3,100 employees, around 3.5 million tonnes of steel, and a site that covers seven square kilometres – this steel plant in the north of Bremen boasts some impressive numbers, not least in terms of its size. With so much ground to cover, bringing this plant into the digital age is no mean feat.
Still, a year and a half ago, the company set up a team to do exactly that. Its task is to introduce new digital technologies throughout the organisation. Last year, the team even acquired its own offices, the Digital Lab.
Digilabs – making the most of local expertise
ArcelorMittal, an international steel producer, has digitalisation teams at many of its sites, the idea being that each one contributes something to the digital transformation of the Group as a whole. Instead of a centralised innovations management imposing new technologies from above, in this approach each site can determine for itself which technology is going to take it forward. Every plant has a digital officer, whose job includes sharing any findings with the other plants, thereby facilitating the transfer of expertise. In Bremen, they have also adopted the Digital Lab approach, in other words, digitalisation from the bottom up. One major advantage of this is that the solutions are actually applied, since they are rooted in practical experience.
Parts tracking with RFID
Dr Jens Ehm, head of the Digital Lab in Bremen, offers an example. His team has been testing the use of RFID tags in the hot rolling mill, a one-kilometre building where steel ingots are rolled into strips. The tiny transmitters allow the contactless identification of objects, similar to a barcode on a carton of milk. At the plant, they are attached to the rollers that transform the steel, which require regular maintenance. “At the moment, the rollers are labelled and documented manually. The RFID transmitters allow us to automate the wireless tracking of their journey,” says Ehm. That saves time and effort, and avoids potential mix-ups.