Traceability no longer stops at the mill gate. There is an increasing expectation from customers – and regulators – that they will be able to map the journey of a product we supply from the production line to the hands of the customer.
Over the past 12 months, we have significantly enhanced our traceability capabilities through a targeted program to deliver improved outcomes for customers.
Billet marking is an essential link in the quality chain, providing traceability of steel heat numbers and assisting billet yard operators to safely confirm the right steel grade for the right end product.
In 2022, we implemented a fully automated laser billet marking system, which has unlocked a number of benefits for our Sydney Melt Shop operations and our customers.
Each billet is now uniquely marked with the heat number, strand number, and billet number both as 1-D text for identification by a human and a 2-D data matrix for automated vision systems to read.
The machine readability greatly reduces the risk of steel grade mix-ups by moving from an administrative control to an engineering-controlled system.
The quality of markings has also improved significantly. Markings generated by our previous billet stamper could be variable in quality, particularly due to the impacts of billet surface quality.
The new process also removes two manual processes from the supply chain.
There is no longer a requirement for a caster steelmaker to manually change the stamper number between heats, which reduces the risk of a grade mix up, while the need for yard operators to manually stamp incorrectly stamped billets has also been removed.
Reducing the amount of human intervention required in the billet marking process improves the safety of the process, while also creating productivity efficiencies by removing manual processes.
When it comes to traceability, data is key.
Data provides our own teams and our customers with the visibility they need to make informed business decisions, and in the case of our customers, informed purchasing decisions with full knowledge of the product’s journey across the supply chain.
We have implemented a number of initiatives as part of our efforts to provide customers with the most comprehensive traceability data possible.
One of our 2022 initiatives was a pilot program implementing RFID product tags and readers at our Sydney Steel Mill (SSM). Executing a phased implementation strategy, SSM is now applying RFID encoded tags to product bundles at the tagging bed which are then read and verified as they leave the site via a RFID gantry at the gatehouse.
This innovation will enable productivity and efficiency gains to be realised by dramatically streamlining interaction with data on product tags. The first phase of this project will deliver automation of product leaving the facility with truck manifests automatically verified prior to leaving the site, enhancing stock and data accuracy and real time dispatch notification to customers.
Such functionality is common in other industries such as food delivery and eCommerce, however this will be the first time our own customers have been able to track their deliveries from the mill to site.
The targeted introduction of robotics into the manufacturing process demonstrates how we are successfully creating a collaborative work environment within our workforce. In this environment, robots take on repetitive tasks, streamlining production workflow and eliminating injury risks for our employees. An additional benefit is their ability to perform a highly repetitive task accurately on all occasions.
Fundamental to our efforts to improve data traceability is our investment in a robot tagging machine at the SSM.
The investment reduces the risk of safety-related issues in the dispatch bed and warehouse exclusion zones, where the previous manual tagging process was performed. It also minimises the risk of the bundles being incorrectly tagged and represents a shift from an administrative-controlled environment to an engineering-controlled environment.
We are now planning to implement our robotic tagging capability across its manufacturing network.
While the initiative provides productivity and safety benefits to the business, ultimately it is our customers who benefit through enhanced accuracy in data traceability, which enhances confidence in product compliance, order delivery accuracy and accurate sustainability credentials.
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