The Future of Steel Trading Is Digital

The assistance system VisualAssistance simplifies remote maintenance. Image credits: KASTO Maschinenbau GmbH & Co. KG

To meet the increasingly more complex and individual needs of the customers while withstanding the high-cost pressure and international competition, new solutions and methods are needed in steel trading. Digitalization provides the right answers: It enables intelligent networking of the complete material flow in steel trading companies, making it more sustainable and efficient.

Traditional steel trading is transforming: The former link between steel plants and manufacturing companies whose sole task was to supply a manageable variety of materials in large quantities is becoming more and more of a service provider and manufacturing partner. The customer demands are becoming higher and more individual, the position sizes are decreasing, while the number of orders rapidly increase. Increasingly shorter delivery times are standard; delays and quality defects are rarely tolerated. Steel traders must take on more and more processing steps for their customers – at the same time, they face high marginal and cost pressures to compete internationally. Many companies are searching for new methods and solutions to make them viable for the future under these challenging conditions.

Data Acquisition and Data Analysis is the Basis

Digitalization is a strategy for success to achieve this goal. Technologies and concepts from Industry 4.0 also provide enormous potential to steel trading: From the raw materials order down to the shipment of the finished order to the customers, today all value-added processes can be linked together, consistently managed and intelligently optimized without paper. Detailed acquisition and analysis of all relevant data is the basis for recognizing and utilizing potential. The goal is to make the entire material flow faster, more flexible, resource-friendly and efficient.

Seamless communication is of particular importance in the digital networking of various processes and machines. This is made possible through suitable interfaces, for example, between a higher-level ERP system such as SAP, Infor or Microsoft Dynamics, and individual machines’ control systems. One example of this is storage: Many steel traders already rely on fully automated bar stock storage systems that offer benefits such as high storage density, rapid access times, and maximum inventory transparency. They are controlled and managed via a Warehouse Management System (WMS). The software optimizes the processes in and around the warehouse, thus making intralogistics faster, more reliable and efficient. A seamless connection to the respective host system ensures a consistent communication structure that significantly increases transparency and efficiency.

From the raw materials order down to the shipment of the finished order to the customers, today all value-added processes in steel trading can be linked together, consistently managed and intelligently optimized.

Unleashing the Potential of Intralogistics

The WMS provides users with numerous functions such as the management of orders, batches, remnant pieces and cut-pieces, a permanent inventory as well as the option to flexibly apply various in-out strategies and order picking principles. Comprehensive statistic and analysis tools monitor the utilization of the entire system as well as the individual components. As a result, the full potential of the intralogistics can be unleased: Redundant travel distances or unnecessary waiting periods are avoided. Furthermore, possible changes can be simulated and tested in advance and without the risk. KASTO, the specialist in storage, sawing and handling technology, developed the WMS, KASTOlogic, for its systems and it is specially designed to meet the demands in bar stock and sheet metal storage.

With KASTOlogic, users can consistently manage and monitor not only the processes in the warehouse itself; they can also manage and monitor upstream and downstream logistic and processing steps. Even manually operated warehouse areas can be integrated into the system using the app KASTOlogic mobile. The application enables the user to transfer all procedures such as storage and stock transfers, picking orders, shipment and inventory data via smartphone or tablet to the WMS. Transparency and traceability are at the same level as in automatic software-controlled warehouses. KASTOlogic mobile can be used to implement even a so-called “Pick-by-Crane” system easily: The user utilizes the app to commission a connected indoor crane to automatically position the desired keyboard-operated storage and removal procedures using the respective coordinates.

With the robotic handling system KASTOsort, KASTO provides a solution that enables the automation of upstream and downstream manufacturing processes.

Digital Sawing Technology Minimizes Waste

Sawing technology plays a central role with the increasing range of processing in steel trading. To meet the customer’s wishes, most steel traders have various machines in their portfolio that can perform straight and mitre cuts on a wide variety of materials and dimensions. Digitalization offers great potential to increase efficiency in this area as well. For instance, KASTO developed the software KASTOoptisaw for its sawing machines. This software ensures that the stored bar stock and sawing machine are ideally assigned to the respective cutting orders with regard to the different machine parameters such as kerf width and minimum remnant piece length. Because often companies store bars, tubing, and profiles with various lengths and different mitre angles based on previous orders of the same material. Thanks to KASTOoptisaw, they can be used up with minimum waste – which lowers costs and saves space in the warehouse since the best use is made of the material, and fewer remnant pieces must be returned to storage.

To automate the material flow in steel trading and make it particularly cost-effective, sawing machines with manipulators and conveyor technology can be seamlessly connected to automated warehouse systems and supplied with the needed materials. The sawing procedure itself also runs autonomously with the corresponding equipped machine. Thus, highly integrated systems are created that are connected seamlessly in a continuous supply chain. KASTO is an expert, particularly in regards to the realization of such combined warehouse-sawing systems – in addition, with the robotic handling system KASTOsort, KASTO provides a solution that enables the automation of upstream and downstream manufacturing processes. For example, industrial robots can independently remove, deburr, chamfer, centre and cut threads, mark and imprint, weigh, sort, de-stack and pick orders. Depending on the customer requirements, the robot control system is combined with the saw control system, WMS or existing ERP system. The user can also control and monitor this work step via a central interface and benefits from an ideally coordinated process chain.

Remote Control Using Smart Glasses

Digitalization enables helpful tools even when it comes to maintenance and repair. KASTO developed the assistance system, VisualAssistance, for its machines and systems. This system uses the concept of Augmented Reality to simplify remote maintenance. The core component is an interactive app for tablets, smartphones, or smart glasses. Customers can connect with service staff via video and audio stream. Users and technicians share the same visual field in real-time. It makes mutual understanding significantly easier and helps to quickly identify individual system components and possible malfunctions. The app also makes it possible for KASTO experts to provide visual assistance and for example, show markings in the live video. While the customer carries out the maintenance or repair on-site on the saw or warehouse, they are provided all the information needed directly on their display. If the customer uses smart glasses, both hands are free – making work even easier. The KASTO service technicians are on-site virtually and direct the employees as needed. As a result, extensive training or expensive trips are often unnecessary.

Well-Equipped for Upcoming Tasks

Manufacturers cannot ignore digitalization and networking. The benefits accompanied by new technologies are too great. Business owners are more flexible to respond to individual customer wishes and fluctuating order quantities, and the equipment provides higher performance to remain a reliable supplier even at capacity peaks. In addition, material and cost efficiency allows owners to structure their own company economically and competitively, and ergonomically relieve employees to avoid errors and accidents. All of this helps manufacturers to ideally meet the current and future challenges. 

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