Steel Firm Uses Smart Manufacturing to Cut Costs

Steel Firm Uses Smart Manufacturing to Cut Costs

Learn how a strategic digital transformation helped a steel producer connect multiple divisions while optimizing production and slashing downtime.

So many industrial firms are implementing smart technologies because getting connected has significant benefits. For example, smart manufacturing, the gateway to digital transformation, helps connected smart devices open new windows of visibility into processes. The resulting data and analytics enable better and faster decision-making. And, seamless connectivity spurs new collaboration.

Companies that recognize these benefits are positioning themselves for success in the long term. By making smart investments in The Connected Enterprise™, manufacturers are converging plant-level and enterprise networks, and securely connecting people, processes and technologies.

One of those companies seeing these benefits is a metals manufacturer. Comprising multiple divisions, this producer is both a supplier of raw materials and manufacturer of finished parts for a variety of consumer and industrial applications. The company melts, roll and processes steel, and is committed to investing in the people and technologies that add value to its customers' products.

While the individual divisions all serve the metals industry, each division has unique operating requirements and customer demands. This producer understood the importance of keeping up with modern technology and the opportunities associated with data-driven operations.

Digital transformation was a departure from traditional methods used within their operations, but the potential opportunity cost was too much to forego. The challenge would be to identify solutions that could be shared across the unique divisions yet deliver distinct results.

Laying the Groundwork

While the benefits of a digital transformation can be tremendous, the potential risks associated cause many manufacturing companies to tread lightly. As many as 85% of big data projects fail because of a number of factors — the top three being license to operate, the uncertain future of the current workforce and lack of buy-in company-wide. Anticipating these challenges and more, the metals manufacturer selected Rockwell Automation to help pursue their digital transformation objectives.

The Rockwell Automation team knew it was important to develop a singular strategy that allowed for strategic differences within the different divisions. Core stakeholder teams conducted operational assessments to develop a roadmap for implementation.

The implementation team consulted the executive, finance, operations, engineering and IT groups to deliver a solution that offered transparent similarities and differences across the divisions and aligned with corporate and individual needs. It was also important that these key stakeholders realized the benefits of digital transformation and were supportive to achieve long-term success.

The Approach

Using the Rockwell Automation Connected Enterprise framework, a team comprising Rockwell Automation engineers and the metal manufacturer’s stakeholders took several steps across the enterprise to develop recommendations, form a business case and establish a roadmap. The steps included:

  • Evaluation: The team examined the organization’s existing strategies and infrastructure. They analyzed IT and operational technology (OT) information and networks. The results showed each division of the company to be in a different stage of their own digital investments.
  • Assessment: The team conducted multiple division visits and workshops with diverse client stakeholders to assess potential gaps and roadblocks that could prohibit a successful digital transformation. On a divisional basis, they measured where each division was on their own journey and what they required to be successful.
  • Identification: Next, the team quantified opportunities for business benefits and improved device connectivity across divisions, and put in place a plan to address these target areas with digital transformation. These targets were set to meet goals corporate-wide, while taking into account where each entity stood separately.

The team established a clear plan, developed around the organization’s goals. They chose each identified piece of digital transformation for its ability to solve a specific business challenge and its capability to scale up organization-wide. While each division had its own unique requirements and objectives, the solutions had to fit with the metal manufacturer’s overall goals.

Smart Decisions, Smart Results

The individual divisions identified a set of tangible savings through digital transformation:

  • Improved labor productivity by 8%.
  • Reduced tooling cost by 10%.
  • Lowered scrap by 13%.
  • Cut downtime by 12%.

Digital solutions included modernizing current plant automation to allow for data access and connectivity across machinery. The team proposed edge analytics software to fulfill the need for monitoring and analyzing streaming process data for real-time anomaly detection.

Identified process improvements included augmented reality (AR) to access mobile data and for operator performance improvement, device analytics to alert to abnormalities and offer real-time device status, and model predictive control to optimize the melt process and energy usage.

From a corporate perspective, the team proposed a center of excellence that would allow the divisions to share their digital results with each other and provide a backbone for continued adaptation and success.

Several of the divisions have proceeded to implement these new solutions with Rockwell Automation and its partners in the PartnerNetwork™ program. With these updates, the metals manufacturer is positioning itself for long-term success and is prepared for the next phases of implementation. The producer already has seen significant improvements leading to optimized production, reduced downtime and money saved.


The Journal From Rockwell Automation and Our PartnerNetwork™ is published by Putman Media, Inc.

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