Robots reduce risk in the steel industry

Louise Davis

Steel industry project showcases the use robotics in safety management – supporting the vision of achieving the lowest accident frequency rate in the industry by 2025.

Stainless steel expert Outokumpu will start to use artificial intelligence (AI) and safety inspection robots to improve and digitise the company’s facilities’ health and safety monitoring. It recently signed a deal with Swiss robotics company ANYbotics on autonomous robotics solutions and, in June 2023, the first ANYmal robot arrived to Outokumpu’s site in Krefeld, Germany.

ANYmal robotics support Outokumpu’s ambitious safety strategy and vision of building the safest working environment within the steel industry. In 2023, this translates into a target of less than 1.8 recordable injuries per one million working hours.

“Use of AI and robotics for safety management is one of the cornerstones of our safety strategy. ANYbotics’ robotics technology will help us to increase safety by reducing employee exposure to hazardous substances and environments, optimise production through preventive maintenance, and decrease environmental impacts. In 2022, we started to research the possibilities to use AI in safety management. Safety robotics emerged as the best alternative and ANYbotics as the best supplier for the robotics. We are pleased to collaborate with the firm to support our safety journey onwards”, says Thorsten Piniek, vice president, Health & Safety at Outokumpu.

Since 2016, ANYbotics has developed innovative, intelligent and integrated robotic solutions that improve employees’ lives, increase productivity, and support more sustainable industrial facilities.

“Outokumpu is an excellent partner to pioneer the deployment of ANYmal in the metals sector. The firm’s site in Krefeld poses particular challenges in dealing with its tough environmental conditions and hazardous substances where the robot can prove its industrial ruggedness, autonomy, and end-to-end integration”, says Luca Niccolini, lead metals at ANYbotics.      

Reducing human exposure

Outokumpu has currently one robot already deployed at its site in Germany. The pilot will be expanded to its sites in Finland and Sweden with in total three ANYmal robots to be deployed. The company estimates that by transferring inspection tasks to the robot, employees’ exposure time to hazardous substances can be reduced by more than 80% and possibly hazardous repairs in maintenance could be reduced by 20%.

“The robots will have many tasks – reducing the time employees spend inspecting acid areas and reducing the risk of fires due to overheating of bearings and motors, for example. In addition, the robots can shorten malfunction times since defects can be detected at an early stage through temperature and sound profile measurements before a failure occurs. However, they will not replace human workforce but instead automate some parts of the inspection work. The introduction of the new robots is a further step towards even more safe environment and increase the efficiency of routine processes,” says Thorsten Piniek.