A new type of cement has been developed, which by bonding special resins into a newly conceived mix, allows manufacturing solid insulated yet light transmitting construction panels. The new material has been developed by Italcementi Group to meet the project needs of the building that will represent Italy in China during the six months of the International Exhibition.
The new product developed at the Bergamo-based laboratories ensures transparency through innovative cement/admixtures mix design. The excellent flow properties of the mix allow bonding a plastic resin matrix into a final panel that combines the typical robustness of cementitious materials and the possibility of filtering light both inwards and outwards. The resins – explain the researchers – if adequately inserted in the cementitious material, have higher transparency performance than the optical fibres experimentally used in this field, but also cost much less allowing for their application on a large scale. The transparent effect is more evident when it is dark and, seen from the outside, the building will allow the interior lights to filter through while, from inside, during the day, it will show the changes in the levels of daylight. Future applications of this material may encompass its use as an architectural component with diversified, integrable functions, such as, for example, internal lighting (shading/light diffusion techniques).
Manufacturing Cement: The Smart Way
ICR explores the world of IT initiatives within the cement industry in a bid to understand how these advancements are reshaping traditional practices and leading the industry towards a more streamlined and sustainable future.
The cement industry, often regarded as a traditional and age-old sector, is undergoing a remarkable transformation driven by the relentless march of technology. As the global demand for cement continues to surge, the industry is embracing a new era characterised by digitalisation, automation and IT initiatives. In a quest for sustainability, efficiency and enhanced competitiveness, cement manufacturers are harnessing the power of information technology to revolutionise their processes, production methods and overall operations.
Information Technology (IT) has emerged as the catalyst, reshaping every facet of cement manufacturing – from raw material extraction to the packing of the final product. Digitalisation, in particular, has become a driving force, enabling seamless integration of data, connectivity, and intelligent systems, paving the way for a smarter and more agile industry.
ROLE OF TECHNOLOGY
Technology has emerged as a cornerstone in the evolution of the cement industry, permeating every aspect of its operations and profoundly shaping its trajectory. Advancements in Information Technology, digitalisation, and automation have become instrumental in optimising various stages of cement production, from raw material extraction to the final product dispatch. Through the deployment of cutting-edge technologies, cement manufacturers have achieved significant improvements in process efficiency, quality control, and environmental sustainability.
In the realm of IT, sophisticated software systems and data analytics tools have revolutionised cement plant management. Real-time data monitoring and analysis enable operators to make informed decisions promptly, ensuring optimal process control and resource allocation. Furthermore, IT initiatives have facilitated seamless integration of different operational units, fostered efficient collaboration and enhanced overall productivity.
The advent of digitalisation has ushered in a new era of interconnectedness and smart manufacturing in the cement industry. From smart sensors and Internet of Things (IoT) devices to cloud-based platforms, the entire cement production chain has become increasingly interconnected, facilitating the exchange of data and insights in real-time. This digital thread not only enables streamlined communication but also empowers predictive maintenance strategies, minimising equipment downtime and reducing maintenance costs.
Automation, too, has played a pivotal role in the cement industry’s transformation. Automated systems have taken over labour-intensive tasks, optimised process control and reduced human errors. Robotic technologies have been deployed for material
handling and packaging, ensuring precision and consistency in the final product. Furthermore, advanced automation has led to the efficient utilisation of alternative fuels and raw materials, lowering the industry’s carbon footprint and contributing to environmental sustainability.
Beyond the confines of the production plant, technology has also enhanced supply chain management and logistics. With sophisticated inventory tracking systems and route optimisation software, cement manufacturers can ensure timely deliveries and minimise wastage. Additionally, the integration of smart transportation solutions has contributed to cost savings and a reduction in emissions associated with cement transportation.
The role of technology in the cement industry has been transformative, elevating the sector to new heights of efficiency, quality, and sustainability. By harnessing the potential of IT, digitalisation, and automation, cement manufacturers have unlocked opportunities for continuous improvement and innovation. As technology continues to advance, the cement industry must remain committed to embracing these developments to remain competitive and navigate the path towards a greener and more technologically-driven future.
EVOLUTION OF DIGITALISATION
Digitalisation in cement plants has witnessed a rapid and transformative evolution, ushering in a new era of smart manufacturing and process optimisation. Advancements in IT, Internet of Things (IoT), data analytics and automation have played a pivotal role in reshaping various aspects of cement plant operations.
Integration of Smart Sensors and IoT: Cement plants have embraced the deployment of smart sensors throughout the production process. These sensors collect real-time data on various parameters such as temperature, pressure, humidity and vibration.
The integration of IoT technology enables these sensors to communicate with each other and central control systems, forming a connected network that facilitates data-driven decision-making and predictive maintenance.
Real-time Monitoring and Process Control: With the abundance of data generated by smart sensors, cement plants have implemented sophisticated monitoring and control systems. Real-time data analytics enable operators to gain insights into the plant’s performance and detect anomalies promptly. Such insights empower operators to make data-driven decisions, optimise process parameters, and ensure the plant operates at peak efficiency.
Predictive Maintenance: Digitalisation has revolutionised maintenance practices in cement plants. By analysing data from equipment sensors and historical performance, predictive maintenance models can anticipate machinery failures before they occur. This approach allows for planned maintenance interventions, reducing unplanned downtime, and optimising maintenance schedules, leading to cost savings and improved asset reliability.
Cloud-based Data Storage and Analytics: Cloud computing has facilitated the storage and processing of vast amounts of data generated by cement plants. By leveraging cloud-based platforms, plants can access data remotely, enabling centralised monitoring and analysis. Cloud-based analytics provide valuable insights, enabling plant managers to benchmark performance, identify areas for improvement, and make data-driven decisions in real-time.
Enhanced Supply Chain Management: Digitalisation has improved supply chain management in cement plants by enabling real-time tracking of inventory and automating order processing. This level of visibility and automation streamlines logistics, enhances coordination with suppliers, and ensures timely deliveries, minimising downtime and improving overall operational efficiency.
Sustainability and Environmental Impact: Digitalisation has also contributed to the industry’s sustainability efforts. By closely monitoring energy consumption and emissions, cement plants can identify opportunities to reduce their environmental impact. IoT-enabled systems help optimise the use of alternative fuels and raw materials, leading to a more sustainable and low-carbon production process.
AUTOMATION AND EFFICIENCY
Automation in cement plants is a pivotal factor in achieving heightened efficiency in production and substantial cost reduction. Through the integration of sophisticated automated systems, cement manufacturers have streamlined their operations, optimised resource utilisation and mitigating human errors. These advancements have had a transformative impact on the industry, bolstering both productivity and financial gains.
A core benefit of automation lies in process optimisation, where real-time monitoring and control of critical parameters ensure optimal conditions during various stages of cement production.
By continuously adapting based on data from sensors and historical performance, these systems maintain consistent and efficient operations, enhancing overall output.
Predictive maintenance is another critical facet of automation. Through this technology, potential equipment failures are detected proactively, allowing for scheduled maintenance before major breakdowns occur. The minimised risk of unplanned downtime maximises equipment uptime, leading to increased productivity and reduced maintenance costs.
Energy efficiency is substantially improved through automation, as precise control of energy-intensive equipment, such as kilns and mills, optimises fuel and electricity consumption. Consequently, cement plants achieve significant energy savings, directly contributing to cost reduction.
Automation also contributes to waste minimisation by optimising raw material blending processes, ensuring optimal mix proportions. This precision reduces waste and corrective actions, resulting in cost savings and improved product quality.
Resource utilisation benefits from automation through precise control over dosages and flow rates. By minimising waste and enhancing material utilisation rates, cement plants reduce costs significantly.
Furthermore, automation enhances quality control, as it provides consistent and precise control over the production process. This minimises the likelihood of producing off-specification batches, ultimately reducing material rejection and rework costs. In terms of labor savings, automation automates repetitive and manual tasks, decreasing the reliance on labor. This empowers the workforce to focus on more strategic and value-added activities, enhancing overall plant efficiency.
Beyond the plant walls, automation extends its advantages to the supply chain, enabling seamless integration with suppliers and customers. This automated supply chain management optimises logistics, reducing transportation costs and ensuring timely deliveries.
Moreover, the data generated by automation is harnessed for enhanced analytics. By leveraging this data, cement plants identify areas of improvement and optimise processes further, leading to more efficient production methods and cost-saving opportunities.
“Automated AI-based predictive maintenance solutions consist of 6-in-1 wireless sensors that measure the six most important parameters of Tri-Axial Vibration, Acoustics, RPM, Temperature, Humidity and Magnetic Flux. These sensors act as the vigilant eyes and ears of the manufacturing plants, continuously monitoring the vital indicators of the health and performance of machinery. The combination of these six vital parameters equips cement plants with a holistic view of their industrial assets, allowing for data-driven decisions to optimise operations and prevent costly downtime,” says Prashant Verma, Co-founder and India Head, Nanoprecise Sci Corp.
Automation also plays a vital role in streamlining compliance with environmental and safety regulations. By automatically capturing data and generating reports, cement plants efficiently meet reporting requirements, avoiding penalties and associated costs.
Automation’s influence on cement plants is undeniably transformative. By optimising processes, reducing downtime, and improving resource utilisation, automation empowers cement manufacturers to produce higher-quality cement while simultaneously minimising operational expenses. The continual advancements in automation technology hold immense promise for the cement industry’s pursuit of sustainable and competitive operations in the future.
IT INITIATIVES AND SUSTAINABILITY
IT initiatives in cement manufacturing have emerged as a powerful catalyst for driving sustainability across various facets of the industry. By leveraging technology, cement manufacturers can optimise resource utilisation, reduce environmental impact, and enhance overall efficiency, leading to a more sustainable cement production process.
One of the key contributions of IT initiatives is in energy management. Real-time monitoring of energy consumption allows operators to identify areas of improvement and implement energy-saving measures, leading to lower greenhouse gas emissions and a more sustainable production process. Additionally, IT systems enable advanced process control and automation, optimising production processes and reducing waste and resource usage. This not only enhances product quality but also minimises the environmental footprint.
Another critical aspect of IT initiatives is the promotion of alternative fuels and raw materials. Advanced data analytics help assess the compatibility and performance of substitutes, such as biomass, waste-derived fuels, and industrial by-products. By incorporating these materials into the production process, cement manufacturers reduce reliance on traditional fossil fuels, conserve natural resources, and decrease carbon emissions.
IT initiatives also play a vital role in emissions reduction and compliance. By monitoring and controlling emissions, cement plants ensure compliance with environmental regulations and proactively address environmental impacts. Additionally, the digitisation and optimisation of the supply chain help reduce the carbon footprint associated with transportation and promote sustainable practices among suppliers.
Waste management is another area where IT initiatives make a difference. Cement plants can track and analyse waste generation data to identify opportunities for waste reduction, recycling, and reuse. This minimises the environmental burden of waste disposal and contributes to a more circular and sustainable production process.
Furthermore, data-driven decision-making, facilitated by IT initiatives, ensures sustainability goals are integrated into every aspect of the cement manufacturing process. This allows cement manufacturers to make informed and proactive decisions that enhance environmental performance and resource efficiency.
By optimising energy usage, adopting alternative materials, reducing emissions, improving waste management, and promoting data-driven decision-making, technology is reshaping the cement industry’s approach to sustainability. As these initiatives continue to evolve and expand, cement manufacturers can further enhance their environmental stewardship and contribute to a more sustainable global construction sector.
The cement industry has undergone a remarkable transformation through the integration of technology and IT initiatives. Automation, digitalisation, and data analytics have become instrumental in optimising production processes, reducing environmental impact, and enhancing overall efficiency. The adoption of smart sensors, predictive maintenance, and real-time monitoring has resulted in increased productivity, reduced downtime and minimised waste, leading to significant cost savings.
Moreover, technology-driven innovations have enabled cement manufacturers to embrace sustainable practices, such as using alternative fuels and raw materials, reducing emissions, and improving waste management. By leveraging technology to its fullest potential, the cement industry is poised to achieve a more sustainable future, one that balances economic growth with environmental responsibility.
As technology continues to evolve, cement manufacturers must remain committed to embracing innovation and leveraging IT initiatives to pave the way for a greener and more efficient cement manufacturing process. Ultimately, this transformation will not only enhance the industry’s competitiveness but also contribute to global sustainability efforts and an eco-friendlier built environment.
From ERP to Cloud ERP
While companies are investing in R&D and advanced tools to digitalise cement manufacturing processes, there is yet a lot to be achieved in terms of IT progression in the industry. ICR looks closely at the latest innovations that are underway to digitally transform the industry.
Our first brush with IT was with the implementation of ERP more than two decades ago, which brought in the proverbial single moment of truth among a range of internal stakeholders – from sales to production and materials management, including finance and accounting. This single view of things led to better decision making for accounting and reporting. This became the only way to enable businesses to create sale orders on the one hand and purchase orders on the other while planning and coordination became rule-based engagements. For those businesses that needed the Bill of Materials (BOM) to connect suppliers with the nuances of production planning and control, it was a great step-jump to align Master Production Schedules with Material Requirement Planning (MRP) and then Manufacturing Resource Planning (MRP-2). Later on, several modules of ERP created a much-needed interface between customer facing metrics and operationally directed goals that augured well to plan and monitor activities to the achievement of several objective functions.
IT is too general a term to be used any more although it still persists, in fact the three-decade old word was coined to include everything under one reference. The use of technology to enhance our ability to use information for delivering business results is no longer subsumed in the rhetoric of everything digital. That was in the realm of small data, when small was beautiful. Our ability to deal with small data hinged on data analytics that could solve problems through descriptive statistics only. At best, we did regressions to connect variables to make meaningful diagnostics and to create a forward view as in forecasts of all kinds.
The science of data
The world has changed to the new realities of Big Data, where the more the data is, the better our ability to find patterns in it, to be able to diagnose better and in doing so enhance our ability to predict things better. The real step change happened when data could be used to prescribe what needs to be done. IT of yester-years needed to be hardwired into this reality. Some industries have done better than the others. Let us examine what happened in the cement industry.
The cement industry progressed in the conventional lines to connect customer fulfillment processes to the delivery systems and then in turn to the production systems from the quarry to the grinding of cement. Every process got linked and aligned and the critical activities and their output could be better planned and monitored. From declaration of inputs into a programme to the declaration of outputs, from the thousands of SKUs that maintenance teams needed their spares to be managed, to the connecting links of equipment and their maintenance programs, the operating environment from production to maintenance leaped to include data acquisition systems that sometimes sat on top of the database that the ERP system created. Apart from the usual modules of sale order management, planning for production, material management to procurement, almost all modules were implemented to tie the process together in one edifice of ‘truth’. Thus, the costing system could be developed and curated to create several modules of control and monitoring and reporting for management review.
Thereafter the ERP systems progressed with several add-on features that connected control systems (electrical and mechanical) that could interface with the existing database, extract data and do several value-added analytics to better control and administer processes from mining, clinker processing to cement grinding. Sales and Operations Planning processes could use Decision Support Systems (DSS) to enable better fulfillment processes. However, it remained to be seen how much and to what extent this served the need of management to deliver results. Cement companies have largely used manual overrides at will, as it helped them to solve complex puzzles without going through the ordeal of rule-based capture where constraint-based systems work on principles rather than manual dictates and overrides.
The real test of fulfillment was in connecting logistics systems to work to the demand of the customer. This is where it has taken a considerable amount of time to make a clean head-way. On the other hand, logistics was the key cost driver and the enabler of results combined into one.
Two things started to create additional requirements from the customer-end of the process – the ability to do business online and doing it with thousands of digitally connected entities. This meant creation of on-demand systems that must go beyond the manual processes of taking snap-shots of order fulfillment processes and then doing a scenario planning based on our understanding of the physical systems at play, so that certain objective functions could be maximised or minimised. This took us to the realm of algorithms that helped to connect inputs and outputs in planning systems from order booking to fulfillment to the next level of ‘servitisation,’ the cloud-enabled services included.
For Ready Mix Concrete systems, this meant connecting not one but many objective functions where digitally connected delivery systems had to be aligned as well to the discrete nature of planned receipts of a large number of inputs. Logistics being the biggest cost driver in cement, the IT systems had to move to the next level of being cloud-enabled, where the first step was GPRS conversion of all mobile delivery systems.
The progress to digitisation with the existing IT infrastructure and the added demands of mobile interfaces required the much-needed conversion of all trucking and delivery systems to be GPRS enabled; this was no simple task, as it meant putting the entire system to a far more algorithm-enabled instead of manually orchestrated. It was a clarion call to be taken whether or not all movements of goods and services were to be GPRS-enabled with cloud-enabled IT systems. To this effect, much of the cement industry is far less initiated even today, although the benefits of which can be easily calculated and the return on this investment easily shown.
If the cement industry has to move to the next level of digitisation and aspire to be in the same league with the rest of the manufacturing industries, the first step has to be to ‘enable digital tracking devices’ to be connected to ‘Control Towers’ such that the network could be configured on a real time basis. This would solve not only the problem of customers being connected on line with their status of orders on a real time basis but also for the cement company to actually track the real logistics cost of the goods shipped, which under the current status of implementation leaves a lot to be desired. If prices must reflect the logistics cost, this seems like the basic need of the hour.
Digital progression to cloud-enabled ERP is the most logical step, but the cement industry has a lot to do in putting the act together with many stakeholders at play. Only a very few have taken the bold step to move in that direction and globally, too, only a few examples exist.
Digitalisation paves the way for advanced digital solutions
Prashant Verma, Co-founder and India Head, Nanoprecise Sci Corp, discusses the exponentially growing importance of technology and IT initiatives in all the processes related to cement production.
Tell us about the role of automation and technology in achieving efficiency in cement plants.
Technology has been playing a crucial role in transforming the operations of cement plants. It has paved the way for data-driven decision-making, which is now a hallmark of modern cement plants. The vast amount of data collected through automation systems is analysed to uncover operational inefficiencies and opportunities for process improvements. This data-driven approach enables plant personnel to optimise production schedules, increase productivity and stay ahead in a competitive market.
Technological evolution has also enabled the implementation of predictive maintenance solutions, which help identify potential equipment failures before they occur. The emergence of predictive maintenance solutions has revolutionised maintenance practices in cement plants. With real-time data from IoT sensors and AI-powered algorithms, these systems can predict faults in equipment well in advance, thereby preventing any unplanned down or catastrophic failure. This proactive approach optimises maintenance schedules, minimises downtime, and ultimately reduces maintenance costs. Moreover, automation and technology help maintenance teams to identify the energy consumption patterns of equipment sets, allowing them to implement energy-saving measures, leading to cost reductions and environmental benefits.
As the production of cement is moving towards Industry 4.0, how are you incorporating digitalisation in cement plants?
Embracing digitalisation is a key focus for a range of cement manufacturers across the country. Nanoprecise has been helping cement manufacturers incorporate state-of-the-art digital technologies to transform traditional cement plants into smart and connected facilities, for more than four years. One of our main efforts involves the deployment of Internet of Things (IoT) devices throughout the plant to monitor the health and performance of equipment in real time. These devices continuously collect data from the machinery, which is then transmitted to the cloud for analysis. The advanced signal processing algorithms parse through this complex machine health data to detect anomalies and predict potential equipment failures. This enables cement manufacturers to anticipate maintenance needs, helping plants optimise maintenance schedules, improve resource allocation, and avoid unplanned downtime.
How do you customise your solutions for each plant?
Customers generally have needs and requirements that are unique, and a one-size-fits-all approach may not meet their specific requirements. We are working with businesses across a wide range of sectors around the world, to deploy customised solutions that help them drive their digital transformation journey.
Customisation is an essential component of Industry 4.0 as each cement plant has unique operating conditions and equipment configurations. Our structured process involves conducting a comprehensive assessment of the plant, gathering real-time data using our ultra-low-power wireless sensors and analysing it using patented cloud-based software that detects even small changes in the machine performance and predicts the remaining useful life of any industrial asset. The solution can be customised to monitor a wide range of equipment including complicated machines like the roller press due to its ability to monitor low and ultra-low-speed applications with ease. It also allows for seamless integrations with various vertical and horizontal stacks. Moreover, the system can also be deployed on cloud or on-premise servers, thereby allowing for a simple plug and play, hassle-free deployment, without worrying about any extra IT infrastructure.
Tell us about AI-based machine productions? How does that help cement plants?
AI-based machine productions involve utilising artificial intelligence algorithms to optimise the cement production process. Through machine learning, AI algorithms can analyse historical production data, sensor readings, and other relevant factors to make accurate predictions and recommendations.
AI algorithms can monitor and analyse vast amounts of data pertaining to various production parameters to maintain consistent product quality. Moreover, by analysing data from various stages of production, AI can also identify inefficiencies and bottlenecks, suggesting optimisations to enhance overall process efficiency. Furthermore, AI can be applied to predict equipment failures and schedule maintenance activities, leading to minimal disruption and downtime. It can also optimise energy consumption by suggesting the most efficient operating conditions for equipment, thereby reducing energy costs and environmental impact.
What is the kind of data collected through automation systems? How does that help with cement operations?
Automated AI-based predictive maintenance solutions consist of 6-in-1 wireless sensors that measure the 6 most important parameters of Tri-Axial Vibration, Acoustics, RPM, Temperature, Humidity and Magnetic Flux. These sensors act as the vigilant eyes and ears of the manufacturing plants, continuously monitoring the vital indicators of the health and performance of machinery. The combination of these six vital parameters equips cement plants with a holistic view of their industrial assets, allowing for data-driven decisions to optimise operations and prevent costly downtime.
The collected data is then transmitted to the cloud through an encrypted and secured network for analysis. The AI analyses complex machine health data to discern subtle patterns, identify anomalies, and even predict potential equipment issues well in advance. This predictive capability is a game-changer for cement operations, as it empowers maintenance teams to take proactive measures before any critical failure occurs. By leveraging the power of automation and AI-driven analytics, the cement industry can reduce maintenance costs, enhance equipment reliability, and achieve higher energy efficiency, ultimately leading to improved productivity
Can costs and production be optimised or enhanced with the digitalisation of cement plants? If yes, how?
Digitalisation paves the way for implementing advanced digital solutions that can help maintenance teams transition from reactive to proactive maintenance strategies. Early detection of equipment issues enables planned maintenance, reducing costly unplanned downtime and minimising repair expenses. The state-of-the-art condition monitoring solutions available in the market, have the potential to revolutionise inventory management due to their predictive capabilities, thereby allowing for optimised resource allocation and reduced wastage of raw materials. This optimisation of inventory levels minimises carrying costs and mitigates the risk of overstocking or stockouts. Moreover, digitalisation allows for better monitoring of equipment’s energy consumption. By identifying the energy consumption patterns of equipment under faulty conditions, cement plants can take corrective actions to reduce energy wastage and carbon footprint, thereby achieving significant cost reductions over time.
What are the key skills required by plant personnel to transform them digitally?
Our automated solutions are designed to serve a wide range of end users, irrespective of their technical proficiency or department within the cement plant. The system generates real-time alerts that prompt the user to take necessary action, ensuring seamless and efficient operations. Moreover, our state-of-the-art dashboard and visualisation layer enables end-users and technical experts to view data from multiple dimensions, delivering an intuitive and user-friendly interface. The seamless integration of these features fosters streamlined and optimised operations within the cement plant.
Tell us about the major challenges you face in the execution of technology in cement plants.
Implementation of digital technologies such as predictive and prescriptive maintenance solutions is a challenging process in asset-intensive sectors like cement manufacturing. For instance, cement plants consist of various complex machines and equipment, each with its unique operating parameters and intricacies. Integrating and optimising technology solutions for such diverse machinery requires a deep understanding of the equipment and its operations. These plants operate in harsh and rugged environments, exposing the machines and equipment to extreme temperatures, dust, moisture and vibrations, which necessitates robust solutions that can withstand these conditions. Our solution comprises robust hardware that can monitor such machines, thereby bringing peace of mind to our customers. Our solutions undergo robust testing and validations to ensure their resilience in the rugged plant environment.
Secondly, the introduction of new technology is generally followed by an adoption curve, which is why we provide extensive customer support. We focus on gaining staff acceptance and support as that is vital to the successful implementation of technology solutions. We achieve this by conducting effective training programs that address staff concerns and promote acceptance of the new technology. Moreover, implementing technology solutions in large cement plants can be a time-consuming process. However, with our plug and play solutions, we closely collaborate with teams in these plants to streamline the implementation, allowing for hardware installation in less than five minutes and facilitating seamless integration of digital technology. This expedites the adoption of our solutions, minimising downtime and ensuring a smooth transition.
We ultimately strive to deliver technology solutions that excel in effectiveness and efficiency, ultimately optimising performance, enhancing reliability and fostering sustainable
growth in cement plants.