A technician inspects the surface of a stainless steel piece at a factory of Shanxi-based Taiyuan Iron and Steel (Group) Co, which is staking its future on its research and development efforts. [Photo by Zhagn Xuanyu for China Daily]

Taiyuan Iron and Steel Group (TISCO), a leading stainless steelmaker, has achieved a major technological breakthrough by making high-purity, large-size seamless circular forgings for the nuclear power unit in Fujian.

Li Zhibin, who looks after the military nuclear power department of TISCO, said the forgings are made from over 50 components and require materials with high purity and consistency. TISCO is currently the only company in the world that is capable of making such products, said Li.

According to the company, the stainless steel forging will be used as the supporting ring for the core components in the pilot reactor of the fourth-generation nuclear power unit in Xiapu county, Ningde city, Fujian province. The neutron reactor in the plant has a designated capacity of 60 million kilowatts.

The giant forging ring can support a weight of 7,000 metric tons and temperatures of 650 for 40 years.

Making stainless steel of exceptionally high purity is just one of the numerous achievements made by the company's research and development team in the last few years. It has also developed products like duplex stainless steel rebars for the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge project, mass-produced ballpoint pen tips and an extremely thin stainless steel sheet called "hand tear steel".

Wang Tianxiang, general manager of Shanxi Taigang Stainless Steel Precision Strip Co Ltd, a subsidiary of TISCO, said in the past only a few countries such as Germany and Japan could produce thin steel sheets, in a narrow shape and width of 350 mm to 400mm. However, the product, that TISCO developed after over 700 failed attempts, was just 0.02mm thick - equivalent to one fourth of a piece of standard A4 paper, but also 600 mm wide, the world's first such product. Such "hand tear steel" can be applied in a wide range of areas such as aviation, new energy and flexible foldable screen, said Wang.

Currently, TISCO makes 18 types of specialty steel that are among the market leaders and 26 products where they are the dominant players. It has also successfully developed over 40 kinds of products that have replaced the imported ones. At present 85 percent of the products TISCO manufactures are high-end products, and it is the world's biggest stainless-steel exporter.

The steel maker has also been focusing on diversifying its products, spanning from high performance steel to carbon materials.

Shanxi Gangke Carbon Material, a subsidiary of TISCO, was set up to conduct research and development on high-end carbon fiber, an extremely strong, light in weight and corrosion resistant material that is usually called "black gold".

"High-quality development means to do things that others cannot do or cannot do well and to use specialized products to satisfy the demand, create the need and lead the market," said Gao Xiangming, president of TISCO. "In order to do that, innovation is the core, talent is the base and the mechanism is the key," he added.

From ballpoint pen tip steel, "hand tear steel" to carbon material, high quality products have boosted TISCO's annual profit from 1.29 billion yuan ($192 million) in 2016 to 4.3 billion yuan in 2017 and to top 5.3 billion yuan in 2018.

"After more than 85 years of development, TISCO has grown into a global leader in the stainless-steel industry, effectively driving the overall sustainable development of China's steel industry, which is the result of independent innovation," said Lu Yaohua, executive vice-chairman of the China Federation of Industrial Economics, during a recent visit to TISCO.