Global steel conferences. I've been to a few in my time and they have all been very inspiring in so many ways. As a magazine editor, the big steel events, such as this month's annual World Steel Association Conference in Dubai, and the CRU World Steel Conference, held every March, are two crucial events for any self-respecting journalist wishing to gain a broad understanding of the current state of the steel industry. There are, of course, many others... and now there's one more.
Steel Times International is to run its own conference, but it's not going to tread on the hallowed ground of the aforementioned established events – perish the thought! Rather than focus on the broader issues tackled by many conferences – China springs to mind – we will focus upon technology, and not 'technology' in the wider sense of casting and rolling, but something known as Industry 4.0, or 'smart manufacturing' as they call it in the USA.
Industry 4.0 might sound like a software package you can pick up from a PC store (life's not that easy) but it's much more than that; in fact, it is best described as a philosophy embracing a variety of different aspects of digitalisation, which, when joined together, form a digital manufacturing platform that brings with it greater control and greater efficiencies. In short, we're talking about the fourth industrial revolution. Industry 4.0 is the next stage in the evolution of industrialisation.
How well the global steel industry has embraced the technologies behind Industry 4.0 depends a great deal on who you talk to; some say not enough, while others state that steel, more so than any other manufacturing sector, is well-positioned and clued up to make the most out of the elements involved (big data, the internet of things, cyber security and so on); it's all a matter of 'connectivity' – another important buzzword associated with Industry 4.0.
But there is a need for discussion and that's why we have decided to run the Future Steel Forum in Warsaw, Poland, 14-15 June 2017. I am developing the conference programme and I want to hear from anybody keen on presenting a paper.
Email me today for more details.
Editor, Steel Times International
I worry about our so-called ‘political elite’ and its ability to ‘do the right thing’. Like a lot of people I was disappointed with the result of the UK’s EU referendum.
While it’s good to see ‘democracy at work’, the decision to leave the EU appears to be because there are many people living in the UK whose needs and concerns are simply ignored by those in positions of power. June 23 was payback time.
Turning the political status quo on its head appears to be a global trend and one that can be predicted, it seems, simply by working out what would be the worst outcome and then betting on it. So, the UK leaving the EU – not a great idea, but hey ho, it’s happened. The nightmare has become reality. What’s next? Donald Trump – considered a joke candidate to be voted leader of the free world, but guess what? It’s looking increasingly likely.
When it comes to the global steel industry, the common wisdom is that giving China Market Economy Status (MES) would not be a good idea. Last week in Brussels the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), an influential group whose opinion is valued by European Commission officials in charge of decision-making, called for the abolition of the lesser duty rule and the need to enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of trade defence instruments. “Enough is enough. We have to save our steel,” said Andrés Barceló, rapporteur of the EESC opinion on Steel: Preserving sustainable jobs and growth in Europe. He said it was time to ‘restore a level playing field for Europe’s steel industry’.
The EESC believes that granting MES to China would be a ‘serious setback for Europe’s ambitions for sustainable development and the fight against climate change’. But it goes beyond steel. It would affect the aluminium, bicycle, ceramic, glass, motor vehicle parts and paper industries, the EESC claims.
The global steel industry has been making similar arguments for many years, but as the time approaches for making the big decision, I worry. Jean-Claude Juncker and Chinese premier Li Keqiang seem far too cosy for my liking and talk of an ‘EU deal to assuage steel dumping concerns’ makes me wonder whether another big political mistake is looming large.
“It’s a robot. Ash is a goddamn robot!” This immortal line from Ridley Scott’s Alien will stick with me forever, along with other memorable film quotes that I’ll refrain from mentioning in this leader, although “My friend wants his hand back” from the first Mad Max is worthy of recognition.
The reason for airing the Alien quote is simple: steel production is moving fast towards greater automation and, of course, ‘smart manufacturing’ or ‘industry 4.0’. We’re talking about digitalisation, folks, and while I would imagine the notion of robots replacing steelworkers is a long, long way off – how dangerous would that be? – the steel industry needs to get to grips with what Alvin Toffler once described as ‘future shock’.
And let’s be fair to the steel industry; it’s not as if it hasn’t acclimatised itself to digitalisation. As this issue proves, there’s a lot of stuff being done and plenty of research and development going on surrounding the subject.
At last year’s World Steel Conference in Chicago, during a discussion about digitalisation, I suggested via email that the building blocks of digitalisation were all in place, but what the steel industry lacked was connectivity. Now there’s a good piece of ‘Industry 4.0’ terminology. In other words, bringing everything together, linking everything up.
I mention technology and digitalisation and all things ‘futuristic’ for two reasons: one, Steel Times International will be organising an ‘Industry 4.0’ conference next year – more details to follow, but if you have an idea for a presentation, email me soon – and two, this issue has a kind of ‘technology’ bias.
There’s a lot of ‘techy’ stuff going on at present that shows how far the steel industry has progressed in terms of controlling the steel making process.
This digital edition of Steel Times International opens a few windows on to the world of digital manufacturing and shows how technology, in various guises, be it Fives’ Stein Digit@l furnaces or Transbotics’ automated guided vehicles, has infiltrated the world of steel production.
But let’s finish with a quote from Jeff Vintar from I, Robot. “Robots building robots. Now that’s just stupid.”