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Strategic plant management in the steel industry
Classic considerations of steel production divide the integrated metallurgical plant into the stages of ore preparation followed by coke, pig iron and steel production, followed by forming (rolling, forging, pressing) and surface treatment (coating) or further processing. Mastering such systems and maintaining the high value of the plant involved requires organisational and tactical units that are consolidated in the companies of the steel industry under the terms ‘plant engineering’ or ‘plant management’. Strategic plant management consists of all the measures undertaken to ensure the efficient, quality-oriented and safe operation of steel production plants.
Many innovative technical developments during the last 25 years, in particular, have allowed cost-effective production, greater flexibility, constant improvements in quality, and the development of new products. The current high technical level of development also continues to ensure the competitiveness of the European steel industry.
Efficient plant management enables cost reductions
Despite its many individual processes, steel production is a closed complex, i.e. a system of individual plants that are networked with one another via logistical and IT connections. The current high state-of-the-art in areas such as automation technology, sensor systems and hydraulics is the prerequisite for being able to operate many of the increasingly complex production plants. The need for optimised plant operating costs is rising given the ever-increasing competition and capital market pressure. Whereby it is the maintenance costs that are often the subject of attention. These represent a not insignificant proportion of plant costs (for construction and operation). A comprehensive optimisation of investment and maintenance management through a holistic consideration of costs – from the new construction, through the entire service life, to replacement – opens up further cost-reduction potentials.
The development and construction of plants
Implementation of an investment in the steel industry is divided into a range of complex processes that include the planning phase, the invitation to tender and awarding of the contract, design, construction, commissioning, acceptance, and invoicing of the project. Experience from many projects shows that shortening the duration of the project and compiling binding project documentation make an important contribution towards reducing the economic risk of major investments. Shorter projects do not tie up new capital and personnel for as long.
Maintenance – a major competitive factor
Efficient maintenance is an important competitive factor for the plant operator. A particular maintenance measure is efficient if it takes place at an optimum point in time, namely at a defined interval to the occurrence of any possible damage. Maintenance measures not only restore the plant to its original state, but also improve it to the necessary technical level.
Mechanical and electrical workshops form the backbone for maintenance work. Depending on the task, the workshops maintain a machine park – for production and repair activities – that is optimised for a company’s actual plant technology. The workshops have a particularly detailed knowledge of process and plant technology. This enables them to carry out maintenance orders reliably and at a reasonable price. They can also react very quickly in the case of disruption, contributing towards a considerable reduction in downtimes and the resultant loss of production.
Automation technology in steel production
Hydraulic loop lifter in use
Most production processes in the steel industry are not continuous and have short reaction times. Fluctuating starting conditions and changing capacity utilisations are constraints that considerably complicate automation. There is also a variety of very rapid and dynamic processes in rolling and forming plants with almost linear transfer characteristics, for which a high level of automation has been achieved. The most important developments of recent years have taken place on the process control level. Modern process control systems are digital decentralised process automation systems. In addition to the basic functions of measurement, control, regulation, operation and observation, decentralised systems offer improved automation functions, e.g. the automatic formulation procedure or process models.