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Magazine10 Min

From plant supplier to lifecycle partner

2016: The first “Learning Steel Plant”

SMS is a supplier of plants. This sounds correct, but is only half the truth. This is because we are not only building plants but also supporting our customers with services over the entire life cycle of their plants.

In December 2016, a new flat-steel complex starts operation in the north of the US state of Arkansas. For Big River Steel, SMS has supplied and automated all the plants, from steelmaking to strip processing. What is special about this project is that it will also be the world's first complete digital steel plant. Here, SMS group is the partner of Big River Steel, too. In addition, we are taking over extensive services for the new plant. We procure and store spare parts or take over the servicing of entire plants in workshops specially opened for this purpose. Big River Steel is thus becoming a proof-of-concept of our philosophy of the "lifecycle partnership".

Electrics and automation

For many decades, our focus has been on new plants or modernizations as well as the production of the most important components in our own workshops. Services in today's sense include the supply of spare parts for many years. But as a rule, a project ends with the final acceptance of a plant.

A mindshift begins when the first technological control systems and process models are moving into steelworks at the end of the 1970s. SMS recognizes that without own expertise in this area, it is likely to become a junior partner in many projects. That is why the establishment of the Electrical and Automation Systems department begins in the mid-1980s. We start with process models such as pass schedule calculation or flatness control in flat rolling mills. As early as the 1990s, we supply the complete electrical and automation systems for CSP® plants, for example, and from the mid-2000s, we also cover the entire process chain in the E&A field.

Testing of the entire automation system using the Plug & Work method becomes a unique selling point. In 2004, our customer magazine describes this approach for the first time for an annealing line at US Steel Kosice. The entire automation system, including sensors and actuators is installed on servers and simulated against a "virtual plant". In this way, problems are detected and solved at an early stage so that commissioning in the works can be carried out quickly and smoothly. At the same time, the customer's operating teams are trained in the Plug & Work tests.

The basic concept of integration testing has been retained to this day, yet it has evolved. The "virtual plant" becomes a digital twin that not only replicates production processes, but is also used to test new products or production routines or, in combination with artificial intelligence, predicts critical aspects of processes, plant condition and availability, and product quality.

Presentation of Electrics and Automation at Metec 2003.
Pulpit at heavy plate mill Xiangtan Iron & Steel (2005).
Integration test for modernization of aluminum plate mill at Aleris Koblenz, Germany (2007).
Pulpit of Aleris Koblenz after modernization (2008).
Testfield CSP plant Jisco (2008)
Ergonomic control desk for heavy-plate mill during Plug & Work test ...
... and in operation
Control room at Wuppermann, Hungary
Integration test of CSP® caster for SDI
Virtual Plug & work test during Covid pandemic

Technical service

It is difficult to precisely define the beginnings of Technical Service, as the supply of spare parts or repairs were part of the supplies already in the early days. In 1982, a dedicated department was established within SMS, which is being slowly but steadily expanded. An important role play the service workshops, which are set up in all important markets from the year 2000. The USA takes a pioneering role. Here, we are have around 20 workshops and can thus offer all steel manufacturers services such as the coating of rollers or the overhaul of continuous casting segments practically at their doorstep. In 2006, SMS opens its first service and repair workshop in China, followed in 2014 by the workshop in Khordha / Bhubaneswar for the Indian market.

At the same time as the geographical expansion, we are expanding the portfolio of our services. In addition to the classic after-sales business, SMS Service also takes over upgrades and modernizations, builds up the consulting business and shares its know-how as part of training courses. However, the biggest step is certainly the takeover of the entire servicing of plants, including responsibility for operational readiness. This marks the start of an integration into the processes and procedures in the works, which really make us the customer's partner. The next logical step in the 2020s is that we are paid by performance such as plant availability or output and finally the establishment of invested partner services within the scope of EaaS (equipment as a service) models.

Opening of the service workshop in Shanghai
Our Indian service workshop
Inside SMS India service workshop in Bhubaneshwar
Virtual Reality is part of our TECademy trainings.
SMS workshop in Washington, PA.
Roll coating
Caster segment workshop at Big River Steel.
US workshop team
Our consulting services help customers to optimize surface quality.


SMS takes a similarly stringent approach to building up digitalization in the 2010s as it did in the area of electrics and automation. Initially, SMS digital is spun off as a start-up, but then quickly integrated into the existing structures of the SMS group. As a result, digitalization is an integral part of all products and projects. From the very beginning, the vision of SMS digital was the learning steel mill, which was realized for the first time at Big River Steel.

The learning steel mill relies on generating data from the processes and plants, enriching and organizing them and thus transforming them into information that can be used by digital tools. These can then predict events in the future using artificial intelligence and predictive algorithms and suggest appropriate countermeasures to the operator. Especially in the areas of plant and process monitoring, product quality and production planning as well as energy management, SMS digital has been able to achieve great success with this approach.

The learning steel plant

SMS group as a lifecycle partner

Today, the vision of the learning steel mill has been further developed through an even closer integration between digitalization and plant automation on the one hand and technical services and disruptive business models on the other hand. SMS group enables its customers to have tasks such as maintenance and repair, completely handled by SMS group. The result is an autonomous plant that allows operators to fully concentrate on what they do best: Producing metals!

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