Integrated steel plant and the path to interoperability in metals industry

A single system is easier to manage

By Tarun Mathur  LinkedIn
ABB Metals Digital Lead

About the author
Tarun Mathur graduated from the Indian Institute of Technology, Mumbai and holds a Master’s degree in mathematical modeling and process control.

He has held several positions in R&D focusing on the development of advanced model-based solutions for process industries.

Tarun is currently focused on projects applying new digital technologies to optimize metals plant performance, processes and quality.

For metals industry to truly realize the power of digitalization with the proper architecture described in my previous blog, Industrial IoT (IIoT) has to address interoperability between diverse platforms and systems. The core proposition of IIoT is the integration of data – from islands of automation to one, single-point powerful data aggregation and analytics layer. For this to work effectively, multiple devices and assets need to talk to a common layer and to each other where required, effectively and seamlessly. 

Share this page

In the past, the electrical systems that provide the power for industrial processes have tended to exist in their own world. They were run from their own control rooms, separate from operating plants, and these rooms were staffed by engineers and technicians who were concerned only with what their drives and motors were doing, and whether they were providing enough power to keep the show on the road.

These days, it’s recognized that things work better if they are integrated. The obvious benefit is that it’s easier to manage a single system. No matter how important the electrical side is, it’s still just another factor in the production process, and optimization algorithms can cope with it along with all the other raw materials to get the most output from the least input. In this way, asset management and information management can use the same database and present the results on the same screen.

The key technology that enables this integration is ABB Ability™ System 800xA distributed control system, which uses the IEC 61850 standard to communicate with electrical substations. This can align process and power to get the most product from every watt consumed. Effectiveness is maximized by using high-bandwidth fiber-optic cables rather than the copper wire usually fitted with electrical control systems, and smart-design templates can automatically configure intelligent electrical devices, which slashes the time and cost of installation.

IIoT is transforming the metals industry

The convergence of IT (information technology) such as enterprise software systems that manage the entire Metals support mechanism including equipment, maintenance, logistics, production and personnel and OT (operational technology) such as process logic controllers on machinery, will lead to more efficient plant operations.

The evolution of IIoT as an extension of the broader Internet of Things (IoT) revolution charts the path to minimizing manual intervention. Through our approach, we harness the wide proliferation of the Internet, even in locations that may be traditionally isolated or low on connectivity, to ease the implementation of enterprise-wide remote monitoring and equipment management. This has helped bring the power of IIoT in a big way to the manufacturing sector. 

Coupled with ISO-standard protocols that enable connections in secluded, limited bandwidth locations, IIoT has been able to transform manufacturing activity and improve production flows. With IIoT, accessing and responding to real-time data feeds has become much easier; and maintenance practices driven by actual equipment condition can be implemented.  
Integrating data management into the metals production cycle is imperative in production management, shipments, resource management, and maintenance of equipment and machinery in order to develop a streamlined production process.

The digital skill set

I have seen IIoT adoption assume varied forms and routes. In several instances, manufacturing corporations have implemented their own platforms and applications, eventually moving towards an ecosystem that may include own or third-party platforms; or a combination of the two. This requires investment into building the skill sets for digitalization – including maintaining competence and introducing IT domain expertise. Over and above this, there is the need for a cultural transformation and training on use of the new system.  

It's crucial to foster a workforce to take advantage of the changing opportunities and have extensive training program to continuously improve their expertise for a digital future.

Device interoperability

Another aspect of IIoT that has a direct impact on maximizing return on investment is device upgrades and interoperability. Not all devices are smart – and especially in legacy plants with outdated equipment, the roadmap to digitalization is marked by a unique set of challenges. We see this trend quite extensively in the metals sector, given the industry’s maturity. This requires a holistic approach to bring together the various components and address diverse levels of complexity in integrating them onto a unified platform.
What drives success in digitalization is an in-depth understanding of the specific process being digitalized

How can we realize the benefits of digitalization?

Learn more about ABB digitalization solutions

Sneak peek

Most digitalization platforms have a cloud component – whether to large measure or limited. Does this concern you from a security perspective? My next blog helps understand why it shouldn’t… 

> Get our insights in your inbox.

Learn more

  • Contact us

    Submit your inquiry and we will contact you

    Contact us
Select region / language