A major trend in continuous steel casting is the upgrade of flow control systems to meet new market demands. In addition to supporting clean steel production, ease of handling, and economic benefits, flow control systems must be designed to enable automatic and robotic operation. One reason for this is operator health and safety, while another is to ensure that critical process areas such as the ladle preparation area and continuous caster remain operational and become more attractive workplaces for the next generation of personnel. This article describes how INTERSTOP automation, robotics, and digitalisation solutions are setting standards in flow control and which products are now being introduced in the steel industry.
One very important design principle of INTERSTOP is the modularity of the different technologies. Several of the described systems or modules are already in operation at various customers. For example, a steel plant converted the whole ladle fleet to the automatable AS ladle gate, with the intention to now introduce the LPA. Other examples are references for robotic cylinder handling systems, which are operated in several steel plants.
The target of our developments and marketing in automation, robotics, and digitalisation is to provide steel plants with an automation solution for the operation of INTERSTOP flow control systems. For this purpose, we have built up a team of experts that can engineer customer-specific feasibility studies for the robot cells and install complete robot cells on this basis. Furthermore, at our company facilities in Switzerland, we have fully industrial 1:1 mock-ups running of the LPA, MC, and MTH to validate the long-term availability and to present to customers and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs).
In addition to marketing our automation, robotics, and digitalisation portfolio, we are pursuing an open strategy with customers and technology partners such as OEMs regarding the implementation of robotic cells. For example, on the basis of our automation-ready systems we support the option to jointly define the interfaces for the robotic operation with a partner like an OEM.
With the experience gained, the references established, the modularity of our technology, and the marketing strategies chosen, all requirements are fulfilled to provide customers with flow control systems that combine superior manual handling and automatic operation by robots.
 Ehrengruber, R., Baumgartner, G., Steins, A. and Renggli, R. Latest INTERSTOP Ladle and Tundish Systems Ready for Robotic Handling. Bulletin. 2021, 48–52.
 Steiner, R., Lammer, G., Spiel, C. and Jandl, C. Refractories 4.0. BHM Berg- und Hüttenmännische Monatshefte. 2017, 162, 11, 514–520.