No Fear of Changing the Running System
Production Management Systems (PMS) have proven to be an invaluable factor in the optimization of metal production processes. This kind of implementation, however, takes a lot of work and is accordingly expected to remain stable over a long period of time. Increasingly, this “never change a running system” mantra of the traditional industry is losing currency. At METEC 2019, the 10th International Metallurgical Trade Fair in Dusseldorf, PSI Metals successfully launched the PSImetals Service Platform, which enables evolution and innovation, allows secure investments in a PMS and at the same time stimulates opportunities for the journey towards digital transformation.
Today, integrated PMS are available to metal producers as standard products that are adopted across board. The rapidly changing industry is, however, challenging previous system architectures and implementation strategies.
Most PMS implementations are only done every 10-15 years, and are often driven by the construction of new lines, major technological changes such as unsupported hardware, or changes in corporate strategy following a merger or acquisition. This kind of implementation takes a lot of work on all sides and is accordingly expected to remain stable over a long period of time with only minimal changes.
The Change Drivers
This “never change a running system” mantra of the traditional industry is steadily losing currency. For metal producers, the market is changing rapidly, confronting them with more and more challenges:
- price competition from emerging markets, forcing production costs down, and new, innovative products from the emerging economies being developed
- customers like the automotive industry with increasing demands on product quality, reporting, shorter delivery times and smaller lot sizes
At the same time, technological change is accelerating. Under the umbrella term “Industry 4.0” new technologies such as Big Data Analysis, Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence, Autonomous Agents, Augmented Reality support systems, etc. are emerging, which metal producers need to take into consideration.
This digital transformation is a journey that will not be accomplished in a single step.
Existing technologies, hardware as well as software, are aging faster and faster, which will likely lead to support problems. As a result, license changes by software vendors will significantly increase maintenance costs. In order to be an accelerator for innovation in the metals industry, these challenges must be addressed by an integrated PMS.
Every journey begins with the first step. And the architecture for an evolutionarily integrated PMS that meets these challenges, secures investments and forms the basis for future innovations is our major step on the journey towards digital transformation.
Evolutionary System Architecture
PMS have evolved into highly integrated solutions that cover the entire value chain of production and store the data in an integrated, consistent Factory Model – the Digital Twin of production. With this tight integration, the system architecture also meets these requirements and leads to a monolithic, centralized PMS setup. This setup involves certain challenges:
- changing system parts is difficult due to interdependencies
- adaptating the monolith to changes in its environment (licenses, hardware, new technologies) is hard or next to impossible
- the system was not designed for the usage of Edge-Computing or cloud hosted services
In order to address these challenges, PSI has developed a PSImetals Service Platform - the new powerful software basis that combines all requirements for a future-proof production management solution for all currently available PSImetals components as well as new services that will be developed in the coming years for metal producers.
The Service Platform follows the basic principles:
- Modular service architecture, with clear responsibilities for functional areas (Tracking, Quality, Logistics)
- Communication via a central communication medium (PSIbus)
- Orchestration of the services by a Business Process Modelling (BPM) engine, allowing users to change the information flow in the PMS as production changes
- Storage of all data in the heart of the new platform – the integrated PSImetals Factory Model, which always gives a consistent view of production
How You Can Benefit
The architecture gives the metal producer a high degree of flexibility when implementing a PMS. The user will be able to adapt changes, e.g. add a new line, to the PMS during the process thanks to the service architecture communicating via PSIbus and orchestration by a BPM engine.
The modularity of services enables scalability and upgrades of services without downtimes. If a service is outdated or even requires a complete change in the underlying technology, such as the programming language, it can be replaced without affecting the rest of the system.
New services, such as Machine Learning or Artificial Intelligence, can be integrated according to the PSIbus protocol. The programming language or runtime environment of the new service is irrelevant – whether written in Python or R, it can be used on the PSImetals Service Platform. In addition to the evolution of services, this architecture also enables upgrades of existing PMS to take advantage of these new features. While retaining the integrated Factory Model, the Digital Twin of production remains intact in the end.
By complementing the PSImetals Service Platform and PSIbus, an existing PMS easily becomes a service, and other value-added services can immediately benefit from clear interfaces and data from the existing PMS.
Use Case 1: Up-to-date Order Information
Imagine a metal producer wanting to give its automotive customer a more precise insight into its production (order fulfilment status, delivery dates, potential delays, etc.). This is a sensitive issue as it has to be ensured that the customer only receives information on his orders. Since this is a clear access restriction, direct access to the PMS is therefore out of question.
With the PSImetals Service Platform it is possible to introduce a new service (PSImetals Order Tracker) supplied with the necessary order information from the PMS via PSIbus. PSImetals Order Tracker is also available in a mobile application that allows the automated customer secure access to his order information.
Use case 2: Informed Decision Through Quality Prediction
The second use case is the addition of a service for the use of new technological possibilities. After rolling, a hot rolling mill has a step towards process assessment. Based on the data from the rolling, supported by Statistical Process Control (SPC) control charts, an experienced operator decides whether further inspection of a coil is required or not.
Using an Artificial Intelligence model and Machine Learning techniques, we can build a new service that is trained on historical data and thus can make a quality prediction in the running production, giving the operator additional information for an informed decision.
With the help of the PSImetals Service Platform and the BPM engine orchestration, this new service can be connected via PSIbus and called within the rolling mill production tracking business process.
Impressions: METEC 2019
In addition, an old-timer bus, exclusively acquired for METEC 2019 as a physical reference to the Service Bus, represented the development towards digitalization of metals production. Several showcases inside the old-timer demonstrated PSI’s innovations in the fields of Machine Learning, Service-Oriented Architecture, Artificial Intelligence and Virtual Reality.
Heiko Wolf, Director PSImetals FutureLab
Heiko has been developing software for the Steel and Aluminum industries at PSI Metals for the past 12 years. As the head of the FutureLab project he gets to think about Software Architecture, continous delivery and agile methodologies, and how all of that fits in his industry.
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