How can Industry 4.0 help the global steel industry achieve greater efficiencies?
Taking place in Warsaw, Poland, the Future Steel Forum assembles speakers from academia and the steel industry to examine how technological innovations can revolutionize steel production. Matthew Moggridge, Editor of Steel Times International, talks about the themes and perspectives steelmakers must consider as they shift to a digital manufacturing platform.
According to the 2016 Global Industry 4.0 Survey conducted by the consulting firm PwC, the buzz surrounding Industry 4.0 has moved on from what some had earlier considered as hype to actual investment and real results. This investment, in turn, is translating into increasingly advanced levels of digitization and integration. 67% of respondents from the metals sector, among them companies in the steel industry, say they expect to reach advanced levels of digitization in their vertical value chains by 2020.
Matthew Moggridge, Editor of Steel Times International, shares a similar view. “The steel industry is well prepared for Industry 4.0 and has, for a long time, been at the forefront of industrial technological development,” he says.
“There are companies, such as Primetals Technologies, SMS group, Danieli Automation, Fives, among others, who have been pushing the boundaries of digital manufacturing and partnering with leading steelmakers such as ArcelorMittal, Tata Steel, Voestalpine and many others to develop the concept of Industry 4.0.”
Moggridge adds that in the US, Big River Steel is arguably the first smart steel plant. The company recently partnered with Noodle.ai, a San Francisco-based Enterprise Artificial Intelligence company, to implement Enterprise AI to optimize operations at the former’s scrap metal recycling and steel production facility in Osceola, Arkansas.
“On the one hand, digitization has moved from being an augmenting capability for steel companies to something that is now becoming a disruptive force. On the other hand, it is delivering supply chain agility, deeper process understanding and higher production utilization.”
Efficiencies and challenges
Broadly speaking, Industry 4.0 assists the global steel industry in its quest for greater efficiencies while raising new concerns. On the one hand, as digitization has moved from being an augmenting capability for steel companies to something that is now becoming a disruptive force, the PwC report says that it is delivering supply chain agility, deeper process understanding and higher production utilization.
The report states: “Automation is combining with data analytics to enable much higher flexibility as well as more efficiency in production. Algorithms are linking the physical properties of the materials with production costs and plant constraints to improve efficiency. Processes that were previously separated are now being integrated, leading to reductions of heat loss, energy consumption, throughput time, inventory as well as better price optimization.”
On the other hand, the people aspect also needs to be addressed. PwC states that companies will need to make sure staff members understand how the company is evolving and how they can be a part of the change. From PwC’s interviews with metals companies, the biggest challenges involve issues such as culture, leadership and the economic case for change.
In addition, Moggridge cites Dirk Schaefer, assistant professor of design engineering at the University of Bath, UK, who argues that the development of a new work force will also prove challenging within the context of Industry 4.0. Schaefer believes that investing in workforce education is essential. “Each of the previous industrial revolutions resulted in a surge of unemployment. There is no reason to believe that this will be any different this time around, unless preventive action is taken today,” Schaefer asserts.
These topics will be addressed by experts at the Future Steel Forum in Warsaw, which takes place today and tomorrow. Other discussion points include the impact of smart manufacturing on the steel industry, Industry 4.0 and its implications for plant safety, the future of cooperation between automation and steel manufacturing, and the role of human beings in the factory of the future.
Taking part are speakers from academia, the steel industry and the world of steel production technology such as Dr. Rizwan A Janjua, Head of Technology, World Steel Association; Jose Favilla, Director, Industry Solutions for Industrial Products, IBM; and Professor Chris Hankin, Imperial College London, among others.
Connecting the dots
As for Industry 4.0-related themes that are set to gain ever greater prominence in the coming years, Moggridge, who will deliver the welcoming and closing remarks at the event, has this to share. “Cyber security will always be a big issue that will constantly need to be addressed, but also the role of the human being in an increasingly automated environment, not only in steel but in other areas of industry as well,” he says.
“What people tend to forget about the steel industry is that it is already a very automated environment. In many ways, it’s just a case of connecting the dots before steelmakers can claim to be true advocates of Industry 4.0.”
Matthew Moggridge is the Editor of Steel Times International. The Future Steel Forum takes place in Warsaw, Poland, on June 14–15, 2017. futuresteelforum.com