Caixin
BUSINESS & TECH

China Steelmaker Finally Puts the Ball in Ballpoint Pen

By Coco Feng
China, the world’s leading maker of ballpoint pens, has finally mastered the craft of making the tiny balls that are the pens’ central component. Photo: IC
China, the world’s leading maker of ballpoint pens, has finally mastered the craft of making the tiny balls that are the pens’ central component. Photo: IC

(Beijing) — China may be the world’s largest maker of ballpoint pens, but it has not been able to master the craft of making the tiny ball-holding sockets that are a key component in one of the world’s most popular writing tools — at least until now.

After a five-year effort, spurred by comments from China’s premier, a northern Chinese steelmaker has finally joined a small but elite group of global companies that can make the steel for the sockets that look simple but require super-high-tech precision.

State-owned steel maker Taiyuan Iron & Steel (Group) Co. Ltd., based in Shanxi province, said that it has cleared the technical barriers to the complex production process, according to a local TV report.

It is now supplying the specialized sockets to pen maker Beifa Group, which is still testing the product, the Shanxi TV station reported.

Pen tips are made of two parts — a small metal ball which is easy to make and a stainless steel socket measuring up to 0.23 cm across to hold the ball.

Chinese stationery manufacturers make around 38 billion ballpoint pens each year, making the nation the world’s largest producer. But they need to import more than 1,000 tons of steel for sockets, largely from Japan and Switzerland, which is hard to produce due to the fineness and density of the material.

The issue was spotlighted a year ago when Premier Li Keqiang raised a question at a steel industry forum of why China, one of the world’s largest steelmakers, had to import material for small pen tips.

Last month, another steel maker, Beijing-based Shougang Group, announced it also managed to produce the special steel for pen tips.

But Taiyuan Iron & Steel’s sockets are the first to win approval by the quality authority, the company announced on Monday through the local government-held media Taiyuan Daily.

Following the breakthrough, Chinese pen makers may no longer need to import their sockets in just a year or two, said Xu Anjun, professor at the School of Metallurgical and Ecological Engineering of the University of Science and Technology Beijing.

 

Fun facts:

–China turns out 38 billion ballpoint pens each year.

–Domestic stationery makers have to spend $15 million every year to import about 1,000 tons of the special stainless steel sockets for pen tips.

–China is set to cut excess capacity of its steel sector by 100 million to 150 million tons by 2021.

 

Contact reporter Coco Feng (renkefeng@caixin.com)

Share this article
Open WeChat and scan the QR code
Copyright ©2017 Caixin Global Limited. All Rights Reserved.