Like mining, steelmaking is traditionally a conservative, risk-averse sector that relies on systems and processes that have been established over many decades. However, while perennial challenges such as optimizing production and reducing raw material costs remain, the landscape has changed; steel operators face a host of new requirements around environmental certification, energy costs, plant and furnace design, and implementation of advanced process control (APC) and digital technologies.
Steel melt shops, for instance, are under increasing pressure to produce the same tonnage while reducing OPEX. This can be achieved by fingerprinting the operation to identify ‘dead time’ when processes are not being optimized, and then deploying digital solutions that eliminate equipment and process bottlenecks, improve throughput, and reduce energy usage and carbon footprint.
Such environments are typically characterized by high temperatures and batch processing, which means installing sensors throughout the factory to gather performance data can be a challenge.
ABB AbilityTM Smart Melt Shop integrates more pragmatic, customized data solutions on top of generic internet of things (IoT) sensors and optimization apps, thus enabling the move towards a fully connected, autonomous and optimized steel melt shop. It does this by connecting operations with both ladle tracking and crane scheduling based on data including thermal modelling1. The industry-first smart factory solution has been deployed at JSW Steel’s Dolvi Works plant in India, boosting profits by an estimated $2m through 4% higher casting speeds and additional output of 24,000 tonnes a year.
Meanwhile, considerable savings can be made regarding machines and raw material. Sandvik, SSAB, Ovako, University of Gävle and ABB are co-developing methods for predictive maintenance in an example of digital and analytics solutions maturing for plant reliability and efficiency.
Another of our steel customers is working with ABB and Microsoft on energy optimization, and to improve reliability by 5%, through the use of digital technologies, so there is real evidence that the industry is engaging with the digital/automation and hydrogen transition, and an awareness from manufacturers that they must start laying the groundwork now to future-proof their operations.