thyssenkrupp Materials Services continues to drive digital transformation: Since early 2019 an artificial intelligence solution (AI), supported by Microsoft’s cloud platform Azure, has been integrated into the processes of the largest materials distribution and service provider in the Western world. "alfred" supports his colleagues at Materials Services in dynamically managing the global logistics network with 271 warehouse sites and more than 150,000 products and services. As with his namesake – Alfred Krupp – all information comes together at alfred. As a first step, alfred will help to optimize transport routes and thus save the transport of thousands of tons of material per year. In addition, materials will be available more quickly at the right locations in the future. In the medium term, Materials Services will be able to make all processes along the supply chain more flexible, for example, in order to better take into account specific customer requirements for delivery speed, pricing or material quality.
- thyssenkrupp Materials Services relies on Microsoft for in-house solution development
- AI as an essential component of the holistic digitalization strategy
- Customers benefit from individualized offers and more efficient processes
Klaus Keysberg, CEO of thyssenkrupp Materials Services, summarizes alfred’s strengths: "Artificial intelligence is one of the technologies that will make a decisive contribution to competitiveness in materials distribution in the future. With alfred we are taking an important step towards making our processes even more efficient and optimizing our value chain. At the same time, he gives us better insight into our customers' needs so that we can align our offerings accordingly. In the medium term, this holistic approach will also open up new business opportunities for us".
Using Big Data systematically
With the AI, the approximately 14 million order items received annually by Materials Services can be processed and analyzed much more efficiently. For the first time, the materials experts are also bringing all company data together on a single platform. Using self-learning algorithms based on Microsoft Azure Machine Learning, alfred analyzes all relevant information, generates important findings and supports employees with appropriate recommendations: Which materials have to be assigned to which industry? Where are materials processed? What would be the most intelligent transport route to supply the customers with materials in the best possible way? What are the needs of the individual locations? "The intention is very clear: With alfred we are improving our own processes so that we can serve our customers all over the world more efficiently," says Axel Berger, Head of Digital Transformation Office at Materials Services.
The focus is on customer benefit
At Materials Services, the digital transformation is aligned along the value chain and consistently placed at the service of customer benefit – whether directly or indirectly. "From procurement through warehousing and logistics to sales, we rely on integrated digitalization concepts. While we simplify cooperation with our suppliers in the area of procurement by means of a cloud-supported platform, for example, we create possibilities for networking internal machinery with our self-developed IIoT platform toii. toii allows us to flexibly coordinate and optimize the processes of warehousing and logistics. In sales, we offer our customers access to 150,000 products and services at 271 warehouse sites sites in the world's largest virtual materials warehouse," says Klaus Keysberg. As a link between all these areas, alfred fits into the ecosystem and ensures continuous optimization of speed and service quality through intelligent data processing with corresponding recommendations.
Lifelong learning with Microsoft
In the company's own Digital Transformation Office in Essen, all strands of digitalization flow together. Here, integrated teams of IT experts, engineers and business coordinators work under the direction of Axel Berger on various digitalization projects that arise directly from the core business of Materials Services – including alfred. The materials experts were supported by Microsoft and its global cloud platform Azure. "Joining forces with Microsoft allows us to use advanced technologies for our in-house developments. This enables us to ensure that the projects are very closely linked to our core business on the one hand, and that they are technologically state-of-the-art on the other," says Axel Berger.
"At this point in history, manufacturers need to become digital companies to lead in their industries. thyssenkrupp Materials Services is not only adapting digital technologies, they are building their own digital capabilities and portfolio to elevate their logistics business with AI services to the next level. They unlock new business opportunities by merging their industry know-how with the core of AI: large volumes of relevant data as well as strong machine learning methods and algorithms”, said Çağlayan Arkan, Global Lead Manufacturing & Resources, Microsoft.
Klaus Keysberg is also convinced of the synergies of the partnership. "The collaboration with Microsoft makes the implementation of projects like alfred much more efficient. Ultimately, it will enable us to apply our in-house developments more quickly, gather important insights there and develop new business models from them.
About thyssenkrupp Materials Services
With around 480 locations – including 271 warehouse sites – in over 40 countries, thyssenkrupp Materials Services is the biggest materials distributor and service provider in the western world. The broad service spectrum offered by the materials experts enables customers to concentrate more on their individual core businesses and spans two strategic areas: global materials distribution as a one-stop shop – from steel, tubes and pipes, nonferrous metals and specialty materials to plastics and raw materials – and tailored services in the areas of materials management and supply chain management. An extensive omnichannel architecture offers 250,000 customers worldwide cross-channel, round-the-clock access to more than 150,000 products and services. A highly efficient logistics system ensures that all requested services are smoothly integrated into customer production processes “just-in-time” or “just-in-sequence”.
In collaboration with NUM Taiwan, the Taiwanese laser machine manufacturer Legend Laser, Inc., has developed a unique multi-axis system for the precision cutting of thin sheet metal parts. Based on NUM’s latest-generation Flexium+ CNC platform, the system combines high dynamic performance linear motors with a pulsed fibre laser, and is expressly designed for 24/7 operation in a standard production environment.
Founded in 1995, Legend Laser specialises in the design and manufacture of a diverse range of laser marking, micro-machining and micro-tube processing systems. Initially concentrating on the domestic and Chinese markets, the company nowadays serves a worldwide customer base. Its headquarters are located in Xinzhuang District, New Taipei City, in northern Taiwan.
Legend Laser’s new SRC-610 precision sheet metal cutter is a 3-axis system with a working area of 1000 x 600 mm and an above-worktable clearance height of 150 mm. It is mounted on a high inertia platform, comprising a large mass solid granite base with a rigid metal frame. To ensure smooth, burr-free cutting and to prevent any heat-induced deformation of thin metal workpieces, the power output of the pulsed fibre laser is fully synchronised to the cutting operation. The laser has a peak output power of 1.5 kW and can cut sheet metal with a thickness of between 20 µm (0.02 mm) and 1000 µm (1 mm), at speeds ranging from a few millimetres per second to a hundred millimetres per second.
In addition to sheet metal, the SRC-610 is also suitable for cutting and drilling ceramic and sapphire plate. Thanks to the system’s high dynamic performance and continuously variable laser power level, it is capable of exceptional cutting precision – to within just plus/minus 10 microns (10 µm or 0.01 mm).
The X and Y axes of the system – which control the lateral movement of the sheet metal workpiece and the laser cutting head respectively – are capable of very fast acceleration/deceleration and ultra-precise positioning. Both axes employ linear induction motors, driven by NUM’s NUMDrive X servo amplifiers.
The Z axis, which controls the vertical height of the laser cutting head and thus the gap between it and the workpiece, uses a NUM BHX series AC brushless servomotor and a third NUMDrive X servo amplifier. The gap is controlled very accurately during the entire cutting process, through use of a unique ‘Dynamic Operator’ (DO) function in NUM’s Flexium software. This employs special fast calculation and communication facilities which enable event-driven machine cycles to be integrated into the real-time CNC kernel.
According to Sherman Kuo, President of Legend Laser, “NUM is now our CNC provider of choice. Its open architecture CNC platforms simplify system integration, while its willingness to actively collaborate in joint machine development projects such as this helps to shorten our time to market significantly”.
Locally placed technical support is also an important factor, as Adrian Kiener, CSO Asia and Managing Director of NUM Taiwan, points out: “Legend Laser’s HQ is only about 150 km from NUM’s offices in Taichung City. By offering direct access to the CNC experts and development facilities we have here, as well as in Switzerland and other strategic locations around the world, we can provide a very fast and supportive service to companies in Taiwan and other countries in Asia”.
NUM is supplying Legend Laser with a complete CNC solution for its SRC-610 precision sheet metal laser cutting system. In addition to the Flexium+ 8 CNC system and NUMDrive X servo amplifiers, this includes a custom HMI (human-machine interface) that is dedicated to laser cutting, a PLC, a fully developed part program and system commissioning.
Economically absurd tariffs have cost the EU downstream aluminium sector up to €18 billion, putting its future at risk.
The Federation of Aluminium Consumers in Europe (FACE) launches today a campaign to request European authorities to lift import tariffs on primary, and more generally unwrought aluminium, the industry's raw material. Though Europe is a growing net importer of unwrought aluminium, fulfilling over 74% of its demand through imports, the import tariffs range between 3 and 6%.
In support of this campaign, FACE published a study commissioned to the LUISS University in Rome, which calculates that maintaining the import tariffs on unwrought aluminium has resulted in an extra-cost of up to €18 billion to the EU's downstream aluminium sector between 2000 and 2017.
The downstream sector accounts for 92% of the jobs and 70% of the turnover of the EU aluminium industry. The import tariff is devastating for a low-margin industry where unwrought aluminium accounts for over 50% of manufacturing costs. The thousands of SMEs making up the sector are already suffering from fierce, and too often unfair competition, notably from China.
While the 6% import tariff structure on unwrought aluminium was put in place to protect EU producers, the LUISS study shows that it has not prevented the structural decline of the continent's smelting base through closures and disinvestments by big producing groups. Since 2008, Europe has lost 30% of its primary aluminium production capacity, now reduced to 2 million tons annually, and large producers have not kept promises to keep jobs and invest in R&D centres.
At the same time, EU demand for aluminium products has grown by around 3% annually and is now over 12 million tons per year. As the LUISS study explains, the import tariffs have prevented the downstream to grow commensurately; its output is currently at pre-2008 levels.
"There is no duty-free priced unwrought aluminium available to EU users and consumers. Through a non-transparent market mechanism, the equivalent of the value of the highest level of the tariffs structure, or 6%, is included in the market premium for all the unwrought aluminium sold in the EU, irrespective of origin," said Roger Bertozzi, EU and Multilateral affairs at FACE.
When unwrought aluminium is imported in the EU from dutiable sources, the duty-paid price includes the import duty, and is collected by customs officials. But when unwrought aluminium is produced in the EU or is imported from duty-free origins, a market premium reflecting the value of the 6% import tariff level is embedded in the price. That difference is cashed by producers. This phenomenon is denounced by FACE as a de facto "hidden subsidy mechanism."
Mario Conserva, Secretary-General of FACE, stresses: "not only do EU aluminium consumers pay more than they should for their raw material, but they also unwillingly "subsidise" EU and extra-EU producers who benefit from artificially higher prices. This situation is unfair, destructive and cannot continue unchecked."
FACE calls on the European Commission and the Council of the European Union to decide on the total suspension (zeroing) of the import tariffs on unwrought aluminium. It is an immediate policy tool available to end the abnormal overpricing of aluminium in Europe and to support the competitiveness and the survival of the industry.
FACE was established in 1999 by various leading EU independent transformers as a voice dedicated to the European downstream aluminium industry. Based in Brussels, FACE advocates for the liberalisation of raw materials, protecting the EU's manufacturing base, supporting a rules-based and fair international system with the WTO at its core, and for the global transformation towards a low-carbon economy with aluminium as the ideal material for attaining sustainability goals.