Speaking at the company's Europe media day in Paris today, Aditya Mittal, CEO ArcelorMittal Europe and group CFO, said:
"2017 has been a milestone year for digitalisation within the company. While the company has had a digital focus for a number of years, benefiting customers in particular, ArcelorMittal is today making major investments, not only in terms of resources but also in time and in management attention, to remain at the forefront of digitalisation in the steel industry".
Explaining at the company's Europe media day why the opportunities from digitalisation and Industry 4.0 are so rapidly accelerating, Wim Van Gerven, management committee member responsible for digital transformation for industry, and CEO of business division north, ArcelorMittal Europe – Flat Products, explained:
"ArcelorMittal isn't new to digitalisation, commercial or industrial. We've been deploying it for years to improve our processes: our assets are already highly automated and in many cases, connected. But the pace of change is what's new, we're no longer having to wait two to three years for prototypes to be developed and tested - it's happening in a matter of months".
Changes such as the affordability of sensors – which are used in their thousands through ArcelorMittal's plants - and the ability to use big data to process huge volumes of data generated from sensors, are creating possibilities that did not exist two years ago.
Creating centres of excellence across Europe
Recognising the benefits of collaboration on such projects, the company has created centres of digital excellence in Belgium, France, Luxembourg, Poland and Spain, where new technologies are developed from prototype to maturity:
"Today, if you go to our facilities around the world, especially in Europe, you will see small clusters of people working together in finding solutions. To imagine a steel company of this size, to be addressing these challenges in a start-up style, is quite exciting. Most people who join the steel business would not expect to have such opportunities at ArcelorMittal. This is exciting for existing employees as well as for new employees" said Aditya Mittal.
Earlier this month, ArcelorMittal Poland announced the creation of ArcelorMittal Poland Research & Innovation, to lead and encourage multi-functional teams to launch new digitalisation and Industry 4.0 initiatives, with a focus on competitiveness and industry leadership.
ArcelorMittal's R&D centre in Avilés, Spain – recently renamed the Global R&D Aviles Innovation Island Centre - is one of the principal centres of excellence for digitalisation and Industry 4.0 within the ArcelorMittal group. The group's engineers, scientists and analysts based in the centre focus on the development of breakthrough technologies.
As an extension of its certified SAP Centre of Excellence in Luxembourg, ArcelorMittal Europe – Long Products has decided to create in Olaberria, Spain, a small Digital Competence Centre, working with the new agile methodologies and cloud technologies (Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure), helping the business around web and mobile services.
In ArcelorMittal Gent, Belgium, more than 100 engineers have teamed up to work on accelerating the plant's automation projects, and to support on rolling out the technology across the group. In addition, a team of 70 systems and modelling experts has been formed, with engineers from across ArcelorMittal Europe – Flat Products' industrial sites working together.
In France, ArcelorMittal's Downstream Solutions business is creating a digital headquarters, with a small, start-up team of digital specialists based in the company's Distribution Solutions headquarters in Reims, France. The team has worked on initiatives including the company's first online steel shop.
On the commercial side of the business, a small team of data scientists has been hired in Luxembourg to further drive commercial digitalisation initiatives, in addition to the 20-strong team that has been implementing digital transformation for customers for a number of years.
ArcelorMittal is also working with leading universities in Belgium, France, Germany, Spain, the UK and USA to capture the best academic expertise and implement new ideas in the business.
For example, In Luxembourg, ArcelorMittal Europe - Long Products' R&D team is working with the Luxembourg Institute for Science and Technology.
It has also established partnerships with a number of start-up companies, working on topics including additive manufacturing, big data analytics and manufacturing intelligence.
The main driver for digitalisation at ArcelorMittal is competitive advantage, with new technologies helping to ensure:
- customers' product needs can be met straight away, for example through the company's 'virtual mill' which connects all Flat Products mills, systems, and order books, to removes all boundaries, whether geographical or technical.
- the best product quality, through better prediction using advanced analytics made possible through big data and distributed computing. This means production issues can be detected before they happen, allowing the early detection of defects.
- cost efficiency in production and logistics. For example, the company's R&D sites in Avilés, Spain has developed a unique, breakthrough technology for line scheduling – inspired by studying and mimicking the movements in ant colonies - that has significantly improved productivity. And the deployment of automated stockyards, linked to line scheduling and transport devices such as autonomous cranes means less stock is needed, and lead times are cut: two major supply chain benefits.
Driving the change
Customers are also driving change within ArcelorMittal's plants, for example with digital twinning. Digital twinning involves building virtual models of physical assets or manufacturing processes that continually learn and provide data insights.
On its production lines that supply the automotive industry, ArcelorMittal uses digital twinning to create a digital fingerprint of a coil that's scheduled for delivery.
Quality defects are marked with a barcode on the coil and linked to a digital twin of the coil in the cloud.
Customers can then automatically scan the bar codes when the coil arrives, access the quality data from the cloud and optimise their operations with the knowledge downloaded from the bar code.
By knowing where the issues with the coil are in advance, this helps to eliminate waste and optimize productivity for both supplier and customer.
The benefits of a large-scale company
While the implementation of such large-scale digital and industry 4.0 projects is challenging in a company of ArcelorMittal's size, once implemented these projects bring major benefits and value exactly because of the company's scale and complexity:
"Digitalisation at the world's largest steel and mining company isn't straightforward, but once we harness the volumes of data generated by our plants, we stand to make a huge leap in terms of the benefits of digitalisation for our manufacturing processes, and for our customers" said Wim Van Gerven.
Recognising the scale of the cultural change taking place as a result of the focus on digitalisation, Wim Van Gerven also spoke about the company's human resources strategy for developing employees' skills in this respect:
"Cultural change within the company is as important as the digital changes themselves – digital transformation is a process that impacts the entire company and we are acutely aware of the need to ensure cultural change in our workforce, in order for our employees to have the right mindset to help ensure our digital ambitions are fully realized", he explained.