Demystifying Automation in Cement Manufacturing: Trends, Benefits, and Use Cases
Manufacturing | 7 min READ
    
Automation in Cement Industry
The principles that govern modern cement production systems have remained more or less the same for nearly a hundred years. The kind of advances that have taken place was limited to machinery, specifications, and storage capabilities that have enabled batch-wise production to occur.
Despite being aided significantly by machinery, the cement manufacturing industry has yet to use computer-based monitoring systems further to refine the production process further. For instance, various activities involved in the cement mill, such as sampling, adjustment of feed rate, etc., require manual intervention even though such use cases are ripe for automation.
Raj Pradhan
Raj Pradhan

Practice Director

Construction and Building Materials Vertical

Birlasoft

Shobhit Joshi
Shobhit Joshi

Head of Delivery

Process Manufacturing Business

Birlasoft

 
Therefore, in the cement manufacturing context, automation would mean a large-scale shift from labor-intensive methods to skill-intensive methods. The accelerated incorporation of real-time monitoring systems, advanced control systems would constitute the first step in realizing a genuinely 21st-century cement manufacturing process.
Besides bringing productivity gains, introducing automation would also push the entire industry towards being greener and more sustainable.
The Need for Automation in Cement Manufacturing
The cement industry faced a staggering decline in demand due to the pandemic, and the industry is notorious for being one where regaining lost revenues can take years. This has awakened stakeholders to the need for investing in intelligent systems that make cement manufacturing more agile and resilient to unexpected shocks in global demand.
As per Chatham House (a think tank), cement accounts for about 8% of global carbon dioxide emissions. As the world becomes increasingly aware of climate change and the need to reduce carbon footprints, cement manufacturers are constantly under pressure to invest in clean solutions to reduce their carbon footprints. Investing in computer-controlled carbon capture (CCUS) systems will allow manufacturers to meet stringent emission standards
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Declining demand and decarbonization efforts will shift the emphasis from volume to value. Cement industries in the future will have to outline competitive advantages by way of decreased carbon footprints, improved decision-making systems, and continuous adjustments.
The Need for Automation in Cement Manufacturing
The need for automation in cement manufacturing

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Automation Use Cases in Cement Manufacturing
Raw Material Transfer
In the initial stage of material extraction and transfer, the ingredients are first run through a primary crusher, after which they get transferred to a secondary crusher. These crushed materials are later placed in a stockpile where a stacker and reclaimer segregate the raw material as per the quality. It’s important to note that the stacking and reclaiming systems operate independently. These materials are then fused with specific additives to get the required cement composition. These additives are later transferred to different silos via different conveyor belts. Each of these silos is equipped with level detectors.
This entire process could be automated using a simple programmable-logic-controller (PLC) unit that could utilize censors to make real-time decisions depending on the input signals. An ideal setup would start at the press of a button that would initiate the transfer of raw materials to the crushers, both of which start with on-delay timers. This system can be extended till the final process of transferring the crushed material to the stockpile. In the event of an emergency shutdown, the operator will press a different button that will not only stop the initial conveyor belt but utilize the PLC to shut off subsequent systems sequentially.
Automation in Bucket Elevator, Screen Vibrator, etc.
The raw material transfer process is spread out over multiple stages. It initially begins with a transfer from the quarry to different silos, after which it is moved to homogenous silos. During the transfer to homogenous silos, a few key components such as the bucket elevator and screen vibrator are used, which can be further automated. Large granules that arise during this process are fed back to the vertical roller mill, and this process is known for creating hot, dusty air that is particularly hazardous to the environment. To prevent its release, this gas is sent through an Electrostatic precipitator (ESP) for purification, after which an ID Fan then removes the gas through the chimney.
This transfer process and its components lend themselves to further automation wherein the conveyor belts, bucket elevator, and screen vibrator are activated at the touch of a button. The operator will have to inspect prior processes before initiating this one. Delay timers will deactivate the bucket elevator, conveyor belts, and screen vibrator accordingly. When these processes are running efficiently, ESP and ID Fan are activated by the operator, which will trigger yet another conveyor belt for the final step of feeding dust back to the homogenous silo.
Cement Finishing Circuit
The cement mill (or finish mill) presents a convincing case for automation as the optimization process employed by many cement manufacturers is mainly manual. Particle fineness of the cement is measured by way of Blaine measurements, routinely carried out separately off-line. In a conventional setup, peak performance was ensured by manually adjusting the rate at which the clinker is fed, the separator speed, etc. These adjustments are made based on Blaine measurements and other routine plant-related variables, all of which provide the base for palliative action.
By employing a custom process automation system, this circuit could be set to self-adjust key parameters to maintain desired product quality, reduce variability, and improve operational stability. When customized according to the circuit’s requirements, such a scheme would outline a mathematical link between different parameters. Such a model would work in real-time and constantly keep pushing the plant towards operating in optimal capacity but within predefined limits.
Simultaneously, a steady-state optimizer would analyze the changes in the end product and effects changes in the control parameters to achieve optimal performance. Known as real-time receding horizon control, the process drastically reduces the need for manual intervention while improving product quality.
Automation Use Cases in Cement Industry
Automation use cases in cement manufacturing

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Benefits of Automation for Cement Manufacturers
Efficient Plant Operations
When it comes to plant operations, the changing landscape of the global cement industry manifests itself in intense price wars coupled with the need to introduce newer, more innovative products in shorter cycles. These conditions, along with increasing complexity within the plant and other legal obligations, make plant operations unsustainable under the current model that requires significant manual intervention.
Demystifying Automation in Cement Manufacturing
Ironing out the kinks in plant operations would require the operators to implement an integrated automation framework to lay the foundation for achieving peak automation. This, in turn, will translate to increased optimization of machines/processes, reduced expenditure on construction/maintenance of plants, etc.
Better System Integration
In cement manufacturing, system integrators have to grapple with problems they have never encountered before. Compressed product life cycles, increased production demands, and greater complexity has made system integration one of the most pressing problems within the cement industry. Such problems would require integrators to process orders with more incredible speed, precision, and thrift.
Automation would help system integrators achieve a shorter time to market, increased system availability/flexibility, improved quality, and cost leadership.
Smarter Construction Paradigms
If plant operators and system integrators will need to work out how to meet the changing demands of customers, plant and machine constructors need to play catch-up with the sudden increases in expectations from their solutions. Rising competition and increasing complexity mean that constructors will need to offer more resilient and efficient solutions while keeping costs low. The most straightforward way to achieve this objective is to leverage the power of automated systems.
Integrating automation systems into the construction of plants and machinery will translate to solutions that come with higher quality, improved system availability, and greater flexibility.
What are the benefits of automation in cement manufacturing
What are the benefits of automation in cement manufacturing

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Why Automation Is the Future of Cement Manufacturing?
Digital transformation in cement industry needs to accelerate when compared to some of its peers in the process manufacturing industry. A study by the World Economic forum that listed 54 manufacturing plants lauded for embracing Industry 4.0 technologies did not feature even one cement plant. If that weren’t enough, the global cement sector is currently undergoing a slump in demand. With recovery outlooks that are not stellar, cement manufacturers who are quick to overhaul their manufacturing methods will be the ones who will thrive in the coming years as the industry recovers slowly but steadily.
Cement manufacturing does not exist within a silo. It powers a wide range of other industries, a bulk of which have already begun their digital transformation journeys. Allowing this gap to compound would not bode well for the cement industry as it will lag behind the industries that it powers and serve as a bottleneck for firms that will have leveraged automation to operate at a significantly faster pace. Creating a digital foundation has become a strategic imperative, and those that incorporate new forms of automation technologies could see up to a 50% boost in productivity.
The surge in data-generating technologies has spurred a new movement amongst participants in the manufacturing sector. As data starts to change the fundamental DNA of manufacturing, industries are beginning to realize the massive gains inherent in technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT) to the point where it’s spawned an entirely new discipline termed as Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). The line between operational technology and Information technology is starting to blur, and cement industries, which have traditionally lagged, would do well to recognize this convergence and alter their manufacturing and production systems accordingly.
 
 
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