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Putting a Plant on Autopilot

Putting a Plant on Autopilot

Putting A Plant On Autopilot

Automating certain processes not only ensures consistency of control, but also enables processes to operate smoothly in the absence of human operators, right around the clock. Find out more about Advanced Process Control (APC) in this article by ABB.

Today’s steel manufacturer is facing a number of challenges that range from safeguarding competitiveness to meeting changing customer needs with flexibility and speed. These require steel plants to maximise operating performance, while maintaining quality and yield, and controlling maintenance and inventory levels. 

In addition, companies need to find ways of retaining expert human knowledge accumulated over many years, after the experts themselves come towards the end of their working lives. In this regard, automating certain processes not only ensures consistency of control, but also enables processes to operate smoothly in the absence of human operators, right around the clock. 

Advanced Process Control (APC) using model predictions is one of the ways to run the processes on autopilot mode with minimum intervention from operators. 

Advanced Process Control

The concept of APC, and the ways in which it can be tailored to industry specific processes – given the right level of knowledge and expertise – offers a great potential for a metals industry seeking solutions that provide tangible and guaranteed returns. Today, APC is fundamental to the success of certain processes within many industries and is increasingly being applied today in steel production. 

Although it is technically advanced and not without complexities, APC can be considered simply as the autopilot for driving the plant to an optimum state around the clock. Using a plant model and objective functions, it can predict system behaviour some steps into the future – put simply, it produces a digital twin of any process and predicts the way it will act. 

Based on this predictive functionality, APC is able to automatically adjust operational set points to ensure peak plant performance and productivity. Its ability to make frequent, small changes, avoids large corrections or over-compensation for changes in conditions, creating a stable process, before steadily and smoothly moving to and maintaining an optimal operating state. In this way, APC is able to enhance quality, raise throughput and reduce energy use.

APC is already used in a variety of industries to facilitate operational change, offering significant ROI. In the cement industry, for example, APC has been used to optimise both horizontal and vertical grinding circuits to improve productivity. Given the similar process and equipment used across both the cement and metals industries, such examples offer practical insight into the sort of savings APC could offer to steel producers in their own grinding processes.

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