£10m digital twin project to transform UK metals industry

Posted on 9 Jun 2020 by Jonny Williamson

A trio of manufacturing businesses are working in conjunction with the Materials Processing Institute on a £10m project that has the potential to transform UK industry.

 Are UK steel plants ready for the digitalisation of manufacturing? That’s the key question the Materials Processing Institute (MPI) has been tasked with answering.

The Teesside-based research and innovation centre will work alongside several metal businesses to create digital twins of their plants in order to demonstrate the huge advances that can be achieved within the production process.

This includes the recording and analysis of data across machines for continuous improvement, creating a more cost-effective, efficient, flexible and faster process.

FULL WIDTH CROP - Liberty-worker-in-front-of-Electric-Arc-Furnace

The foundation industry factories are all part of the Liberty Steel Group and include its Hartlepool Pipes mill, Stocksbridge-based Liberty Speciality Steels and Warwickshire-based Shiftec. Technology support is being provided by Nottingham-based TSC Simulation.

The project will seek to highlight the benefits of introducing Industrial Digital Technologies (IDT) to steel and other sectors serving strategic manufacturing and construction supply chains.

The two-year project is being funded by Innovate UK through its Manufacturing Made Smarter Challenge, part of the governments larger Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund.

The Institute will undertake an initial pilot project using its Normanton Steel Plant to assess and improve the IDT before it is applied to the production processes operated by Liberty Steel Group, which is seeking to make a significant change in both productivity and product performance.

The project will focus on using camera and imaging technologies in conjunction with intelligent processing and machine learning to increase accuracy – including process characterisation, the creation of digital twins and intelligent interactive process models.

The addition of the Hartlepool pipe mills brings Liberty’s UK workforce to nearly 5,500 people spread across more than 30 sites - image courtesy of Liberty House Group.

Chris Oswin, who leads the MPI’s Digital Technologies Group, said: “The real challenge in adopting smart technology is how it can be retrofitted to improve the performance of existing plant.

“While this project is centred on the metals sector, it can easily be applied to any process where digital imaging can be linked to machine learning and intelligent process control.

“The three sites involved will act as demonstrators for IDT, enabling the lessons learned to be shared across other foundation industries, including energy, oil and gas, pharmaceuticals, chemicals and the process industries.”

Chris McDonald, chief executive of the MPI, commented: “I’m confident this project will show how the latest digital technologies can be adopted by small businesses and successfully applied to foundation industry factories. 

“We will enable companies to tackle the difficult, but all too common problems of brownfield sites, legacy systems, lack of connectivity and ageing equipment.”

*All images courtesy of Liberty Steel