Ever wonder about the reality of such buzz terms as smart factory, smart manufacturing, or digital transformation? I do. Then came this case study from ABB. It has been many years since I was around furnaces melting steel, but this example gives us some hints about assembling digital technologies.

The essential bullets:

  • ABB Ability Smart Melt Shop digitally connects all steel melt shop processes and moving equipment to synchronize operations and improve production efficiencies, moving steelmakers towards autonomous operations
  • The new digital application automates and optimizes ladle and crane movements in steel melt shops enabling metals producers to closely track and schedule the transport of molten metal from furnace to caster
  • The solution has already been installed by JSW Steel Ltd, India’s leading steel company

ABB has launched ABB Ability Smart Melt Shop designed to increase melt shop productivity, save energy, and improve employee safety, with payback within six months.

Based on advanced digital algorithms, the new solution is unique in that it offers not only powerful real-time ladle tracking but also automated crane scheduling and a predictive thermal modelling engine. The tracking engine follows ladle movement via cranes and transfer cars in real time. Radar and laser positioning technologies provide accurate visualization while reducing hardware footprint and maintenance needs compared to radio-frequency identification (RFID) solutions. The automated crane scheduling includes job forecasting, route planning and automatic acknowledgement of jobs.

This will enable steelmakers to move towards autonomous operations by eliminating manual co-ordinations, with increased safety in hot zones due to lower footfall.

The thermal engine function uses ladle thermal history from the tracking engine and forecasted heat movement from scheduling engines to predict the thermal loss during ladle transfer and predicts the correct lift temperature at ladle furnace. This results in better superheat compliance at the caster, eliminating caster slowdowns, hence increasing productivity.

Ability Smart Melt Shop has already been installed by JSW Steel Ltd, India’s leading steel company, where it has been integrated into a wider expansion at Dolvi Works plant in Maharashtra state. It is expected to increase the company’s EBITDA profit by around $2million per annum through 4 percent higher casting speeds, time savings of one working day per month and additional output equating to 24,000 tons a year.

This application uses all standard communications protocols, employs ABB’s multi-layered defense-in-depth approach to cyber security and is compatible with both ABB and third-party systems. 

Benefits include:


  • 4-5 percent increased casting speed due to better superheat compliance
  • Reduced tapping delays, in EAF or converter due to more efficient scheduling of cranes for ladle movement
  • Better ladle management and maintenance planning thanks to access to historical data on all movements
  • Increased manpower productivity since no manual intervention or acknowledgement is required

Energy efficiency

  • 5 degrees Celsius less arcing per heat (batch) in ladle furnace using thermal models to accurately predict target lift temperature
  • Improved decision-making thanks to forecasting of ladle movements and crane schedules


  • Increased safety with less footfall in hot zones which would otherwise be needed to manage ladle and crane movement
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