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Outokumpu to expand the use of robotics in safety management – first ANYmal robot “Jokkeri” started operating at the company’s site in Tornio, Finland

Outokumpu, the global leader in sustainable stainless steel, started to utilize artificial intelligence and safety inspection robots a year ago to improve and digitize the company’s facilities’ health and safety monitoring. The deal was signed with a Swiss robotics company ANYbotics in early 2023, followed by the first ANYmal robots arriving at Outokumpu’s sites in Krefeld, Germany, and Avesta, Sweden. After a year of piloting, the use of robotics is now expanding to Finland with the first robot starting its operations at the company’s ferrochrome plant in Tornio. ANYmal robotics supports Outokumpu’s vision of achieving the lowest accident frequency rate in the industry by 2025.

“Use of AI and robotics for safety management is one of the cornerstones of our safety strategy. ANYbotics’ robot technology is helping us to increase safety by reducing employee exposure to hazardous substances and environments, optimize production through preventive maintenance, decrease environmental impacts and to collect data. Our estimation in 2023 was that by transferring inspection tasks to the robot, employees’ exposure time to hazardous substances could have reduced by more than 80% and possibly hazardous repairs in maintenance by 20%. We have taken good steps forward and we are excited to implement robotics into our ferrochrome business as well”, says Thorsten Piniek, Vice President, Health & Safety at Outokumpu.

Outokumpu now has three robots operating at its sites – Rosie in Germany, Angie in Sweden, and Jokkeri in Finland – with multiple daily tasks. In Avesta, the robot is working to reduce the time employees must spend in acid areas during inspections, with a total of 90 inspection points per shift, 270 per day, and 1,890 per week. In Krefeld, the robot currently has comparable tasks with the one in Sweden, with an aim to inspect both the furnace and the insulation areas in the near future. The ANYmal robots use a simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM) method with Lidar sensors to detect obstacles and follow predefined routes and inspection points. The robots can also withstand heat, dust, and chemicals.

Pioneering robotics in ferrochrome business

Outokumpu’s Ferrochrome plant was the first operational unit in Tornio. Today, there are approximately 230 people working at the plant and three submerged arc furnaces (SAF), two sintering plants and a coke drying unit with a total annual ferrochrome production capacity of 530 kilo tonnes. Safety plays an essential role at the plant where several process industry safety hazards are present, and hazardous chemical compounds require special attention.

“At our Ferrochrome plant, the robot is focusing on reducing personnel exposure to noise, dust, and vibration when measuring temperatures from different bearings and gearboxes, and by checking conveyor belt positioning to see that they are running in correct positions. Introducing the robot in Tornio is a further step towards an even safer environment and increasing the efficiency of routine processes. However, this robot technology is only one part of the technical innovations for safety. For example, Valto 360-dimensional view of the factory makes it possible to walk inside the factory and get acquainted with the equipment locations without physically visiting the area”, says Teijo Södervall, Vice President, Ferrochrome plant, at Outokumpu.

In the future, besides the walking robots, Outokumpu also intends to use drones, driverless transport systems and collaborative robots (Cobots) to improve safety and productivity. The long-term strategy is to invest in new technologies and to create intelligent plants, where people and machines collaborate hand in hand.