Global cement producer digitalizes production scheduling to save energy costs

As demonstrated by a leading cement company, saving energy costs, maximizing production, and realizing other business objectives without capital-intensive investments are possible when implementing data-driven decision support to manage the production schedules. This also improves the response to unforeseen events and reduces associated risks, contributing to green cement and the net-zero transition.

Determined to remain profitable despite volatile energy costs and tight regulations? Find areas of savings & sustainable scenarios with ABB’s cement production scheduler.

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Customer need

Customer seeking a digital solution to production scheduling - previously done with spreadsheets - how to maximize the use of data to contain energy expenses, maximize production, improve resilience to changes.

ABB solution

Energy-aware production planning and scheduling application added on the top of the existing ABB Ability™ Knowledge Manager solution already integrated with the operations and business systems.

Customer value

Understanding of energy usage patterns was an advantage during price negotiations with suppliers, more agile response with significant cost savings leveraging 15-min electricity rates, higher mill utilization, lower inventory

Going beyond monitoring and reporting

For more than 20 years, a large cement corporation was using ABB Ability™ Knowledge Manager solution, gradually rolling it out to all its sites to collect data on a plant’s electrical usage and combine it with pertinent information from sales, production, procurement, laboratory, and other departments. This allowed each plant to know in real time how much energy it was using and for what processes.  On the Group level, management had powerful visualization tools to “see” the energy situation as it evolved, leading to insights about electrical use that might not otherwise have been available. It also made it much easier for member companies to take a regional view of their electrical energy needs, better aligning processes, tools, and reporting. The global roll-out of ABB Ability Knowledge Manager brought more transparency, helped improve environmental data quality and reduce manual data inputs for regulatory compliance reports. 

But in an industrial setting of complex cement processes, different product types and dynamic markets, our multi-national customer required much more than just reading meters and reports. They wanted production teams to improve coordination with other departments, become more energy-aware and go away from the spreadsheets they used for detailed planning and scheduling activities. Energy usage patterns were complex and influenced by a host of factors not always taken into account in shift plans. In many cases, plants dealt with multi-layer contracts, dynamic prices, and many other operational constraints, compounding the number of variables to be considered.

Integrating the sustainability aspect in strategic, tactical, and operational decisions

At the strategic level, data-driven decision support was required to determine the location of the sites and the capacities, in order to minimize total costs and emissions. The customer wanted to become more proactive, keeping ambition and realism in balance:

  • How to include different energy sources to determine the optimal production planning in line with the company’s sustainability commitments?
  • How to foster the experience sharing across the group and promote excellence in buying energy with respect to constraints of production systems and supplier contract conditions?

At the tactical level, traditional, siloed approaches to planning and resources management did not provide insights about the impact of various departments’ decisions on energy consumption and their potential to limit greenhouse gas emissions and waste. Teams didn’t want to “fly blind” anymore, eager to learn:

  • How to consider power caps, cost of energy and product changes during the planning horizon?
  • How to use the resources more optimally when dealing with unplanned repairs or delayed shipping?

At the operational level, most energy-efficiency initiatives required considerable financial investment and time to replace machines or redesign products to consume less energy. So the customer also wanted to explore new decision models and less capital-intensive solutions enabled by digitalization. Get the most from their existing systems and address more complex scheduling problems that felt like “herding cats”:

  • How to maximize the mill utilization considering the energy factors together with many other operational constraints and varying levels of operator skills?

Introducing energy-aware production scheduling

It is unrealistic to manually create and maintain energy-aware production schedules that would account for production forecasts, long-term orders, maintenance, mill availability and capacity while keeping inventory levels low and costs at a minimum through optimized utilization of operational resources. That’s why ABB has complemented Knowledge Manager software with a purpose-built Cement Production Scheduler application to help the customer match the real-life capabilities of their plants with the performance goals.

In the context of frequently varying cement plant constraints - like lower performance of equipment, fast increasing material stock or failure in one of the production lines – this additional software module provides planners with the immediate visual feedback on changes. It empowers them to make informed trade-off decisions and easily adjust schedules within complex environments based on real-time information, considering production priorities, volatile energy tariffs, limited capacity, and resources.

Thanks to the sophisticated forecasting tools planners can now create and compare different scenarios—alternate production schedules, or the installation of different kinds of equipment— to see the impact on electrical expenses and inventory. They can adjust goals and their weight over time. By providing real-time information, the module also lets react quickly to changing market conditions, allowing, for example, to lock in a better price if an offer suddenly appears. Each officially confirmed production scenario will automatically be converted into a list of actions for the operators, enforcing adherence to plan, safety, and compliance.

Cement Production Scheduler can also help plants buy and trade electricity more effectively. A plant that knows it will have excess power at a certain time can potentially sell this back to the grid. Under certain circumstances, plants within a given region can share excess power among themselves.

The planned values of published scenarios are written to the Knowledge Manager information system, which allows to include planned values in any report or chart. Customer’s procurement teams use them for the comparison of actual versus planned figures, which gives them more leverage when negotiating contracts, helping them structure deals and negotiate on a more regional level.

Benefits of Cement Production Scheduler (CPS)

Cement Production Scheduler was easy to add on the top of the existing ABB Ability™ Knowledge Manager solution – which was already integrated with enterprise resource planning (ERP), process control systems, maintenance, and other data sources. Sites that adopted this advanced production planning and scheduling software could maximize data reuse and minimize the need for manual intervention by automatically considering opportunities to reduce energy and inventory costs, while maintaining high mill utilization rates and a maximum level of on-time delivery.

According to the customer, the solution decreased their manual production planning time and energy-associated administrative costs. Solid understanding of energy usage patterns was an advantage during price negotiations, helping them get a discount with the supplier. One of the European sites achieved significant energy cost savings in cement grinding leveraging dynamic 15-minutes electricity rates.

The production scheduling tool became a good way to coach and support process personnel in the plants, promoting agile and more sustainable practices for higher mill utilization and lower inventory. It also supported the efforts toward thermal energy such as using alternate fuels or participating in waste heat recovery programs helping reduce fuel costs and providing extra revenue streams.

The customer is currently upgrading the solution to the latest version of the Knowledge Manager to benefit from new features and improved user experience.


Consult our experts

Whether you are already using ABB Ability™ Knowledge Manager software or not, we can help you link cement production planning to real-time data, events, energy tariffs, and various operational constraints - to evaluate their impact on your energy costs and other business priorities.

Quickly adapt to unexpected changes and make the right adjustments to achieve your goals while ensuring optimal use of resources, adherence to safety and environmental compliance. 

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