The steel industry is one of the oldest and also one of the most important industries on the global market. However, several problems have been affecting this sector for a long time, due to the rigidity of many processes and the hostile environment they often operate in.
This scenario makes innovation in this sector very difficult, but it is still necessary.
In this post the main challenges related to the steel industry will be covered, in order to support the addressing of innovation and process optimization.
4 Major problems in the steel industry
1. Harsh environment and accidents
The steel industry processes usually rely on high temperature thermal or chemical transformations in order to generate a desired final outcome. This kind of scenario naturally results in a quite dangerous work environment for operators, making it very difficult to prevent unexpected accidents from happening to workers in the field.
And adding to this context, there is still the difficulty in performing the inspection and maintenance of machinery and structures, which suffer a lot from the corrosion process, wear and tear, structural integrity, and are in places of difficult operation. In addition, as will be explained later, the workers need to act in a very analogical way and usually without knowing the real priorities within the operation.
In other words, besides the physical degradation of the structural plant itself, the work environment is very unsafe and stressful for the workers as well. There are cases in which, due to the high temperature of the processes, operators are not allowed to stay more than 20 minutes on site, which limits their actions and efficiency.
2. Process monitoring
The inspection and monitoring process of steel mills usually follows specific procedures, requiring that workers operate in a typical analog way.
Since it is a critical environment, stopping production to execute corrective actions is unfeasible, and the current method for monitoring these problems is not able to predict failures in the same way as intelligent predictive models do, thus demonstrating an inevitable gap to errors.
Besides the difficulty in performing the inspection itself because of the hostile environment of steel industries , the maintenance of the encountered problems is also difficult.
The corrosion of equipment and structures is also a common problem in these industries and the maintenance of these components is very complicated because of the hostile environment, as mentioned before. Besides, the diversity of complex processes in this industry also makes it difficult to understand the extracted data in the operation, and the improper management of this information in diffuse systems compromises the maintenance of the structures.
As a consequence of this lack of precise management tools, failure prediction in the operation is not usually achievable, leading to unplanned shutdowns and the extensive use of corrective maintenance methods.
4. Solid waste management and pollutant emissions
Another consequence of the various transformation processes in the steel industry is the generation of subproducts that are not reused in the operation. Because of that, there is a lot of waste disposal, with some of it being improperly released into the environment.
In addition, the main source of energy of these industries’ processes is the combustion of fossil fuels, which also is a direct contributor for the emission of pollutant gases into the atmosphere. Both cases generate serious environmental problems and rank this industrial sector as one of the most polluting.
The rigidity of the steel industry’s processes makes it suffer from several problems as a result. From the challenges in inspection and maintenance of the operation, to the large emission of pollutants into the environment, this sector needs to find ways to optimize its processes to keep on satisfying the consumers’ demands, but in a more efficient and sustainable way.
The reuse of residual materials, the energy transition, and the adoption of technologies in the operation have been the three main paths adopted by this type of industry to overcome the covered problems. Click here to learn more!