Future of steel in India: Indian firms can be more competitive adopting advanced analytics

Published: March 4, 2019 1:39 AM

Indian firms can become more competitive by adopting advanced analytics through digital platforms and technologies.

The inherent lower levels of advanced automation of some key manufacturing processes of Indian plants and the slow rate of adoption of advanced analytics and digital to drive improvements in yield, energy consumption and quality are some of the other factors.

By Saurabh Bhatnagar

Recently, India outpaced Japan as the world’s second-largest steel producing country clocking 4.9% growth over 2017, while China retained its position as the largest producer of crude steel, clocking 6.6% growth and accounting for more than 51% of the global production, according to data released by the World Steel Association. The latest report highlights that China’s crude steel output jumped to 928.3 million tonnes (MT) in 2018 from 870.9 MT in 2017, while India’s crude steel production was at 106.5 MT in 2018 from 101.5 MT in 2017.

The measure of India’s ranking is based on the actual output of steel produced in the country. What is not evident in this fact is that the conversion costs of India’s output are still highly non-competitive when compared to some of the large Japanese and Chinese players in steel making. India has achieved a capacity utilization rate of 77.2% in crude steel production in 2018 in comparison to the current global capacity utilisation ratio of 80.4%, according to OECD data.

There are several factors contributing to this situation such as the relatively smaller size and scale of modularised manufacturing assets of Indian firms and a lack of availability of high grade yet low-cost utilities and raw materials in India. The inherent lower levels of advanced automation of some key manufacturing processes of Indian plants and the slow rate of adoption of advanced analytics and digital to drive improvements in yield, energy consumption and quality are some of the other factors.

Needless to say, the continuous improvement programmes at some of the Indian firms have made them increasingly competitive, but the rate of improvement has been slow while some of the Chinese and Japanese firms have been quick to mesh the manufacturing supply chains with highly adaptive and complex advanced analytics solutions driven through digital technologies.
Digital transformation represents a substantial opportunity for the mining and metals sector. Across value migration and value addition to industry, and value shifts to customers, society and the environment, Accenture and World Economic Forum’s estimates of cumulative economic value for the period 2016 to 2025 range from $428 billion to $784 billion. Digital technologies have tremendous potential to move beyond stagnant growth and deliver exceptional shareholder, customer and environmental value to the steel industry in the face of disruption.

Seizing the data opportunity

Think of steel plants and what comes to mind are massive structures, heavy machinery, heat, fumes, sound and, of course, piles of steel. However, steel plants also generate voluminous data throughout the value chain—from raw material procurement, inventory and regulations to safety measures and more. While they have analytics integrated into the systems, most steel plants fail to leverage the full potential of the Goliath-like power that advanced analytics offers.

To crunch large data sets and derive meaningful insights, most steel plants in India apply conventional methods using legacy system architecture, a traditional mindset and a deep-rooted improvement culture. These traditional methods have limitations, but they could be overcome by using advanced analytics to take a quantum leap toward more efficient business operations, mitigating data-related risks and gaining a competitive edge.

To embark on a digital transformation journey, the first step is to collaborate with all the stakeholders to define the business requirements. It is important to instill an advanced analytics culture within the plants to solve industrial problems using the following action points:

Gaining momentum through capability building: Help the workforce develop core analytical skills through a continuous, comprehensive and integrated learning journey.

Defining standards through an analytics center of excellence (CoE): Build a comprehensive CoE to help the workforce gain a thorough understanding of advanced analytics.

Programming a change in mindset: Provide a supporting infrastructure that would mobilize the plant employees to become exemplars of analytics. For example, a cross-functional team across the IT, digital, research and development, and process manufacturing departments can enable a seamless flow of information and capabilities to deliver value through various on-the-job training programmes.

Building a steely foundation through a digital architecture: Formulate a set of customised guiding design principles to factor in the three Vs of big data—volume, velocity and variety.

In summary, while India’s move to the second position in terms of steel production news is great, there is more to be achieved before reaching the number one position. There is a bigger opportunity for Indian firms to become more competitive cost-efficient steel makers in the global steel making market by adopting advanced analytics through digital platforms and technologies. With improved efficiencies, cost effectiveness and better management of resources and infrastructure through analytics, steel companies will not only gain competitive advantage but also progress significantly on the path to building an analytics-ready workforce.

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