The metals sector in Spain knows what sustainability means

According to Enric Giner, Local Business Line Manager, Process Industries, ABB Spain, "We are lucky to have very important metals producers with a high level of involvement and commitment to the circular economy, sustainability, energy efficiency, digitalization et cetera.”. We spoke with Giner about the decarbonization of industry, and everything that this entails in the metals sector, giving special attention to how ABB solutions can contribute to this important issue.

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First published in Metales & Maquinas No. 3, May 2023.

One of the key focus areas for the metals industry is to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions while transitioning to a more circular economy. What products and solutions driving sustainability does ABB offer?

Indeed, decarbonization and the circular economy are two fundamental and interdependent aspects in the iron and steel industry. ABB's clear objective is to help our customers reduce carbon emissions through the implementation of our technologies, aimed at sectors that account for 75% of the world's energy consumption.

By 2030, we are committed to:
  • Helping our customers reduce their annual CO2 emissions by at least 100 megatons, which is equivalent to the annual emissions of 30 million combustion cars.
  • Achieving carbon neutrality in our own operations.
  • Extending our impact on emissions reduction to the entire supply chain, in collaboration with our suppliers.

At ABB, we integrate circularity throughout our value chain. Our solutions are designed to reduce waste, increase recycling and encourage reuse.

We offer a wide range of products and services that help our customers achieve their sustainability goals. From the pure product approach with the full range of high-efficiency motors (IE5) driven by frequency inverters to optimize their efficiency and use of energy, to solutions applied in electric furnaces such as the electromagnetic stirrer (ArcSave), automation of raw material storage (Autonomous Stockyard), among other things.

ABB’s solutions for the metals industry meet the objectives of energy recovery, energy reduction and energy replacement/substitution (decarbonization).

Finally, drastic changes in society are expected by the year 2040 that will drive companies to adapt to new industrial standards, where the metals industry faces great pressure to transform itself from an environmental, political, and cultural perspective, and this pressure will continue until significant action is taken.

Challenges include the sustainability crisis, rapid digitization and harnessing the potential of data, changing consumer demands, and attracting new talent. To successfully address these challenges, steel producers will need to make massive changes in industry operations and strategies. ABB's vision consists of plants and operations driven by technology, and constantly developing solutions that support reduced environmental impact with surrounding society in mind. For more information you can download the infographic

Can you comment on any success stories related to this area?

We are targeting a Furnace Optimization Control System (FOCS) implemented in the reheating furnace of the hot rolling mill of GSW Santander. The company decided to upgrade the old ABB industrial controller to a new generation controller with a new state-of-the-art FOCS system to improve the quality of the heating process and reduce energy consumption.

The project was carried out in two phases: the first phase involved the implementation of the new FOCS system in communication with the old industrial controller, and the second phase involved the replacement of the old industrial controller with the new state-of-the-art one. Despite the challenges posed due to the COVID-19 situation, much of the commissioning was carried out remotely, successfully applying remote technology, and thanks to the excellent collaboration of GSW.

The main results of the project have been highly satisfactory, with a significant reduction in gas consumption of between 3 % and 5 %. The new FOCS system has allowed for greater predictability of the heating process, which has improved the quality of the final product.

In summary, the implementation of the FOCS system has been a strategic investment in improving energy efficiency and product quality, which has enabled GSW Santander to maintain its position as a leader in the hot rolling sector.

And in terms of digitalization, what solutions does ABB offer?

In digitalization, ABB's solutions for the metals industry are driven by the ABB Ability™ platform, which provides a comprehensive set of digital solutions and services designed to help customers achieve their goals. The platform provides solutions for each stage of the production process ranging from advanced process control APCs (Advanced Process Control) that performs optimization of different types of processes aimed at improving OEE (Overall Equipment Effectiveness) and energy efficiency, asset management based on predictive maintenance, remote monitoring and diagnostics, and energy management. We also offer innovative solutions such as Smart Melt Shop and Connected Workforce. By integrating these solutions into a single platform, ABB can offer customers a seamless, integrated experience that helps them optimize their operations and achieve better results. With ABB Ability™, metals customers can achieve new levels of efficiency, productivity, safety and sustainability, driving the next generation of industrial innovation.

In addition, we are proud to work in partnership with our customers, we are always ready to listen to their needs and develop customized projects together. In short, ABB focuses on offering cutting-edge digital solutions, tailored to the specific needs of each of our customers.

ABB offers a wide range of products and services that help metals producers achieve their sustainability targets.

Going one step further, what do you offer in terms of process optimization in data management?

One of our main challenges is process optimization as it involves dealing with multiple factors such as product and quality variability, yield management, production and consumables, and variability between operator shifts.

Our added value is based on reducing quality variability, and maximizing yield and profitability in complex processes. To achieve this, we rely on standardizing the process optimization strategy and on maximizing profitability with ABB Ability™ Advanced Process Control. For metals the solution uses Model Predictive Control (MPC) of multivariable models, analytics and performance optimization. It creates digital twins by predicting behavior over time using process data.

Acting as an "autopilot," the solution drives the process towards a more profitable operation through modeling and optimization techniques, reducing the need for operators to continuously monitor and modify processes throughout the day. ABB's remote access support and KPI tracking ensure that the benefits are maintained throughout the life cycle of the plant.

We also help our customers to systematically move towards self-optimizing processes through the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning, which predict optimal parameters based on materials, improving quality and throughput while reducing energy and consumables.

Lastly, how does the metals industry and ABB deal with the changes that are taking place in the supply chain as well as industry demand? How do you see the future of the metals sector in Spain?

Returning to the initial question, both we and our customers and suppliers must accelerate initiatives, solutions, and actions as much as possible in order to enable the 2030 Climate Target Plan set by the European Commission.

But we can't stop here. Climate change, decarbonization and ensuring a sustainable life on the planet mean that large projects and mega trends are already defining industries, strategies and aspiration levels with measurable dates and data for 2050.

In this sense, the metals industry in Spain has become fully aware of what the concept of sustainability, energy efficiency, and circular economy means (this sector being a clear pioneer of this), and is committed to facing the challenges that we, as a society in general, have ahead of us.

Green steel is the concept and the goal, not for the future, but for the present. Steel is an essential material in many sectors (automotive, construction, infrastructure...).

Relating the question to Spain, we are fortunate to have important metals producers with a high level of involvement and commitment to circular economy, sustainability, energy efficiency, digitalization, et cetera. Always offering its customers an excellent level of quality while adapting their production systems to the real and urgent needs of the planet.

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