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British Steel

Engineering Steels, Stocksbridge

Technology pervades British Steel, as the rapid implementation of new process and product technology is seen as the key to improving profitability. Now Sheffield’s largest steelworks, Stocksbridge is a recognised international leader in the production of alloy, stainless and remelted steels for the world’s “high tech” industries, where a quality performance is paramount.

Brian Short, BSES’s Billet Finishing Manager elaborates further “We have what is probably the most flexible mill in Europe which allows us to accommodate medium-volume highly specialised work, all of which needs to be tracked if we are to maintain high customer service levels.”

Brian Short explains, “We currently operate with a stock of around 30,000 tonnes. 30,000 tonnes constitutes something like 60,000 pieces. So the biggest problem is knowing where anything is at any one time, as one bar can constitute a single order. The traditional method of tracking was via personnel called ‘bookmen’ who literally went round examining each location on a shift-by-shift basis and keying-in location details onto a first-generation computer system. From there process cards would be issued and invariably personnel would be involved in trying to extract products from an awkward location e.g. the bottom of a rack. This is a highly labour intensive practice and can introduce unnecessary inaccuracies”.

We entered into discussions with a number of suppliers, most of whom seemed intent on providing us with a variant of systems utilised in container ports and at a prohibitive cost per crane. TouchStar both surprised and impressed us, in that their thoughts on potential solutions to our problem seemed to mirror our own.”

Requirement

Brian Short explains, “We wanted a system that could plot the movement of the cranes across the shop floor area and communicate both location and activity data to our SFDC package.

“Because we’re dealing with extremely hot materials the idea of conventional bar code labelling was ruled out at an early stage. We thus determined that we would ‘soft track’; if you know what batch items you are initially introducing into a process then you can track them, throughout any subsequent process, as long as their location is continually logged.”

Solution

TouchStar developed a laser-based targeting system, which has been fitted to each of the 28 cranes in operation at the Stocksbridge site. The lasers on the crane are fired at a series of wall-mounted targets, on an X-Y co-ordinate basis, to provide instantaneous location data to the SFDC via a TouchStar 4000 series terminal, fitted inside the cab. In addition, the terminal is interfacing with the SFDC to provide both data on the crane’s exact activities, and the crane operator with instructions on what load movements to undertake. TouchStar developed both the hardware and a system interface on an almost entirely bespoke basis, but the system has now been adopted at other British Steel sites. The radio data infrastructure is communicating with a DEC Alpha-based Novell Intranet System with a Windows NT front-end, the platform on which the SFDC element was developed. The communication between the two systems is via a series of radio frequency units, installed directly on to BSES’s existing network and strategically positioned to provide full site radio coverage with the minimum amount of hardware.

The impact of the bolt-on of TouchStar’s real-time technology on to the core SFDC functionality has transformed the BSES operation. Brian Short enthuses “Now we have real-time location data which spans every facet of the operation, from wherever it is in a pen, to when it’s on a crane, or on a side-loader or flat back trailer. It’s made a tremendous difference. We now create all our production schedules based upon the feed of real-time data. We have the capability to actually put away products into locations, in anticipation of the next shift’s schedule.

Result

The impact of the bolt-on of TouchStar’s real-time technology on to the core SFDC functionality has transformed the BSES operation. Brian Short enthuses “Now we have real-time location data which spans every facet of the operation, from wherever it is in a pen, to when it’s on a crane, or on a side-loader or flat back trailer. It’s made a tremendous difference. We now create all our production schedules based upon the feed of real-time data. We have the capability to actually put away products into locations, in anticipation of the next shift’s schedule.

Prior to the implementation of the real-time SFDC tracking, on-time delivery performance stood at around 65%. Now we’ve reached 90% and the next target we’re aspiring to is 95%. Prior to SFDC the process was very much management ‘push’ driven but we have now the software tools to operate under a pull-driven culture because we have complete transparency of each process and the relative priorities of each individual job. Effective scheduling is now a far easier task. We are currently scheduling material from immediately in front of the process. All planning can also now be undertaken centrally, there’s no need need for individual personnel supervising the scheduling process and we’ve thus met our manpower reduction targets in this area.”