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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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Importance Of Process Control

Importance Of Process Control

Asia Pacific Metalworking Equipment News is pleased to conduct an interview with Mr Lim Boon Choon, President of Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence, APAC, regarding current trends in metrology.

Lim Boon Choon

Could you provide us with an overview of the current trends regarding metrology in metalworking?

Metrology continues to be important to assure quality in the final products, but customers are beginning to see the importance of process control, not just quality control.  By process control, I mean getting metrology into the production area as well, and not just the quality room.  By installing hardware and software in the production area, customers can check critical dimensions directly during the production process and ensure that the products are within specifications.  This will help to ensure that there is less chance of products getting into the metrology room a few hours later and finding that the products do not meet the requirements and must be scrapped or re-worked.

Another trend is the use of non-contact scanning.  Customers are coming up with very highly polished materials or mixture of different materials that may be sensitive to scratch marks.  Non-contact scanning prevents scratches and speeds up the inspection very quickly.

The third trend is the increasing use of additive manufacturing as a complement to traditional manufacturing.

How has Hexagon kept up with these trends?

Over the years, Hexagon has developed or acquired various technologies that allowed us to implement in-line, next-to-the-line, or off-line inspection.  We help customers build quality into their process from Design and Engineering, to Production and to final inspection.  Increasingly, we also provide automated inspection systems that allows customers to use metrology in the shop floor to control the process and reduce scraps and rework.

For example, our AICON TubeInspect solution is a unique equipment for customers producing tubes.  They can place their tubes in our system which measures the bending angles within a second and calculates the correct bending parameters to be sent back to the tube bending machine.  This kind of close loop process helps customers to get their tubes right quickly and saves a lot of time and cost of rework.

We also have software like NC-SIMUL that simulates the machining process, Hexagon production software for finding the best cutting strategy, SIMUFACT for CAE simulation of additive manufacturing, Q-DAS and eMMA to monitor the manufacturing process and manage the relationship between parts, shop floor and portable CMM that allows us to measure the parts directly in the production area.

Another example of our products being shop floor ready is that we designed our CMM to have in-built message lights (Global S CMM), and pulse sensors that monitor vibration, humidity, temperature in real time.

Hexagon is now helping customers to optimise product innovation at various stages like Design, planning, production, quality assurance and post Production, and also our ability to link and integrate all data through our Smart Factory solutions and Assets Management system.

What are the main challenges faced by the metrology industry?

With the market going for more innovative products that may be highly customized, manufacturers are faced with high mix low volume situations.  They need solutions that are easy to implement, robust and well connected to their manufacturing systems.

Many customers know that they need information to make good decisions, but there is a general lack of understanding of what can be done to tap in the information from various equipment (connectivity problem), and how to get actionable data; not just data, but actionable data.

How can they be overcome?

It boils down to leadership.  Leaders have to be bold, have vision and courage to change.  Start small and scale up quickly.

Rethink quality.  Quality is not just in the quality room but should be built into the products right from how we design the product, how we ensure the design is strong, can be produced cost effectively, and the equipment and software are suitable to produce the product consistently.  Look into process control, and not just quality control in the Quality room.

Moving forward, where do you think the industry is headed in the next 5 to 10 years?

With the push towards Industry 4.0, and especially with government encouragement and funding, I think manufacturers will want to implement more and more smart systems – automated solutions on the shop floor and monitored with software that gives them smart diagnostics and even artificial intelligence built in to identify problems early.  Process control and non-contact scanning will also be increasingly prevalent.

 

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