The Materials Processing Institute, a Teesside-based research and innovation centre, is to play a leading role in a £10m digitalisation project involving the UK-based Liberty Steel Group.
The organisation will work alongside Liberty Steel Group’s Hartlepool Pipes mill, Stocksbridge-based Liberty Speciality Steels, Warwickshire-based Shiftec and TSC Simulation of Nottingham to create digital twins of the plants in order to demonstrate the huge advances that can be achieved within the production process.
The project will seek to highlight the benefits of introducing Industrial Digital Technologies (IDT) to steel and other sectors serving strategic manufacturing and construction supply chains.
The two-year project, which is worth £2m to the Institute, is being funded by Innovate UK, the UK’s innovation agency, through its Manufacturing Made Smarter Challenge, part of the government's larger Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund.
According to the Materials Processing Institute, Industry 4.0 utilises IDT to enable the recording and analysis of data across machines for continuous improvement, creating a more cost-effective, efficient, flexible and faster process.
The Institute will undertake an initial pilot project using its Normanton steel plant to assess and improve the IDT before it is applied to the production processes operated by Liberty Steel Group.
Liberty is seeking to make a significant change in both productivity and product performance by working in conjunction with the Institute, Shiftec and TSC.
The project will focus on using camera and imaging technologies in conjunction with intelligent processing and machine learning to increase accuracy – including process characterisation, the creation of digital twins and intelligent interactive process models.
Chris Oswin, who leads the Institute’s Digital Technologies Group, said: “The real challenge in adopting smart technology is how it can be retro-fitted to improve the performance of existing plant.
“Whilst this project is centred on the metals sector, it can easily be applied to any process where digital imaging can be linked to machine learning and intelligent process control.
“The three sites involved will act as demonstrators for IDT – enabling the lessons learned to be shared across other foundation industries, including energy, oil and gas, pharmaceuticals, chemicals and the process industries.”
Chris McDonald, CEO of the Materials Processing Institute, commented: “This is a hugely exciting and prestigious project which places the Institute at the forefront of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
"I'm confident this project will show how the latest digital technologies can be adopted by small businesses and successfully applied to foundation industry factories. We will enable companies to tackle the difficult, but all too common problems of brownfield sites, legacy systems, lack of connectivity and ageing equipment.
“Many of these technologies have been developed here at the Institute and we are confident they will optimise production facilities – providing far-reaching opportunities to develop the future UK economy.”