carry out film coating and printing to ensure fine quality. The system helps produce a smooth and uniform surface for the steel sheets.

Joo explained that Japanese companies, reputed to be particular about quality, consulted Dongkuk Steel about product design and color, and to place pre-orders.


FOCUS ON DESIGN TO EXPAND DISTRIBUTION NETWORK

The company has also ramped up efforts in the design area, breaking away from the steel industry's conventional business to business (B2B) sales method and instead adopting a business to designer (B2D) strategy to directly communicate with construction designers and expand the distribution network.

Dongkuk Steel was the industry’s first company to set up an exclusive team of six designers, alongside adding construction experts to the sales team.


Dongkuk Steel's color steel plates are used in furniture design.

Meanwhile, the company has invested 25 billion won to build an additional production line for color steel plates with an annual production capacity of 100,000 tons.

The plant is set to begin operations at the end of this year, which will raise Dongkuk Steel's annual production capacity from 750,000 tons to 850,000 tons, becoming the world’s largest single production line for color steel plates.

“We are making efforts to meet the growing demand for high-quality materials in the global home appliance and construction materials markets,” said Joo.


Write to Man-su Choe at bepop@hankyung.com

Danbee Lee edited this article.

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