How to Boost Workplace Safety Using AI and IoT In RMX Concrete Plants
Manufacturing | 6 min READ
    
Managing Safety and Compliance in Ready-Mix (RMX) Concrete Plants
Present-day industrial safety systems owe their origins to the Pemberton Mill collapse. The collapse was reported to be a result of 'gross negligence and wanton ignorance of load limits that ultimately led to the demise of over 145 workers. Despite having occurred nearly 160 years ago, many of the factors behind the collapse continue to plague industries even today. The global cement industry is no stranger to this. Accidents such as those reported in the SsangYong C&E plant in Korea illustrate how even the slightest risks can compound over time and end in disaster.
Shobhit Joshi
Shobhit Joshi

Head of Delivery

Process Manufacturing Business

Birlasoft

 
Top Imperatives for HSE Teams in RMX Concrete Plants
According to the Cement Sustainability Initiative (CSI), the fatality rate in the cement industry is much higher than in others. An occurrence could be attributed to the industry's half-hearted embrace of digital technologies to foster a safer workplace. A report released by the WBCSD (World Business Council for Sustainable Development), a robust OHS (Occupational Health and Safety) policy required HSE teams to:
  • Comply with all applicable health and safety legislation
  • Provide a healthy and safe workplace for all employed (both direct and contracted employees)
  • Continuously improve towards best industry health and safety practice
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Top Imperatives for HSE Teams in RMX Concrete Plants
Top Imperatives for HSE Teams in RMX Concrete Plants

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If we look at the shop floor purely from the perspective of digital transformation, amongst others, there are two priority areas that we will put some perspective on:
Cement Pressure Monitoring
The latest crop of technologies collectively known as 'Industry 4.0' is yet to trickle down to the supply chain models that the cement industry uses. This means that manufacturers are yet to take advantage of computerized systems to the point where high-risk, high-value portions of the production process are completely automated, to the point where in-person interaction is not required. In addition, with an above-average fatality rate, the cement industry needs technology that would improve the production process and decrease fatality/injury rates.
Cement pressure is a crucial parameter; the likes require monitoring across three parts of the supply chain: the air compressor, the clinker cooler, and the cement silo. However, the dominant method of doing so required a worker on the shop floor who would monitor these levels and ensure they fell within the recommended limits. Borrowing concepts from Industry 4.0 would enable the existing cement pressure/point level detection protocols to become no-contact procedures that rely purely on sensors and alerts which relay information in real-time to a centralized control room.
This would improve both worker safety and operational efficiency, with noticeable effects on the human problems of health and safety and the economic problems of safety and productivity. Moreover, this idea could be extended further by providing field workers with wearable technology that links to pressure monitors and keeps them abreast of the status quo.
How to Boost Workplace Safety Using AI and IoT In RMX Concrete Plants
Safe Loading of Cement Into Silos From Trucks
The cement production method has several crucial chokepoints where extreme caution is exercised to ensure that the production process goes without a hitch. One of these is the transfer of cement into silos from trucks. As of now, this phase of the process features conveyor belts and level detection sensors but does not have any other technology that ties all of them together to produce an intelligent and self-correcting transfer system. This has proven to be yet another use case for an Industrial IoT solution where technological integration will leave greater bandwidth for the workers to make more qualitative decisions.
A simple Programmable Logic Controller (PLC) coupled with meters and sensors can be integrated into a more extensive automation system that controls the weight of the cement as it is being loaded. Upon completion of loading, the dosing system employed can send a signal to the controller, which in turn switches off the flow control. Apart from loading, IoT/AI can also be utilized for predictive maintenance in silos.
Silos require periodic maintenance checks and regular refilling, all of which rely on partially analog systems to this day. Employing smart detection systems, an array of sensors, and enabling an IIoT enabled workplace will go a long way in saving costs and increasing the role of IoT in industrial safety.
Workplace Safety Using IoT in RMX Concrete Plants
Cement Pressure Monitoring
Industrial floors are notorious for their inherently hostile environment. The heat, the constant movement of heavy machinery, and the dust that permeates the floor add to a high likelihood of an accident. Since cement pressure monitoring occurs over three distinct phases in the supply chain, automating it with IoT-enabled technology would remove the requirement for workers to make frequent trips to the shop floor to take readings.
In addition, by equipping them with remote sensing technologies, the shop floor can be cleared of almost all staff members, thereby reducing the possibility of worker injuries and fatalities. Two of the most viable solutions here are to either opt for a centralized control room or provide every worker with wearables that can be used for pressure checks. This can prevent exposure to fine dust particles and drastically reduce the likelihood of on-premise injuries.
Safe Loading of Cement Into Silos From Trucks
The activity of transferring cement into silos from trucks is a relatively manual and repetitive process with multiple moving parts, both of which make it that much more likely for errors. When level detection systems are embedded with sensors that can 'go online, they can be configured to provide notifications of the capacities of silos in real-time. If said silos were not to have enough storage space, such systems could relay that information to the primary control system and automatically switch off the cement filling system.
By integrating the existing infrastructure such as conveyor belts, silos, temperature/pressure sensors, etc., a fully automated loading mechanism can replenish itself. For example, when the silos require, manual intervention can be done away with altogether. This will translate into a reduced fatality rate and bring supply chain resiliency and operational agility for the manufacturer.
Tracking Success – Benefits
Tracking workplace safety in the cement industry should be a function of the parameters that affect both the bottom line and the human energies associated with it. Employing IoT systems in occupational health and safety in cement industry ought to translate to a direct reduction in the fatality rate (death per 10,000 employees), a reduced LTI (Lost-time injury), a lower LTI frequency rate, and a near-zero LTI severity rate (defined as the number of lost days per million hours worked). Actual hours worked should also be on the rise in the long run if safety is adequately prioritized.
Measuring Workplace Safety
Measuring Workplace Safety

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With concerns looming over the higher incidence of accidents in the cement industry, it is a strategic imperative for cement manufacturers to invest in newer, more advanced forms of technologies to boost workplace safety. IoT technologies have applications beyond data analytics and productivity boosts, and they can also make workplaces safer and unburden employees from quotidian tasks.
Despite being laggards in the space of digital transformation, cement manufacturing is uniquely positioned to lead the way in IoT-enabled worker safety, with the prospect of becoming a 'safety bellwether' for the rest of the manufacturing sector.
 
 
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