Smart manufacturing does not just mean having a steel-producing smart factory. It is a significant transformation in the way we source raw materials, manufacture, and market our products through horizontal and vertical supply chain integration - and it is profoundly customer-focused.
This change is not a one-step process as there are obvious challenges of trust and data security to overcome between diverse parties in the supply chain. There are a number of examples of early adopters within the steel industry; especially in vertical integration within business segments where building blocks of smart factories are being put together. Below are a few examples.
- Real-time tracking of supplies and orders assisted through GPS, RFID, LiFi (indoor & outdoor accurate positioning);
- Dynamic management of in-process inventory, consumables and spares.
Product quality systems:
- Modelling of material and surface characteristics for local process control resulting in optimum quality;
- Computer Aided Quality Control (CAQC) with 100% testing, inspection and storage of data related to hot-rolled coils minimising claims and cost of potential quality issues;
- Intelligent grading of coils and rerouting of coils within production lines to find best match with customer orders reducing rejects and optimising yield;
- Operational research (Big Data analytics) of process data related to coil segments for fault tracking and process efficiency;
- Real-time dynamic line scheduling and adjustment of process parameters with Artificial Intelligence (BIOMIMIC + Parallel Computing) in rolling and finishing.
- Predictive Asset Maintenance increasing up-time assisted by advance warnings of failures.
- Remote assistance of maintenance teams with smart glasses.
Process control and safety:
- Dynamic real-time analysis and control of blast furnace process parameters using sonic, laser and radar visualisation;
- Sensors detect harmful stray gases, noises and temperatures, and notify operators of threats;
- Advanced fully-automated BOF from charging to tapping;
- Networked platforms of assets such as blast furnaces where process experts can see every operation in real-time and collaborate with each other;
- Use of drone technology for inspection of areas that are difficult to reach in the plant and surveying and planning of mining operations.
Changing market mechanisms is a strong driving force which will require flexibility of operations and mass-customisation of products with a small batch-size and short lead-time.
Surfing the waves of this change will require the steel industry to have a sharp awareness of customer dynamics and expertise on the implementation of tools and strategies offered through Industry 4.0.
This new revolution will also accelerate a shift of labour expertise from production sites to more specialised areas, where digitisation will bring about increased efficiencies.
More examples of digitisation in the steel industry can be found in the Our Stories section of worldsteel.org.
High-tech control room (© Baotou Steel)