"Together we are driving digitalization forward"

Ann-Katrin Haußmann, on behalf of the digitalization team at BENTELER Steel/Tube, on digitalization in steel tube production, predictive maintenance and efficiency in everyday work.

You work in the digitalization team of the BENTELER Steel/Tube Division, which started with the production of tubes about 100 years ago. What are the advantages of digitalization in production?

The manufacturing processes are basically similar to those of the past. But we are constantly working to modernize and automate the equipment, to increase efficiencies and to further optimize tube quality. Digitalization provides us with additional tools and new possibilities. We can now provide our customers with even better quality – reliably and with minimized process costs.

The digitalization team consisting of you, Elisabeth Tophinke and Katharina Schönwald has been working together since 2018 – what exactly is your task?

Our task is to discover potential for improvement, develop solutions and launch corresponding projects, which we then drive forward. For our daily work it is particularly important to be flexible in our roles in order to meet current requirements. Our activities vary from the execution of workshops, the elaboration of visions to the operative implementation of the projects. This is particularly exciting because we are always working together with colleagues from the various functions in our Division – together we are driving digitalization forward.

There will be one innovation in working together as a team in the coming months: From September onwards, we will be divided into the units "Manufacturing Engineering" and "Sales Operations" according to our key topics, but will continue to work together as a "virtual team" on cross-divisional issues.

Digitalization is a broad field. What topics are you working on as a team?

In the field of digitalization we are currently actively working on three fields of action.
Elisabeth Tophinke was previously in charge of the "Smart Tube Production" area, which covers all production-related topics such as intralogistics, quality and real-time control. This is a customer-oriented solution for the integrated planning and control of our production and thus the flow of materials. In this way, we will make our production even more efficient in the future.
Katharina Schönwald is responsible for the "Digital Admin" area, which deals with the digitalization of administrative processes. The SPEED project was recently completed in the sales department: With the help of digitalization, we have simplified our sales processes - from the inquiry to the shipment of the finished product. This makes our customer service even more flexible and faster.
I myself am responsible for the "Smart Maintenance" area and thus for the digitalization of maintenance.

Which projects are you currently supervising?

One of our digitalization focal points in the area of maintenance is "spare parts management". In some plants it is still the case that when employees pick up spare parts in the magazine, they document this manually on material cards. Afterwards, a colleague enters the booking transaction into our SAP system based on the material card. We also have a similar procedure with the permanent inventory in the magazine, where inventory documents are filled out manually. All this will be done digitally in all plants in the future: In the warehouse, a scanner will replace the manual documentation. This saves time and costs. A comparable example is our "Mobile Maintenance". Here, the maintenance plans of the plants, which were previously processed via paper printouts and then manually transferred to our SAP system, will now be processed digitally directly on the tablet. The colleague who was previously responsible for data entry can thus concentrate fully on his actual tasks, such as planning.

And what ideas do you have for the future?

In the area of maintenance, we want to expand the tools we have introduced, such as "Mobile Maintenance", even further in the future. We want to be able to predict even better which machines need maintenance work and when, in order to prevent a breakdown. We are already very well positioned in the area of condition-based maintenance, so-called "Condition Monitoring". However, our goal is also to make further progress in the area of predictive maintenance. To do this, we need more condition-specific plant data so that we can link and evaluate them accordingly.

Do we have to purchase new equipment for this?

You need appropriate sensors on every system, but these can be retrofitted depending on the measuring task. So we can continue to use our equipment. This is our goal - also in terms of sustainability. Another central aspect on the way to "predictive maintenance" is the intelligent linking and evaluation of the recorded data. We are fortunate to have experts in house through our process optimization of the plants, Steel/Tube IT, groupwide corporate IT and our data analysts. They can program applications and interfaces, but also perform complex data analyses. Here we work closely together with our colleagues.

When you describe the digitalization measures, it sounds quite simple – which it certainly is not. What do you think is the biggest challenge in the field of digitalization?

The important thing is that the changes are practicable for our teams and are accepted. This applies both to the works and to the administrative areas. That's why we always look first at existing processes in order to design their digitalization in such a way that they really simplify and improve the everyday work of our colleagues. Since we work on cross-plant topics, we often have six different processes and requirements from six plants. It can be a challenge to come to a common understanding. But I also see it as an opportunity, because cross-plant cooperation gives us an overview of best practice examples, but also creates the opportunity for standardized processes. To ensure that these are really adopted and put into practice, it is important to involve the colleagues who will work with them later on at an early stage, to train them and to support them.

What lessons do you draw from the past few weeks, which have been quite different from our previous life and work as a result of the Corona pandemic?

I was impressed by how well virtual collaboration works. This is not only true for small meetings. We even successfully held a virtual ideas workshop with target definition. Not only me, but all participants were astonished how well it worked. Everyone contributed to the success of this workshop - I think that is generally the key to success. It is not without reason that we at BENTELER see ourselves as "family of driven professionals".