Streamlined data

German steel producer boosts efficiency by making information available to everyone.

By Dr. Jianxiong Deng, Georgsmarienhütte

Germany’s Georgsmarienhütte GmbH supplies bar steel, billets, crude steel, and bright steel in quality and engineering grades. It is a part of the Georgsmarienhütte Holding, a group of 49 midsized companies in Germany, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Australia, and the United States. The steelworks’ customers use the company’s products to make crankshafts, connecting rods, camshafts, drive shafts, gearbox components, and chassis parts.

About 80% of our company’s revenue is generated from the automotive industry and its suppliers. Georgsmarienhütte works with highly advanced production systems to ensure the delivery of high-quality products. As such, it also has a quality management system for each of the processes that an end product goes through — from melting to shipping. Customers’ specifications and the quality requirements are converted into reference values used in production, verification, and shipping instructions. The production and verification data is logged and stored in IT systems, providing traceability for the whole production process.

Georgsmarienhütte’s production process starts in the melt shop where the scrap metal is processed in the electric arc furnace. The molten steel is then transported to the oxy-fuel burner. The second production step includes two ladle furnaces, a vacuum degasser, and a conditioning and trimming station. The liquid steel then is shed in one of two areas, depending on the customer order.

To keep up with production needs, Georgsmarienhütte has added a variety of new capabilities to its process over the years including a custom process analysis solution that automatically analyzes off-gases using mass spectrometry. As the company expanded its production systems, it also expanded the volume of data sources managing the information coming in and out of each system. The company soon found itself managing an overwhelming number of data sources including two historian servers, two Oracle databases, a Microsoft Access database, a Microsoft SQL server, and an OPC-DA for its open PLCs.

Operators, engineers, and plant managers no longer need to call IT for help sourcing and managing data from both networks.

With so many data sources, it was becoming increasingly difficult for operators and plant managers to access the analysis system and other information sources on the plant floor. On top of that, it was nearly impossible for quality managers to access production data through the business-level system. Without one simplified view into production, quality managers had to access multiple data sources using two desktop computers and manual data entry for an accurate picture of production.

This lack of insight prompted us to seek a solution that could improve insight into production, provide unified access to both production and business networks, and ultimately improve the efficiency of the steel melting process.

Rather than adding another database that would manage all production and business information, we sought a solution that would seamlessly integrate all data sources, while living on top of its already implemented Microsoft SQL server — the database where the company stores its audit logs, event logs, report configurations, and schedules.

To achieve this goal, we implemented FactoryTalk VantagePoint enterprise manufacturing intelligence software from Rockwell Automation. The application leverages Microsoft SQL to provide role-based access to comprehensive, easy-to-understand production information. With the strategic alliance partnership between Rockwell Automation and Microsoft, Georgsmarienhütte was better able to leverage control system data and its Microsoft platform to achieve its efficiency goals.

The lack of insight into multiple data sources prompted Georgsmarienhütte to seek a solution that could improve insight into production, provide unified access to both production and business networks, and ultimately improve the efficiency of the steel melting process.
The lack of insight into multiple data sources prompted Georgsmarienhütte to seek a solution that could improve insight into production, provide unified access to both production and business networks, and ultimately improve the efficiency of the steel melting process.

The software leverages a unified production model to access each data source, which helps maintain data quality. This integration provides our employees, from production workers to management staff, with access to all connected systems under one user interface, making transitioning from one program to another streamlined and simple. The software also produces Web-based reports and analytics, providing users with role-based information most relevant to their jobs.

It’s one of those old truisms that still holds well: If you want to optimize a process, you first have to measure it. Measurement produces significant amounts of data. But it’s not enough to just store it. You need to analyze and understand it to get real value from it and turn it into a business asset. This is exactly what FactoryTalk VantagePoint EMI software is helping us to do.

FactoryTalk VantagePoint EMI software provides an abstraction layer bridging the plant’s physical and logical data models. In the physical model, the various data sources are connected to the software using standard connectors. The logical model then combines the physical models and delivers them to the user. Users now have access to all data in the logical model that is relevant to their jobs and no longer need to know the physical model source. The real-time dashboard gives users insight into current production processes with Microsoft SQL delivering the metrics.

Where users once collected data from the production and business networks separately and built reports by hand, the FactoryTalk VantagePoint EMI system now allows operators, engineers, and managers to create their own reports and trend analysis and then share them with predefined group members. Georgsmarienhütte’s custom process analysis solution examines the raw materials’ chemical composition for each batch, and assembles the results in Excel. Due to the seamless integration with Microsoft technology, FactoryTalk VantagePoint EMI software can display the gas analysis table.

With the implementation of the new system, Georgsmarienhütte’s process engineering has taken a great leap forward in terms of efficiency. Prior to the integration of FactoryTalk VantagePoint EMI and Microsoft SQL, the Georgsmarienhütte IT department spent countless hours maintaining the disparate systems because they were the only personnel with access to all databases. Now, production workers and process engineers have all the data they need, whenever they need it via their Web browsers. In the same way, they also have access to data from the office and production networks. Operators, engineers, and plant managers no longer need to call IT for help sourcing and managing data from both networks. Now with FactoryTalk VantagePoint EMI, all employees benefit from unified access to all databases.

Dr. Jianxiong Deng is process engineer at Georgsmarienhütte in Georgsmarienhütte, Germany. Contact him at marketing@gmh.de.

All data is available at the right place and the right time. Authorized users can view the information on their office PC and no longer need an additional PC as in the past. This has helped us achieve our project goal, which was to understand and optimize the melting process.

Other achievements include easier access to the data sources and an intuitive, easy-to-use reporting interface. The company is also very happy with the new system’s stability and performance. We now can extend our information strategy based on FactoryTalk VantagePoint EMI software to other production systems in the chain.

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