Competitive pressure is driving metals producers to find ways to increase the production rate of their operations, reduce the cost per ton produced and extend the life span of metals processing plants or establish new ones. People and asset productivity must increase too, as flat underlying commodity prices, rising production costs and high price volatility force metals producers to reduce capital expenditure. Indeed, productivity improvement is now fast becoming a key competitive differentiator and is being built-in to financial projection models.
Added to all this is an aging workforce. In common with other industries, the age profile in Metals is slowly creeping up and retiring workers are leaving with valuable know-how and experience.
The solution to all these challenges, and the future of Metals, lies in automation and integration of information, and the use of that knowledge for real-time optimization of the metals processes.
The key to the future of Metals lies in total integration of data and work processes, meaning convergence to channel more and more information from real-time systems into software, enriching four key areas that will enhance efficiency, responsiveness and profitability across the metals value chain:
Higher people and asset productivity through intelligent production
Data integration can dramatically improve production efficiency and productivity. This can be done through:
- Process optimization taking account of quality requirements and production costs
- Production targets optimized according to market conditions
- Wireless communications enabling just-in-time optional process management
Intelligent response to critical asset condition in real time
Failure of a critical production asset can have a catastrophic impact on production targets. The loss resulting from a blast furnace failure, for example, can run into hundreds of thousands of dollars per hour. A modern asset optimization system can help metals industries to go from reactive to predictive maintenance strategies, avoiding unnecessary maintenance and reducing operating costs. Extended automation solutions such as System 800xA can integrate modern maintenance systems from suppliers such as IBM, SAP or Ventyx. Real-time data on asset conditions can then be used to streamline maintenance effectiveness and enable condition-based monitoring.
Demand-driven planning to improve profitability
The metals supply chain extends from raw materials through the transport of products to the end customer. To achieve production and productivity targets, metals companies need to achieve high operational performance and efficiency across supply-chain processes. Better integration and automation across processing plant operations, production planning and asset maintenance/management will guarantee the right product is available at the right time. It will also ensure that customer orders are accepted only when the supply chain can deliver them, thus improving negotiating power and risk management. In addition, this unified view ensures that equipment maintenance can be scheduled to minimize impact on production schedules while maintaining the required level of availability.
Reduced energy consumption and waste
Improvements in energy efficiency can be driven not only by improvements in metals processes and technologies, but also by greater visibility and process control across the value chain through information integration and process optimization.