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DMU research boosts productivity for one of the world's biggest steel companies

Computer technology developed by De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) is helping to improve production for one of the world’s largest steel companies.

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Researchers have helped to develop “Autoplan”, an automatic scheduling system trialled by Tata Steel at its heat treatment facilities in Stocksbridge, Sheffield.

The company was looking for a solution to the problem of ensuring that furnaces were kept at optimum temperature in order for batches to be processed energy efficiently, whilst still meeting delivery and furnace utilisation requirements.

Dr Kang and his research team applied advanced computer algorithms to optimise the commercial scheduling system to produce solutions balancing these objectives.  

A spokesman for Tata Steel said: "Effective automation of the scheduling process requires solution of many data and information combination challenges. In this project we have established a dependable key building block which successfully satisfies a particularly knowledge intensive, time consuming and stressful element of the overall task.

"The system is autonomous in that it is equipped with the necessary intelligence to reschedule in response to a change in material or resource availability on a 24 x 7 basis, whilst still respecting physical constraints, for example time required for material movements."

Dr Parminder Kang, Research Fellow in DMU’s Faculty of Technology, is working on the collaborative project, which has received funding from Innovate UK (formerly the Technology Strategy Board).

Led by Preactor International, the project aimed to develop and test the ability of the autonomous scheduling system to help manufacturers.

Dr Kang said: "Involvement in this project has provided direct interaction with industry. The project has allowed fundamental research to be conducted, which has presented a fresh approach towards solving multi-objective and multi-machine scheduling problems using Genetic Algorithms and Autonomous Approaches.

"The impact of this is that both capacity of production resources and availability of material resources can be properly scheduled to provide wider range of economic, environmental and social benefits. Autoplan methodology is not restricted to tested case studies but can be applied to other complex scheduling problems too."

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Companies Tata Steel, Plessey Semiconductors and TDK-Lambda were approached to evaluate the technology and progress has been monitored for the past two years.

Tata Speciality Steels is focused on offering carbon, alloy and stainless steels designed to meet the needs of some of the world’s most demanding applications in markets ranging from aerospace to oil and gas, power generation to heavy good vehicles.

Posted on Thursday 19th February 2015

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