BlueCats Editorial Content Manager
Improving quality, increasing standards compliance and reducing costs with real time tracking.
Leading Steel Pipe Manufacturing Company
Birmingham, Alabama, USA
Indoor Real Time Location
Achieve ISO 9001 compliance by tracking products throughout the manufacturing process
Automatically track movement of crucibles containing molten steel across a 123,000 square foot production facility in real-time
Eliminate manual tracking of crucibles by crane drivers and pour side workers
Increase staff efficiency
Reduce product loss and waste
Harsh industrial environment (heat, shock, dust)
BlueCats Ultra-Wideband Readers and Tags plus BlueCats Loop Local software enables crucibles of molten steel to be tracked in real time
Company achieved ISO 9001 compliance for its manufacturing process
Cost savings due to a reduction in reprocessing of un-poured steel
Cost savings due to a reduction in non-quality compliant finished product
Increase in efficiency improves productivity, increases margins and improves cashflow in a competitive industry
A leading manufacturer of steel pipe greatly improved product quality, increased efficiency and reduced costs and waste by tracking key production assets in real time.
About the Manufacturer
Based in Birmingham, Alabama, the company has been continually in business since 1905 and is a manufacturer of ductile iron and spiral welded pipe for the water and agriculture industries and high-frequency welded pipe for the oil and natural gas industries. It also manufactures fire hydrants, large machinery casings and structural casings and pilings.
To ensure product quality the company wanted to meet certain industrial standards such as ISO9001. To achieve the standard, it needed to accurately record the progress of each piece of pipe through the production process.
To make steel pipe, molten steel is poured from the furnace into smaller crucibles. After some elements are added to finalize the steel mix, inductive heaters maintain temperature in the crucible until it is ready to be used for a pour.
Once the material in the crucible reaches a certain temperature it can be removed from the inductive heater and moved to the pipe pouring line. As per the company’s process, once removed from the induction heaters the crucible should be completely used within 15 minutes.
The entire process includes multiple operators and separated work lines: a crane operator for moving the crucibles from the heaters and additional operators pouring the steel pipe. Operators had no way of knowing where each crucible was in the production process nor how long it had been since it was removed from the inductive heaters.
Occasionally, this lack of visibility and traceability caused steel to not be poured in time, resulting in unusable metal having to be recycled through the entire process. At times, the steel would be poured too cold causing the pipe to form improperly rendering it only usable for scrap.
Finally, the manufacturer’s process was not timed and offered no traceability; it did not know which pipes were poured from which crucibles, a requirement under the ISO standard the company wanted to meet.
BlueCats’ client found the answer to its challenges by installing the Grid Tracking solution in the crucible holding and preparation areas. The steel pipe manufacturer fitted each crucible with a BlueCats UWB Tag that transmits to BlueCats UWB Readers installed throughout the production facility. Ultra-Wideband (UWB) is a short-range, high-frequency, wireless communication protocol that sends short radio pulses only two nanoseconds long, enabling it to achieve a high degree of real-time accuracy – within centimetres.
Due to the extreme temperatures of the crucibles, the tag was modified, and a special housing created to operate under high heat conditions. The tags had to be reliable despite the harsh environment and electronics challenges like consistent shock and operating a temperature over 85 degrees Celsius, and regular temperature cycling.
The readers also needed to operate reliably in an environment with metallic dust contaminates and no temperature control. BlueCats was able to provide reliable hardware to the manufacturer surpassing their expectations. The UWB Readers were networked with BlueCats Loop Local software which allowed the crane operators to locate crucibles in real time and know how long it had been off the induction heaters, including whether it had been on the induction heater too long.
Similarly, the pipe pouring operators could tell how long the crucible had been off the induction heater and whether the steel was hot enough to continue pouring. By the same token, the operators could stop a pour commencing if a crucible had been off the induction heater for too long.
By installing the BlueCats Grid Tracking solution, the client gained constant real time visibility of each crucible, its steel and final product throughout its lifecycle.
The massive improvement in workflow enabled by the implementation of BlueCats Grid Tracking solution enabled the company to achieve ISO certification for its manufacturing process. In addition, it has produced cost savings through a reduction in unused steel and in non-quality compliant finished product. In addition, the manufacturer saw increased efficiency in production as guesswork was removed from the workflow.