The steel industry faces its own set of challenges and metallurgical plant supplier SMS group MD Pieter Bezuidenhout says digitalisation is vital in navigating these challenges.
“Digitalisation will aid in meeting industry challenges by securing the steel market position, increasing competitiveness through lean processes and cost structures, maximising plant performance, and flexible production planning.”
SMS group aims to establish the digitalisation of the steel industry by adding systems and processes that allow for the cost-effective production of steel on a multitude of levels. With the combination of human and mechanical resources, SMS group can optimise the process and production line in the steel industry resulting in consistent and accurate steel production all the time.
With new strategies, concepts and solutions, he mentions that a move towards Industry 4.0 processes can be made. “Industry 4.0 identifies itself through the real-time exchange of data between resources (both humans and machines) using sensor, automation systems and software to converge the data of the mechanical equipment; cloud networked information technology systems; and the expansion and upgrading of automation and production control systems.”
The entire steel production process is a complex one, he points out, adding that, with digitalisation, SMS group intends to eliminate glitches and introduce a smooth flow of production.
“This is done with a real-time exchange of data and accessibility of data. This means that the processes on the production line are available to all resources at any given time. A cloud network also ensures that information is available across different plants to everyone within the production line, human and machine.”
According to SMS group key account manager Anish James, as a plant engineering company in the steel industry, SMS group is taking a very direct approach to digitalisation that optimises the process from start to finish. SMS group is approaching digitalisation by taking on a step-by-step approach which begins with identifying the client’s requirements through extensive interviews.
This then moves on the process of rapid prototyping where solution concepts are implemented in the forms of prototypes. The idea behind digitalisation is the guiding principle that digitalisation is about sustainability and assessing what provides value to the industry, rather than digitalising any and all aspects of the steel industry.
“Digitalisation is not only the future of the industry but is actively in use at present,” says Bezuidenhout.
James adds that online condition monitoring is one way that plant operators and plant manufacturers can focus on retrofitting their plant with necessary sensor equipment. This sensor equipment enables predictive maintenance and service of production, thus minimising the downtime of the production plant.
“The Genius Condition Monitoring (CM) system provides the plant with an early warning system that enables uninterrupted operation in the plant. Tracking both critical components and parts that are subject to wear, the Genius CM allows clients to stay ahead of any problems that may arise. The client is provided with a warning whenever action needs to be taken which allows for the optimisation of quality and availability of the entire plant,” Bezuidenhout explains.
The Genius CM system ensures that there are no unplanned stoppages which entail extra costs, and ensures consistently high plant availability, fast diagnosis and analysis of problems, and avoidance of unnecessary maintenance.
According to James, material analysis is another important phase in the digitalisation of the steel industry. While data is documented and stored, the quantity of data at each stage of production is immense. Data needs to be organised and set in proper relation to each individual product.
Each client has different specifications for the steel products that they require, whether it be dimensions or shapes. Software solutions therefore allow for the correct production, easy modification for different customer orders, and great support for operations and quality control staff.
“Adjustments constantly need to be made according to the specifications of each client’s product requirements. This is done effectively with material analysis ensuring that clients are not displeased with the quality of the products that they receive,” James says.
Moreover, he mentions that digitalisation will undoubtably lead to the improvement of the steel industry and the entire processing line of the industry. This can be seen at the learning steel production plant of US steel producer Big River Steel, which was built by SMS group and is the first learning steel plant in the US and most probably in the world.
“What makes this steel plant a learning steel plant is quite simply the huge amount of electronic data that the plant creates during operation,” concludes Bezuidenhout.