Building an intelligent cement plant

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ABB is at the center of the digital transformation with its APC system, ABB Ability™ Expert Optimizer, part of its dedicated digital portfolio of solutions for the cement industry. Other systems include ABB Ability™ Cement Optimize, as well as its ready-to-use tailor-made automation solution for mining and cement, ABB Ability™ System 800xA Minerals Process Control Library.

Automation and advanced process control (APC) have become increasingly influential forces within the modern cement industry. Underpinning the development of intelligent plants, these digital solutions support the cement industry achieve peak plant operating conditions. Where once the industry may have relied on engineer’s experience and data from previous production runs, these can now be replaced by extensive real-time data, historical data sets and advanced digital models to help predict and manage outcomes. The scope for optimising plant operations using today’s digital toolbox is considerable.  

Limit the impact of climate change 

The impacts also go far wider than an improvement to the plant’s bottom line. Intelligent plants also have less impact on the environment, a key factor in a world struggling to come to terms with and limit the impact of climate change. Ensuring plants operate in the most efficient way possible is the first step to meeting sustainability targets. The EU has committed itself to reaching carbon neutrality by 2050. Sweden is pushing to achieve this by 2030. Digital technology will be a central factor in realising these goals. 

Intelligent plants also have less impact on the environment, a key factor in a world struggling to come to terms with and limit the impact of climate change.

Advanced process control

ABB Ability™ Expert Optimizer opens up the benefits offered by Big Data, data analytics, advanced process modeling algorithms and artificial intelligence (AI) to maximize a plant’s potential. Whether optimizing alternative fuel (AF) use, reducing feed variability and raising cement quality, or balancing kiln performance, it streamlines complex and multivariable cement plant processes, boosting productivity and averting unnecessary downtime.

Specifically, ABB Ability™ Expert Optimizer assists cement plants in four key areas: kiln optimization, AF management, mill optimization and material blending.

          Material blending
     Material blending 
          AF management
                 AF management 

In the kiln, ABB Ability™ Expert Optimizer first helps stabilize the process before automatically running the variables to the limits of process constraints, ensuring optimal performance. When AFs are added to the equation, it can control, mix and monitor rates of AF substitution to ensure consistent burning, while avoiding instability due to changes in the fuel’s calorific value.

In the grinding circuit, ABB Ability™ Expert Optimizer optimizes the grinding circuit to increase throughput and ensure consistent output, while lowering energy consumption. It also ensures that the blending of both raw materials and final product is optimized, essential for energy-efficient clinker production, as well as the delivery of on-spec cement to customers.

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Minerals Process Control Library and the human-machine interface

Underpinning the advanced process control offered by ABB Ability™ Expert Optimizer is the ABB Ability™ System 800xA Minerals Process Control Library. Based on standardized control modules and function blocks, the Minerals Process Control Library provides parameterized control of plant equipment and systems. This approach offers a framework into which subsystems and electrical devices can be quickly integrated, ensuring a continuous flow of information from the device in the field to the control room’s human machine interface (HMI).

The latest update of the library sees the launch of a completely new HMI, which reinvents the way the operator, interacts with the system.

The aim is to help address some of the implications of growing digitalization in the cement industry. Operators are being asked to manage much larger plant areas than previously, adding complexity to daily plant operation and increasing the demands on control room personnel. These operators are at the cutting edge of digital change and must cope with the pressures and stresses that any change brings, while still responding to plant conditions to ensure plant efficiency and reliability.

The importance of the HMI becomes apparent when considering the issue of unscheduled downtime. Globally, process industries lose up to US$10bn – or five per cent of annual production – due to unscheduled downtime. Of this, an estimated 80 per cent is preventable and 42 per cent of this preventable unscheduled downtime is assigned to human error.

ABB recently launched a new version of its automation software Minerals Process Control Library with a new visual control graphic interface

A revolution in HMI

By enhancing the interaction between human operators and the control system, the new graphical interface reduces that potential for human error to bring production to a stop. The most noticeable change is in fact its visual simplicity: the user interface has been stripped of most colors and animation in favor of a modern, almost minimalistic look, that is designed for operator comfort. The simplicity removes distraction and ensures that key information is immediately visible.

The new graphical interface for process displays, faceplates and workplace layout is clear and intuitive, providing operators with the process information they need in its situational context. This improves operator awareness of any given situation, supporting him or her to make the right decision at the right time. It also comes with a wide range of options for adapting presentation, allowing the focus to be tailored according to need, so that users can navigate to the information they require much more quickly.

The unique alarm system is one example of how the new visual control graphics make the process of accessing and responding to information more intuitive and therefore more efficient, saving potential unscheduled downtime. Critical elements of the production process are highlighted through a combination of context-based information and consistent alarm colors and shapes. This enables plant operators to immediately detect, understand and resolve issues and disturbances, and ensures attention is always drawn to those requiring an immediate response.

ABB’s new HMI provides operators with more information and can be tailored so users can navigate to needed information much faster.

In conclusion

While there is little doubt that APC and automation systems such as those offered by ABB offer huge advantages to the cement industry, the process of digitalization is also an inherently disruptive one. Despite its focus on technology, its success or failure at any particular plant will rest on the ability of the human operators to adapt and accept the change. Therefore, the HMI is at the crux of the issue: the unique features of the new graphics make success more likely, as its intuitive approach supports co-operation between control room personnel and their digital tools, ensuring the plant runs consistently at peak performance.

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