As CTO of Primetals Technologies, it is my responsibility to have a detailed overview of the vast scope of technological solutions we provide. Even more importantly, I am putting much of my focus on the orchestration of our R&D efforts. I am delighted by the fact that the employees of Primetals Technologies have implemented no less than 200 new R&D projects per year on average since the start of the company in 2015. It is our ambition to constantly pioneer new innovations in the field of metals production, because we want you, as our customers, to be the market leaders of tomorrow and to remain in that position for decades to come.
In order to do this successfully, we are tirelessly monitoring economic changes as they occur. Also, we are keeping a close eye on new technological prospects, even beyond the boundaries of the metals industry itself. We have, for instance, built strong alliances with a large group of start-up companies in recent years, and these partnerships have already led to invaluable contributions to our internal R&D work. Overall, I can say that the combined efforts of our own extensive research and our collaboration-based innovations have allowed us to widen our portfolio and further improve existing solutions.
This climate of innovation is an integral component of the DNA of Primetals Technologies. It is a large part of why I am so proud to serve as the company’s CTO. Conferences such as the ESTAD and the ECCC of 2017, which this issue of Metals Magazine is dedicated to, are a fantastic opportunity for us to showcase our determination to offer our customers the most advanced solutions in the industry. Nothing can convey our technological competence more clearly than a presentation of some of our most recent R&D milestones. 71 of them have been brought together in this edition of Metals Magazine, and you can read about the objectives of these projects from page 18 onwards. The subject matter of these conference-paper summaries can be challenging due to their highly technical nature. Therefore, I would like to offer you some guidance in how to read these abstracts by outlining a few distinct trends. Basically, I see four technological areas in which Primetals Technologies has conducted particularly active research, and will continue to do so.
The first area is that of ECO solutions. “ECO” stands for “ecological” and implies that the respective initiatives are directed toward improving the CO2 footprint of our customers’ plants, their energy efficiency, their overall performance when it comes to outperforming even the most stringent environmental regulations, and other aspects of steel production that have an impact on the environment. Most of the savings potential, of course, lies with upstream technologies, because those by and large are the most energy-intensive. We are constantly working on the refinement of our solutions for the production of direct-reduced iron, which yields significant savings in terms of energy needs and CO2 emissions when used as an input material for steelmaking. Quite appropriately, we are seeing a shift toward increased “material flexibility” among producers, meaning that they are prepared to select the source material for the steel production process on the basis of its respective energy efficiency. We are presenting our current status of energy saving, heat recovery, and many other technological initiatives at this year’s ESTAD and ECCC events.
“It is our ambition to constantly pioneer new innovations in the field of metals production, because we want you, as our customers, to be the market leaders of tomorrow.”
Our second chiefly important R&D field is marked by the terms “Industry 4.0,” “Industrial Internet of Things,” and “digitalization.” These are more than just buzzwords to us. We have already brought a number of corresponding projects into a market-ready stage, and our ambition is that, not very far from now, all equipment supplied by us will be capable of being monitored and controlled by “intelligent” machines with sophisticated algorithms. The target here is to build bridges between a great number of different technological components. We have isolated several factors that need to be implemented in parallel to reach this goal: Smart sensors will provide detailed condition-monitoring information of all plant equipment and make the creation of an expert system with knowledge-based process models and advanced predictive maintenance a reality; automatic functions will free up workers to focus on those tasks where human interaction is indispensable; cyber-physical systems will secure the complex site workings of a plant; and advanced human-machine-interface technologies will put the data gathered from production facilities “into the manager’s pocket.” The term that best reflects our larger vision for this approach is that of a “cognitive plant.” Basically, the plant “knows” more about itself and becomes “smarter.” Since Primetals Technologies has the advantage of being a full-line supplier, we are in an ideal position to deliver truly groundbreaking results in this future-oriented form of advanced automation.
Linked production processes is the third area I would like to emphasize. What I am thinking of here is actually several different types of production lines that are more streamlined than the traditional manufacturing route. Arvedi Endless Strip Production belongs to this category of highly efficient, extremely future-compatible metals-production methods. Another one is WinLink, a compact plant setup, where a high-speed billet caster is directly connected to a high-availability rolling mill, resulting in a highly energy-efficient steel production process. I also associate a number of technologies that improve overall plant throughput with this area, such as the bar-joining, heavy laser welding, compact cold rolling, and strip-casting solutions we offer. The same applies to our portfolio for the production of non-ferrous metals.
The fourth R&D area I would like to point out is that covered by our Through-Process Optimization (TPO). This area is different from the first three, in that TPO is actually less of an independent com-ponent and more of a comprehensive platform that supports many other technologies. The core idea is to take a very detailed, in-depth look at a customer’s plant and determine the crucial spots where well-executed adjustments can yield a significantly improved end product. With TPO put to use in a steel plant, knowledge management no longer solely relies on workers passing on what they have learned over the years to their trainees. Rather, a lot of the experience gained within the plant is accumulated in the TPO system, evaluated, and put into a very large context before it is finally re-applied. Obviously, this know-how-based manufacturing-execution system not only depends on great software that we have developed over the years, but also on good and stable customer relationships. Therefore, we continuously do our best to build trust with our customers.
In general, the signs of our times are that revamps and modernization packages are requested more often by our customers than large-scale greenfield projects. That is completely fine with us. We go where our customers need us the most, partner with them whatever their goal may be, and support them for as long as it takes for them to be fully satisfied with the collaboration. Not only do we offer consultation and project planning, but we also accompany our customers through the entire process of project execution and construction, all the way to the training of their employees. To us, this is what partnering with our customers really means, and the fact that we emphasize this distinction defines us as a company.
Let me come back to what we are presenting to you in this issue of Metals Magazine, the conference-paper abstracts reflecting our submissions to the ESTAD and ECCC of 2017. I hope that they will give you a clear idea of the R&D strategy that Primetals Technologies has crafted, and of our determination to support you in making a difference on the market. Our mission is to create the future of metals – with our vast portfolio of proven technological packages, with our constant search for new and innovative solutions, and, most essentially, with you, our valued customers.
Dr. Etsuro Hirai
CTO of Primetals Technologies