Artificial Intelligence (AI) systems are becoming more and more sophisticated. AI solutions are changing entire industries and business practices all over the globe. The manufacturing, mining, and steel industries are among the first to adopt AI to improve production and efficiency.
The steel industry is currently the leader of smart production, as more and more companies enter the digital transformation dubbed Industry 4.0. Let's look at the primary applications of industry 4.0 in a steel company in more detail.
Technologies Behind Industry 4.0
All applications of industry 4.0 rest on a number of highly advanced technologies that make the digital transformation possible in the first place. AI systems and machine learning models are the backbones of industry 4.0, but these two technologies can't do much without the Internet of Things (IoT).
AI and ML work together to analyze large amounts of data and find patterns in the operation. They need a vast amount of data to provide accurate results, and most of the data comes from IoT sensors placed on every machine and other elements. The sensors monitor machine performance in real-time, sending the data to the ML model that learns how the system works. The ML model then sends analyzed data to the AI solution that uses automation to improve production and efficiency.
When these three technologies work together, industries can generate valuable insights that can help bring production and management to a new level. For example, the Digital Twin technology allows businesses to re-create entire production lines, products, services, or business processes in a digital environment. That makes it much easier to run accurate simulations and predict the future of production.
AI As The Brains of The Operation
We gave you a little overview of how Industry 4.0 works. There are multiple technologies involved, but AI is at the center of the action. It's responsible for structuring analyzed data and finding ways for improving operational performance and efficiency. The AI finds "shortcuts" and proposes solutions that take the load off the employees while improving productivity with automation.
The AI solution then takes over the most time-consuming tasks to keep the operation running. It practically takes over management and finds better solutions for various tasks. Of course, it takes a lot of time and effort to create an in-house AI solution. The process is also still too expensive, so AI is still a distant dream for most small and medium-sized businesses. However, with new AI solutions introduced almost daily, it will soon become more affordable for smaller businesses as well.
Efficiency, Performance, Productivity, and Safety Boost
Once you apply industry 4.0 in a steel company, it will lead to all kinds of benefits. The steel industry requires certain skills such as math, programming, and so on. Systems that use AI solutions for monitoring and measuring perform better because AI doesn't make mistakes. Once it automates most tasks, it leads to a drastic increase in productivity and a huge improvement in product quality.
Again, the steel industry is a heavy industry that involves a lot of hazardous situations. Most facilities have massive blast furnaces that produce a lot of heat and dangerous gasses. Workers have to put their lives at risk to ensure that all furnaces are charged and running as they should be. However, working in such conditions leads to errors that harm product quality and lead to injuries.
Ai can help reduce human injuries while increasing productivity by monitoring all machinery in real-time. For example, advanced 3D-radar technology can help create an ideal charging process model to improve blast furnace conditions and increase yields.
That makes the factory floor much safer for everyone. Moreover, IoT sensors keep monitoring all machines and departments in real-time. AI solutions can use other embedded devices such as cameras and gas sensors to predict hazards before anything happens. It can then notify shift managers and engineers about the issue, allowing them to clear the problem before a catastrophic event. Therefore, AI can not only help increase productivity and efficiency, but it can also completely change the way we think about the steel industry.
All About Data
Every AI/ML solution is only as good as the data it gets. For industry 4.0 in a steel company to work, the AI needs a steady stream of high-quality performance data directly from the factory floor. Data is the driving force behind industry 4.0, and IoT sensors are in charge of feeding AI with data.
Let's see how that works in a practical example. Let's say that a steel slab makes it to the reheating furnace. Tiny laser sensors scan the slab and inform the AI about details such as temperature, air intake, etc. The AI views the data and instructs the machine to increase or lower the air intake to create an ideal setting and ensure that the slab is treated perfectly.
That prevents the slab from getting twisted or potentially breaking the machine or causing an accident. Other advanced practices such as predictive maintenance lead to a significant cost and downtime reduction. Most steel plants have to keep working 24/7, so it's hard to plan regular maintenance. Moreover, the downtimes caused by preventive maintenance can cost companies millions in damages. AI can help reduce costs by predicting future issues, allowing engineers to fix them before a total breakdown.
All of that is possible only because of data, so it's safe to say that data is the key factor in every Industry 4.0 system.
It's clear that data has a direct impact on industrial productivity, but it also has an impact on other processes. For example, smart meters and IoT sensors work together to reduce waste and wasted energy.
Most steel factories use large amounts of energy to keep their machines running. Most of the energy is generated using gas from the furnaces and rolling processes, but large amounts still come from the local power grid. AI can help reduce energy consumption by accurately measuring which type of steel needs the most energy to process. Producers can then figure out energy consumption costs and go with the cheapest material.
Optimization Through Accurate Measuring
Accurate measuring can also help steel companies save money on materials. For example, AI solutions can measure the coating thickness during galvanization much more accurately than any other method. AI provides more control over this and many other processes.
More control means better product quality and higher customer satisfaction. Moreover, AI-powered systems can use visual inspection cameras to detect defects during production. Better product quality also has a positive effect on customer satisfaction. Steel manufacturers that use IoT, AI, and ML systems can remove defects completely through constant improvement.
Industry 4.0 in a steel company makes a lot of sense because it helps improve most production processes while saving costs. The adoption of this technology is expensive, but once AI takes control over the system, it provides some incredible benefits.
More and more industries are adopting these new technologies in their effort to achieve a higher level of productivity and efficiency. Keep in mind that this is still an emerging technology, so there's plenty of room for improvement.