Constellium, Microsoft, and Exakis Nelite have been collaborating to digitalize Constellium’s manufacturing sites, using input from the operators who work there day after day.
Digital tools, made to measure for operators
As we make the transition to Industry 4.0, factory automation doesn’t have to be top down, but can start with the expertise of operators working on the ground. For proof, take Constellium’s recent experience digitalizing our facilities.
Sebastian Lesage, Constellium’s digital project manager, notes that there are many untapped opportunities in the digital area for manufacturing companies. Digital analytics, for example, can improve quality, recovery, yield, and predictive maintenance. New ways of working include connected tools, for quicker access to information and more reactivity. Image recognition and collaborative robots can improve safety and efficiency. "Our operators in the field were asking for digital tools," he says.
Constellium began digitalizing its manufacturing processes about three years ago, with the support of Microsoft and Exakis Nelite. “We started by understanding the business," explains Margaux Coudun, Team Leader App Infra Data at Exakis Nelite, a Microsoft pure-player partner. “We spent a lot of time with the operators, going through the process in detail. Then we set up the first industrial data models at a factory in Montreuil-Juigné. We had many discussions with the operators, testing the models and making sure they understood them.”
Lesage confirms that cooperation with operators was key. "Experimentation allowed us to identify fundamental pillars, to create foundations," he says. "Digital tools are designed for operators, for people who work in direct contact with metal, not for engineers. It was important to engage everyone in our digitalization process, and to increase our digital culture at all levels.”
Constellium then set up a data repository on the cloud, which is accessible to all those who need it. The data is standardized so that anyone can find their way around, whether they are in North America, Spain, Germany, or elsewhere. Constellium and Exakis Nelite also set up a data committee that includes operators and engineers. Each month, the committee meets to review and verify the quality of the reports and data. This is an iterative process – the team continuously creates, tests, refines and improves the tool.
The result: safer, smarter, more efficient
This bottom-up digitalization has resulted in several major advantages for Constellium. First of all, it makes human-machine interactions safer. "We have huge and potentially dangerous machines, like industrial rolling mills,” says Lesage. “We've implemented artificial intelligence on cameras positioned at strategic locations, which warn if a pedestrian or a forklift is in the area.”
Another advantage is better metal tracking, notably scrap. Lesage explains, "Our industry recycles a lot; we can put aluminium through a furnace indefinitely. The quality of this scrap and its composition are extremely important to us. By automatically marking our bins, we know exactly what they contain."
Finally, operators are able to benefit from huge amounts of data without being overwhelmed, especially concerning maintenance. "We are helping our operators leverage the data generated by our machines,” says Lesage. “We are building a system with which an operator can select a signal, set limits, and then be alerted when those limits are reached." He notes that some large machines can carry up to 40,000 sensors. "Operators can't physically observe all the sensors every day. This is an unprecedented gain in time and control over the machine."
A digital case study: taking an app on tour
The Leadership Safety Tour (LST) is a well-known process across all of Constellium’s plants, with some sites conducting 500 tours each month. It does, however, have its flaws. At Muscle Shoals, for example, the process can generate up to 70,000 pages of paper per year.
As part of the Digital@Constellium initiative, a trial was proposed at Muscle Shoals to use less paper and enable better processing of data. A new app allows the company to centralize all the LST information and corrective actions onto a single platform. This process can be done onsite simultaneously, corrective actions are easily tracked, the app is always up to date, and a live dashboard makes it easy to see if target objectives are met.
Brian Shelton, EHS Director at Muscle Shoals, explains, “The app allows us to simplify data collection and has been essential in developing metrics to support and progress with our EHS culture. In particular, the corrective and preventive action feature has encouraged an even higher level of engagement and ownership of EHS improvements.”
*This blog is based in part on a recently published internal Microsoft publication, with Microsoft’s permission.