‘We want to lead the way’

Steel has taken a trip into the digital future. A range of different projects show how we can ensure that we stay competitive.

Steel is currently running various projects aimed at determining how opportunities for digitalization can be effectively applied to business operations. “Our goal is to inspire our customers and make production more efficient,” says Michael Kranz, Chief Information Officer at thyssenkrupp Steel. No one doubts the need for Steel to become more digital. “The market out there isn’t standing still,” says Kranz. “Pressure will increase. But we want to control the development ourselves, rather than be driven by it.” He adds that successful digitalization depends on interdisciplinary cooperation between experts from all areas in a project team. “This enables us to implement solutions quickly, while also trying out a few ideas and learning something from them.” After all, it isn’t easy to transfer individual projects to other areas.

IT experts are already laying the foundations. Before new projects (including joint ones with customers) can be initiated, it must be possible to record the vast quantities of data from production without any gaps. New information is then derived from targeted networking and data evaluation. “We want to use that information to develop projects that offer added value.”

The subject of digitalization could be seen as too complex. “Technology keeps getting more and more efficient, and we want to keep up with it,” says Kranz. “Including as a way of staying attractive as an employer. The important thing is to take everyone along with us.” He addresses fears about the future with equanimity, arguing that the company has always been changing. “Progress always means change. Procedures are eliminated, and entirely new possibilities arise.”

“Inspire our customers with intelligent digital solutions.” CIO Michael Kranz

Smarter trucking: Going paperless with the Trucker app

Freight transport on the thyssenkrupp Steel factory premises in Duisburg is being digitalized. Each day, over 2,000 trucks pass through one of the two main gates. Add to that another 13,000 smaller vehicles. And 60 partner companies stop at 600 loading stations. To reduce traffic and avoid waiting periods, Steel is now introducing paperless processing at the factory gates. Drivers can log into the system via the Internet, at self-service terminals, or through the mobile app. The entire process, from security check and entry through to weighing and loading, is now digital. The system also enables carriers to be more flexible thanks to dynamic time windows. Drivers receive timely status information and can be directed to another gate. The goal is entry without waiting times, says Ulrike Höffken, Head of Logistics. “Five minutes in, out in an hour.”

The Trucker app will help drivers find their way around the premises. A cloud-based map service directs them to the desired loading point. When a driver reports a load via the app, the system suggests the best route to take. It also helps the employees at the loading point to calculate the precise arrival time of the freight. When the traffic situation changes, the system recalculates arrival times, thereby enabling time windows to be managed flexibly at the loading points.

Opening borders and integrating customers

A customer app lets the precision strip producers at BU Precision Steel in Hagen network the order process directly with production. The customers themselves determine when their material should be produced. Only then is the primary material ordered from the continuous casting line in Duisburg. Since data from different areas is networked together, employees in Hagen can make precise plans.

This gives customers flexibility when scheduling their contracts, and it enables changes to be made shortly before the rolling process. This model for “horizontal and vertical integration” (networking within a company and across boundaries) was declared a finalist for the 35th German Innovation Prize in the category of Industry 4.0. Precision Steel also received an award from the Group itself. The customer app won several prizes at the we Awards, including a special award titled “we innovate digitally.”

Attractive workplaces in the factory of the future

How can cutting-edge technologies help people in a digitalized working environment do their jobs? That’s the main question underlying facts4workers, a European research project underway at the maintenance department in Duisburg. Having their workloads reduced through digital technology means that maintenance workers have mobile access to all the important data on a plant: information about previous maintenance work, pictures and videos, contact data for the right employees, images of the required tools, and help finding the location quickly.

In the future, it will be possible to retrieve this information via tablets at the plants using QR codes. Another goal is to create a culture in which “smart workers” actively share their expertise, thereby putting the employee in the center of Industry 4.0. Are you interested in applying this approach in your area? Please contact the Knowledge Management and Learning Organization team.