What are your expectations on the automation of the cement industry, as a lot has changed over the past few months?
The changes in the cement sector are difficult to quantify now. I, however, feel, a collaborative operations center services, which were started a couple of years back, would gain a lot more relevance in the current environment. The customers will prefer to do commissioning remotely with minimal onsite workforce. Troubleshooting is remote, which was always one of our targets. Remote operations are more effective than onsite operations, as all experts are in one place. It saves a lot of time in case of disruptions or even a breakdown.
Where data is concerned, could you highlight the utility of AI and ML in the cement industry?
Analytics has been there in the cement industry for quite some time. The industry is quite standardized with different product lines. The overall process is extremely complex: you have mines, conveyor belts moving raw materials, stockyards, kilns, grinding and so on. Various customers, especially big players, have had solutions in place to provide analytics. Now when you move to the next step of AI, we have solutions relating to assets and asset reliability. We collect various data like device temperatures, loading patterns, ambient temperatures, and the happenings inside the cabinets to do AI-based analytics. Based on that, we alert the customer to the probability of failure of a particular part or electronic device. These are already implemented. However, a lot more on asset reliability and process is in the pipeline.
How do you see the commissioning of a plant to change in the future?
Going forward, the commissioning of a plant would be done based on the hybrid model - combination of people on site and experienced hands controlling from the remote centers. That is not only for commissioning of new plants, but also for breakdown maintenance and predictive assessments depending on analytics to get alerts on impending issues and rectifying them. The hybrid model would be a more sustainable model.
In the case of a typical cement plant, how much time does it take for commissioning an automated project?
I think we need to split it into two aspects: firstly, the job of installing equipment takes a reasonably long time. Secondly, once the installations are in place, a reasonably large cement plant with 8,000 to 10,000 tpd capacity can be completed within 45 days.
With the increasing use of remote-sensing tools, what are the typical applications in cement plants?
Remote-sensing tools related applications are for monitoring of variable speed drives, monitoring of Motors, and automation systems. IT doesn’t mean digitalization alone. Cyber security is a significant element that can be controlled and tracked remotely. Cement plants currently do not have cyber security in the top order. Cyber security is also part of our offerings. It ensures an efficient back-up strategy for customers to bounce back in case of a cyber attack. These are things that can be handled remotely. Looking at larger composite assets, for instance, the crusher as an asset and monitoring of its various parameters to assess its performance and identifying potential or probable failure points.
Fine, ABB has been providing various types of expert systems for process application. What about kiln-related expert system?
Right! We have the knowledge manager, which is the expert system. We also have the expert optimizer that can be plugged on to not just ABB automation systems but to any system. Expert optimizer helps increase productivity, reduce emissions and decrease energy consumption. The optimizer helps the customer with the required data that enhances the performance of the plant much better than an alert, efficient operator.