Steel mills are designed to make money by making steel. No steel shipped out the door, no money enters the corporate till.
It only stands to reason, then, that the logical way to make more money is to make more steel and do it faster and more efficiently by optimizing production. To that end, mill maintenance has traditionally been scheduled around production, not the other way around.
Questioning that sequence, Quintiq worked with ArcelorMittals Dofasco Works in Hamilton, Ontario to adopt and implement a maintenance-first approach and the results of that initiative have earned the company AMMs 2017 Steel Excellence Award for Information Technology Provider of the Year.
A 750-acre, integrated steelmaking and processing facility. ArcelorMittal Dofascos Hamilton Works produces 4.5-million tons of steel annually and is home to some of the most technologically advanced facilities in North America.
We were brought in to solve a very specific problem for the Dofasco Works, Jonathan Lin, director of sales in North America for Quintiq, recalled. It was a very narrow assignment, but part of a much larger effort.
Dofasco was in the process of finding the optimum scheduling and execution, and the focus became maintenance, Lin explained. That is where we came in.
We pride ourselves on the intricacies of maintenance scheduling, he said. That requires being able to model a steel plant from production to planning to supply chain, he noted. For most companies, that becomes too complex, but it is our skill set.
The key, Lin emphasized, is the way Quintiqs proprietary software communicates among the layers of operations, planning, and maintenance. Its like a three-layer wedding cake, he said. The first level on the base is our core software. The middle layer is the industry specifications, rules, and procedures. The third layer on top is the most configurable. That is the one that is customized to the individual plant. How instructions, queries, exceptions, and orders move among those layers is the secret sauce, Lin noted.
Quintiq was established in the Netherlands 20 years ago by five founders all of whom were involved in operations research. Metals including steel, aluminum, and copper were an early focus.
Metals are very pure end-to-end planning, Lin pointed out. At the Dofasco Works, the entire site is fully integrated. Personnel there are active believers in predictive maintenance. The focus for optimization is on maintenance.
There are a lot of outside forces in this industry, Lin acknowledged. The most important thing is the ability to plan, he emphasized. The next most important thing is the ability to re-plan.
Lin cites a for-instance example involving a sales person whose customer places a special order. Perhaps the order is bigger than anticipated or it requires filling on a rush basis or stipulates some other form of special handling or treatment.
More to the point, the order conflicts with scheduled maintenance, repair, or replacement, Lin notes. To take the order is to sell steel and make money, he acknowledges. But acceptance comes at the risk of the equipment and the schedule.
The system gives visibility into promises, Lin identifies a key benefit of the information technology a work. What is available to promise, and what are the capabilities. You want sales, and production, and maintenance all rowing in the same direction, he emphasized.
With such a tool, the field force can take special orders, and price delivery based on actual incremental costs to displace other orders, defer maintenance, or satisfy new supply-chain requirements.
In one actual instance, Dofasco was able to combine orders to improve coil slitting, and reduce volumes necessary to satisfy orders. More broadly, the system is designed to allow maintenance teams to be proactive in their workforce planning, manage work order backlogs and minimize the amount of time a machine is out of service.
In the case of Dofasco, the Quintiq system resides on the premises and on ArcelorMittal hardware. Security and reliability are handled jointly by on-site administrators and Quintiq personnel.