ArcelorMittal engineer helps steel mills see problems, solutions (US)

ArcelorMittal Global R&D Senior Research Engineer Liwei Zhang at work at the steel company’s research facility in East Chicago

A researcher at ArcelorMittal Global R&D in East Chicago has helped the company develop a machine vision system and deploy it in the steelmaking process. Machine vision is where robot cameras are used to automatically inspect quality on the assembly line to ensure the finished product meets all the customer’s specifications. Senior Research Engineer Liwei Zhang, who joined ArcelorMittal in 2006, initiated the machine vision project, and has led it from start to finish. She provides technical support to major vendors installing the machine vision systems and also on surface inspection systems and how they’re used in steelmaking. Machine vision and surface inspection systems automatically scan steel products coming off the assembly line for any defects, so any issues can be rectified right away.

“Part of it is working on the internal development plan,” she said. “But sometimes it’s also improvements and suggestions on how to work on the issues.”

Zhang starts every work day by looking over her most important emails to figure out what she should prioritize and where she needs to be.

She is based out of the research and development campus in East Chicago, but often travels to ArcelorMittal mills, both locally and in Cleveland, to oversee implementing new technology.

Over the last year for instance, Zhang worked on installing machine vision in the hot rolling process. Automated cameras verify the surface quality of steel slabs for pipe customers.

“Being a research engineer, for us it’s not only about ensuring the plant has the most current technology,” she said. “We must also raise quality through state-of-the-art technical development, by implementing new technology in plants to achieve better customer protection and to improve the process.”

Zhang and the 200 other researchers in East Chicago collaborate with colleagues at similar ArcelorMittal facilities in Europe. She attends technical conferences every year so she can keep abreast of all the new information in her field.

“We have to adapt ourselves to be self-learning, to quickly learn new things and new ideas,” she said.

She works on large, sweeping projects that can take up to 10 months to complete. She has deployed new machine vision systems at ArcelorMittal Indiana Harbor West and at the steelmaker’s mill in Cleveland.

“My two main responsibilities are providing technical assistance to our plant customers at a very high level of satisfaction, and deploying new technology to increase productivity in the industry,” she said.

How she got the job

Liwei Zhang earned a bachelor’s degree in industrial electrical automation from TianJin Polytechnic University in China and then went on to achieve a doctorate in machine vision and mechatronics at the University of Leeks in the United Kingdom, as well as a post-doctorate degree in computer vision from the Georgia Institute of Technology, in Atlanta.

She had followed her husband to the United States, where he landed a job, and quickly secured her own position at the Georgia Tech School of Assistive Technology, where she worked on machine vision in health care.

Her line of expertise turned out to be a good fit for ArcelorMittal, which is one of many manufacturers in different fields turning to machine vision.

“The camera machine vision technology is being deployed in different fields,” she said. “It’s still growing so there’s lots to explore. It can help result in more efficient operations on the manufacturing floor, and improve productivity.”

Expected job growth

Employment of mechanical engineers is projected to grow 5 percent through 2024. About 277,500 mechanical engineers are currently employed in the United States, and another 14,600 jobs are expected to be added in the field over the next decade.

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Posted in Recherche & Développement.

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