Optimisation is about doing more with less
Cement

Optimisation is about doing more with less

Rizwan Sabjan, Head – Regional Sales Enablement, FLSmidth, sheds light on the use and implementation of connectivity-based technologies and AI for the smooth transitioning of the cement industry from manual to automated processes that make cement plants more sustainable and greener.


Tell us about the role of technology in increasing the productivity of cement. Which of your equipment can contribute to the same?
Recently, the cement industries have seen a change in what shapes growth. The spotlight has shifted from increasing capacity to enhancing productivity. Digitisation has considerable advantages to make this shift possible.

Rizwan Sabjan, Head – Regional Sales Enablement, FLSmidth, sheds light on the use and implementation of connectivity-based technologies and AI for the smooth transitioning of the cement industry from manual to automated processes that make cement plants more sustainable and greener. Tell us about the role of technology in increasing the productivity of cement. Which of your equipment can contribute to the same? Recently, the cement industries have seen a change in what shapes growth. The spotlight has shifted from increasing capacity to enhancing productivity. Digitisation has considerable advantages to make this shift possible. To support our customers, we are building a growing portfolio of digital solutions that connect, monitor and optimise performance, in response to the demands of this changing business landscape. We call it FLSmidth ENABLR, because it enables customers to simplify their operations and improve productivity. Which technology is underrated and less used by cement makers, but is likely to prove beneficial in the long run? Advance Process Control systems are very often seen as one of the main drivers needed to reach the dream of autonomous operations. In this context, it’s commonly portrayed in the media that artificial intelligence (AI) is replacing APC systems. But this wrongly assumes that AI is already a synonym for fully autonomous operations. This kind of misrepresentation does not help, as such fully autonomous continuous-process plants are still not that close to reality. The ability of AI technologies to continuously adapt to changing conditions to find the optimal operating parameters and targets is one of the key areas in which AI can improve the ability of APC systems to optimise cement processes. Cognitive augmentation: The ability to gather, analyse and combine various data streams in real time can bring relatively quick benefits from operational and safety perspectives. One example would be building new virtual sensors to replace unreliable or unavailable signals, particularly when the instrumentation is placed in risky areas or is often out of service. Smart controllers: In certain contexts, controllers, such as linear and non-linear MPCs or fuzzy, can be enhanced and complemented by virtual models of machinery or processes, known as digital twins. If the digital twins are done well, they can be used to find the controller’s optimum parameters, which leads to more stable processes, achieves higher production and quality levels, or decreases the amount of energy or water used. Dynamic adaptiveness: Many cement processes are by nature nonlinear and time-varying: this means that actions that were optimal to achieve specific goals yesterday (or even an hour ago) may be suboptimal or even inefficient now. A clear example of this is the cement kiln, where a strong push to substitute fossil fuels with alternative fuels, in as high a ratio as possible, makes stabilisation and optimisation a challenging task, both for human and expert systems. Most equipment and machinery in plants are often regularly inspected visually. Can these inspections be made more precise and pre-empt damage to save downtime and costs? With equipment in continuous use, damage can happen at any time. While visual inspections are important to provide broad, contextualised operational insights, relying only on intermittent site visits puts customers at the risk of missing the early warning signs that could enable them to drastically reduce both downtime and expenses. Online condition monitoring is a continuous service that enables customers to detect potential failures well in advance, giving them plenty of time to take preventative action and avoid actual failure. All these symptoms warn the customers that damage is imminent. In many cases, when the visible symptoms appear, it is already much too late for an ‘easy’ fix. By contrast, sensors on customer equipment are able to capture data that may be otherwise ‘invisible. Our online condition monitoring services connect this data to the cloud where it is continuously monitored and trended. If something is wrong, an alarm notifies our team of experts who are able to analyse the data remotely and develop a recommended action plan to rectify the fault well ahead of it escalating. It’s a low-stress, low-cost, low-risk approach to maintenance that offers high returns. How does technology support data collection of processes and production and vice-versa? Connectivity-based technologies – the so-called Internet of Things (IoT) – have given us all the ability to communicate with machines in a way that was previously unimaginable. Industry 4.0 is here, and many site assets are already connected. We are continuously working on new ideas and solutions to take advantage of all the potential offered by the IoT. Our advanced diagnostics software is a key component of this package. AI and machine learning tools enable real-time tracking and trending of data in a way that would not otherwise be possible. Machines are already equipped with certain sensors for example monitoring the bearings, hydraulic thrust device and kiln drive, and customers are probably already using a control platform to operate the kiln. The issue is how the data is used. In all likelihood, most of it is looked at in isolation, and some of it is not looked at very often at all. This presents a risk that key indicators of wear will be missed, along with the root causes that could go on to become major kiln failures. How does the inclusion of automation make cement plants and their processes sustainable and greener? What is the volume of carbon reduction that they can expect by upgrading technology? The primary benefit that digitisation can deliver to the customers is process improvement and optimisation. To help them realise this potential, we collaborate closely with the customers and their external partners. We use our curiosity, courage and expertise to find ways for the customers to exploit the opportunities that these new technologies can provide. Many cement plants are already benefiting from our key automation technologies that form the foundation for digitisation and data-driven productivity improvements. We are fully engaged in the digitisation journey with them and are working on numerous potential technology applications for the plant of the future. These can involve developing automation further, expanding predictive and prescriptive maintenance, or entirely new solutions. A significant amount of savings will be on operation maintenance, but the benefits go beyond this if end-to-end processes and value chain integration are included. Identify where digital creates most value and which processes will have the greatest impact on the customers' bottom line. We are here to find the right answer and the right solution for them. For example, we have launched new cognitive technologies and functions in ECS/ProcessExpert v8.5 that contribute to greater sustainability. For the first time, we have incorporated the capability to use non-symbolic artificial intelligence (AI) technologies based on machine learning and deep learning algorithms. These technologies create their own understanding of a process by finding patterns in the raw process data – and then use that understanding to solve problems. Meanwhile, the new PXP DataBooks module aims to bridge the gap between automation engineers and data scientists by enabling customers’ data scientists to integrate their existing machine learning and deep learning algorithms into the PXP applications and control strategies. We are now also better able to demonstrate the sustainability advantage that intelligent process control technologies, such as PXP, bring to cement operations. The PXP Insights analytics module automatically converts operational benefits into meaningful environmental KPIs, for example, CO2 footprint benchmarks. These KPIs are then visualised using predefined dashboards that are delivered with the solution. The solution also calculates and compares the KPIs when the system was in operation versus when it wasn't. In doing so, we can clearly show how PXP enables more sustainable operations. Tell us about the major challenges in installing new technology at cement manufacturing sites. Firstly, it should be noted that the new capabilities we have discussed not only involve new technologies but also bring the need for new procedures, workflows and skill sets. It is therefore important to understand that multidisciplinary views and cross-functional collaboration are more crucial than ever. Process specialists (domain experts), automation engineers and IT technicians should open their arms to and work closely with data scientists, data engineers and industrial AI experts in order to explore potential new solutions to specific process problems. This human and social aspect is commonly overlooked but, in reality, working as a strong team of people with complementary skills is a key element to success. The second aspect relates to a concept called the ‘Hype Cycle’. Especially with emerging technologies and trends in the industrial landscape, we (very quickly) hear bold promises from marketing materials or sales presentations (sometimes inherited from other sectors where maturity levels and/or conditions are far from similar). This can make it very difficult for a non-technical audience to discern hype from what is technically viable and commercially profitable for their specific business needs. This over inflation of expectations, combined with low resistance to failure, leads to huge doses of frustration and early dropping of the investment, even before the learnings are incorporated into a new iteration or before a good productivity level is reached. What shift have you noticed in the acceptance and consumption of digital and technical equipment by the cement plants in the post covid era? While on-site services remain an important and necessary provision, the benefits of remote services have really shown themselves over the past 24 months as the world has faced the challenges associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. By coupling on-site tools – such as these condition monitoring sensors or when we use helmet-mounted cameras to – together with our remote capabilities via the FLSmidth 24/7 Global Remote Service Centre, we have been able to continue to serve our customers, share our expertise and help with a wide range of projects, from commissioning new kilns to repairing older machines. Even as travel restrictions ease, these remote services will continue to be important to our customers, who recognise the benefits: Remote services guarantee a quick response, since our service centre is manned 24/7 and we are able to monitor continuously – which means customer can also take action more quickly, resulting in a faster resolution to customer problem. In between planned on-site services, which will always be needed to maintain a kiln correctly, we will be able to solve many problems without sending anyone to the customer site. This reduces the cost of services, not to mention the environmental impact of all those airmiles. With all these benefits, the customers still get the same expertise and the same quality of service. No wonder it’s proving so popular. Which new technology and innovation that your organisation is working on that will benefit the cement plants like never before? Driving growth through performance optimisation The more smoothly the plant runs, the greater productivity. But how do cement producers achieve optimum performance? Our AI and machine-learning enabled technologies are designed to draw data from customers' equipment and use it to calculate the best possible performance parameters in real time. From blending raw materials, to capturing product samples for analysis, or even optimising mill loads, there is a digital solution to streamline every part of customer operation. Better yet, these solutions are designed to work together seamlessly for full-flow sheet optimisation. Reducing environmental impact with digitisation Optimisation isn’t just a question of increasing productivity – it’s about doing more with less, which is why digital tools are integral to a more sustainable cement process. These continuous, real-time, automatic adjustments ensure energy consumption is reduced, giving customers a more energy efficient operation. It’s also easier to increase the use of alternative fuels and raw materials in a data-driven environment where customers can be much more proactive, reacting as kiln conditions change rather than waiting to see the results of those changes. Eliminating unplanned downtime with the IoT Not only can customers connect processes, automate operations and interpret performance data to help avoid downtime, but customers can also connect with our experts for additional support and insight. Our digital services include online condition monitoring, remote troubleshooting and even remote operations, if needed. With the right data in hand, and expert support available 24/7, customers can develop a proactive maintenance strategy that eliminates unplanned downtime. Act, prepare and prevent failure with digital tools and services. Digitising the cement circuit Connect, monitor and optimise performance of customer assets with our portfolio of digital solutions and services. Combining customer data with our expertise, we can take customer operations to the next level. Increasing productivity. Reducing energy consumption. Eliminating unplanned downtime. How to automate the online condition monitoring process in cement plants to reduce downtime? We offer online condition monitoring services for technologies such as kilns, mills, and gears. The service connects your machines to our experts. Sensors 'read' the equipment and send data about its health to our cloud-based monitoring system. Data can be captured from existing sensors (Level I service), or, when further accuracy is needed, our specialists can install additional sensors (Level II service). Continuous online monitoring by our team of experts provides: Event reports on critical alarms – 24/7 incident support and remote assistance lets you take immediate action to avoid failure Regular asset health reports with recommendations – insights to significantly improve equipment health and lower operating costs Ability to carry out predictive maintenance – taking action that is not possible with on-site preventive maintenance alone Online access to plant performance data – the SiteConnect™ app provides real-time visibility of equipment performance, anytime, anywhere. This means you can plan the right maintenance tasks at the right time, maximising uptime and minimising costs Benefits Minimise unplanned stoppages and secondary damage to equipment Increase equipment lifetime, reliability, and performance Lower OPEX Achieve more sustainable operations Kanika Mathur

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