Steel production is a complex task. Each area has special requirements and challenges to cope with. This is especially true for the Finishing processes. By properly considering the combination of all factors in this area, customers can achieve significant improvements in the final steps of the production process.
The new PSImetals solution at ArcelorMittal Fos-sur-Mer in France provides a recent example of how to improve production performance by optimising Finishing operations even in a mature environment.
ArcelorMittal Fos-sur-Mer is an integrated mill with a long history of using software to optimise their supply chain, including a solution designed to cover the Finishing operations, perfectly tailored to the needs of the customer. But this customisation had one big disadvantage— rules and guidelines to be considered were hard-coded in the system, and difficult to adapt when business processes required change ArcelorMittal Fos-sur-Mer has increasingly changed its business model towards the delivery of high value end products, in order to continue to remain successful in a highly competitive market. To support this business the production processes have had to be adapted—a task which an inflexible, aging software tool could not handle. In particular in the Finishing operations numerous constraints need to be considered—a job that was increasingly performed manually by the operators. Accordingly, the current trend shows many producers moving to replace their manual processes with optimised IT solutions.
The decision to modify the business model of ArcelorMittal Fos-sur-Mer to focus more on the creation of high value products has been successful. The utilisation of the Finishing lines has increased steadily, to where it is becoming a bottleneck.
An increase in productivity is therefore vital. Several ways to improve the situation are possible. With smart scheduling of the pickling line the number of roll and knife changes in the following tempering line can be markedly reduced, an objective which is nearly impossible to achieve manually. There are further important process relevant improvements that can be tackled with optimised scheduling such as avoiding weld breaks, optimising the allocation of material depending on its storage location and considering special trimming requirements.
Besides those technical constraints business relevant pre-requisites also need to be considered, such as high priority orders or preferred customers.
A similar picture was apparent at the Galvanisation lines at another customer. Here the task was to handle the complex scheduling constraints between all downstream lines as well as the requirements at the Galvanisation line itself, related to the typical coil welding constraints (width, gauge, and quality change), zinc coating transitions, and considering the specific material restrictions due to the current campaign and surface quality requirements. A major improvement was achieved in the communication between the automated schedulers on all Finishing lines, which also significantly reduced the number of dummy coils needed. These coils are used to bridge infeasible transitions resulting from technical scheduling constraints due to a lack of coils with the proper dimensions in stock in front of the line. Dummy coils bind capital and reduce productivity.
An optimisation of the Pickling line schedule also allows solving problems of coil combinations in order to optimise coil weights along the entire production route and to ensure a cutting plan that satisfies the customer’s quality requirements.
At ArcelorMittal Fos-sur-Mer the decision to choose PSImetals as a new tool for finishing supply-chain optimisation was based on a long track history. PSImetals Caster Scheduler and PSImetals Line Scheduler for the Hot Rolling Mill have been implemented successfully in the past. Extending a well-known platform within the plant also makes it possible to exchange employees within planning department from one line to the other easily. For commissioning a rollout concept was implemented that actively included the ArcelorMittal Fos-sur-Mer staff. On only two of seven lines was PSI the lead implementer. The commissioning of the other five lines was achieved by a team of three ArcelorMittal Fos-sur-Mer employees, with PSI experts providing solely a supporting role.
This collaboration model has been successfully used at other customers as well. The customer’s staff was trained during the implementation of some pilot lines, so as to be able to implement the others by themselves. This has two main benefits: The customer’s employees know the solution from the very first day and are immediately able to reconfigure it in case of new requirements or constraints. And, the external costs for the customer can be kept low—especially in the area of finishing with a large number of lines—by using the learning curve of its own employees as part of a roll-out strategy.
with Emmanuel Chaput, DRC-Support, ArcelorMittal Fos-sur-Mer
PSI: What is special about the Finishing area?
Emmanuel Chaput: The company policy is to increase the number of high value products in the order book. This means a higher volume of materials which have complex scheduling rules (in particular regarding welding). This requirement was the original project driver.
Why do you enjoy working with PSImetals?
The product quality combined with the expertise of the PSI team. PSI consultants always have suggestions to meet our needs.
Starting the project with a prototype gave us the possibility to directly involve key users and thus implement a product which fulfils the business requirements but which is also perfectly configured for users.
Do you have any recommendations to other producers?
It is very important to involve the end users as early as possible in the project. This allows configuration of the user interface to meet the users’ daily needs, which also makes the change management during commissioning significantly easier. In the end, the whole team is committed to the new application.
The new PSImetals solution fulfils the customer’s expectations and has improved ArcelorMittal Fos-sur-Mer’s performance in the area of Finishing remarkably. But how is this possible in an environment of processes which are mature and have been developed over many years by a highly experienced staff? After a benchmark analysis of the AM Fos-sur-Mer implementation as well as experiences from other projects four main drivers could be identified.
PSImetals Planning tools are highly configurable and allow quick adaptations following new business rules, strategies and constraints within the producer’s environment. Key users are able to do this via the graphical user interface without programming while begin supported by the metals specific standard features of PSImetals.
It is nigh impossible to manually consider all constraints and factors that influence the creation of a schedule. An algorithm based optimisation in the hands of experienced planners and schedulers is able to overcome this complex hurdle, and allows them to do it faster with less effort than before.
Finishing production lines are becoming more and more important. The use of advanced planning software like PSImetals to increase the utilisation of the existing production equipment is more efficient than investing in new expensive equipment—and more flexible.
By expanding the existing PSImetals solution from Casting and Hot Rolling to Finishing a bigger “user community” can be created within the customer’s organisation. Concepts like job rotation and higher flexibility in employee utilisation can be realised. Recent positive experiences could be already made at ArcelorMittal Fos-sur-Mer.
The acceptance of such a system by the planning and scheduling experts is the real key to success. Not viewing the new tools as competition or replacement allows the achievement of benefits from both worlds: the mathematical power of software aligned with the experience and flexibility of human experts.
The experience at ArcelorMittal-Fos-sur-Mer proves that PSImetals motivates the users to look beyond their borders. The powerful but easy to use analysis functions enable the planners to gather important information for other departments such as Logistics or Quality. Starting the automatic scheduler instead of scheduling hundreds of coils manually provides extra time to analyse the quality of the results. The quick analysis functionality also greatly improves the response time to questions from the customer regarding delivery of the finished material. But not only the provision of information by Planning department personnel is possible. The user friendly interface also encourages employees from other departments that run the application in view-only mode to do some of their own analysis.
The order management at ArcelorMittal Fos-sur-Mer has been improved within the short period of a few months. Due dates and urgent orders are considered and executed on time, to the significant benefit of the end customer.
Photos (top to bottom): Service Communication ArcelorMittal Méditerranée – Fos-sur-Mer, PSI Metals