Düsseldorf, August 28, 2017

Digitalization of steel plants

Latest information technology paves the way for Industry 4.0 steel works automation.

Digitalization of a steel plant refers to the strategy of adopting recent information technologies like big data, data analysis, data mining, artificial intelligence to make the best of the resources available in a steel plant, e.g. like input material, energy, human capital etc.

So far steel plant automation has only been applicable at machine level. Integration of controls loops and sequence was implemented as desired by operators. By taking automation to a higher level as dictated by current industrial standards like Industry 4.0, big data, data analysis etc, it would be possible to increase productivity and production volumes at lesser costs thereby optimizing OPEX.

How does SMS group go about digitalization in a steel plant?

Field level – digitalization

Until now most of the field level instrumentation and devices used to be in a steel plant designed to match the existing controls for operation/maintenance related sequences. However, for proper digitalization, the following measures need to be taken:

  • Critical devices need to be replaced with better ones.
  • Replacement of equipment with lower equipment or lower maintenance costs without sacrificing any of the necessary information levels.
  • Focus on measurements which were not done before because they did not have direct influence on the production but are now necessary in the overall context of productivity e.g. asset management.
  • Most important, we are moving towards “Industry 4.0”.

This means that all devices in the field, both instruments and actuators will become “smart”. They will be able to monitor and control not just simple measurements and movements but perform intelligent data collection and control activities, and will also feature intelligence that allows them to process information autonomously, information not limited to their own life cycle.

SMSgroup Image
All data come together in the control room.
Interconnecting level

 This huge amount of available data at field level needs to be made available higher level applications. This requires a platform for the exchange of data. It should be possible to easily include additional devices like new PLCs, micro-controllers or embedded systems and to add or remove data consumers. Protocols necessary for the standardization in the context of Industrial Internet of Things (IIOT) are under development by different bodies. SMS group complements this standardization via a new automation approach based on an open data source, which is called “DataCloud” and part of the new modular X-Pact® Process Guidance architecture.

Process level

At the process level, Level 2 systems have so far mainly focussed on metallurgical modelling and reporting. But metallurgical optimization is only one of many requirements for a steel plant to operate efficiently. In the future, optimizations will be needed in many areas e.g. energy, emissions and sustainability. 43
Areas where process level optimization of steel plants is taking place include:

  • Ladle management
  • Energy advisors
  • Conditions monitoring
Business level

Collection of all these data and the achievable optimizations must be supported by appropriate measures taken by management. While in logistics and procurement the benefits of digitalization are already being reaped, steelworks are often still not that far. An easily imaginable scenario in a steel plant could be the handling of a the different orders for different steel grades within a month. By means of an efficient Decision Support System (DSS), the user will be able to provide cost optimized production planning for the orders. By taking into consideration the materials in stock and the logistics costs, the procurement department can order the required material just in time and at minimized costs. Decision Support Systems working on the basis of available data resources will become indispensible for the business success of steel plants.