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Utilizing the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) in cement production – when separate manufacturing units function as one

17 April 2018 No Comment

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What is IIoT?

We now live in a world where there is an increasing reliance on the internet, not only for streaming movies or sending e-mails but for controlling a multitude of devices from domestic appliances to smart cars. The internet of things has also been embraced by the manufacturing industry, a paradigm known as the IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things) – when separate manufacturing units begin to function as one – and where the cloud is becoming the preferred way to store and share data.

Data has now become the lifeblood of modern industry and will drive the smart manufacturing plants of the future, evolving into what some have coined Industry 4.0. Industry Week published an interesting article on this topic by Terri Hiskey, Epicor Software, where he noted:

Industry 4.0 is all about doing things differently…the goal is the ‘smart factory’ with cyber-physical systems capable of autonomously exchanging information, triggering actions, and controlling each other independently.

The cement plant is a perfect example of an industry that must, and is, embracing IIoT and Industry 4.0 to improve process efficiency and reduce environmental impact. For example, clinker grinding mills employ sensors and automation. These include thermocouples to monitor temperature and tie into control schemes to automatically adjust and maintain the desired heat and flow meters that track raw materials in tons per hour (tph), giving the plant control over process rates from start to finish.

Particle size distribution (PSD) is a key part of that operating plan also, with online laser diffraction systems such as Malvern Panalyticals’s Insitec, now the established technique for real-time data and process optimization. When combined with an intelligent software interface, such as Malvern Link™ II, the PSD can be used to control the mill parameters to ensure the process is managed, and the operators know what is being made, while it is being made, without guesswork or delay.

PSD also plays a key role in the mill power used and, thus, provides a reliable means to manage it. While the milling circuit is grinding many tons per hour of finished cement, it could easily be grinding too much. Without a means of monitoring that grinding process in real time, most plants will need to over grind the cement to ensure a satisfactory PSD, resulting in wasted energy.

Online particle sizing is just one example of how the industry is embracing the IIOT and much progress has been made. Although there is still some way to go before we can fully rely on technology to make the right decisions without the input of a process expert, current technology can certainly make the life of the process experts much much easier.

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