• Make your equipment digital ready
  • Utilize your plant’s data
  • Improve your planning and quality measures
  • Implement predictive solutions for efficient energy management
  • Reduce your environmental impact

More sustainable steel production with digital solutions

Digital applications enable plant operators to make precise predictions of production processes, product quality and plant condition based on machine learning. In the same way, energy consumption can be predicted and optimized through the targeted calculation of raw materials used. The possibility of an accurate process prediction results in the use of raw materials and materials according to demand, thus reducing waste as well as downtime and costs. Companies relying on digitalization can draw enormous added value from the possibilities offered by technologies such as machine learning for the holistic optimization of production processes.

High plant availability and maximum product quality are key performance indicators in plant operation. Artificial intelligence and machine learning have made great strides in recent years and are used in industrial manufacturing to achieve these goals. When plant expertise, process modeling experience and advanced data science are intelligently combined, the profitability of a steel plant can be significantly increased. 

While the added value of such digital systems is undeniable, developing and adding value requires addressing specific challenges. Highly interdisciplinary teams of software developers, process and hardware experts, data engineers and data scientists are essential to develop such solutions. But where to start? The central questions in developing intelligent solutions for the manufacturing industry are: How can production be as energy- and resource-efficient as possible? How can decarbonization be driven forward?

1. Make your equipment digital ready

Digital ready describes the essential step to make a production unit, equipment, device or automation system, or any other element ready for digitalization with minimal effort. By providing documented access to data for IT systems and humans alike, existing and future software solutions and models can be integrated easily. Thus, the value of a cold start can be minimized going forward.

If an element is digital ready, its machine and automation data is described via contextual information (metadata) and data access information and published via the supported interface technologies in a standardized way. Turning data into information helps better understand assets, enables data-driven decision-making and machine-learning analytics to ultimately draw added value across the entire supply chain.

2. Utilize your plant’s data

As soon as the plant’s assets are digital ready, data can be used to optimize processes along the entire production chain. The DataXpert, for example, is a complete platform for developing and managing condition monitoring and expert systems that provide real-time recommendations and notifications. The platform uses the low-code principle, which allows users with little or no programming knowledge to use the tools with little training. It combines various machine learning models in different programming languages or to tag time series data and then invoke a model based on that data in a low-code environment.

Transparency and accountability in the supply chain are essential for ensuring that metals are produced sustainably and responsibly. Companies need to increase transparency in their supply chain by utilizing real-time data and analytics on the origin and composition of the metals they produce. By tracking data along the entire supply chain, from raw materials to finished products, companies can identify areas where improvements can be made to reduce their environmental impact. Digital tools also enable companies to communicate more effectively with their suppliers and customers, facilitating more sustainable and responsible practices throughout the entire supply chain.

The production of metal is a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, with traditional methods of extraction and processing consuming large amounts of energy and generating harmful byproducts. However, the increasing adoption of digital technology and the rise of mobile applications pave the way for more sustainable and eco-friendly practices in the metal production industry. Software solutions play a crucial role in turning metal production green by facilitating energy-efficient processes, reducing waste and emissions, and increasing transparency and accountability in the supply chain, leading to a more sustainable manufacturing industry.

3. Improve your planning and quality measures

With all data collected in the SMS DataFactory, subsequent production planning or quality management systems can precisely predict process deviations, and unplanned downtimes while finding the best routes. Quality Execution Systems like QES support meeting the customers’ requirements while making automatic coil grading and release processes possible and producing coils of better quality. Acting like a kind of "data octopus," the SMS DataFactory links and evaluates all process and plant data and makes them available to other systems – for example, production planning systems. For instance, the production order sequence can be repeatedly adjusted based on the respective quality requirements using artificial intelligence and machine learning. Here, manufacturing execution systems like the Manufacturing Execution Suite (MES) optimize available capacities, delivery dates and cost factors of equipment utilization based on the actual resources, even if ad hoc rescheduling is unavoidable in case of unexpected deviations. The SMS DataFactory ensures that any available sensor- and time-series data are mapped to their position on the slab, bloom, billet, coil, tube, or wire with minimal errors if the automation system has not already performed this. This offers new insight into the transformation and enables the semi-finished products to be analyzed across lines by anyone within a concise time. For planning purposes, the condition and quality data must be considered to allow systems to decide whether certain products are able to be produced with the current status of input material and maintenance.

The QES checks whether a specific product meets the customer's specifications by taking into account quality and process data from all production steps. In this way, it can automatically release and certify the product quality.

4. Implement predictive solutions for efficient energy management

Digitalization represents a powerful lever for decarbonization. In particular, energy management is a critical aspect of metal production that can benefit from utilizing digitalization. By leveraging real-time data and analytics, digital solutions can help identify areas where energy consumption can be optimized, enabling companies to reduce their energy usage and carbon footprint. Inaccurate energy forecasting and planning and poor costing and ineffective management processes, provide fertile ground for more thoughtful, digital management solutions that reduce energy and resource consumption while improving efficiency, planning, and management of plant and facility operations. By tracking energy consumption in real time, companies can identify when and where energy is being wasted and take steps to address the issue. Digital solutions enable companies to track the energy usage of individual machines and optimize their performance for maximum energy efficiency.

To optimize the energy balance throughout the production process, reduce CO2 consumption and minimize the use of resources, energy optimization tools such as Viridis Energy & Sustainability Suite are used. Using Level 2 and Level 3 energy performance indicators, as well as artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms, the intelligent software optimizes not only throughput and quality but also energy costs, raw material use, and even carbon, greenhouse gas and waste emissions. These indicators, in turn, provide information for production planning and quality management software, ensuring that the appropriate parameters are considered during ongoing and future production processes and that overall production can be made as efficient and environmentally friendly as possible. 

Efficient energy management not only helps to maintain the company's energy supply and energy management strategies in the long term but also involves a serious commitment to society and the environment.

5. Reduce your environmental impact

Metal production generates a significant amount of waste, which significantly impacts the environment. Software can help companies manage their waste more effectively, reducing the amount of waste generated and minimizing its environmental impact. The Scrap Manager evaluates the tracked information via innovative artificial intelligence methods and mathematical models in such a way that the overall efficiency per ton of scrap used is enhanced significantly. Due to the growing cost pressure faced by the manufacturers and the shift towards more sustainable production processes, scrap yard management is increasingly becoming a significant distinguishing feature that makes a company stand out from its competitors. In particular, the interaction between scrap handling tracking and scrap characterization increases the recycling rate while at the same time ensuring more efficient use of the material. Therefore, just a few measures are enough to reduce CO2 emissions significantly. In no other stage of the value chain in an existing plant can such a positive effect on the CO2 balance be achieved at a reasonable cost. Having all steps implemented, your production is ready to go green.

What value does digitalization add to steel production?

In conclusion, digital solutions play an increasingly important role in creating a more sustainable and eco-friendly metal production industry. By enabling companies to optimize their energy usage, reduce waste and emissions, and increase transparency and accountability in the supply chain, software helps to make metal production more sustainable, efficient, and responsible. With continued innovation and the adoption of new technologies, the metal production industry can progress toward a greener future.