Orrcon Steel to roboticise and digitise operations

Steel manufacturing and distribution company Orrcon Steel has launched a plan to harness AI and robotics, announcing major data and digital twins’ projects in partnership with Queensland industry centre ARM Hub.

With resourcing, supply chain issues and energy costs the immediate priority for many manufacturers, the company is harvesting data from 10 years’ worth of dispatch and production data to optimise operations.

General Manager Tony Schreiber said: “Success for our business, isn’t really about next financial year; it’s really about 2030 and beyond.

“How do we position the company now so that by the time 2030 comes along, there’s different leadership, capability, customers, and market opportunities – that is, what we should be doing now, so that we will be well credentialed to be a supply chain partner in the future.”

Orrcon Steel, which employs 750 employees at sites in Brisbane and Salisbury and O’Sullivan Beach in Adelaide, recently renewed their platinum membership with the non-profit advanced manufacturing group Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing (ARM) Hub.

ARM Hub CEO Associate Professor Cori Stewart said : “Our collaboration includes optimising Orrcon’s steel coil slitting operations and embedding a data science researcher at their Salisbury site to futureproof steel production operations.”

Schreiber said Orrcon would benefit from tapping the technical talent that ARM Hub provided through its extended network of robotics and AI expertise from universities.

He said: “It’s not so much ‘upskilling’ – it’s more about right-skilling the organisation for the way that society’s evolving.

“It doesn’t really matter what we’re after, whether it’s quality, service, cost improvements, or whether it’s just being able to attract the next generation of employees – we’ve got to innovate.

“We’ve got to automate, we’ve got to roboticise ourselves, but we’ve got to do it in a way that takes everyone along for the ride.”

Schreiber said one of the key focus areas of the ARM Hub partnership was Orrcon’s slitter equipment which takes 26-tonne steel coils and slits the steel into the required width, and then shapes that into a tube.

“That slitting operation makes or breaks the tube-making operations, and what really governs the efficiency of tube-making is the quality of the slit edge.”

ARM Hub experts used AI to identify the most effective means of maximising the performance of the slitter, in terms of yield optimisation, run speed, labour productivity, waste minimisation and workforce safety.

“The insights that we got from that are going to feed into our improvement programmes in the financial year 2023 and beyond.”

In another innovative project, a QUT data science expert is analysing 10-years’ worth of dispatch and production data to identify ways of optimising the production schedule of Orrcon’s three tube mills running at their Salisbury site.

“The output of these three mills, in terms of volume, is highly dependent on product mix, run lengths, change-over time optimisation, and the cubic metres of the finished product,” Schreiber said.

“There can be swings of 20-30 percent of daily output, just depending on the product mix that’s being made on each one of those mills.”

Orrcon estimates that if the hydrogen industry is fully supplied via renewables by 2050, the solar farm area alone will consume huge swathes of land just to supply electrolysers, boosting demand for steel products.

Schreiber said traditionally traceability had been about quality assurance, but now the industry was moving to traceability through supply chains.

“And, if you look at the experience of the last two years with all the supply chain disturbances – many people are rethinking whether they are content to continue with longer lead time supply chains.

“Most of our customers are moving towards shorter supply chains. As we develop down that path, intimate knowledge of where every piece of inventory is, at every point in time, is not only a business advantage, but it’s a competitive advantage.”

Picture: ARM Hub/Orrcon Steel GM Tony Schreiber and ARM Hub CEO Cori Stewart

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