USE CASES


Industry 4.0

Cogne Acciai Speciali:
raw materials management


Background

World leader in the production of long stainless steels and nickel alloys, Cogne Acciai Speciali produces a wide and diversified range of special steels intended for use in sectors with high technological content, guaranteeing high quality standards in process and product, certified according to international regulatory parameters. In recent years, a strategic development plan has allowed the company to consolidate its position on the Oil & Gas, Power Generation and Automotive markets, as well as to acquire new and important certifications (quality, safety, environmental, ...) that have allowed us to open up to the important aerospace market and that of nickel alloy-based products. To accompany and make the change successful, the company has on the one hand strengthened the research and innovation area and on the other strengthened the training plans to increase the knowledge and skills of its collaborators, in order to create the figures necessary to manage and operate new systems. With over 1,100 employed employees and an industry that brings the number of people involved to 1,500, Cogne Acciai Speciali is the main entrepreneurial reality of the Aosta Valley and is the industrial reference par excellence in Europe.

Challenge

The Raw Materials Management department within Cogne Acciai Speciali deals with the entry of all the raw materials, its storage and the consequent loading of the systems that will go to use it. The raw material consists of iron scrap, ferroalloy residues, recovery of processing waste, etc.
These raw materials are stored in various areas of the plant (scrap yard, ferroalloy warehouse, ferroalloy box, ...) where they are deposited by external suppliers vehicles or by internal handling vehicles.
The working group is made up of around 20 people divided between:
Classifiers: responsible for unloading trucks and verifying the correct analysis of the stored materials
Crane operators: those responsible for driving the vehicles that move the material
Load preparer : operator who, based on the brands of steel to be produced, decides the recipe with which the crane operators must fill the baskets which will be unloaded into the furnace and melted
Management: deals with the development of new projects and the control of the work up to the control of the arrival of the material
The cost of raw materials managed by Raw Materials Management department affects company costs by more than 70%. For this reason, the need arose to launch an automatic tracking project of all raw material handling flows, with the aim of increasing the operational efficiency of vehicles and operators, reducing the error rate in loading operations and unloading of raw materials, reduce the times of the individual phases of the various operational activities. To achieve these goals it is necessary to trace in a precise and accurate manner (required accuracy of less than 1m, with a threshold of 0.5m for some operational areas) all the vehicles that move the material, so as to certify their operations and create a technological infrastructure (consisting of hardware and software components) useful for building a Block-chain of the entire production chain.
The accurate localization of vehicles represents a complex technological challenge, as it involves tracking the movement of extremely heterogeneous vehicles in shape and size (loaders, mechanical shovels, trucks, forklifts, ...), which move within a complex environment characterized by a constant and widespread presence of metallic material (the raw material accumulated in the individual garages, the vehicles themselves, the plant structures, ...)

Solution

The project requirements led to the adoption of a hybrid localization platform, capable of automatically and transparently integrating different localization technologies. For the development, implementation and integration of the solution, Cogne Acciai Speciali availed itself of the collaboration of two Italian SMEs, both active in the RTLS (Real-Time Locating Systems) and IPS (Indoor Positioting Systems) sector: BlueUp Srl, specialized in the design, construction and supply of integrated hardware/software devices and solutions, and Synapses Srl, specialized in the development and supply of advanced middleware and software platforms.
The hybrid localization platform integrates the following technologies:
• Bluetooth Low Energy AoA (Angle of Arrival) for the accurate localization of vehicles in covered operational areas (scrap yard, ferroalloy warehouse, ...). In these areas, coverage with BLE-AoA Quuppa locator has been set up;
• GPS for locating vehicles in the remaining areas of the plant;
• Bluetooth beacons for proximity localization in specific points of the plant (transit gates, warehouse entrance/exit doors, ...). In these points, battery-powered BLE BlueUp beacons equipped with a directive antenna were installed.
The data coming from the various localization sources are acquired and integrated by the Synapses BlueGPS middleware, which in turn interfaces with the Cogne Acciai Speciali corporate information systems via API.
In detail, the solution was implemented by distinguishing the company's internal vehicles from the vehicles of external suppliers. All means internal systems (mechanical shovels, ...) are equipped with one or more industrial BLE AoA tags (Brick Quuppa model by BlueUp). Approximately 120 tags were used to locate and map all vehicles. The tags have an estimated operational life of more than 4 years and, thanks to the replaceable batteries, allow a reduction in management and maintenance costs in subsequent years. Multiple tags have been installed on the vehicles dedicated to the loading and unloading of raw materials (such as the loader inside the scrap yard): thanks to the accuracy of the BLE AoA localization technology (able to provide the position of the tags with precision in the order of 0.5m, even in a prohibitive context such as that of the steelworks) and advanced shape reconstruction algorithms, it was possible not only to locate the individual vehicle, but also to reconstruct its shape and orientation at the software level. In this way, the system is able to identify with 100% precision the exact location where the material is picked up or deposited. To cover all the areas of interest with the BLE AoA system (for a total surface area of ​​approximately 21,000 m2), approximately 70 Quuppa locators were installed. Outside the covered operational areas, the vehicles are located via GPS, using the mobile terminal of the driver on board the vehicle, which is associated with the vehicle itself. When vehicles pass through specific points, equipped with BLE beacons, the mobile terminal reports the exact position, thus providing certification of the passage or presence. Around 100 BLE beacons have been installed in various points of interest (gates, doors, ...) of the plant.

AoA locators layout

Tag on the loader arm


External vehicles are instead tracked via GPS and Bluetooth AoA, thanks to mobile terminals equipped with a dedicated app. The terminals are provided to drivers upon entry, creating a unique association between terminal and vehicle thanks to automatic identification with NFC technology. The app continuously acquires the GPS coordinate and transmits it to the localization platform. When the vehicle enters the covered areas (provided with Quuppa infrastructure), the app allows to enable a Quuppa Emulation mode: in this way the terminal becomes a real BLE AoA tag, allowing to track the vehicle even where GPS coverage is poor or absent.

Results

The implemented tracking solution brought numerous benefits to the company. In particular, an improvement in production efficiency and an increase in operator safety were achieved. As regards monitoring and increasing operational efficiency, real-time control of movements allows to always have an updated overview of the workload present in the department and in case of error reports, intervene promptly, minimizing losses in term of costs and time. In addition to real-time, the system offers a well-structured reporting system, thanks to which production efficiency considerations can be made. In particular, the material can be distributed in such a way as to minimize the movements of the loader and the basket. In relation to the safety of operators, another opportunity offered by the system is the warning in case of proximity danger. In fact, at the scrapyard there are several heavy vehicles moving at the same time. Thanks to the tags present on each of them, the operator can be warned in case of possible danger due to excessive proximity between two vehicles or between a vehicle and an operator. Furthermore, thanks to the multiple APIs offered by the BlueGPS platform, various apps for mobile devices have been developed, with the aim of digitizing production processes. In particular, two apps have currently been developed, one for alloy transfer missions and one for navigating the vehicles of external suppliers entering the plant. The ferroalloy transfer app replaces a paper sheet with missions used to date. The latter allows to speed up the procedure, increase precision (the loaded weight is detected directly by the load cells of the vehicle) and give the operator visibility of the correct or incorrect picking/unloading position. The internal navigation application, on the other hand, has the objective of guiding incoming vehicles to the correct unloading point, thus avoiding waste of time and inefficiencies linked to incorrect routes of external suppliers vehicles within the plant.
In quantitative terms, some performance indicators already achieved in the first 6 months of operation of the system are provided below:
• 100% digitalization of internal logistics processes in the Raw Materials department and access to external suppliers (with a Zero Waste perspective);
• automatic tracking of 100% of material loading processes for production (with a view to increasing quality and reducing errors);
• 15% reduction in the time required from receipt of the production order to complete loading of raw materials for the melting furnace;
• 20% reduction in waiting times by external suppliers, thanks to a reduction in the average travel times of internal routes and quicker identification of unloading areas.

Future extensions

The scrap yard tracking project is the pilot project for the company, with the primary objective of evaluating the benefits linked to the adoption of RTLS technologies in company processes. As illustrated in the previous section, the qualitative and quantitative indicators already show a positive impact, which must subsequently be quantified in terms of increased productivity of the departments involved. At the same time, future extensions of the RTLS platform are planned within the Raw Materials department but also in other departments of the plant. In the Raw Materials department, integration with CCTV systems is planned to further improve the automation of unloading and loading processes and worker safety, inhibiting vehicle movements (or slowing them down) in the event of interference.
It is planned to extend the RTLS platform to other departments, and in particular:
• Production Department, for tracking the finished "wire rod" products in the storage areas;
• Quality Department, for tracking production samples used in quality laboratory tests.
Finally, we want to expand the current navigation function via smartphone also for pedestrian routes, so as to be able to guide visitors to the correct destination.