International manufacturer of steel products NLMK Group and IT company CROC have successfully developed and replicated an electronic quality certificate and QR code system for finished products. This solution helps the buyers of all flat and long steel products made by the Group in Russia learn about dispatched products via an online service. In addition, quality certificate issue time has been reduced from a few days to 10 minutes, with the Group now being able to process consumer complaints quicker and cut both its own and customer document search and storage costs. CROC developed the system on the basis of NLMK's Unified Digital Platform (UDP) and integrated it with manufacturing execution systems (MES).
Who needs this and why?
The project primarily aims to improve the service quality and loyalty of customers who receive thousands of quality certificates from the Group every day. More than 100 specialists from NLMK Group and CROC worked on the project and, in just nine months, managed to standardize the Sales Department's business processes and reduce certificate issue time for products manufactured at four sites in Russia: Novolipetsk Metallurgical Plant, NLMK Ural, NLMK Metalware and NLMK Kaluga.
Due to the new mechanism of directing documents to the common electronic repository, buyers now receive quality certificates in a few minutes instead of 3 to 10 days as before. Warehouse accounting is also now easier since the purchased product certificate data can be automatically sent to customer systems. Furthermore, the new approach will help to reduce paper consumption; NLMK Group will soon stop using paper and adopt completely electronic document management with counterparties.
This sophisticated and large-scale project was implemented in record time. The joint team of specialists from NLMK Group and CROC developed and implemented a service for signing quality certificates electronically, web pages for viewing export product certificates (in English) and certificates for DataMatrix marked products, a mobile application for NLMK employees to check the quality of product loading onto vehicles, and a service for customers to make product non-conformity complaints in electronic format using a QR code. Moreover, CROC specialists set up an API to integrate the service with the information systems of Group customers.
During the project, we have both accomplished a business-critical task, as well as formed a basis for seamless integration with the information systems of our key partners. The implemented solutions enable us to automate and dramatically simplify the acceptance of our products at customer warehouses, as well as synchronize logistics accounting and planning. We effectively collaborate with our customers to ensure that digital solutions facilitate interaction, improve service and add value, both for ourselves and clients; this is the most efficient development strategy.
Head of IT Project, NLMK Group
How does it work?
Each product item has a unique QR code via which a user can download a quality certificate, find out a product's technical characteristics, and verify the manufacturer.
When products are dispatched, a buyer scans the QR code on a label with a scanner or in the mobile app and instantly receives all information about the product item, including an electronic quality certificate containing all basic product characteristics (replacing the need for a paper version). Clients can download this from their personal profiles at nlmk.shop, even if the cargo is still on its way. Such a certificate is easy to provide to further buyers and end consumers thanks to the use of a quickly verifiable digital signature.
The NLMK Quality service is available after a client signs-in to the website, helps process customer complaints faster and is also used for photographing defects. Buyers can thus send images and descriptions of any defects to NLMK's electronic archive after they scan a QR code on a tag or label. This accelerates the buyer feedback process, allowing for rapid location of NLMK’s quality certificate and comprehensive set of documents – a process which previously took a few days.
UDP and development specifics
CROC developed the software based on NLMK's Unified Digital Platform in an agile manner. UDP is a rapid development environment which allows more than 100 specialists to work on the project simultaneously. In addition, after the systems were launched, UDP regularly checks the completeness of incoming certificates and generates reports on the number of certificates issued by each workshop at the site.
This was one of the first Group projects to be implemented on UDP, which is still used for the development of other NLMK services. The key project challenge was NLMK Group's complicated IT landscape; workshops at each plant have their own equipment and related MES solutions, including corporate information systems (e.g. ERP, CRM, etc.).
Proper MES integration was key to delivering the business outcome expected by the customer. UDP and microservice architecture enabled us to consolidate dozens of systems and quickly launch the services, thus accelerating shipment, reducing the time gap between the MES and other systems to several hours, as well as cutting certificate drafting, sending, scanning and storage costs. UDP, agile project management, deep customer involvement, as well as the efficient and cohesive performance of CROC and NLMK specialists, contributed to the success of the project. All participants strove to achieve the best result, with the customer and contractor working seamlessly together.Ivan Popkov
Head of Digital Manufacturing Solutions, CROC
The integration of buyer and seller accounting systems was already a popular trend five to seven years ago and is now gaining momentum thanks to more digitalization opportunities. This integration will become even deeper, especially in companies with long production cycles. Nowadays, clients want to plan production when semi-finished products, raw materials or components are still on route or being manufactured. Such an approach reduces warehouse and logistics costs and encourages strict compliance with the production schedule since all members of the supply chain want to receive their order on time and comply with their responsibilities. Proper fulfillment of delivery obligations are as important on the market as the product itself. Services similar to that implemented for NLMK effectively streamline interaction between customer and manufacturer and are surely in demand now.Oleg Kallin
Director of Industry Solutions for Mining & Metals, CROC
About NLMK Group
NLMK Group is a leading international manufacturer of high-quality steel products with a vertically integrated business model. Mining and steelmaking are concentrated in cost-efficient regions, while finished products are manufactured close to our main customers in Russia, North America, and the EU. Thanks to our self-sufficiency in key raw materials and energy, coupled with the technological superiority of our production capacity, NLMK is one of the most efficient and profitable steelmakers in the world. NLMK has a diversified product portfolio, ensuring our leading position in local markets and sales effectiveness. By leveraging our advantages – flexible production chain, balanced product range, efficient sales system, and widespread customer base – we are able to react quickly to changing market conditions.