The magazine of Friedhelm Loh Group

The magazine of Friedhelm Loh Group

Datacenter-container in steel industry
Experience – Engineering

Digital Fort Knox

Digital transformation. Big data is the future in the steel industry, too. To stay competitive for the long term, thyssenkrupp Steel is modernising and standardising its production-relevant IT. Data Center Containers from Rittal are indispensable for this upgrade work.

Text Manfred Engeser ––– Photography

They are 12 metres wide, three metres deep and a good two-and-a-half metres tall. All the same, you could easily walk right past the two white containers without noticing them. Enclosed by a metal fence, they almost seem to be ducking away from the mighty industrial colossus that towers behind them on the site of the thyssenkrupp Steel plant in Duisburg-Bruckhausen. The giant in question is hot strip mill 1, its thick walls surrounded by a network of gas pipes.

Opened in 1955 by the German Chancellor at the time, Konrad Adenauer, and Federal Minister of Economics, Ludwig Erhard, the imposing complex of buildings has proved itself to be an indispensable part of steel production at thyssenkrupp Steel. Three million metric tons of steel ingot are currently processed here every year into high-quality flat steel. 

And yet, were it not for the mundane contents of one of these two white sheet-steel containers, this historic plant, which was modernised at a cost of some 300 million euros as recently as 2013, would probably become uncompetitive in the medium term. The floor inside the containers is made of grey rubber, and behind the triple-secured door, along the white sheet-steel walls on the left and right, run two aisles, each measuring only 60 or 100 centimetres wide – just enough to allow easy movement without wasting space.

In the centre of the container are just under a dozen racks fitted with precision-wired servers that hum along gently. Seven climate-control devices keep the inside temperature at a constant 22 degrees Celsius. An early fire detection system an extinguisher system using Novec 1230 as an extinguisher gas stand ready to protect the IT infrastructure if a fire should break out. “These containers are the new backbone of our production IT,” Stefan Willing, Technical Project Manager at thyssenkrupp Steel, points out. “They are an important cornerstone for a standardised IT system in our manufacturing department.”

Digital transformation is changing steel production

Hot, dirty, noisy and on a huge scale – that’s how it used to be. However, the future of steel production at thyssenkrupp looks a little different now – quiet, clean and cool. Digital tranformation is playing an ever greater role in the production of more than 2,000 steel products at thyssenkrupp. Whether developing new materials, modifying goods to suit customer requirements – including at short notice – or optimising logistics and warehousing processes, for companies in the steel industry to stay competitive they must be able to generate data, analyse it in real time and make it available to customers.

“Digitalization is increasingly becoming a decisive success factor for us,” says Thomas Jahn, Program Lead Secure Smart Factory. “It’s about digitizing real processes in the value chain.”

Squaring up to the challenges posed by digital transformation calls for an up-to-date IT infrastructure that meets a number of key requirements. It must be located in very close proximity to the production facilities. It must provide reliable access to all the necessary data to ensure production operations run smoothly and seamlessly.

It must keep the know-how crucial to the core business inside the company and protect it against physical and virtual attacks. It must be as standardised and self-sufficient as possible to minimise the workload for both in-house staff and external service providers. A digital Fort Knox, in short.

Pure Computing Power. The standardised Data Center Containers from Rittal are supporting thyssenkrupp Steel with the digitalization of production-relevant processes.

Container-based IT system

The solution is a standard container in two sizes, into which the production IT of each individual facility should be transferred bit by bit. The container should be sited on an easily accessible plot right next to the relevant plant. It should always be assembled and fitted out according to the same plan, with every single part carrying its own article number – from the climate control unit and fire alarm / extinguisher system to the rack itself, and even the precise length and labelling of the cables and connectors.

The result is a digital twin that enables both secure maintenance and virtual resource management of the MicroDC. The valuable and sensitive internal workings should be protected at all times by a sturdy sheet steel outer. Added to all that are carefully controlled processes that integrate these containers into the rest of the site. On a local level, there is the underground cable for transferring production data, and the system for converting the 500 V supply used in production to the 400 V required by the containers. Each site should also be incorporated into the group-wide safety and security system that encompasses everything from fire safety through to access control. 

“The modular containers from Rittal are absolutely ideal for our needs.”

Stefan Willing
Head of IIoT Solutions and Applications thyssenkrupp Steel Europe

thyssenkrupp started looking for a solution back in 2016. At that time, the Executive Board had decided to modernise the production-relevant IT infrastructure across the entire group. It also wanted to regain sole control over the most crucial data for the company’s competitiveness by bringing infrastructure management back in-house.

The executives chose Rittal as a partner that could help them develop a long-term effective solution. After completing a joint analysis phase, the two companies defined the vital specifications, incorporating both the production expertise of the staff at thyssenkrupp and the data center know-how of Rittal.

Ready to go in six weeks

It took 12 months of preparations before the first container went into operation at the site in Duisburg South. In fact, a pair of containers was installed so that production data can be backed-up in an identical twin with its own power supply. The hard work paid off because, after all the effort that went into installing the first duo at Duisburg South, it now only takes six weeks from placing the order to get another one up and running.

The pair at hot strip mill 1 in Duisburg-Hamborn have since been joined by a second and third pair in Duisburg-Beeckerwerth, for hot strip mill 2 and cold strip mill 2. A fourth houses the Management Data Center, where people can keep an eye on how all the other containers are doing. Are the climate-control systems working reliably? Is the power supply OK? Are the servers and IT processes stable?

Everything in sight. The MicroDCs are completely remotely managed and integrated into the plant's processes. Stefan Willing (left) and Thomas Jahn are already planning further expansion. 

“Our preconfigured and modular systems for edge computing are helping thyssenkrupp Steel implement new IT infrastructures quickly, safely and economically virtually wherever it wants on the company’s premises,” explains Michael Nicolai, who is in charge of IT sales at Rittal. “In the same way as a seasoned builder just knows the ideal size, shape and arrangement of individual rooms in a house because he’s already built so many of them, planning and building containers like these has also become second nature to us.”

thyssenkrupp Steel and Rittal already have site number five in view – Dortmund-Westfalenhütte. Alongside cold strip mill 3, the new galvanising plant there is to be enhanced with state-of-the-art production IT from May 2019.

The Bochum and Siegerland sites will then complete the programme. “Our experience with Rittal containers has been extremely positive”, says the project leader. “They are our factory standard and an elementary component of our target architecture for our production IT.”

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