Software helps make stainless steel

Camstar Systems’ InSite enterprise manufacturing management system has been selected by ALZ NV of Genk, Belgium for use in ALZ’s European network of metals-producing plants.

ALZ is an international producer of coils, sheets, and plates in hot- and cold-rolled stainless steel. InSite will help manage and control the flow of product as it moves through the manufacturing process, serve as an information conduit between plant floor operations and enterprise-level business systems, and support the automatic routing and setup of ALZ’s metals-producing and finishing equipment.

The initial deployment of InSite will be at ALZ’s manufacturing facilities in Genk, which consist of one steel plant, three cold rolling mills, and several finishing and packaging lines. ALZ is planning on doubling its production output – from 600,000 tons to 1.1 million tons – over the next four years, and the InSite implementation is part of a broad-scale IT effort to support the investment in new equipment that will be made to accommodate that growth.

‘We didn’t want IT to be a limiting factor as we rapidly ramp up production to the new levels,’ says Dr. Paul Vanvuchelen, manager of Integrated Production Systems (IPS) at ALZ.

‘We realised that we needed an execution backbone that was flexible enough to accommodate the different processes throughout our internal supply chain, from the steel plant to the rolling mills and the finishing plants. By having a common execution platform for all production operations, our software maintenance, education, and training costs will be minimised. This will allow us to focus our IT efforts on integrating additional application components, such as an APS (advanced planning system) and our own mathematically-modelled optimisation engines, that will help us use our manufacturing resources more effectively.’

At ALZ, InSite will be tightly integrated with Intellution’s FIX Dynamics SCADA software that drives the plant floor equipment, as well as to the IBM/DB2-based, internally-developed ERP software that handles inventory management, purchasing, and order processing for the company. ‘One of our objectives was to make sure that we had a transaction-based manufacturing execution system that could keep up with the production load, so our work-in-process and order tracking information will always be current,’ says Vanvuchelen.

‘Also, at the production volumes that we will be moving to, we have no choice but to implement full data collection automation so our operators can concentrate on their work and not have to be burdened with feeding information to the system. In order to drive our manufacturing models we will be collecting more and more accurate information than would be possible if we were dependent on manual input from the plant floor.’

The new manufacturing systems being developed will be built around InSite, closely-coupled to ALZ’s proprietary mathematical models that will determine and direct production based upon the current market price of the raw materials used in the manufacture of stainless steel. InSite will feed plant floor data to the models, and then send data from the models back to the plant floor and to the company’s reporting units. ‘There are many ways one can make stainless steel,’ says Vanvuchelen, ‘and the most cost-effective way to make it at any particular time varies based on the market price of the ingredients used. The models we’ve developed will tie directly into current market price quotes for raw materials, determine the best mix of ingredients, and then dynamically communicate the purchasing, processes, and plant floor routings required to manufacture our product that way.’

According to Vanvuchelen, the savings that can be realised by the model-driven mode of operation being implemented are substantial, and will result in a quick payback for the investment now being made in software development. ‘Our models indicate that we can easily save one-half Belgian Franc per kilo of production in the steel plant by adjusting and tuning our processes based upon raw material market prices,’ says Vanvuchelen.

‘At our current level of production – 600,000 tons per year – that computes to a saving of nearly $7.5 million per year. And as we grow towards doubling our production, it gets into the range of $15 million per year. That makes for a very short payback time on our hardware and software investments.’

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