Mr. Pronold, for the integrated solutions, data are needed. How are these data generated?

SMS group supplies equipment for the entire metallurgical industry and all its process steps. The plant –with its mechanical equipment, the automation solution including sensors, gauges, and actuators, as well as the drives and robotics – forms the basis for our integrated solutions, since here the raw data are generated. All our plants come digital ready meaning that machine and automation data are described with contextual meta-information in a standardized form via supported interface technologies in a “dictionary”. With our SMS DataFactory we can gather these data centrally and thanks to the harmonized description we can make them easily accessible for our digital solutions.

“Our domain knowhow and our advanced automation expertise provide the perfect basis for our digital solutions. Our approach is holistic in the truest sense of the word. It includes all aspects from the sensor level up to the latest digitalization developments.”

This means, you build integrated data models for the entire process chain and over the entire lifecycle of the plant. Why is that so important?

This forms the basis for a fast and successful digitalization and hence the collaboration between the disciplines Electrics/Automation, Digital and Technical Service. This sets the standard and gives guidelines for all SMS group plants. We apply these standards and guidelines for building and using digital twins, for example. By merging the harmonized real-time production and process data with data and models from the engineering and construction phase, we can build a virtual representation of the actual plant, which we can then use to monitor and optimize processes, predict events and elaborate actions and operator guidance. A good example of how we apply a digital twin in real life is our X-Pact® Plug & Work integration test, which we use for optimizing our automation systems prior to the commission.

“With our software suites, we cover the entire metallurgical process chain and focus on turning data into information and information into value.”

Mr. Hansen, why should customers work with SMS group rather than with some conventional AI start-up?

It mainly comes down to merging sophisticated software and AI (artificial intelligence) skills with down-to-earth process and machine knowhow. Let’s take a modern blast furnace as an example. They have nearly reached their physically possible maximum efficiency. Process knowhow alone will not be able to improve that even further. On the other hand, the equipment and the metallurgical process are too complicated to achieve a substantial benefit alone by looking at the data. This is exactly where the unique expertise of SMS group comes into play. With our integrated solutions we merge this domain knowhow with in-depth software and AI competence and holistic service concepts. This combination makes us unique in the market and provides truly sustainable benefits for our customers.


What role does digitalization play within this comprehensive concept?

When it comes to digitalization the overall goal is to derive data-based actionable items in real time. These actionable items can be fed back into the automation system, both manually or closed-loop. They are also used to trigger specific maintenance jobs, repair tickets or spare parts. We gather all relevant data within our SMS DataFactory. Here, the data are enriched and made accessible for our software suites. We offer five different suites focusing on asset optimization, health and safety, product quality, production planning and energy management. All products within each one of the suites can communicate with the others. By applying rule-based decision-making techniques, pattern recognition and artificial intelligence, our software solutions can convert the data into information that can be translated into actionable items and operator guidance.

Could you give an example of how the various software solutions interconnect?

A very illustrative example of our approach is the monitoring of segments in a continuous caster: During production, our X-Pact® automation solutions continuously provide data on the current casting speed, materials, temperatures, pressures etc. These data are transmitted to our Genius CM® condition monitoring. Here, the data are used to run analyses of the electric motor systems or the acoustic emissions, for example, or even to monitor cylinders, drives or nozzles for clogging. By combining both real-time process data and information from the condition monitoring system, our DataXpert® system can provide predictions about the status of nozzles, drives, greasing or cooling lines, and other central components within the caster system. Based on the current and predicted equipment status, additional solutions can be implemented that streamline the planning of maintenance jobs with production planning, spare part management or other maintenance-related tasks.

“On our way towards autonomous plant operation, we all work together for the same goal, which is to boost the performance of our customers’ plants.”

Mrs. Wang, the integrated solutions by SMS group are highly customized and include products and services from various disciplines. How does SMS group combine them into integrated solutions?

When a customer does not come to us with a specific inquiry, or when it is not obvious right away what exactly the issues are, we usually conduct an optimization audit or agree on a consulting project. In such projects, we not only assess the as-is-status of a plant, process, supply chain or the like, but we also develop an approach on how to solve the identified issues. For this, we closely collaborate with the customer teams on site. We combine competences from all product branches involved and from all of SMS group’s regions. Our diversity is the cornerstone of our innovative strength because development is only possible in a place where the most diverse people come together.

How does SMS group support customers in their daily operations?

It is our goal to build and maintain long-lasting partnerships with our customers. That means we support our customers even after the FAC has been signed. With more than 5,000 employees in our global service team and more than 60 service locations worldwide, we are always close to our customers. We offer a broad spectrum of services, including maintenance and operational services, that range from fully integrated to menu-based solutions for individual processes. We also offer on-line and off-line maintenance and operational services, including all ancillary services such as inventory management, logistics or workshop operation. All our service offers are not limited to our proprietary equipment. We have established a continuous improvement process that we use to integrate our digital solutions. That way we ensure that common performance targets are met.


What are the benefits of such an integrated approach?

One big advantage for our customers is that they can focus on their core business, which is operating a plant – not maintaining it. With our integrated solutions, as our Technical Outsourcing Service, we relieve our customers of certain risks, while agreeing specific performance promises. Depending on the desired solution and the agreed value proposition, we offer different business models ranging from Software-as-a-Service, Maintenance-as-a-Service (as the Technical Outsourcing Services), Component-as-a-Service to Equipment-as-a-Service. We combine products from different areas – mechanics, Electrics/Automation, digitalization, and Technical Service – to provide an effective solution that achieves continuous performance improvement for our customers over the duration of our long-term contracts. To align our and our customers’ interests, we offer different payment models such as per month, per ton or performance-based.

For our customers, this results in improved plant performance, reduced capital employed and the benefit of 150 years of SMS group expertise in metallurgical plant building.