ArcelorMittal, the world’s largest steelmaker, is investing in digitalisation throughout its business.

Aditya Mittal, CEO of ArcelorMittal Europe, said that 2017 had been ‘a milestone year’ for digitalisation within the company. “While the company has had a digital focus for a number of years, benefitting customers in particular, ArcelorMittal is today making major investments, not only in terms of resources, but also in time and in management attention, to remain at the forefront of digitalisation in the steel industry,” he said.

Wim Van Gerven, management committee member responsible for digital transformation for industry, speaking at the company’s Europe media day, said that ArcelorMittal wasn’t new to digitalisation and has been deploying it for years to improve its processes. “Our assets are already highly automated and in many cases connected,” he said, adding that it was the pace of change that was new. “We’re no longer having to wait two to three years for prototypes to be developed and tested – it’s happening in a matter of months,” he said.

Changes in the affordability of sensors and the ability to use big data to process huge volumes of data, ‘are creating possibilities that did not exist two years ago’, claims the company.

Centres of digital excellence have been created throughout Europe in Belgium, France, Luxembourg, Poland and Spain where new technologies are developed from prototype to maturity.

“Today, if you go to our facilities around the world, especially in Europe, you will see small clusters of people working together in finding solutions,” said Aditya Mittal. “To imagine a steel company of this size, to be addressing these challenges in a start-up style, is quite exciting,” he added.

The recent creation of ArcelorMittal Poland Research & Innovation is testament to the company’s determination to lead the field in terms of Industry 4.0 and digital manufacturing. The focus is to lead and encourage multi-functional teams to launch new initiatives.

In Spain, ArcelorMittal is concentrating on the development of breakthrough technologies through Global R&D Aviles Innovation Island Centre, which is described as one of the principal centres of excellence for digitalisation and Industry 4.0 within the ArcelorMittal group.

Also in Spain, ArcelorMittal Europe (Long Products) has created a small Digital Competence Centre where it is working on new agile methodologies and cloud technologies which are helping the business around web and mobile services, such as Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure.

In Gent, Belgium, over 100 company engineers are accelerating ArcelorMittal’s plant automation projects and rolling out the technology across the group. A team of 70 systems and modelling experts have joined forces with company engineers within ArcelorMittal Europe (Flat Products) and are working together, while in France the company’s Downstream Solutions business is creating a digital headquarters in Reims. One of the projects underway is the development of an online steel shop.

Commercial digital initiatives are ongoing and there is plenty of work underway in conjunction with leading universities throughout the world to capture the best academic expertise and implement new ideas. A key example here is the ArcelorMittal’s Long Products R&D team collaborating with the Luxembourg Institute for Science and Technology. Partnerships have also been established with a number of start-up companies working on topics such as additive manufacturing, big data analytics and manufacturing intelligence.

The key driver for ArcelorMittal is competitive advantage in terms of meeting customer needs, offering the best quality product and achieving cost efficiencies in production and logistics.

ArcelorMittal believes that customers too are driving change through digital twinning whereby virtual models of physical assets or manufacturing processes are built and enable continuous learning while providing data insights. The practice is used on production lines that supply the automotive industry to creat a digital fingerprint of a coil scheduled for delivery.

Quality defects are marked with a barcode on the coil and linked to a digital twin of the coil in the cloud. Customers can then automatically scan the bar codes when the coil arrives, access the quality data from the cloud and optimise their operations with the knowledge downloaded from the bar code. Knowing where the issues with the coil are in advance helps eliminate waste and optimises productivity.

While one could accentuate the challenges of developing and implementing digitalisation on a large scale within a global business like ArcelorMittal, the company would argue that, once implemented, these projects will only benefit such a large organisation.

Wim Van Gerven admitted that digitalisation within ArcelorMittal is far from straightforward. “But once we harness the volumes of data generated by our plants, we stand to make a huge leap in terms of the benefits of digitalisation for our manufacturing processes, and for our customers,” he said.

Van Gerven believes that cultural change within ArcelorMittal is as important as the digital changes taking place, claiming that the process of digitalisation impacts the entire business. “We are acutely aware of the need to ensure cultural change in our workforce, in order for our employees to have the right mindset to help ensure our digital ambitions are fully realised,” he concluded.