+49 (0) 421 9600-10
23 July 2019 - Jann Raveling

A visit to ArcelorMittal’s Digital Lab in Bremen

Digitization

The Digilab team are researching new technologies for the steel plant.
The Digilab team are researching new technologies for the steel plant. © ArcelorMittal

3,100 employees, around 3.5 million tonnes of steel, and a site that covers seven square kilometres – this steel plant in the north of Bremen boasts some impressive numbers, not least in terms of its size. With so much ground to cover, bringing this plant into the digital age is no mean feat.

Still, a year and a half ago, the company set up a team to do exactly that. Its task is to introduce new digital technologies throughout the organisation. Last year, the team even acquired its own offices, the Digital Lab.

Digilabs – making the most of local expertise

ArcelorMittal, an international steel producer, has digitalisation teams at many of its sites, the idea being that each one contributes something to the digital transformation of the Group as a whole. Instead of a centralised innovations management imposing new technologies from above, in this approach each site can determine for itself which technology is going to take it forward. Every plant has a digital officer, whose job includes sharing any findings with the other plants, thereby facilitating the transfer of expertise. In Bremen, they have also adopted the Digital Lab approach, in other words, digitalisation from the bottom up. One major advantage of this is that the solutions are actually applied, since they are rooted in practical experience.

Parts tracking with RFID

Dr Jens Ehm, head of the Digital Lab in Bremen, offers an example. His team has been testing the use of RFID tags in the hot rolling mill, a one-kilometre building where steel ingots are rolled into strips. The tiny transmitters allow the contactless identification of objects, similar to a barcode on a carton of milk. At the plant, they are attached to the rollers that transform the steel, which require regular maintenance. “At the moment, the rollers are labelled and documented manually. The RFID transmitters allow us to automate the wireless tracking of their journey,” says Ehm. That saves time and effort, and avoids potential mix-ups.

The steel plant is larger than Bremen’s city centre.
The steel plant is larger than Bremen’s city centre. © ArcelorMittal

Creating a designated space for experimentation

How does that sort of project come into being? The Digital Lab plays a key role. The 85 square metre office contains a meeting area, a workshop space, several workstations and the latest technology. Staff from different departments regularly get together here to discuss digital topics. It’s a place where they can upgrade their skills, experiment and get creative. The most promising ideas will be developed into a proof of concept to determine their feasibility. The digitalisation team either develops ideas in collaboration with their colleagues or draws on the help of external partners to create an initial prototype. If that can be made to work, and the concept has demonstrable production potential, then the concept phase ends and the project is handed over to the relevant department which continues to develop it.

The Digital Lab is like an incubator where new ideas are able to blossom, away from the pressures of day-to-day production. There is a dedicated budget for digital projects – vital for providing scope for experimentation, as not every innovation project is going to be successful.

Data network with a vast range of applications

There are currently about 30 proofs of concept being worked on in Bremen, at varying stages of development. One of Jens Ehm’s favourite projects is related to LPWAN technology, which stands for ‘low power wide area network’. It’s a wireless network with a very low bandwidth, but a very large operating range and extremely low energy consumption. “It is perfect for sensors to be distributed all around our vast site which can then provide regular status updates.” That could be the location of a container, the reading of an electricity meter or the water level in a shaft. A single antenna is enough to cover the entire site and thousands of sensors. The technology provides the company with a better overview of its site, and improves its reaction speed.

The steel company is testing the use of RFID technology in its hot rolling mill.
The steel company is testing the use of RFID technology in its hot rolling mill. © ArcelorMittal

Artificial intelligence (AI) in steel production

At ArcelorMittal Bremen they are also following the debate around AI with a great deal of interest. “We take a fairly pragmatic approach, and try to see where we might actually be able to apply AI technology. Artificial intelligence is a very trendy topic – we’d rather skip the hype and go straight to the real application,” says Ehm. His team are already testing some initial image recognition tools. One thing is clear: “AI will support our employees in a wide variety of ways, for example in terms of health and safety at work. We are currently developing assistance systems, for example.”

The team regularly attends events organised by the Bremen.AI network. “Bremen is a strong AI location, and we feel it’s important to keep track of the latest developments and where their potential lies. That is why we share information with other digital labs in Bremen,” explains Ehm. His team have had some initial contact with the digilab of another major Bremen employer, and are hoping for further collaborations.

A model for digitalisation

The steelmaker’s approach is a great example of how to implement the digital transformation of industry (known in Germany as Industry 4.0). New ideas and solutions are suggested by the users, who are best placed to know the challenges of their respective workplaces. But the initial development takes place in a protected space, separate from day-to-day working life, which provides a chance to experiment.
Instead of obeying centralised edicts, the individual departments can work independently on their own challenges – which improves acceptance. Solutions are only rolled out to different production sites once they have been fully developed. All of these factors together make bottom-up digitalisation possible. This strategy is equally suitable for small and medium-sized enterprises that have only limited resources – on a smaller scale, of course.

Foto

Andreas Gerber

Team leader Bremeninvest

P +49 (0) 421 9600-123

!moc.tsevni-nemerb[AT]rebreg

Foto Kai Stührenberg

Kai Stührenberg

Ministry of Economic Affairs, Labour and Ports

Cluster manager Automotive, Industry 4.0

P +49 (0) 421 361-32173

!ed.nemerb.haw[AT]grebnerheuts.iak

Digitization
21 March 2019
Blackout Technologies are developing robots with artificial intelligence

Is this what the salesman of the future looks like? With "Pepper", the Bremen-based start-up Blackout Technologies develops unique software based on artificial intelligence throughout Europe.

Digitization
19 March 2019
How Werder Bremen’s AI technology can also benefit SMEs

Werder goalkeeper Jiri Pavlenka owes his job to artificial intelligence. He was designed by the team of JUST ADD AI. Founder Roland Becker tells us how other medium-sized companies already benefit from AI today.

Digitization
12 March 2019
How much AI do SMEs really need?

Artificial intelligence is regarded as an absolute growth topic - should every company jump on the bandwagon now? No, says Bastian Diedrich from the Bremen digital agency hmmh, but he makes an important restriction.

Digitization
15 January 2019
Bremen’s artificial intelligence industry at a glance

Artificial intelligence is becoming part of everyday life, and Bremen-based companies are leading the way. We have put together a ‘who’s who’ in artificial intelligence in Bremen.

Digitization
10 January 2019
Augmented and virtual reality in Bremen

Whether they involve flying around virtual spaces or manipulating reality, augmented and virtual reality open up new dimensions. A number of companies in Bremen are working on these technologies, and one of them is even the global leader in its market.

Digitization
14 December 2018
3D printing connects Bremen and New York

From one side of the Atlantic to the other: two graduates from New York University travel to Bremen for a research internship – and immediately want to stay.

Digitization
4 December 2018
Guidance on digital strategy – DIGILAB Brennerei 4.0

DIGILAB Brennerei 4.0 supports companies on their digitalisation journey with free and independent services. Getting started has never been easier.

Digitization
27 November 2018
IT companies in Bremen

Bremen’s IT sector is an important pillar of the local industry. We introduce ten IT service providers.

Bremen
22 November 2018
Tradition meets innovation

The state of Bremen covers 420 square kilometres and is home to around 670,000 people. Almost 22,000 companies provide more than 325,000 jobs. Below, we introduce some of the strong sectors that that make Bremen such an excellent business location.

Startups
25 October 2018
Bringing India and Germany closer together

The best of both worlds. A young Indian from Bremen is helping German engineering to benefit from India’s factory capacities and vice versa. And everything is completely digitalised – with one click in real time, an order can be sent straight to the Indian factory. The benefit for manufacturers is huge.

Science
20 September 2018
How digital media is shaping society

How is the role of media and other forms of communication changing in society? What are the resulting challenges? The international MA in Digital Media and Society, which launches at the University of Bremen in time for the winter semester, aims to provide the answers.

3D printing
12 September 2018
3D printing at Airbus – cutting-edge technology made in Bremen

Airbus is a global trailblazer in the field of 3D printing, and the aerospace company has established a technology centre for this new production method in Bremen. This is one of many reasons why the Hanseatic city has become a hub for 3D printing in Europe.

Maritime economy and logistics
12 July 2018
Exploring the seafloor with intelligent software

The depths of the ocean remain one of the last great mysteries on Earth. What is the precise composition of the seafloor? What flora and fauna inhabit it? Where has the delicate balance of the ecosystem been seriously disrupted? We still don’t have complete answers to any of these questions, but four young scientists from Bremen are aiming to change that.

Digitization
26 June 2018
How a bunker in Bremen has become one of Germany’s most secure data centres

Even Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible would find it difficult to break into this data centre. Metre-thick concrete walls are just one of the many security measures protecting this bunker.

Maritime economy and logistics
12 June 2018
A robot for unloading containers is being developed in Bremen

Unloading shipping containers requires manual work, which is pretty unusual in the automated and digitalised world of logistics. But a Bremen-based research project aims to change all this with its IRiS robot.

Automotive Industries
6 June 2018
Is this the office of the future?

How will we be working in the future? Daimler’s Innolab in Bremen’s Überseestadt district provides an answer to this question. And anyone can come and see it.

digitization
27 March 2018
ORTEC – in it for the long haul

In December 2014, ORTEC GmbH moved from Lower Saxony to Bremen. The software specialist hoped to strengthen its market position by moving to the city’s Überseestadt district. Around three and a half years later, we got in touch with the company again to ask whether the move has been a success.

Creative / Media
28 November 2017
In tune with TonePedia

You rarely get the opportunity to try out musical instruments when you buy them online. Bremen-based start-up TonePedia has developed a piece of software that allows musicians to properly compare guitars, bass guitars, amplifiers and effect products online. This saves time and reduces the number of returns and the associated cost.

Digitization
10 October 2017
Allow me to introduce … Pepper – the intelligent robot from Bremen

Is this what sales assistants of the future will look like? Bremen start-up company Blackout Technologies develops software based on artificial intelligence, unlike any other software in Europe. Before long, we’ll be greeted by their robot Pepper in shops, at trade fairs or even in care homes. We visited Bremen’s robot lab to find out more.

Maritime economy and logistics
27 September 2017
Where space and deep sea meet

The research alliance ROBEX is sending robots up active volcanoes and down into the deepest and darkest seas. Working across disciplines, the 120 scientists of the 16 institutes involved are breaking new ground on this project. They have been eagerly waiting to find out what has happened to the TRAMPER diving robot, which has been exploring the deep seas around Spitsbergen for a year. Now they are ready to bring it back.

Maritime economy and logistics
20 September 2017
Changing the world through logistics

A growing number of companies are becoming more aware of their social and environmental footprint, and are looking for ways to act with greater environmental and social responsibility. Germany’s north-west is set to become the national centre for social entrepreneurship in logistics. A new platform is under development and the first round of events is being planned to achieve this goal.

Science
13 September 2017
Studying digitalisation in Bremerhaven

This new master’s degree at Bremerhaven University of Applied Sciences prepares students for the future and offers them excellent job prospects.

Investing in Bremen
5 September 2017
Bremen over Berlin: how BLG’s Digilab is introducing a start-up mentality in this global company

BLG Logistics Group is a major player in logistics with 18,000 employees. It established the Digilab in Bremen as a core element of its digitalisation. The company’s premises are reminiscent of start-ups in Silicon Valley, and there are good reasons for that.

Digital/Industry 4.0
23 August 2017
Give 3D printing a try – everyone can explore Industry 4.0 technologies at FabLab Bremen

FabLab Bremen invites visitors to learn about new manufacturing technologies and try their hand at everything from laser cutters to printing and programming. Digital technology enthusiasts of all ages and programmers of all abilities are welcome here. And it is not long before they can put what they have learnt to good use.

Investing in Bremen
13 June 2017
Airbus’ site manager Dr André Walter: “For us, digitalisation means making work easier and more efficient”

A great deal of manual labour goes into aircraft construction. Despite this – or perhaps even because of it – Airbus is changing its approach to make increased use of digital technologies. It’s also researching the applications of new manufacturing technologies such as 3D printing. And not a moment too soon, as Airbus’ site manager in Bremen, Dr André Walter, explains in our interview.