PSI Blog

Sustainable Steel Production – Let’s Pick the Low-Hanging Fruits

01 Apr 2022 - Industry 4.0, Production, Technology, Sustainability

©Kanrawee Jinpanich/iStock

Steel is a vital material for a modern, industrialized economy and the backbone of global sustainable initiatives. But the steel industry is also one of the world's most energy-intensive industries, responsible for around 8% of global carbon dioxide emissions []. Steelmakers are increasingly making decarbonization of production their global priority, with major investments in hardware. This is, however, very expensive and risky. The thing is, you don't even have to reach deep into the Industry 4.0 toolbox to discover low-hanging fruits that can be implemented quickly and cost-effectively to improve production efficiency and thus contribute to decarbonization. Let’s pick them together! 

When I talk to steelmakers, I often hear that they face the dilemma of whether to invest in "going green" or in production efficiency. But why should it even be a contradiction?

Most of the efficiency improvements that can be achieved through Industry 4.0 initiatives also have measurable environmental benefits!

Here are 4 examples of what you can do NOW:

©erhui1979/iStock & simpleblues/Adobe Stock; edited by PSI Metals
©erhui1979/iStock & simpleblues/Adobe Stock; edited by PSI Metals

1. Save the Heating Energy

The direct application of Industry 4.0 concepts to production management holds great potential for saving heating energy. Most of the energy used to produce steel is consumed during primary metallurgy, Steel Making and Hot Rolling. This is also where most CO2 is produced.

Saving thermal energy reduces energy requirements, lowers production costs and drastically reduces CO2 emissions. So, when we improve production on the steel making area with thermal models, we save heating energy between BOF (Basic Oxygen Furnace) or EAF (Electric Arc Furnace) and casting. We also save heating energy by hot connecting the casting and rolling operations.

Of course, you cannot compare that with the use of hydrogen in the production process or in heating. But even small changes like these have a positive effect and are much easier and faster to implement.

2. Invest in Better Quality Tools

You would be surprised how even a small investment in your quality tools can make a big difference. For example, improving quality tracking and genealogy can increase ‘first time right’ rates by up to 20%, considerably decreasing the need for rework, and thus reducing energy consumption for reprocessing materials.

Advanced functionality for quality tracking, can also lead to the elimination of customer claims. In many occasions, these claims cause material already delivered to the customer to be returned to the plant, leading to unnecessary road and/or rail trips. Besides the cost reduction with the elimination of these trips, we are literally taking vehicles of the roads and reducing CO2 emissions.

3. Improve Material Handling Within Your Plant

When I talk to steelmakers about their in-plant logistics, most of them tend to underestimate the positive impact of optimizing material handling on the plant's CO2 levels. Of course, material handling incurs costs and is also a major CO2 polluter.

In many plants, materials are moved using transport equipment that burns fossil fuels. And in many cases, the moving is not triggered by a production need, but by lack of a strategy to place material based on future movements requirements.

By optimizing warehouse management, you can avoid unnecessary piling and unpiling of materials, as well as the transfer of materials between yards due to process inefficiency. Not only will this significantly reduce CO2 emissions, it will increase the efficiency of the processes in your plant.

4. Integrate Energy Forecast Models Into Your Planning Tools

By far the greatest potential for avoiding energy and utility waste I see is in the introduction and implementation of energy forecasting models into existing planning & scheduling tools!

You can basically see how your energy and utilities consumption will behave in the future while creating the production schedule. You could make adjustments to your schedule considering your limitations of supply and best practices.

You could also use the planning algorithm to consider the constraint of energy consumption or utility to minimize the environmental impact. Or even go further and consider CO2 constraints on planning and scheduling.

Let’s Pick the Low Hanging Fruits Together!

Just by introducing or improving optimization tools and digital initiatives, we see the potential to reduce CO2 emissions by up to 40,000 tons per year, with an annual production of 1 million tons in an integrated plant.

Sure, you can invest a lot in changes to your production equipment. It is a fact that there is no sustainable steel production without major transformation to the production process itself. But that takes a long time and demands heavy investments.

So, why wait if you can do something about it today and now?

Fernando Guerra

Head of New Markets Department

With an MBA degree and 26 years of experience in the metals industry, Fernando has already served as Sales Director for PSI Metals Latin America and Director of Business Development in Brazil. Today he is responsible for sales and projects in India, Japan, South East Asia as well as sales in UK, Portugal and Spain. He is married and father of 2 beautiful daughters. In his free time Fernando likes to travel, read, cook and ride motorcycles.