Jun 25, 2021

Honeywell: Quantum Computing Can Improve Plant Scheduling

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SmartManufacturing
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NipponSteel
Honeywell Quantum Solutions and Cambridge Quantum Computing help Nippon Steel improve its plant scheduling 

Over the past year, the world has experienced what can happen when manufacturing and supply chains are disrupted. “Luckily, such extreme disruptions are rare,” said Honeywell. Nevertheless, COVID-19 emphasised the complexity of managing global manufacturing and supply chains, with manufacturers constantly working to balance supply and demand, the availability of materials, and navigate the weather to name a few. 

Nippon Steel Invests in Advanced Computing and Technology

Nippon Steel, one of the largest steel manufacturers in the world, has a history of investing in advanced computing and technology that helps its employees optimise scheduling and maximise efficiency. 

Now the manufacturer is exploring how quantum computing can help. 

Collaborating with Cambridge Quantum Computing (CQC) and Honeywell, Nippon Steel wanted to develop an optimal schedule for the intermediate products used during the steel manufacturing process. The algorithm developed ran on the System Model H1 (Honeywell Quantum Solutions’ latest commercial computer).

“Scheduling at our steel plants is one of the biggest logistical challenges we face, and we are always looking for ways to streamline and improve operations in this area,” said Koji Hirano, chief researcher at Nippon Steel.

So Why Does Nippon Steel Need This Algorithm?

“Manufacturing steel is a multi-step process that has remained largely the same for decades,” explained Honeywell. A plant starts by processing iron ore, coal and other materials into slabs of steel, which are then converted into products. 

“Having the right amount of raw materials and intermediate products on-site to complete orders is a balancing act. Add in factors such as multiple orders, order type (grade of steel) and size, production count, deadlines and other specifications and the complexity of operating a steel plant significantly ratchets up,” added Honeywell.

While optimising the production process and scheduling is a challenge due to the number of variables, in doing so organisations can achieve significant gains in efficiency and reductions in cost.

Quantum computers harness certain quantum physics phenomena to represent multiple solutions at once, this allows the technology to find the overall best solution, making it a suitable solution to tackle such challenges with multiple variables. 

“This challenge is not unique to steel manufacturing. Similar combinatorial optimisation problems are ubiquitous throughout global manufacturing, transportation industries, and distribution systems in which goods and services move through several steps,” said Honeywell.

The Future for Quantum Computing Looks Bright

While quantum systems are still in the early stages and cannot yet solve all variables present, CQC and Nippon Steel as a result formulated a representative problem. “The System Model H1 was able to find the optimal solution after only a few steps,” said Honeywell.

“The results are encouraging for scaling up this problem to larger instances. This experiment showcases the capabilities of the System Model H1 paired with modern quantum algorithms and how promising this emerging technology really is,” said Mehdi Bozzo Rey, Head of Business Development at Honeywell.

“The results Nippon Steel and Cambridge Quantum Computing were able to achieve indicate that quantum computing will be a powerful tool for companies seeking a competitive advantage,” he added.

Honeywell Joins Forces with CQC

June 8, Honeywell Quantum Solutions announced its plans to combine with CQC to form the world’s largest stand-alone quantum computing company.  

“An efficient and effective supply chain is critical to society and any interruption in the chain can have vast repercussions down the line. Honeywell and CQC are eliminating such interruptions via quantum computing and we look to apply this work across industries as we come together as one company,” said Ilyas Khan, CEO and founder of CQC, and Uttley.

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