Trade press, 2014-04-01, 12:17 PM
E-business creates more transparent production
From smartphones to online banking – in our private lives, real-time communication is a given. But it’s different when it comes to communications between companies, where slow ISDN connections are still the norm. ThyssenKrupp Steel Europe AG is now pioneering a near-real-time communications with its customers. The advantages: faster information sharing, higher information density, more transparent manufacturing processes, and leaner production on both sides.
High-speed data transfer
ThyssenKrupp Steel Europe is using new communications channels to provide precision information to its customers and so create greater transparency into both manufacturing processes and products. The information can be directed to specific recipients at the customer. “We’re playing a pioneering role in this,” says Dr. Michael Hetkamp, e-business expert at ThyssenKrupp Steel Europe. The new system is based on electronic data interchange (EDI), so communication no longer takes place via printouts or e-mails between staff but is fully automated.
EDI itself has been around for years. But in the past it has always used an ISDN connection – a normal telephone line – and was correspondingly slow. Moreover, not all countries have ISDN. “We have now started switching EDI connections to the brand new OFTP2 standard, i.e. to an internet connection, capable of transmitting information up to 35 times faster,” says Michael Hartmann, EDI specialist at ThyssenKrupp Steel Europe. That is particularly beneficial for large data packages such as engineering or simulation data: While it could take two days to transfer a data package using ISDN, the OFTP2 line handles the same amount of data in three hours. Certificates and encryption provide protection against third-party access.
“In their private lives, our customers are now used to receiving information in real time on their smartphones, from stock prices to the latest news,” explains Ansgar Heitkamp, head of the E-Business department at the Duisburg site. “Now we’ve transferred that to the business world.” In the past order confirmations, inventory figures and shipment notices were sent out once a day; now the customer receives them as soon as they are available. And with OFTP2 it only takes seconds. That means customers have a kind of virtual warehouse at ThyssenKrupp Steel Europe: They can check the size and location of their inventories at any time and amend their order volumes directly and easily. Instead of placing concrete orders, customers are increasingly just registering their requirements. The company uses this information to calculate its own production requirements and thus ensures that the steel is available when it is needed.
Of the more than 600 customers that communicate with Germany’s biggest steel producer via EDI, four percent have already switched to OFTP2. “So we already have experience in this area,” says Hetkamp. And the company is happy to share this experience with its customers: The customer service staff advises them and assists with setting up the EDI line. “Our customers are rethinking their processes: More and more small and medium-size companies are now also using our e-business service,” says Heitkamp. “In five or ten years, 95 percent of our customers will be using this service.” This technology not only improves business relationships for both sides, it also makes it possible to exchange data in a more targeted way – a particularly important step against the background of Industry 4.0.