Steel industry sees a high-tech future

World Steel AssociationThe steel industry of the future could be higher tech, with more robots and fewer workers. Industry leaders see the steel business evolving over the coming decade.

U.S. Steel Chief Executive Officer Mario Longhi chaired a panel discussion on Manufacturing the Future: The Next Era of Global Growth at the World Steel Association’s annual conference at the Fairmont Chicago Millennium Park Hotel Sunday. Panelists talked extensively about robots taking over manufacturing jobs, but said technological advances could also create new positions such as for digital mechanical engineers, data scientists and business operations data analysts.

“You said we will have three billion people that will be deriving their income in the future in some shape or form,” Longhi said. “The advancement of technology to a very high degree has inhibited job creation. How could countries figure out a way to bridge that gap, which could lead to a very significant social change?”

Speakers envisioned a rapid transformation that could include more automation displacing traditional production jobs, 3-D printing and plastic cars eating away at demand for steel, and pencil lead-based graphene potentially replacing steel altogether.

“I’ll give you fair warning that you will be provoked and challenged and maybe a little frightened,” American Iron and Steel Institute Chairman and SSAB Americas President Charles Schmitt said.

Longhi said the steel industry has “all the bricks for smart manufacturing, but not the connectivity.” Historically, steelmakers haven’t been as nimble or as influenced by new technological developments as companies in other sectors, he said.

“As we’ve seen the speed of transformation due to new technologies is very, very fast,” Longhi said. “Most of our businesses require on a regular basis billions of dollars to be invested that will have to last for two or three decades.”

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