Video cameras together with the towering rollers in the Duisburg hot-strip plant set the scene here. If you want to see the steel sheet production line for yourself with the naked eye, you’ll need to negotiate a 600-meter-long obstacle course of catwalks, both down low and up high – past colossal steel giants, furnaces and measuring facilities. It also fluctuates between hot and noisy here. Yet, the whole time it is fascinating to think how fast the endless steel slabs have been racing through the machines for more than 55 years.
At first, head of the facility Heinz-Josef Engelskirchen had to come to grips with the changes in the newly modernized hot-strip rolling mill in Duisburg. That meant getting used to the vibrating floors and to the tons of steel sheet rolled up in coils that criss-cross the hall on remote-controlled cranes.
But the really important work takes place in the control center. Here, behind thick glass, the operators sit in front of an array of screens. All the data from the cameras and measuring instruments is monitored and analyzed. New software performs many of the necessary corrections instantly. If, for example, the first roller hasn’t reached its target, the second is readjusted immediately.
Tolerances in the micromillimeter range
The team checks how accurately the plant is performing using the feed from the constantly flashing red and blue bars, which provide information on actual and target values. Engelskirchen explains, “The automation of this procedure raises us to an entirely new level of precision. It reduces both waste and subsequent corrections.”
Of course, thyssenkrupp Steel Europe has always met its customers’ high demands for precision at ‘WBW1,’ as the mill is known by internal staff. “But now we can produce even thinner or higher-strength steel sheets to even narrower tolerances than previously (+/- 0.06 mm) – in the micromillimeter range,” adds Engelskirchen.
This has significantly increased the areas of application open to the Duisburg hot-strip plant. For example, if the automobile or canning industry should make even higher demands, which happens all the time, thyssenkrupp Steel Europe is in an excellent position to meet them with the present modernization, which has cost 250 million euros.