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Düsseldorf, January 04, 2021

On the path to green steel with innovation and digitalization

Co2-free steel production becomes reality

For plant owners, digitalization offers excellent opportunities for producing not only cost-effectively but above all sustainably. With digital solutions that reduce the need for on-site personnel deployment and with climate-friendly solutions for CO2 free steel production, SMS group is meeting the ever-increasing demands of industrial production. As part of the visit by Volkmar Klein (CDU), member of the German Bundestag, SMS group's new technology and digitalization offensive, including the New Horizon innovation program, were presented.

Something we only ever knew from computer games has now become a reality: Controlled by a virtual reality headset, you can move through a computer-generated three-dimensional image of a steel plant and carry out the maintenance, repair, or complete commissioning of a new machine or plant – without having to be on site. To create a virtual image of a plant, the experts at SMS group use 3D design data, convert it with a special software program and so create a virtual model. This allows the site manager to move through the whole plant by means of a VR headset and controllers.

Together with its digital subsidiary SMS digital, SMS group is enabling companies in the metal industry to design production processes and commissioning using the latest digital technologies in a resource-efficient and sustainable manner, as the demand for digital products for production facilities continues to rise. Now, in particular, it is important to have concepts at hand that allow companies to keep their business going, even during a pandemic. As part of its future strategy, SMS group is looking to develop new business areas and is placing the focus on digitalization and growth markets.

Augmented and virtual reality for digital commissioning

SMS group has already carried out numerous start-ups entirely remotely, for example, at SSAB in Raahe, Finland. Here, new comb roller gearboxes were installed for two grease stands of the hot strip mill. With the help of augmented reality technology, the many challenges posed by the current Corona situation were overcome. In particular, technical assistance before and during the replacement of the gearboxes was provided by SMS group through digital communication media. Without this form of digital supervision, the modernization would have had to be postponed to much later date. Thus, SSAB was able to save considerable costs and resources. Further digital projects are already being planned here.

Virtual and augmented reality are just two of the many digital technologies that are paving the way to green steel production. As a full-service provider, SMS not only supplies its customers with the hardware, such as the plant and machinery, but also supports each customer with the right software before and after commissioning – meaning he can design his production processes as efficiently and sustainably as possible. The digitalization of a steel plant not only offers advantages in terms of reduced costs and enhanced efficiency, but it also gives plant owners the opportunity to look at their plant whenever and wherever they want. The many challenges of digital transformation can be overcome by the benefits of Industry 4.0, such as real-time capability, interoperability, and the horizontal and vertical integration of production systems. Industry 4.0 is the interlinking of real processes with the virtual world – merging manufacturing processes with information technology.

Innovations strengthen the economy

SMS group recently received North Rhine-Westphalia's "A changing economy" award and is one of the companies driving the structural transformation of the state into a strong, future-oriented business location. By developing and driving new business areas, product innovations, and a strong digitalization offensive, SMS group is pursuing a growth program that responds to the increasing demand for innovative and sustainable approaches. As part of the visit by Volkmar Klein, member of the German Bundestag, SMS group's new technology and digitalization offensive, including the New Horizon innovation program, were presented. During talks lasting several hours, various action areas were identified that will make an important contribution to securing the future of the business location and the technological leadership of Germany over the long term. "The German government's National Hydrogen Strategy offers innovative companies many promising opportunities for CO2-free steel production. The SMS group has developed convincing projects and shows that the company offers future-proof job prospects. This is an important and promising sign for local jobs, also with a view to the coming years. I am happy to support the company within the scope of my possibilities," said Volkmar Klein.

The concept of the learning steel plant: creating added value from data

Nowadays, industrial production facilities rely on sustainable and resource-efficient production processes. SMS supports its customers not only in the construction of new plants or in the modernization of existing plants, but also in the simulation of production processes and the analysis of malfunctions that may occur during a production process. Software based on artificial intelligence and machine learning collects the data from a plant, then transforms it into information and finally into added value. A digital twin can be used to carry out simulations of new production processes virtually in advance. This allows important findings to be gained for later implementation in practice – thus saving costs and resources. Predictive algorithms help to detect the condition of a plant, predict the product quality, redirect production routes, and minimize downtimes. That is why companies need solutions that process large volumes of data and analyze it in real time in order to identify new correlations. In the era of digitalization and Industry 4.0, it is important to obtain maximum performance from both equipment and processes: Maximum plant availability, low energy consumption per ton, minimum scrap rates, and continuously cost-optimized production planning for full and on-time delivery are key factors for competitive production. With the use of digital technologies, savings in the multi-digit millions are possible.

New Horizon: Innovative technology for the future

Increasing complexity, volatile markets, and disruptive technologies require a new way of thinking as well as a willingness to change. SMS already offers new processes and plants for the production of high-performance materials in the field of metallurgy, the learning steel plant through digitalized and networked processes as part of Industry 4.0, solutions in the field of “additive metal manufacturing”, as well as sustainable innovative environmental technologies. SMS group's New Horizon initiative is aimed at developing innovative product and production solutions for the metals industry and applying proven SMS solutions in business areas that are facing similar technological challenges and changes. Thus, SMS group is also pushing into adjacent industries, such as energy and port logistics.

The use of new technologies is interesting for companies in the steel industry, from both an economic and ecological perspective: hydrogen will displace carbon as a reducing agent and energy carrier, and thus steel production of the future will get by with significantly lower CO2 emissions. At SMS group, the world's leading technology in the direct reduction of iron ore, MIDREX® technology, which is manufactured by Midrex, is what makes this possible. A new feature is that hydrogen is used as a reducing agent instead of natural gas. The direct-reduced iron (DRI) produced in this way is further processed into green crude steel in the electric arc furnace using green electricity. Hydrogen is thus of central importance in the production of green pig iron. A prerequisite of this is that the power used for melting in the electric arc furnace and for producing the hydrogen by means of electrolysis was produced without any CO2 emissions.

Via its subsidiary Paul Wurth, the SMS group holds a stake in the start-up SunFire, which is one of the most innovative companies in the world in the field of hydrogen production by means of high-temperature electrolysis and develops plant and equipment for the production of renewable technical gases and fuels. As e-gas, e-fuel or e-chemicals, these substitutes for conventionally produced hydrogen, crude oil and natural gas replace fossil energy sources in existing infrastructures.

Together with the Australian company Neometals Ltd., SMS group set up the 50:50 joint venture PRIMOBIUS to bring an eco-friendly recycling solution for end-of-life lithium-ion batteries (LIBs) to the market. In the recycling process with low CO2 emissions, high-purity raw materials are recovered and reused in the battery production. In Hilchenbach, Germany, SMS group is currently building an industrial pilot plant for PRIMOBIUS on the company's own premises. The plant will go into operation this year.

In view of the economic competition, only digital solutions that are sustainable and generate value will be able to survive. SMS group enables plants to make autonomous, data-based decisions, regardless of their complexity, and thus respond to changes occurring spontaneously. As a systems supplier, SMS group has set itself the task of offering a pioneering technology that eliminates the high CO2 emissions from the steel production process. SMS group designs tailor-made solutions in close cooperation with our customers and aligns pioneering technologies with their needs. With mechanical equipment, technological expertise, electrical and automation systems, and digitalization technology from a single source, SMS group has all the skills and prerequisites for successful plant modernization and optimization.