The World Economic Forum has recognised Tata Steel for its advanced data analysis, which is based on machine learning and artificial intelligence. The IJmuiden branch of the steel company was named an Advanced Lighthouse Company on Thursday.

According to the World Economic Forum, an independent organisation in which hundreds of CEOs of the largest companies, politicians and opinion leaders have a seat, and which aims to promote public-private cooperation, Tata Steel’s use of advanced analytics is a leading technology. The method used by Tata Steel to collect and calculate data improves the raw material mix, raises revenue per process step, improves internal logistics, and ultimately leads to a better product, says the World Economic Forum.

‘This plant of 9,000 employees is putting its people first,’ according to the Word Economic Forum. ‘It has created an Advanced Analytics Academy to help employees come up with solutions to reduce waste, and improve the quality and reliability of production processes.’ The assessment states that this work has resulted in a significant improvement to financial results.

Fourth industrial revolution

Advanced analytics uses algorithms, where machine learning and artificial intelligence play key roles. The method is being used more and more to analyse complex data processes. Tata Steel has created its own team with the sole task of dealing with this form of data analysis.

'We’ve already been analysing data for a century,’ says project leader Menno van der Winden. ‘We used to look at a part of our production process with a single specific parameter.' Advanced analytics does just the opposite. 'We record as many observations as possible, and then determine which one gives us the most information about a specific process.'


Faster heating

One example is the heating of liquid raw iron in steelmaking, which is boiled to remove carbon and phosphorus. It has to bubble, but if it gets too hot material is lost. So we used to heat it as gently as possible. Now, however, an algorithm is used in this process, which analyses sixty different parameters each second to calculate the probability of the liquid iron boiling over within the next minute. As a result, the raw iron can be heated much faster now, without the risk of things going wrong, explains Van der Winden. In addition to gains in terms of time, it has led to annual cash savings of €50 million.

In-house expertise

'Our policy is not to hire external data experts, but to train our own people in data science and data engineering,' says Van der Winden. ‘After all, they’re the ones with the most knowledge about the work processes.’ Management staff are also trained. 'We use advanced analytics in business-critical processes,' says Van der Winden. 'Management has to be confident that the models we use are the right ones.'

Tata Steel’s ambition is to become the most advanced data-driven organisation in the world. More than 200 employees have already been trained in data science and data engineering at the in-house Advanced Analytics Academy. 'Data is the raw material of the future,’ according to Van der Winden. 'And if data is the new oil, then we at Tata Steel are the new Gulf States.'

The World Economic Forum started in 2017 with the establishment of a network of leading intelligent manufacturing companies, Lighthouses. The aim is that selected companies share their knowledge, and enter into partnerships to stimulate the fourth industrial revolution, in which companies will make much more extensive use of data (read also: 'Audi introduces car factory 4.0').


BMW and Foxconn

Seven out of more than a thousand companies assessed received the status of 'Advanced Lighthouse Company' this year. The total number of companies worldwide with this status is now sixteen. BMW was also named an Advanced Lighthouse Company. The German car manufacturer set up its own Internet of Things forum, which has led to significant cost savings. The Chinese company Foxconn, which makes parts for smartphones and computers, was recognised for its fully-automated production process centred on machine learning and artificial intelligence.

Image: Tata Steel

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