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Detective work: investigating ore & iron

Practice makes perfect: Dr. Alexandra Hirsch established her first contacts with the world of industry during her time at university. She was already familiar with thyssenkrupp projects as a research assistant and joined the company as a project engineer after gaining her doctorate. And Alexandra is still involved in engineering today in her position as Team Coordinator at thyssenkrupp Steel Europe. That’s something she’s really pleased about because there’s a lot happening in the sector at the moment: digitization is advancing rapidly, shaped by good interaction between man and machine. And the need for greater sustainability also drives Alexandra on. In this interview she tells us about her work and why thyssenkrupp is more environmentally friendly than some people think.

What is your main job at thyssenkrupp?

“In my department the name says it all – we are called “Ore & Iron Technology”. The background: Producing steel requires huge amounts of iron-bearing substances such as fine ores, lump ores or pellets. We’re talking about 13 to 14 million tons per year here. The team I coordinate tests these bulk raw materials and we sound the alarm when they don’t match up to the quality we purchased. Raw material testing involves performing metallurgical and physical tests. In the event of quality variances we search for possible reasons. This kind of detective work is lots of fun. Quality assurance naturally also involves claims. So we support our colleagues from raw material purchasing with those too.”

You started your career at thyssenkrupp as an engineer. Does your work now still have anything to do engineering?

“Happily yes. For our sinter plant – that’s the plant in which fine ores are sintered into lumps – we are currently testing a new measuring technology for online analysis of the lump size range. Using a measuring gage that protrudes into the sinter flow at a conveyor transfer point we can determine the size range of the sinter lumps purely on the basis of acoustics. Smaller lumps make a different noise to larger lumps when they hit the measuring gage. Previously we determined the lump size range by screening a sample once a day. The disadvantage of this is that we are only sampling one specific point in time. Fluctuations over the course of the day cannot be identified using this method. The new measuring gage is a completely different and we can determine the lump size range on an ongoing basis. It enables us to identify online how fine/coarse the lumps of sinter are. It’s much more precise and offers great potential for process optimization.”

Where do you see things changing at thyssenkrupp?

“Definitely in engineering. Digitization is playing an ever increasing role and the focus is on good interaction between man and machine. Obviously the thinking and interpretation will remain a task for humans, but machines can take over routine tests, performing them very precisely and without errors. I’ve also noted that sustainability is becoming an increasingly critical factor. In the production facilities we are constantly seeking ways to improve. Recycling and the reuse of waste materials are important elements in our department in particular.”

Is there anything about thyssenkrupp that very few people expect?

“We are a very environmentally conscious group of companies. I think that’s something that not many people see. thyssenkrupp Steel in particular is often regarded purely as a CO2 emitter. Yes, it’s true that we produce emissions, but we’re currently doing everything we can to reduce them and become climate-neutral. In a global comparison we have already achieved a commendable level. And we have a major lever that we can apply to make a big difference. By 2030 we want to reduce our emissions by 30% through the use of hydrogen and be completely climate-neutral by 2050. So we are currently working on nothing less than a complete transformation to climate-neutral steel production.”