smart factory: intelligent and connected processes
A key objective of digital transformation is to evaluate product and machine data across different process stages. Data Analytics allow to predict material properties like, for instance, thickness variations, roughness or strength more precisely and to meet tolerances more accurately. To this end, hundreds of thousands of sensors record quality and production data throughout the entire flat steel process chain, thus creating the basis for controlling and analyzing production processes in real time. The Big Data Squad, an interdisciplinary team, develops mathematical models on the basis of these data. One of these models has been used to control the skin pass rolling mill of the hot dip galvanizing line 8 in Dormtund for one year. It ensures that the system now meets the targeted roughness values of the steel strips even more accurately. “Previously, the plant operator set the machine mainly based on his experience. Now our model allows to automatically make the right setting for any order parameter,“ explains Yavuz Dogan from the Big Data Squad. The advantage: Already now, the digitized control system meets the tolerance range more precisely and creates the basis for readjusting the operation mode online, if necessary, which leads to further quality improvement.
At the same time, an interdisciplinary team conducts pilot projects in the field of horizontal networking, which are coordinated by the Innovation Department. In this context, the main question is: What product data from the steel processing operations could also be used for the customers in future? For Lothar Patberg, Head of Innovation at thyssenkrupp Steel, the advantages of such data exchange are obvious: “Data are already available after the production of the coils. In future, the customer could not only track the current status of his order. He could also obtain selected quality data from the production operations, which would enable him to adjust his own processes before the coils are delivered“. These considerations are pointing the way ahead for one of the central projects of thyssenkrupp Steel: to link data from different process stages in such a way to create an as exact as possible digital replica of the production. The birth of these digital twins and the associated data transparency would not only be an advantage for the downstream stages of the value chain. It would also have a self-reinforcing effect. Lothar Patberg: “Digital replica help us to better understand our processes and to identify and eliminate potential sources of error and default risks. Ultimately, the digitization of our value chain will thus lead to a further improvement of both our delivery performance and the quality of our materials“.
Germany's largest factory railway with 87 locomotives, approx. 2,000 wagons and around 300 kilometres of rail network is now more digital. It is the crucial transport route for raw materials and products on our site and beyond. In a current #DigitalLab - here, employees from different departments work intensively and in short sprints on the digital transformation of the company -, a train driver app has now been developed that simplifies communication between order planners and locomotive drivers, thus improving our internal logistics and reducing the plant's own delivery bottlenecks.
Up to now, the exchange has mainly taken place via radiotelephony. The prototype was ready for field testing in just four weeks, including cloud-based system architecture. Now, dispatchers and train drivers can view their orders and track occupancy at any time and send their messages directly via the app.
Today, a new app for our blast furnances in Duisburg, ensures significantly more process stability and efficiency. The app records in real time every single wagon that supplies our blast furnaces with raw materials. In particular, it displays all trains and their wagons loaded with raw materials on their way to the blast furnaces on our plant site. When a wagon is discharged into the designated raw material bunker, an employee scans the a NFC tag at the bunker - the system immediately reports this to all relevant systems.
Previously, each charging process was documented manually. Since several trains are often discharged one after the other, it was no longer possible to record the exact time and therefore no current stocks could be retrieved. In a nutshell: the balance sheet diverged.
A further advantage of the new app is the digital inventory, which takes place at the beginning of each shift. What was previously time-consuming and costly documented with a piece of paper and pencil is now scanned using an NFC tag. Finally, the quantity that still fits into the bunker is selected via slider. After confirmation, the current stocks are immediately reported to the relevant systems.
digital supply chains: more transparency for our partners
The hot rolling mill Precision Steel in Hohenlimburg is an example of the additional advantages of a connected supply chain. Here, the individual production processes are already harmonized in such a way that the mill can offer its customers an unprecedented range of products: “Rolling as a service“. To this end, the customers of steel products input their short-term requirements directly into the system thus triggering the production process. “High supply flexibility, even when small batch sizes are concerned, are of major importance to our customers. We are able to provide this added value through our fully digitized ordering and manufacturing processes“, says Ulrich Schneppe, Head of IT at Precision Steel. On the other side of the supply chain, the employees in the hot rolling mill check the capacity utilization of the continuous casting line in the steel mill of their upstream supplier, in order to ensure that the materials are provided on time. Another advantage is that on both sides, the highly flexible production process allows to reduce inventories and thus the amount of tied-up capital.
Testing out ideas quickly, digitally and easily - that's what thyssenkrupp Steel makes possible in its many different labs. In Digital Labs, employees from various departments work intensively and in short sprints together on the digital transformation of the company. The only requirement: the ideas must add value for our business and customers. A current example is the push barge app. In the digital lab for this app the team is preparing our logistics for the future by equipping all push barges, which supply the thyssenkrupp plant with raw materials via the Rhine, with solar-powered GPS sensors. This will allow suppliers and steel companies to keep an eye on it and better coordinate the ship transport on a digital map.
smart services: innovative solutions for our customers
So this is what a meeting between development engineers could look like in future. Virtual Engineering is about reducing development time, hardware and expensive test series: Instead of the real crash vehicle, its digital twin drives against the wall - built from 3D data of extensive crash simulation calculations. “This reduces the development costs to a fraction of what is currently spent“, explains Erik Hilfrich, Team Manager in Application Technology at thyssenkrupp Steel. “What is more, we send data around the world, not bulky components. This facilitates collaboration with our international customers. We can, for example, examine vehicle crashes as often as required, in slow motion and at close range. This also allows us to better present our development work“. Hence, Virtual Engineering is also a tool that enables engineers to collaborate with customers and colleagues quickly and across national borders.
Data replacing material – a vision for the steel mill of the future? Volker Lang, Head of Digitalization & Architecture categorically rejects this scenario. “In our industry, things are a little different than in the automotive industry. Our customers have long since stopped buying only engineering skills, but also and above all high-tech computers on four wheels. We support this change by digitizing our core product steel. This means that we offer our customers – besides the classic material properties – also a higher service level, because our order processing has become more flexible. Therefore, data are also of central importance for us. It helps us to better meet customer expectations and to optimize both our products and our processes“.
The one thing that becomes clear at the locations of thyssenkrupp Steel is that digital transformation is an open-ended process. A process that innovators can initiate, but the implementation of which depends on the attitude and willingness to change of each individual employee. Getting the employees on board, sharing knowledge with them and dispelling their reservations are the most important tasks in every solutions-oriented digital project of thyssenkrupp Steel. Lars Bode from the Business Unit Automotive remembers the presentation of smartform® on a tablet, one of the first Augmented Reality applications in the company. The innovative smartform® process enables to produce components from ultra-high-strength steels with almost no springback. This can be depicted realistically and thus well illustrated on the tablet. “The simulation makes the exchange among experts on complex processes much easier. However, we also bring a component along, as an illustrative model, so to speak“. That makes sense - because data can be experienced, but not touched. By the time VR goggles have become established as a working tool, the machines in the rolling mills will probably have long since shared their data with the plants at other locations.
digital culture: nothing is impossible
For us, being digital means enabling an experimental way of thinking: Testing, learning and developing, whichever is best for us. Therefore, our digital collaboration is characterized by the fact that no longer individual employees develop a solution from start to finish, but that a solution is continuously advanced in exchange with others from a large network.
Working in smaller teams allows us to be faster and more flexible and thus find first solutions that can be tested and improved with timely feedback from departments and customers.
Our digital culture enables us to deliver results faster. It emphasizes action. Planning and decision-making were shifted from a long-term to a short-term focus. We equipped all employees with methods and procedures so that they can work more networked, learn across their departments and generally be more innovative. The key building blocks on the way to this new collaboration have been our Digital Labs, our smart steel natives community and the smart steel pioneers program.
Besides the large-scale projects, the digitization map of thyssenkrupp shows a multitude of smaller projects: They close the digitization gaps in logistics, optimize maintenance and ultimately contribute to the smooth and efficient processing of orders. The “Digital Innovation“ Team see a lot of potential on the premises with their extensive rail networks, the raw material ports and material warehouses. In so-called “Digital Labs“, the experts develop - together with their and for their co-workers from the respective departments - touchable prototypes within a few weeks: Solutions addressing the specific challenges and making everyday work easier. The result, for example, is an app for mobile inventory management of steel scrap or a track-and-trace solution that allows the current location of coal and ore deliveries from Rotterdam to be retrieved in real time. The young team has developed more than 20 such solutions in the past three years. The Augmented Reality application "smart insight", which enables maintenance staff to look inside a machine using virtual "X-ray vision", was also developed to its first application in the lab. “The development phase of two to four weeks is quite short, but also very intensive. We discuss a lot. This often creates a huge dynamic. At the end of this phase, you usually like the developed product so much that you would like to continue to work on it”, says Tim Rupp. He and Tobias Eckhoff are members of the core team of the Digital Labs. “We work very independently, and at the same time we work together with almost all departments of our company“, says Tobias Eckhoff. “On the one hand, we are IT experts, and on the other hand, we are change managers and cultural ambassadors. It is also our task to win over more and more colleagues to digitization topics“.
Head of Digital Transformation & Innovation
thyssenkrupp Steel Europe AG
Telephone: +49 (0)203 52-47749Send email
Marcus van Marwick
Head of Brand & Marketing Communications
thyssenkrupp Steel Europe AG
Telephone: +49 (0)203 52-41005Send email