Steel industry: Clecim innovates by detecting steel defects with artificial intelligence

With 80% of its turnover generated through export and major customers in the steel industry (Arcelor and Tata in particular), it is one of the key players in the global production line manufacturing market. for the steel industry (rolling mills and sheet metal finishing).

And yet, the Loire industrialist created in 1917 – fruit of the Creusot Loire conglomerate before becoming the property of VAI, Siemens, then of Primetals France (subsidiary of Mitsubishi) -, lost each year, for more than a decade, approximately 10 millions of euros. But that was before.

Before its takeover, a year ago, by the German investment fund Mutares, specializing in the turnarounds of companies in difficulty. The turnover of the company (renamed Clecim, its historic name) has increased from 32 million euros in 2021 to a forecast of 60 million euros this year, 90% of which are already insured and to a book of orders over 90 million euros. And above all, the company has regained financial equilibrium for six months.

An express method which resulted in a restructuring of the company and its costs, with the departure of around fifty employees out of the 256 in the structure (without PSE) but also in the overhaul of the business model.

A plan in 100 days

“We followed a specific plan”explains Thomas Comte, CEO of Clecim appointed by Mutares. “We have set ourselves 100 days to define a new business model, accompanied by Mutares experts. Then we implemented this plan. We have reduced structural costs without losing skills and we have repositioned the company by setting up four distinct business units, in order to derisk our business”.

Clecim no longer concentrates solely on its historic core business, the construction of production lines for the steel industry (with the associated massive investments and very marked economic cycles), but wants to develop a special machinery activity. For the steel industry but also for other industries such as automotive, construction, defense, etc.

“And then, we have strong ambitions for the new services division: spare parts, maintenance, etc. This is a real cultural revolution for the company. This company was a real nugget, it had to be reorganized and repositioned”.

Significant innovation

And to mark this first anniversary of piloting by Mutares, Clecim (which has 580 patents) has just presented what its CEO describes as “a world innovation”: an innovative surface inspection system.

“We have developed an AI-based system that can detect critical defects on steel sheets. These can scroll up to 100 km/h, detection with the naked eye is complex. The automatic detection already existed but it did not make it possible to make the difference between the critical faults and the others. Especially since the acceptable level of defect can be very different from one industry to another or from one application to another. Our AI has a learning capability.”

Two prototypes are already being tested by major European steelmakers. Expected additional annual turnover: 5 to 10 million euros.

“This innovation marks an important step. It symbolizes the evolution of our business from the era of mechanics to the era of data. This whole industry is moving forward, evolving on this path, synonymous with greater efficiency and greater environmental responsibility. To do this, we have re-moored Clecim to the local ecosystem by working with H7, local engineering schools and even regional tech start-ups”.

Objective: a turnover of 100 million euros within 3 to 5 years. Deadline for which it is likely that the turnaround fund is preparing the sale of Clecim, without announcing it now. Already about fifteen recruitments are underway, the same number is planned for 2023.