Dominic Hill (left) and David Waine represented our Special Profiles business at the awards on Monday 12 June
15 Jun 2023

Prestigious industry award for British Steel's Special Profiles business

Colleagues from our Special Profiles business were overjoyed to receive a Special Recognition Award for Ongoing Engineering at the Plantworx Innovation Awards earlier this week. This coveted industry award recognised their revolutionary work in laser detection of surface defects.

David Waine, Commercial Director for Special Profiles, said: “This recognition for engineering excellence is so well deserved. The work the team has done to create our bespoke solution is nothing short of ground-breaking – it’s taken a lot of dedication, creativity and determination to give both the business and our customers absolute confidence in our product quality.

“Huge congratulations to all involved, this industry recognition is a true testament to your outstanding expertise, very well done.”

The awards are sponsored by Caterpillar and are the UK’s biggest construction equipment awards. They recognise and celebrate innovative companies, products and services that have made a major impact in the construction equipment industry and are judged by a panel of independent experts. It’s not the first time our Special Profiles business has been in the running for one of these prestigious awards, having received the gold award in 2019 for the Engineering category for our development of next-generation descaling technology.

The Special Profiles sectors cover a broad range of product portfolios, ranging from bulldozers to ski-lifts. Most have ultra-critical requirements for surface quality and this can be a vital factor in choosing a supplier.

Dominic Hill, Customer Quality and Technical Manager, Special Profiles, said: “The challenge we face is that these companies have parts per million requirements, so if you were to miss one flaw amongst tens of kilometres – and bear in mind this flaw might only be 0.3mm deep and 1mm across – you’ve failed.

“While our primary focus is eliminating the issue at source, it would be extremely advantageous if 100% inspection were possible. This would also be of huge benefit to customers and provide the information we need to allow root cause elimination. This technology had never been possible in online environments for our range of products until we decided to develop it ourselves.”

The resulting technology followed 3 years of in-house engineering innovation, leading to a highly sophisticated laser solution that accurately detects surface defects. And along the way, the team overcame multiple challenges, including:

  • Having systems close enough to get the required resolution while still being far enough away to avoid the blind spots created by the numerous flanges, toes, spikes etc with these products
  • Creating a software logic that defines what is a defect – this sounds simple but all companies dedicated to this technology had been unable to resolve it
  • Addressing the bounce that comes from the product moving along roller tables when defects might only be 0.3mm
  • Coping with the fine-scale dust arising during movement along the roller tables; this normally registers as innumerable flaws
  • Avoiding the vast number of false positives these systems generate, especially from the light scale that is inevitably present

Dominic said: “This inspirational work means we now have an online system that detects flaws just before the profiles enter the final packaging area – and to top it all, it also led to 3 patents.

“Our first patent was the most intricate and addressed the fundamental aspect of how to define what a defect is in the software. The second patent found a way of constantly realigning the product so any sense of bounce was dynamically eliminated. And the third addressed the issue of removing airborne dust as false flaws.

“There is no doubt the team’s work now has the potential to have a massive impact – we’re already seeing commercial benefits with increased sales and improved customer feedback.”

The development of their state-of-the-art laser detection system involved an investment of around £100,000 in the cold laser equipment with a further £700,000 for a laser device at the hot saws that measures product dimensions. But the team’s work hasn’t stopped there. Dominic added: “We’re trialling 4 new products this year that will depend on this technology, including 2 where we have developed our own unique milling capability. We’re also now commissioning a version of this equipment that will operate at 1,000°C, giving us faster feedback. It’s fantastic to see our in-house expertise delivering such innovative and accurate solutions, providing customers with the precise product specifications they’re looking for and raising our standards to be the world leader in this area.”