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Agents in steel industry

Let me show you in this work, how algorithms can improve modern manufacturing processes and, perhaps more important, can increase the profit out of the product. The presented system was developed by an European consortium consisting of ArcelorMittal, Centro Sviluppo Materiali, VDEh Betriebsforschungsinstitut (BFI), CETIC and Siemens. So many people contributed to the success of this application.

Problem

Imagine that not all products go through a perfect production process. Then it may appear, that from time to time a product simply fails to meet the expectation of a customer. In the example of steel industy, a pretty simple case would be that a coil of steel was rolled to a wrong thickness. Nevertheless, these products have still a high quality. We would like to a) prevent the failure in advance or b) to reallocate the product to an alternative customer order. The latter would be a customer, who wants exactly this "wrong" thickness.

Solving manufacturing´s dilemma with information

In many manufacturing companies, still the automation hierachy is kept strict and information flow from the production systems is rigorously reglemented. So our solution proposed to install software agents on diverse locations, talking to a service-oriented architecture layer on the databases to get access to data. Such multi-agent systems have proven successful in a wide area of applications. A communication was developed, so that these agents can talk to each other, jointly reaching a common goal. Therefore, they form a collaborative group called holon, that can also act like an agent, again.

A big problem is, that we do not know exactly how the product will look like after the next process steps. The holons need this information in advance in order to trade problem products on a virtual marketplace, see first figure. Herein, two algorithms play an important role. First, there must be a prediction into the future. This is done with a simplified, logistic simulation of the plants processes. Secondly, there must be a trading algorithm in the marketplace to conduct the auction of the products.

Integration at an international steel company

The agents can detect false products and propagate the information to future processing steps. There, the failure can be either corrected or the systems searches for an alternative product. In the beginning of 2015, a prototypical software system was installed at the industrial partners plants. It is currently performing real-world testing and shows very successful results.

We disseminated the results of the work at the European Steel and Application Days 2015 during the METEC trade fair, in Duesseldorf. More detailed information including the slides of my talk can be found on researchgate.