Strengthening steel industry with AI

The technology promises to enhance safety, promote environmental sustainability, and drive profitability in the industry.
Jorge Garduno and Akshat Saraf
Jorge Garduno and Akshat Saraf

HYDERABAD: In the realm of heavy industry, few sectors are as crucial to global infrastructure as steel manufacturing. From skyscrapers to automobiles, steel forms the backbone of modern construction and manufacturing. Recently, this traditional industry has undergone a profound transformation thanks to advancements in Artificial Intelligence (AI). These innovations are not merely enhancing existing processes but are fundamentally reshaping how steel is produced, improving efficiency, sustainability, and quality across the board.

Akshat Saraf, a Dean’s List honours student and alumna of the MFAB programme (2022-23 batch) at ISB, hailing from Hyderabad, has developed a groundbreaking solution — an AI-powered hardware-software combination designed to detect anomalies in the steel manufacturing process. This technology promises to enhance safety, promote environmental sustainability, and drive profitability in the industry. Notably, his programme and startup garnered high acclaim at the Microsoft Imagine Cup in Seattle, US where his team emerged as one of the top competitors.

Reflecting on the competition, Akshat explains, “We initially entered the Oxbridge AI Challenge, where AI startups from Oxford and Cambridge pitch their ideas. After emerging as winners, we were fast-tracked to the Imagine Cup through their partnership with Oxbridge AI. The Imagine Cup was a rigorous competition involving multiple rounds of pitching, mentorship, and product development over four months.

We reached the world championship, placing among the top three out of over 1,500 startups and received a $50,000 equity-free grant from Microsoft. This competition provided invaluable experience and exposure, significantly strengthening our team and product. Additionally, we got front-row seats just a few metres away from the greatest minds in tech, like Satya Nadella and Sam Altman, and got to attend in-depth technology demos and learning sessions, truly making it a one-of-a-kind experience.”

Currently pursuing an MBA at the University of Oxford, Akshat brings a diverse educational background, including a BSc in Management from Indiana University Bloomington and an Executive Masters in Family Business Management from ISB, where he consistently excelled academically. His entrepreneurial journey is complemented by a robust team comprising a steel manufacturing professional, the Director of Radha TMT — one of India’s largest steel manufacturing companies — alongside Jorge Garduno, a metallurgical expert from Mexico, and Eli Cuellar, an AI and computer vision specialist.

Together, their startup, JRE, aims to revolutionise steel production with a proprietary AI and hardware-software integration. “Our AI detects anomalies in manufacturing, minimising reprocessing costs and waste,” Akshat elaborates. The inspiration for their venture stems from their collective expertise and a shared vision to positively impact the global steel industry, addressing both sustainability challenges and profitability concerns.

Talking about Hyderabad and how does it fits into his startup plans, he says, “Hyderabad, my hometown, plays a crucial role in our startup plans. The city’s growing tech ecosystem and industrial base make it an ideal location for deploying our technology and expanding our business. Additionally, Hyderabad’s strong educational institutions and talent pool provide a supportive environment for innovation and growth.

While Hyderabad is important, our product is designed for the global steel industry. We aim to spark an AI revolution with our unique Indian-Mexican collaboration, traditionally dominated by engineering solutions from Germany, Austria, and the USA. My time at the Indian School of Business was instrumental in shaping my entrepreneurial mindset.

The rigorous academic environment, combined with networking opportunities, provided a solid foundation in business management and strategy. The diverse cohort and exposure to various business practices further enriched my perspective and prepared me for the challenges of building a startup.”

Looking ahead, Akshat and his team are focused on deploying JRE systems in steel manufacturing plants worldwide, aiming to maximise AI’s potential in enhancing sustainability and profitability across the industry. “Our vision is to make a significant impact, embodying our motto — People, Planet, Profit,” he asserts, committed to ongoing innovation and sustainable growth.

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