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  • Embracing the future of technology

How digitalisation is transforming ArcelorMittal Europe - Flat Products

Wim Van Gerven, CEO Business Division North, ArcelorMittal Europe – Flat Products

In today’s world it is rare for anyone to spend even a few hours away from digital technology – it’s transforming everyday life. Now digitalisation is transforming the steel industry and ArcelorMittal Europe – Flat Products. But how will it affect the way we interact with our customers, suppliers, and other stakeholders?

We talk a lot within my team about ‘digital transformation’ and ‘Industry 4.0’, so let me start by defining what I mean. Industry 4.0 represents the next phase in the digitalisation of the manufacturing sector. It is made possible by the astonishing rise in the amount of data we can collect, the computational power available to analyse that data, and connectivity. ‘Digital transformation’ is about how we take advantage of the opportunities which arise from Industry 4.0 and new technologies.

And as you can see in this overview, the value creation possibilities are infinite:

Seeing what is happening

As a business we have always generated a lot of data, but until now we haven’t had the technological capabilities to interpret and exploit that data meaningfully. Technology has now reached a point where we can quickly process large volumes of data, and use that information to add real value to the steel business – both on the shop floor and in our relationships with customers.

Sensors, for example, have become very cost-efficient, and we now use them in their thousands. With the data they gather we are able to analyse what’s happening in very fine detail quickly. Armed with this information, we can take preventative action to limit disruptions.

What benefits does digitalisation bring for ArcelorMittal?

In the space of just a few years, the technology available to our business has expanded dramatically. That has given us the ability to develop products faster, improve our processes and reliability, and meet customer needs very quickly.

Having people with the analytical skills to leverage data and systems to get the best out of a digital organisation will be a key driver in making the most of the opportunities Industry 4.0 will bring. 

We are already seeing the benefits of this in our production processes. For instance, we can improve our yield by means of predicting techniques and big data analytics related to production. Algorithms and sensors, combined with new computing power, allow us to “listen” to blast furnaces to better understand their health and more accurately plan maintenance and re-lines. Because blast furnace re-lines are one of the most expensive and time-intensive repairs we carry out in steel plants, the cost benefits here are considerable. 

We are working on projects such as ‘digital twinning’. This involves building virtual models of physical assets or manufacturing processes. These models continually learn and provide data insights.

We already have a number of these digital twins up and running. One of the most interesting examples is our ability to make a digital fingerprint of a coil that’s scheduled for delivery to our customers. Data about the coil, including any quality defects, are recorded in the digital twin of the coil in the cloud. This is accessed via a barcode attached to the coil.
Customers can automatically scan the barcode when the coil arrives to access that quality data. By knowing where the issues with the coil are in advance, they can eliminate waste significantly and optimise their productivity.

3D printing is another, exciting application that has huge potential for steel. With a digital 3D model of a piece of machinery, we can print parts. Our goal is to use predictive data to identify when a part is about to fail so that the line itself can order a 3D printed part before production is disrupted.

ArcelorMittal’s R&D teams are exploring materials which can be used as 3D printing powders. We are working with specialist companies who are using our steel powder to create 3D-printed structures such as bridges.

What does digitalisation mean for ArcelorMittal's customers?

Digitalisation also provides us with connectivity. By connecting our mills, systems, and order books – we create one virtual mill that removes boundaries. When a customer places an order for a steel grade that is not available from their normal mill, we can locate the coils the customer requires within minutes. In the past we needed to search different systems or make calls to locate the right product. We’d meet the customer’s need, but it may have taken a few days.
We’re also transforming our digital relationship with customers in three main ways:

  1. Automated transactions (such as e-invoices or automated order scanning). It might not sound revolutionary, but this improves accuracy and saves our customers – and ArcelorMittal – time and money.
  2. Our supply chain portal, SteelUser, is now used by more than 90 percent of our customers daily. It provides order follow-up, quality certificates, product catalogues, and a direct link to customer services.
  3. We’re continuously developing new mobile apps and web services, such as track and trace. This allows customers to see exactly where their steel order is in real-time.

Projects like this aren’t easy in a company of ArcelorMittal’s size. But once they are implemented, they bring major benefits and value precisely because of our scale and complexity.

Digitalisation also transforms ArcelorMittal

For employees of ArcelorMittal Europe – Flat Products, digitalisation is transforming the way we work and how we learn new skills. Safety, our number one priority, is a good example.

We now use drones to inspect hazardous areas such as roofs which are difficult or dangerous to access. When we combine drones with thermography, we can find hot spots that are invisible to the human eye and would not be found with traditional inspection methods.

We’re also trialling the use of wearable devices and augmented reality, using Google glasses in certain applications in order to carry out lock-out/tag-out procedures for safe access to machines or quality inspections within the steel plant. It also enables us to create realistic interactive training which transforms how people learn new skills.

Cultural change within the company is as important as the digital changes themselves. We’re creating new, start-up style teams of people across Europe. They work together to develop digital projects and take them from concept to maturity. Across the commercial, industrial, and R&D teams, we already have hundreds of people working on Digital projects across Europe.

None of this would be possible without the work being done by our highly talented R&D teams who are based all over the world, but predominantly in Europe. They are permanently on the look-out for new technologies and partners to help make our business safer and more competitive.

Ultimately, our vision is to have a fully digitalised enterprise where everything is connected, to the advantage of production, our customers, and employees. And with the result that we as a business, have the competitive advantage.

Wim Van Gerven
CEO Business Division North
ArcelorMittal Europe – Flat Products