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BlueScope improves plant and energy efficiency through smart digital solutions

BlueScope is collaborating with Microsoft to deliver smart manufacturing solutions, applying digital technologies and skills to strengthen plant productivity and energy efficiency

BlueScope, a global steel manufacturer, is embracing digital as a strategic priority. Since mobilising its global digital program in 2019, BlueScope has made great progress, enabling customer experience and productivity improvements through the adoption of digital technologies.

Andrew Garey, Chief Strategy & Transformation Officer explained; “Our approach has three elements: targeted use cases in priority areas, strengthening our people and technology capabilities, and transferring solutions and knowledge across our global business.

“We started our digital efforts in manufacturing as this was the most mature part of our business and we saw large value potential. Several pilots have since been completed in this domain and we have since expanded the program to supply chain and sales domains, with promising results.”

BlueScope’s digital manufacturing efforts leverage its digital hub in Port Kembla. One of the early pilots was a collaboration with Microsoft to demonstrate the possibilities of advanced analytics, with a machine learning model being trained to analyse significant amounts of historical data to predict the temperature response of the slab-making process, enabling operators to make fast decisions that optimised performance of that process.

The team is now partnering with Microsoft to deliver three new use cases as well as build the foundational architecture to enable machine learning to be deployed across multiple sites. The use cases involve:

1. Analytics and visualisation to optimise a steelmaking process

Using machine learning to analyse the numerous and complex data streams generated during the steel refining process. By combining this plant and process information with historical performance the machine learning algorithm is able to assist engineers with determining the optimal time to execute tapping of the basic oxygen steel (BOS) making, a critical process that influences the quality of raw steel. By optimising the tapping time, BlueScope will see a dramatic improvement in productivity, asset condition, energy efficiency, as well as a reduction in greenhouse gas intensity.

2. Connecting asset data to improve plant productivity

Automated image analysis to interpret images from the video feeds of the cameras located across the Port Kembla steelworks. Through combining the image data and applying machine learning, the site will be able to more effectively monitor and troubleshoot equipment and production issues, ensuring compliance, upholding worker safety, and production reliability leveraging the video feeds of the network of over 850 cameras across the Port Kembla site.

3. Smart analytics to optimise the hot strip mill

Using machine learning models to enhance the accuracy of existing operation models in the Port Kembla Hot Strip Mill. By analysing plant and product performance, machine learning algorithms calculate the dynamic adaption required to optimise operation of the hot strip mill, improving steel production, reducing defects in finished products.

These modelling approaches and techniques are able to be scaled to solve similar problems in other parts of the business.

Brett Shoemaker, Sustainability Director, Microsoft ANZ said; “The use cases underway at BlueScope leverage Microsoft Azure Machine Learning and involve close partnership between our organisations sharing BlueScope’s domain knowledge and Microsoft’s deep technology expertise.

We believe that projects like this will help BlueScope to accelerate its progress on reducing emissions while improving worker and site safety and delivering very significant cost savings.

“Microsoft Australia’s recent report, Accelerating the journey to net zero, found the manufacturing sector outperforms most others, including IT, when it comes to incorporating technology and innovation into sustainability strategies. And a full 86 per cent of manufacturing decision makers believe their firm’s profitability over the next decade will depend on sustainability-driven innovation.”

While delivering use cases and short-term results is a core part of BlueScope’s approach to digital transformation, building foundational people capabilities and platforms to scale its business efforts are equally important.  Garey said; “There are experienced people in our organisation who have insights and a passion to solve business problems with new approaches. So, we’re upskilling them in digital competencies through training, mentoring and project involvement. External partnerships will play a role with complementing our existing skill-sets and sharing best practices – we can’t do this alone.”

Close up image of steel making
Bluescope is investing in upskilling employees in building digital capabilities.

The work in Port Kembla is a great example of this according to Michael Chapman, Digital Transformation Manager, Steel Manufacturing, BlueScope.  “One of the best things about this collaboration was working side-by-side with an experienced machine learning practitioner from Microsoft, which resulted in valuable knowledge transfer and ensuring that the solution met our local business needs.

This engagement taught us the possibilities that digital can bring to our business, as well as upskilling local subject matter experts so that we can pursue other digital opportunities in our manufacturing sites.

In addition to building people capabilities, BlueScope has progressed with creating a digital platform which includes the adoption of shared tools, technologies, to improve data connectivity and fast-track the transfer of analytics solutions across different parts of the business. Microsoft’s Azure Cloud solutions and Power Platform are part of the platform solution – these technologies are being utilised by BlueScope engineers and data scientists to develop machine learning solutions and rapidly deploy prototypes to evaluate performance and realise value for the business.

By undertaking collaborations such as this with Microsoft, BlueScope continues to create digital solutions and skills intended to improve productivity, customer experience and to drive growth.