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Robotic workstation in harsh environmental conditions to improve safety in the steel industry (ROBOHARSH)

Key words: european dimension, innovation, industry, steel production, robotics

Project duration: 01.10.2016 - 30.06.2019


Project funding:

European Union – Research Fund Coal and Steel (RFCS)


Project description (short):

ROBOHARSH is combining technological innovation with a social innovation process by installing a robotic cell in the steel shop supporting technical personnel in the control of the tap hole, replacing the sliding gate and related refractory material at the bottom of the ladle.


Co-operation partner:

  • Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna (SSSA)

  • Polytec s.r.l. (POLYTEC)

  • ILVA Spa

  • Technische Universität Dortmund - Sozialforschungsstelle (TUDO)

  • PSC Automatizari si Instalatii SRL


Project goals:

The overall goal of installing a suitably adapted robotic cell in the steel shop will be reached by achieving the following intermediate objectives:

  • definition of the requirements of the system and of the list of operations that can be performed by the robot
  • design and adaptation of the robotic cell to the special needs of this particular application
  • design of a vision system to support the control of the robot and the monitoring of the whole cell
  • integration and installation of the system on the plant
  • extensive evaluation and test of the system during the operations
  • integration of the technological development within a social innovation process, implementing technological innovation within a social innovation process right from the beginning involving all the relevant actors and parties effected, concerning impact right from the beginning (production process, management, organisation, personnel development, and societal challenges like qualification and environment)final evaluation and assessment of the performance of the system in terms of preservation of the workers' health and safety and operations reliability.


Project description (long):

The aim of ROBOHARSH is to practically demonstrate through a real full scale installation that workers' safety protection in the steel shop can be improved by adapting an industrial robotic cell to support technical personnel in the ladle sliding gate maintenance by replacing human intervention in heavy and potentially dangerous operations. This application of robotic highly differs from the current ones in the steel field due to the adoption of a symbiotic human-robot-cooperative approach in order to face very complex manipulation tasks in harsh environmental conditions.

The overall objective of the project is to develop a robotic workstation where human operators and an industrial robot actively cooperate in order to develop most of the operations related to maintenance and replacement of the sliding gate located in the bottom of the ladle. More in details, the following targets are aimed:

  • development of a complete cell including an industrial robot which is capable to safely interact with human operators by supporting them in the most heavy operations involved in the maintenance and replacement of the sliding gate of the ladle;
  • development of a monitoring and vision system usable in the harsh environmental conditions of the steel shop which supports the control of the robot by providing the required information to complete the task and by ensuring that the operators always hold a complete supervision of all the activities;
  • deep study of the ergonomics of the workplace through modelling and simulations as well as by exploiting consolidated ergonomic assessment methodologies, in order to make the interaction between operators and robot not only safe but also easy and natural
  • development of an ad-hoc training procedure for the personnel operating in the cell taking care not only of the correct learning of the operational procedures but also of the motivational aspects, therefore representing a part of a re-qualification path aimed at enhancing the skills and abilities of the involved operators.
  • deep investigation of the social and psychological aspects related to symbiotic human-robot interaction in an environment which is clearly very different from the ones which are commonly found in the manufacturing industry.


Methodical approach:

The methodological approach of ROBOHARSH is focusing on combining technological innovation with a social innovation process, not only looking at innovations from the technological perspectives, but including co-creation with the end users/operators and assessing social impact right from the beginning. It work program is divided in five work packages:


WP1 system specifications: Definition of basic requirements for the robotic workstation by considering the selected application and working environment.. A modelling and simulation study will also investigate the ergonomics of the working position. A list of numerical Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) will be elaborated to assess the validity of the developed system and its benefits with respect to the current manual practice.

WP2 Design and construction of the robotic cell: In this WP the robotic cell will be completely designed and realised, including the end effectors (tools and grippers) ad-hoc designed for specific tasks. The whole system (including the vision system) will be integrated and preliminary tested at POLYTEC facility by also training the personnel of the steelworks that will follow the field tests. At the same time the operating environment in the steelworks will be prepared for the installation of the robotic cell. Maintenance issue should already be considered at this stage as an integral part of system reliability.

WP3 development of the vision system: The vision system equipping the robotic cell will be developed in all its components and the control system of the robot will be adapted to this purpose. Also a local and remote monitoring system will be developed here in order to allow the supervision of the robotic cell by both the local technical personnel of the steelworks and the developers also from their own facilities, in order to allow continuous performance monitoring, functionality checks and easy and fast troubleshooting, especially in the field test phase. This WPwill be developed in parallel with WP2, as the vision and monitoring systems must be integrated in the robotic cell that will be assembled and preliminary tested in the final tasks of WP2.

WP4 System integration and test on the field: the robotic workstation will be installed and tested on the field. Such test phase could be articulated in two sub-phases, corresponding to the two-level lists of tasks outlined in WP1. In particular the first tests will aim at preliminary verifying the system robustness and reliability on the field by accomplishing the first sub-list of tasks, while the second series of test will be aimed at assessing and ensuring the full operability of the robotic cell also on the second list of tasks outlined in WP1. ILVA, the steelwork will install the robotic cell in its own steel shop. A crucial and central role will be played within this WP by the investigation on the social aspects related to the introduction of the robotic cell in this particular professional environment. The peculiar aspect of this application of robotics lies actually in the deep cooperation between operators and the robot as well as in the human-machine interface that need to be developed in order to let the operators exploit their experience, sensitivity and control capability to guide the robot operations, which is absolutely needed in order to develop the complex and not repetitive operations of ladle sliding gate replacements. Therefore the system performance will be assessed and finally evaluated not only in merely technical terms, but also considering the level of acceptance by the operators (e.g. professional role perception, skills growth and capabilities and other vocational aspects). The sociological investigation will support the development of a training course for the technical personnel that should operate the robotic cell. A final assessment will also include the evaluation of the KPIs preliminary selected in WP1 and quantifying fundamental aspects, such as the increased safety of operations for workers, the reduction of accidents as well as slide gates reliability.

WP5 Coordination and reporting: this WP is transversal and is dedicated to reporting and coordination of the research activities.



Research area:

Labour and Education in Europe

Project leadership

Foto von Antonius Schröder Antonius Schröder,

Telephone: +49 231 755-90283


Beata Lewandowska,

Telephone: +49 231 755-90243