Within the voestalpine Group, human and artificial intelligence (AI) have long been working side by side: in the lab, in the offices, at the blast furnace, and in the steel mill.
They work in hot-dip galvanizing, detect the smallest irregularities on steel surfaces, read e-mails, submit quotations, monitor turnouts, and make forecasts: self-learning, i.e. intelligent systems have long been a normal part of day-to-day production and business at voestalpine. “These systems improve product quality and ensure sustainability, safety, and cost effectiveness,” says Josef Andorfer from voestalpine Stahl GmbH. “Since the technical basis for these systems is a digital imitation of human brain and thought processes, we also like to speak about artificial intelligence.”
Millions for research
The extent to which the voestalpine Group is pushing intelligent digitalization, from quality management to the development of smart products, goes beyond the fact that Andorfer is part of a network of in-house AI experts. It becomes very clear looking at the EUR 153 million that voestalpine invested in research and development in the last business year alone. The result is that huge amounts of data supplied by cameras and sensors are becoming increasingly usable and controllable, regardless of whether the data sources are optical, acoustic or magnetic or whether the data comes from temperature sensors or radar devices.
Blast furnace with IQ
“Smart technologies offer numerous opportunities for the industry and are a significant factor in the future competitiveness of our Group,” explains Herbert Eibensteiner, Chairman of the Management Board of voestalpine AG, who emphasizes that
“This requires highly trained employees who can program, operate, and monitor these systems.”
In Linz, artificial intelligence is used to inspect the quality of the most demanding steel strip and preselect the zinc layer thickness at hot-dip galvanizing line 5. A self-learning system that can optically determine grain size is used at the Linz steel mill, at the voestalpine blast furnaces in Linz and Donawitz, and at the direct reduction plant in Corpus Christi, Texas.
voestalpine Wire Technology also relies on smart surface inspection. And more: in wire production, a control system has a digital ear on production and sounds the alarm if acoustic deviations from the normal background noise suggest a technical problem. There is further great potential for artificial intelligence in automation, robotics, sensor technology, assistance systems, and analysis tools that can make predictions.
Even voestalpine products use intelligent sensor technology. One such product is the smart turnout systems from voestalpine Railway Systems. These systems contain sensors that provide round-the-clock turnout monitoring. Researchers and developers are currently working to increase the IQ of the turnouts so that they will be able see that a failure is impending and call for maintenance in a timely manner to prevent railway line closures.