Cement manufacturing is a technologically advanced process requiring dexterity and a controlled optimisation of input materials for achieving the desired attributes in the end product. Traditionally, this optimisation across industries largely relies on the operators’ experience/intuitions based on data from prior production batches.
Industry 4.0, also termed the fourth industrial revolution, promotes the use of next generation technologies to create a powerful network of connections between the physical and digital systems. The real time data thus generated helps a plant operator to accommodate a wide variety of variables for improved decision making to optimise cement production while addressing critical aspects such as energy consumption and cost. In a nutshell, Industry 4.0 solutions employ extensive real time data, historical data sets and models to help manage and predict the process outcome in a most efficient manner.
The operational disruptions caused by the Covid pandemic also compelled several industries to move towards automated processes using digital tools to carry out routine business functions in an uninterrupted manner. In a way, the transition to digital systems is considered as a way forward for the future.
Almost every process in cement manufacturing can be digitalised using technological solutions. Some of the promising digital solutions adopted in the Cement Industry are detailed below:
Poor maintenance often leads to a 5 to 20% downgrade in a plant’s overall productive capacity.1 Predictive maintenance allows plant operators to monitor each installation’s integrity and assess the probability of breakdown, which enables timely addressal of maintenance issues. Besides preventing extended downtime, it helps improve operational efficiency, reduces maintenance cost and limits wear and tear of machinery. In predictive maintenance, the operator halts production for a few minutes each month to replace equipment based on its health as opposed to routine periodic replacements. Predictive maintenance is particularly useful for gearboxes, mills and kiln related installations in a cement plant.
A digital twin allows cement companies to mirror their entire production process or a portion thereof through a digital model, referred to as twin of the plant’s physical assets, processes and systems. The twin generates scenarios that vary across each process step and variable. The model, thus developed, proposes optimal equipment settings for optimising equipment performance. The solution leverages use of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to optimise the manufacturing process. Such models are dynamic and learn and improve with each experience. As the model evolves, users get data driven predictions without a need for frequent reprogramming. Gartner predicts that by 2021, half of large industrial companies will use digital twins, resulting in those organisations gaining a 10% improvement in effectiveness.2
PQA allow cement companies to accurately forecast cement quality. The model helps manufacturers to choose among a multitude of alternative approaches, such as making use of high grade limestone, additives or extensive milling for fineness, among others, to produce a desired quality product. A cement player can choose from a range of alternatives based on its unique business model and inherent competitive advantages. PQA models use ML algorithms to correlate the quality of each production batch with the relevant production parameters. The use of AI enables the system to learn over a period and to associate all of the process input parameters with the quality outcome. As such, the producers can predict the physical and chemical properties of the cement and address any shortcomings.
The use of alternative fuels is identified as a potent decarbonisation lever and can significantly help reduce the expenditure on energy in cement production.3 The uptake of alternative fuels in India is yet to reach its true potential due to quality variance, dispersed supply streams and low value density with logistics. Alternative fuel optimiser enables cement manufacturers to manage the inherent variability of alternative fuels, specifically its physical and chemical properties such as calorific value and compatibility of fuels.
An integrated Control tower (ICT) allows operators to remotely run their cement plants from a central office thereby reducing operational and maintenance costs; optimising workforce and improving health and safety performance. An ICT can monitor equipment conditions, predict failures, plan maintenance operations and choose optimal settings and inputs. It is often enabled with scenario analysis software that helps in implementing the process at an optimum level. A control tower can enable a company to realise a 5−10% improvement in on time delivery performance and/or a 10−20% reduction in distribution costs.4
Digitising upstream and downstream supply chain helps in improving visibility on raw materials, fuels, and finished goods; deliver quality customer service and optimise cost. Tagging trucks with Global Positioning System (GPS) helps in encouraging responsible behaviour among drivers, minimises deviation from set paths thereby reducing turnaround time and safety incidents. Digitalisation of consumer purchase cycle starting from order booking, sharing acknowledgements, tracking, and monitoring of delivery, payment receipts etc eases the management of construction projects for consumers.
All the major Cement players in India have adopted multiple digital measures across the value chain to optimise resource and process efficiency. Some of the measures implemented are detailed below:
ACC Limited has implemented the Plants of tomorrow initiative, wherein a Technical Information Systems (TIS) records real time data from all key assets at various plants. Data from TIS feeds into the Performance And Collaboration Tool (PACT), which helps in improved data based decision making.
Ambuja Cements Limited has implemented the Blue Yonder Luminate Planning to strengthen operations across its supply chain. The tool helps in effectively predicting demand fluctuation; schedule maintenance; improve logistics and transportation capabilities. The Company has also implemented tools like Distributed Control System (DCS), Tool Location System (TLS) and Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) to enhance plant efficiency and increase uptime.
Dalmia Bharat Limited has implemented the Suvidha App, which empower dealers by strengthening transparency in order management. Customers and trade partners have access to real time information, convenient order placement, online tracking of supplies and monthly accounts statement.
Shree Cements Limited has adopted measures like systematic backup procedures, firewall systems, better monitoring & control mechanism to mitigate any risks arising due to digitalisation. The Company has also implemented STEPS (School for Training, Education and Personal Success) – an online platform that uses AI to curate a personalised learning programme for the professional growth of its employees.
UltraTech Limited has implemented Expert Optimiser, a computer based system for controlling, stabilising, and optimising industrial processes, for its kiln, calciner, cooler, raw mill, and cement mill. The system mimics the actions of the operator performing at its optimum level throughout the day.
Digitalisation can help achieve material cost savings reduce inventory carrying costs, increase equipment uptime and availability, reduce maintenance planning time and costs, improve health, safety and environmental (HSE) compliance, enable faster real time decisions, data driven problem solving, and establish clear linkages to initiatives, performance, and accountability. While digitalisation serves numerous advantages, care need to be administered while implementing the solutions to realise its true potential. It becomes critically important to define the objectives at the beginning- starting small through pilot projects and scaling up gradually through a designated reference factory.
Digitalisation is imperative for a highly commoditised and competitive industry such as the cement. Steep decline in the cost of computing technology, data storage and network bandwidth have streamlined the implementation of pilot projects and scaling up technological solutions.5 Digitalising value chain could serve as a game changer for the cement companies and improve profitability while realising a sustainable competitive advantage.