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Düsseldorf, June 10, 2019

Experiencing digitalization

Dr. Markus Reifferscheid, Vice President Research & Development at SMS group and Managing Director of SMS digital GmbH, describes in this interview why a visit to the SMS group booth at METEC 2019 is definitely worthwhile. He explains the benefits and advantages of digitalization for the plant operators and tells what differences there are between SMS group and digital providers.

Dr. Reifferscheid, what can experts from all over the world look forward to seeing during their visit to the SMS group booth at the METEC trade show?

At the SMS group booth, visitors to the fair will experience the future of the learning steel mill, in other words of a digital eco-system. No visions, but hands-on solutions that already today create added value for the plant operators. We show how we use digitalization to improve processes on a permanent basis. Our aim – to the benefit of our customers - is to achieve a steel mill that operates at maximum profit. At the SMS group trade fair booth, we can explain in personal dialogs what is feasible. As the “Leading partner in the World of Metals”, we present an exhaustive picture of what digitalization means for our industry.

What should the trade show visitors take a look at on the SMS group booth?

Well, actually, they should see everything. But those particularly interested in digitalization should talk to me or my colleagues, and we will be happy to show them around and talk about the four central topics that characterize the learning steel mill. There will be interactive desks informing about how we go about plant condition monitoring, production planning, product quality and the platform that brings all these spheres together. All these topics are very closely interlinked. Digitalization establishes itself as an eco-system that integrates everything.

It is all about finding answers to one very complex question: How can I relate product quality to the condition of the plant, to production control and to production planning? What options does the platform provide to interlink these various functions and correlate them with one another? We will present the visitor a solution, and we look forward to discussing that solution with him.

Is the fair also about getting feedback?

Yes, it is because digitalization absolutely needs mutual exchange. It is not a one-way street.

What we present at the trade fair is one possible outlook, one target scenario of where we think the journey of digitalization will take us. The way to that scenario will be different in each individual case. And we will have to consider whether that target scenario really provides every customer the full scope of added value. Therefore we must tackle the issue by exchanging ideas at eye level as partners. However, when discussing digitalization issues, one may run the risk of getting lost in visions. Out of excitement, one may easily say: “That’s what I need!” It is often only afterwards that the vision turns out not to have been the right choice. SMS group takes a different approach here. Digitalization is not an end in itself. Instead, its focus should be value creation. Digitalization is a process which we agilely plan and implement step by step and in cooperation with the customer.

Before we take the next development step, we always ask ourselves whether that next step would still leverage enough value in the specific use case. Only if that is for certain will we proceed. As a full-liner, we look at the complete process chain. We can improve the meltshop, the continuous casting plant, the rolling mill, the annealing line, the galvanizing line and all other plants of the supply chain through digitalization, because we have the necessary technological knowhow and expertise.

Is SMS group a trailblazer in the digitalization market?

This question cannot be answered in one sentence. We have been active in the field of digitalization for many years, long before the term has become a buzzword. And yes, I think that we hold a leading position when you look at the customer value our implementations leverage. Additionally we have many promising proofs of concept in the pipeline. Whether they will be implemented will depend on the success potential for the customer and the customer’s specific requirements. This is another great strengths of ours. We have the knowhow to assess the benefit for the customer. We can provide him comprehensive advice as to how to tackle digitalization. Therefore our consulting service is extremely helpful already in the forefront. Thus the customer can focus on those use cases that will be most profitable for him. In this way, he benefits from our longstanding experience and from our products, about which we can say: They create provable added value.

Could you please describe in more detail the consulting service provided by SMS group?

We have two basic consulting offers: Digital Awareness and Digital Fact Finding. We take a look at the customer’s works together with the customer to get an idea of the prevailing level of digitalization and of what is feasible. We develop the use cases in concert with the customer, followed by an evaluation. We also offer training courses and workshops for the customer to acquire useful knowhow and become well prepared for the digital transformation. And, once the consulting phase has been completed, we can provide the complete implementation from a single source. Additionally, we maintain close contacts with starts-ups. This makes us a competent partner when it comes to taking startups on board.

What has SMS group that digital providers don’t have?

A key aspect of digitalization is that it generates value from data. This only works if I know what kind of data I need to achieve this. Who could be in a better position to understand the data than the plant builder and the plant operator? We know what equipment to monitor and how to monitor process models - because we have developed both. And we can assess the process technology down to the last detail because more often than not it is from us. No digital provider can offer something like this. Therefore, the customer will get much more from SMS group than he would get from any digital provider.

Are you saying that in the plant and mechanical engineering area digital providers reach their limits?

Digital providers or AI companies are good at analyzing data. However, in many cases this is not enough. Often they are not in a position to really understand whether the problem they want solve really originates from the sets of data under examination. Instead, they have to rely on the customer to make the judgment. They are provided with data, but they are often not able to interpret it with sufficient scrutiny.

Or they may even not be able to tell what data is missing and whether and how that data can be made available. Instead, the customer needs a partner who can do all this.

Read the full story in the current issue of the SMS group customer magazine.